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KNRK – It’s Absolutely Not Different Here

September 10, 2008 No comments

knrk.jpg

It was late, well past midnight and it was the last day I was going to spend in the San Francisco Bay Area before heading off to college. I had called in to Live 105 and was chatting with Big Rick Stuart who was jockeying between our phone call and the on air play. Rick came on the air and wished me a safe trip and played a song to send me off. That was the kind of radio station Live 105 was.

Mark Hamilton was a DJ at Live 105. He was the voice you’d also hear promoting the DJ’s spinning tunes down at One Step Beyond or The X nightclub. He was surrounded by great music and great people. So it was a fantastic revelation (Back in 1994) to find that he landed here in Portland at the very young KNRK. I met him at one of the early KNRK snowball shows, the one with Everclear and No Doubt. He seemed like a great guy.

Unfortunately it seems that Mark has forgotten what makes a great radio station. Over time he tweaked the playlist favoring retreading bands like Sublime over debuting new music and new artists. Sublime might be a slightly notable band but I doubt they should be continually haunting the airwaves of an alternative station.

Recently KNRK did a major revamp to their playlist, out was most of the new or truly alternative music (except for bands coming to town in KNRK sponsored events) and in were classics. KNRK effectively remade themselves into a Rock Mix station. The switch started gradually, with ‘classic alternative’ artists like David Bowie. Listen to KNRK for 2 hours and you’ll hear classic Bowie at least once….Then came bands like The Cars and Tom Petty. Tune in enough and you’ll wonder if KNRK hasn’t fused with KGON. At times even KUFO is more alternative… Which is sad.

Perhaps KNRK is a victim of its own success. Late last year their morning show with Greg Glover began to beat the competition. Perhaps that taste of popular success fueled them on to chase the popular audience. But what used to be a fairly descent alternative station is gone. Many of the good people are still there. Greg is smart guy, knows his music and takes risks (Listen to his Bottom Forty Sunday Nights). Gustav is still the friendliest face of the station, his perfect playlist and track 7 show he wants the station to be a good one. Tara is just plain great, she knows what’s going on, but she’s as powerless to fix it as anyone.

It all boils down to Mark Hamilton… Program director. Who has made a major misstep with the station by building a playlist that simply isn’t alternative. At my home office I’ve switched of KNRK and listen to KEXPonline. KEXP, based in Seattle, ironically is the station supporting MusicFest NW (while local KNRK is notably absent). I hear new music via myspace and am more likely to fire up my mp3 player than my radio…

Next year Community Supported KZME 91.1 is set to launch. If KZME follows KEXP’s model it could give KRNK a serious run for its money. Until then fans of alternative music need to email Mark Hamilton and let him know that the playlist changes aren’t welcome, and remind them what ‘It’s Different Here’ really means. KNRK keeps saying it’s YOUR station… So tell them what YOU want.

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Monotonix at MusicFest NW

September 8, 2008 No comments
Monotonix at MusicFest NW

Monotonix at MusicFest NW

It’s taken me a few days to process what happened at Satyricon on Friday night as part of MusicFest NW. It was one of those situations that was so outrageously amazing that after it’s over you begin to doubt if it actually happened.

Growing up in Northern California I was blessed by a phenomenal music scene. Concert promoter Bill Graham helped make San Francisco mecca for rock shows. With my varied interests in music I’ve seen a lot of very different shows in a wide variety of venues. Few shows have left me as mouth-open-awe-struck as the Monotonix show at Satyricon.

I had heard tales from friends who had seen Monotonix live: drummers body surfing, instruments set ablaze and all around insanity. It was my friend Ian Jane who most emphatically insisted I see them perform… I don’t know how I’ll ever thank him.

Many bands are known for their onstage antics. It’s the very showmanship which earns bands a following when they play live. You go to a U2 concert, not because the music is great (although it is), but for the amazing show that they put on. Some bands are all about show. Kiss rocks, but would you really go see them if they played without the grease paint and pyrotechnics? Would Hannah Montana be the same without the four story video screens? What Monotonix did in their Friday night show went far beyond antics or showmanship, it was a complete musical revolution.

From the first note of the show Monotonix declared their musical independence. Rather than setting up their instruments on stage they put them right in the middle of the show floor. Everyone encircled them as they assembled their drum kit and plugged in to their amps. Then it happened, like an explosion Monotonix filled every corner of the room with their music, the entire (and I do mean entire) club erupted in dance.

I’ve been in my fair share of mosh pits in my time (the most memorable was Pantera when they played in Watts/Los Angeles), but I’ve never been in a pit that included every single person in a club. Also the ‘pit’ at the Monotonix show was unlike any pit I’ve been in before. Rather than people pushing and shoving eachother, elbowing and flailing, the entire room bounced and danced together.

As Monotonix played you could see the sheer glee on the faces of everyone in the club. Monotonix somehow was re-capturing something that we all thought was lost – a real, honest to goodness punk rock show. True punk has become extremely rare, there are many bands out there trying to be punk rockers, emulating the bands which came before them, but so few simply ARE Punk. Monotonix is punk.

It’s impossible to capture what happened that night…This is the best I can do:

Flying through the air lead singer Ami Shalev crowd surfs as he sings, pausing only to climb up to a high ledge on the ceiling of the club. A trash can is bounced around, water is flying through the air. The high hat is kicked over and promptly reset. The guitarist leaps up onto the stage and then jumps back off. Nothing in the room is still. After a few songs the band picks up their instruments and moves them further to the back of the club and the circle of people follow.

