The lingering spectre of Bohemia is alive and well on this Thursday evening, cloistered in a mysterious pocket of SE Portland. This show is an invite-only occasion in a tiny house venue, lit up and resplendent in candle flame and shadow. Four stellar acts, firmly underground but rising rapidly, quickly and firmly destroy any lingering retrophilia, that destructive nostalgia that leaves cultural explorers feeling hopeless and defeated. The feeling that everything has been done before, done better, by our parents, our older siblings, our neighbors and bosses. Can it be that there are actually GIANTS among us, living saints and martyrs, sacrificing all in living rooms and kosher delis the world over?
Every act that plays this cozy living room show is distinctive, with something passionate and personal to transmit.
July 18th, 2013 @ Dream’s Outer Space in Portland, Oregon
First up is Wizard Apprentice (formerly known as Fat Transfer), from Oakland, CA. My friends and I come in during the tail end of her performance, lulled, hypnotized, and mesmerized by her loop-oriented, disembodied soul music. She plays with backing tapes, vaguely karaoke style, with layers and loops of her own voice, making a spectral chorus out of thin air. Talk about “an army of me”! She unknowingly answers a few questions I’d been having regarding arrangements and structure, and my mind is whizzing with new ideas by the time she extinguishes her wicks. She’s got a new album out on Bandcamp, seems to be a formidable talent with a distinctive vision to communicate, so you’d be advised to get in on the ground floor, and check out this newcomer.
The Ghost Ease
Local favorites The Ghost Ease, who are largely responsible for dragging us out into the industrial bowels of SE, are up next. I’ve been following Jem Marie’s output as The Ghost Ease for quite a while now, seeing her progress from an experimental bedroom-pop magician to a full-bore rock goddess. This performance marks the first time I’ve seen the band as a trio, since the induction of Fabi Reyna on the bass guitar — and it is probably the finest I’ve ever heard them sound (barring perhaps their Fela-Kuti-meets-Black-Sabbath impersonation at a birthday noise concert I organized). This evening, The Ghost Ease are definitely in their element; the lights are dimmed to suitable seance levels, with Nsayi Matingou (who used to play with the band Kusikia) creating a primal pulse on the drums. The feeling is of a late-night campfire: light burning low, mesmerizing embers dancing. Once the mood alights, Jem Marie is able to let go, with her Fender roaring and purring like a black panther. They are all clearly having a great time — vibing you might say, getting ready for a big show at PDX POP NOW! the following weekend. To me, however, this seems like the real event — the hidden magickal moment where real rock n’ roll is made, with only a dozen people looking. A great reminder to not get blasé and skip small shows, as they are where the real shit goes down.
Filardo plays next, hushed and gentle electric guitar miniatures with abstract lyrics, surreal while still being personal, delivered with a voice like air blowing through a pipe factory. He remindes me of a mixture of M. Ward, Jandek, and Bill Callahan, succeeding in making truly experimental jazz/folk/blues. He’s one of the most talented electric guitarists I’ve seen in a hot minute, with a truly light and graceful touch. I feel like I am getting to see Lorren Mazzacane Connors in a tiny living room; my friends are also suitably impressed. He’s gained some new fans from his recent stints in Portland; until he comes back, I’ll be digging through his meager recorded output and stealing ideas.
And for the pièce de résistance, a solo intimate acoustic set from Mr. Stephen Steinbrink, the stained-glass cowboy. Formerly from Phoenix, AZ, where he became somewhat of a legend in the underground/house show scene with his intricate solo work, he has recently moved to Olympia, WA. This is excellent news for musical connoisseurs in the know here in the Northwest, and if you don’t know already, consider yourself advised. Stephen Steinbrink is truly something special, serene and beatific while still steely and resolved. He is what Nick Drake would have been, if Nick Drake had grown an epidermis and gone on the road for a decade. Maybe he would have survived? There is no doubt that Steinbrink will continue to survive, as well as thrive. I first saw him peddling his songs at a funky art space in Denver five or six years ago, and it is a treat and a delight to see him, a thousand miles and half a decade from that first introduction. And let me tell you, this man has really grown into something exquisite. Of all the acts I’ve encountered in the underground circuit, I would judge Stephen Steinbrink the “Most Likely To Cross Over”. He’s got a star quality, but is still soft-spoken, kind, and accessible. He ends most songs with a quietly squeaked, “Thank you,” and his material ranges from the heartfelt lo-fi folk of early Iron And Wine to psych-prog pyrotechnics of Quasi and material bordering on Slowcore. There’s something for nearly everyone, and it is quite simply GREAT MUSIC. Stephen Steinbrink is that rare artist who is incredibly gifted, but still little known — the kind who can be most helped with a little attention. Find out about him now, while it’s still possible to have a conversation with him, and while his records and shows are still cheap.