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Fear and Loathing in the Rose City 

We were somewhere in North Portland on the edge of the ghetto when the paranoia began to take hold. I remember saying something like, "Do you guys know anyone here? Are you sure this is it?"

Because in that moment, I realized that everything I had come to believe about Belt of Vapor could all be washed away in one big-city, dog-eat-dog finger-snap of reality. Suddenly I wondered whether it was worth the risk to walk into this unfamiliar den, this house full of animals. Maybe it wasn't too late to keep driving, fake a poor sense of direction, get lost, deter them with a bottle of whiskey and a bag of Oregon weed. Aaron was in my car, and no doubt Bob and Justin would follow.

I hit the brakes and aimed the Great White Shark toward the shoulder of the road. No point mentioning my paranoia, I thought. These poor bastards will feel the same soon enough.

What I feared was the sudden, simple revelation of doubt that was scratching at the inside of my skull: Is Belt of Vapor really that good?

Because what I have so harshly learned about Spokane -- like anyone who has lived there and left -- is that anyone can feel good at something there, whether they are truly talented or just shamefully good looking and lucky. Belt of Vapor skated from playing garages to bars to Spokane's only mid-sized club in the span of a year. They graced the cover of The Inlander last year as the city's most buzz-worthy band. They took the B-Side's award for 2005's Best Band. Month after month -- rarely offering any new songs -- they packed the B-Side and Mootsy's with loyal, adoring fans.

And to me -- a fan and a friend -- Belt of Vapor personifies musical devotion and self-deprecating talent. They are a bijou gem in an age of recycled, run-of-the-mill musical pebbles.

But could they win over fans outside their hometown?

Inside, the keg is flowing at around 100 mph, and Book of Maps, a PDX band, is downstairs playing to some 50 pairs of loyal ears. My paranoia faded with each brimming keg cup. Aaron, Bob and Justin -- as usual -- seemed to be handling this place just fine.

Within minutes, Book of Maps unplugged, Belt of Vapor plugged in, and all of us Spokane transplants crowded the front of the room.

The noise attracted the masses like buzzards to a Chevy-flattened tabby. These Portland rock fans were nodding in sync with "Too High To Be a Plane" and "Thor's Hammer."

It wasn't until "Too High To Be a Plane," when I turned around to mock a drunken spectator to my friends, that I noticed how packed the basement was. People stood on tiptoes to see around the tall guys, others hung through the stair railings to get a look. Belt of Vapor, without a doubt, showed up the two other local bands playing that night. It was something that made all of us transplants grin like overeager stage mothers. Excellent.

And the guys? They calmly, but hardly mechanically, finished their set, thanked the guys in Book of Maps, walked upstairs and continued drinking from the keg, maybe (or maybe not) noticing the crowd of new fans they'd just recruited.

Belt of Vapor at Mootsy's with Nineteen Points of Nowhere, Under Mountains on Saturday, Jan. 7, at 10 pm. $5 cover. Call 838-1570

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