“Sit Down”, “Everybody Sit Down!” yells Ami, and miraculously everyone listens. I am drenched in sweat, I am thirty seven years old and haven’t been in a pit in years. I am half leaning and half supporting the people around me as we sit on the floor of Satyricon. Ami thanks everyone for being at the show and then instructs everyone to wait till he counts to four till they jump up and dance. “One… Two… Seven…. Nine…. Five…. What comes after Three?!?!”, everyone yells “FOUR” He says, Wait for it!”… and then “FOUR”. Again Monotonix is an explosion of sound.

A few songs later they’re heading towards the door. Stretched way past the end of their amp cables, so they unplug, carry their instruments outside where Ami climbs a tree, moons everyone and makes a speech. The drum is lifted with the drummer on top and he bangs on it. The concert ends in a street side celebration of music.

Everyone stood, mouth agape looking at eachother… “Did this just really happen?” “Oh my fucking God!”

The Monotonix show was one that people will talk about for years, it’s the kind of show that you thank your lucky stars you were at or curse the sky that you missed. Monotonix returns to Portland at the end of the month with The Silver Jews at the Wonder Ballroom. They are not to be missed

Categories: Music Tags: ,

Monotonix in Portland

September 6, 2008 No comments

Tonight MusicFest NW featured of the best shows on a stage in Portland. It was truly punk. It was crazy, wild wonderful and simply amazing.

I’ll have a complete report soon. Here’s a sampling from the show.

David Walker at Badazzmofo.com who was at the show and captured these videos:


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Can You Please Not Sing Along With The Music??!?

Vampire Weekend
I can’t say I’ve ever really been much of a fan of Vampire Weekend. When I hear their music I can’t help but hear how they’ve clearly lifted their musical influences (they’re a simple mix of 80’s ska band and Paul Simon). I had a spot in my MusicFest NW schedule so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Could they deliver something live that expanded beyond the affable tunes on their debut album.

As I stood there tapping my toe to the music, realizing that the ‘we sound just like the album’ show wasn’t going to win me over an argument broke out between concert goers.

Could you PLEASE not sing along to the music!

While it wasn’t quite an altercation, the ‘discussion’ soon heated up into a full blown argument. The behemoth of a guy standing in front of me (and blocking much of my view as he constantly leaned over to give running commentary to his date) puffed his chest and looked like he’d charge at the scrawny guy who was belting out the words to one of his favorite songs. Could there actually be a fight over the right to sign at a rock concert?

This wasn’t the first time I had experienced something like this. When Arcade Fire came to town I was sitting up in the balcony. The couple next to me jumped up and started to dance to “Rebellion (Lies)”, soon after the couple behind them hollered over the music for them to ‘sit down’.

This whole phenomenon is astounding to me. I grew up in an era of music that measured a good show by how much you jumped around, sang and danced. A truly great concert was once which swept you up and made you a part of it, made you forget that you had shelled out some dough to watch someone stand on stage for a few hours and bang on instruments.

Music has changed, it’s become much more personal. Rather than getting together and ‘putting the record on’, people now listed to more of their music through little white iPod earbuds. It’s a pristine, unencumbered and solo musical experience which doesn’t translate when that music is transformed and shared by a large room full of people.

The iPod generation has had its impact with artists as well. Vampire Weekend played an extremely clean show, rarely deviating from their recorded songs. In many ways their reproduction of their pristine sound helps make them a hit with the crowd. It’s a neat and tidy relationship.

Soon after this incident I went down to Satyricon and saw the Israeli Punk Band Monotonix. It was the complete antithesis. As the entire room jumped and danced with the music, collided and collectively sweat I was reminded why I used to love to see music live. You go to a concert for the same reason you see a comedic movie with an audience, to share that experience. Something happens when people come together to share the music they love and I hope that the iPod generation can get educated about that.

Categories: Music Tags: ,

Musicfest North West and Time Based Art Festival – TBA '08

September 4, 2008 No comments
Time Based Art at The Left Bank Project

Time Based Art at The Left Bank Project

Tonight two major arts and entertainment festivals had their kick-off events. Both showed that Portland is big enough to support two huge festivals, even when they run at the same time.

I started the evening at MusicFest NW, their kick off party was an outdoor cocktail party in the lot next to the Wonder Ballroom. Less of a scene than a gathering, the party was most notable for the extremely long line for the open bar. The bar line was almost as long as the line of people waiting to get in to see the bands. Did I really wait fifteen minutes for a shot of Soco?!?

I caught the Battles whose set was well received. As I listened to their mostly instrumental music, I couldn’t help but think “Music Geeks”. The Battles play with passion and energy but their music often is over-thought and muddled. I enjoyed some of their songs but wasn’t ever pulled out of my ‘hey I’m watching a music show’ space and so my aside from some toe tapping and light head bobbing the set left me a little cold. I was surprised at how many people brought kids to the show. Maybe mathrock is something that appeals to kids.

Just a hop skip and jump away at the new Left Bank Building PICA launched their Time Based Art festival with a warm and welcoming party. The party was open to anyone and everyone and the scene was a nice mix of people. The Left Bank Project (which is dubbed ‘The Works’ for the TBA Festival) is a very cool venue with so much space that there were tons of nook’s and crannies to explore. One area’s tenant was a version of Backspace Cafe just for the fest. Also a nice patio area featured a work in progress by Justin Gorman whose large format graphic painting was fantastic to see in progress.

Some of the other art, including Big Skin by Lizzie Fitch, Anna Halprin’s Blank Placard Happening and the Flash Choir were solid misses. (Perhaps the Flash Choir would have done better performing in the outdoor space).

A solid start though to two landmark Portland festivals

Categories: Events, Music Tags: ,