Well, I promised a & & NORTH BY NORTHWEST & & report, so here it is. To bring everyone up to speed, I've just returned from the NxNW Music and New Media Conference, held each fall in Portland. It's a three-day music industry shindig packed with just about everything an aspiring rock star, die-hard music fan, industry worm or tech nerd could want. It's a trade show. It's a conference. It's a music festival. It's pretty darned fun.
Except for the music festival, the bulk of the activities are held in the classy and lavishly appointed Embassy Suites Hotel. And the fine people at the Embassy certainly make you feel welcome. With a free breakfast buffet every morning and "manager's reception" (that's free open bar) every evening, even the lowliest among us were made to feel like royalty.
At the trade show, representatives from businesses ranging from record labels to online music sources were on hand to chat and fill your bag with swag (standout freebies this year included a black knit cap from Eveo, ginseng vials from Audiopia and those great, egg-shaped maraca things from Discmakers). At the conferences, you could pick the experts' brains about everything from making the most out of a tightly budgeted recording session to getting your music online.
But NxNW is really about seeing bands -- more than 300 bands, to be accurate, performed in 20 live music venues sprinkled throughout the city. Though it was impossible to catch even a fraction of the performances, chance of stumbling into something truly remarkable is pretty great.
As in years past, I had dutifully circled the names of artists I definitely wanted to see. And as in years past, I pretty much ignored most of it. I did catch of few of those on my "must see" list, such as Seattle's Mountain Consolidated, which I was able to interview as well (see below). But the real fun was in the unexpected finds, the stuff I just sort of blundered into that completely caught me by surprise.
Such a find was the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, a father and daughter duo in which daughter (age 7), in a powder blue dress and patent leather shoes, stoically (and flawlessly) pounded out a simple rhythm on drums while dad strummed guitar and sang. And I was fortunate enough to catch Barbara Manning, a bona fide pop star. But not pop as in the pap that litters FM radio and clogs MTV. And not a star in the sense that she is adored by millions and outsells the Beatles and Elvis combined. She is simply a well-respected artist highly revered in the independent rock universe for her honest, insightful and funny lyrical sense and her inventive guitar playing. I also managed to squeeze in a solo performance by Portland's favorite son, Pete Krebs. Nothing but a man and his guitar. Oh yeah, and a bag of terrific songs, too.
But all this great, easily accessible music falling out of the sky like manna got me thinking about my hometown. How is it that Portland -- roughly twice as big as Spokane -- is able to support 10 times the number of live original music venues? I know its proximity to Seattle and its position on the West Coast touring circuit helps. I also learned that so does Portland's decidedly progressive city government, which sees this kind of activity as something to be nurtured rather than feared. Also of help are Oregon's relaxed liquor laws, which allow drinking, and all-age crowds to mingle at a single show.
I made a special effort to note how the clubs I visited conducted business. Not surprisingly, the best ones seem to thrive by attending to the basics of guest service and a willingness to book new and untested bands.
And that was certainly the spirit of NxNW. There are a zillion lean and hungry performers out there scratching for a little exposure and recognition. They don't need much dough. Hey local club owners, I know it's tough without good radio support to get people hyped about a relatively unknown (though possibly red hot and soon to break) band. But you've got precious little competition here. You're in the enviable position of being able to take chances, so don't be afraid to go out on that limb a little. Give Spokane audiences some credit. There are people here that are starving for just the right sonic nourishment. Tap into it. And I'll do my part. Enough said.
& & Groovy Country & &
I know I've labeled acts "hard to categorize" before, but sheesh -- here's a band you can apply the term "hybrid" to with no fear of being busted as a hyperbole hound. It's the only way to deal with the Seattle musical collective known as & & MOUNTAIN CONSOLIDATED & & .
By fleshing out hip-hop rhythms with samples, harmonica, acoustic and steel guitar and just about everything else in the punk/folk/pop toy box, Mountain Con traverses waters previously charted by few others. Their debut album on Acid Blues Records, The MC Stands for Revolution, is smart, catchy, soulful and thoroughly modern sounding. You can check them out at Fort Spokane on Friday.
I met up with them (all six) at Portland's Berbati's Pan as they prepared for their NxNW debut. The club -- comfortably seedy with a well-stocked backbar -- wasn't exactly user friendly to music writers heavily reliant on tape recorders to get the quotes.
"That's going to sound really good on your recording," deadpans singer/songwriter James Nugent referring to the oppressively loud dance music coming through the club's sound system. "Are we in a dance club?"
Mountain Con's roots can be traced to a four-piece Missoula punk-pop band called the Elements.
"We got out because, though we were doing very well in Missoula, we wanted to take it to the next level. And where else did you go in 1995 but Seattle?"
The move had a profound effect on the members. Suddenly, after years of local notoriety and great shows in Missoula, the band found itself in a new, urban environment trying to break into a music scene that was both highly competitive and firmly entrenched.
"When we got there, we spent half a year just trying to survive. We started getting gigs and playing around, but we didn't know anybody. We tried to put out a single, and it broke us. We kind of disintegrated. Then we sat around up in West Seattle for years with all this music. And we just started playing for fun."
As primary lyricist for Mountain Con, Nugent seems to take pleasure in dropping fragile pop culture, political and rock references just to see who's going to keep them from shattering on the floor. On the disc's second track, "Future Burn Out," he invokes the spirit of Brian Wilson with the copped line, "I just wasn't made for these times" and the spirit of Lou Reed, Bob Dylan -- even Walt Whitman -- with his vivid descriptions of nightlife denizens.
"I steal from the best," quips Nugent. "You're probably like the first guy except for him [motioning to organist Ben Erickson] to even pick up on that reference. It wasn't an accident, either. With that line, I'm saying: He said it better than me, so I'm just gonna take his line exactly and use it. But that's okay because I'm down with Brian Wilson. If you know what it is, great. If you don't, then maybe you should figure it out."
Mountain Con now includes Nugent, Erickson, bassist Pierre Ferguson, drummer Mike Watt, steel guitarist Eric Swede and sample and loop maestro Erik Blood. The translation of the band's studio sound into a live setting only adds to the fun. Hearing disparate musical components combined under such expert and inspired direction is a rare and exciting thing to behold.
The guys in Mountain Con would probably shrug off such praise as being overwrought. For as Nugent confided as the rest of the sextet hustled over to check on the equipment situation, "We're really just poor hayseeds with dreams."
& & & lt;i & Mountain Consolidated plays at Fort Spokane with the Turn Ons and Bucket Riders on Friday, Sept. 29, at 9 pm. Tickets: $5. Call: 838-3809. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &
& & Animal Magnetism & &
One of the most distinctive and soulful voices of the original British Invasion, & & ERIC BURDON & & has, over his 35-plus-year career, been more places and experimented with more musical genres than most of his peers. And he's just outlasted many of them. He'll be at The Met on Friday with a new band.
He was a founding member (then leader) of the Animals, a rough and tumble R & amp;B-based rock outfit from Newcastle, England. That band scored a huge international hit in 1964 with an electrified version of the traditional folk tune, "House of the Rising Sun." A string of hits followed, including such barroom standards as "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "We Gotta Get Outta This Place" and "It's My Life."
After the original Animals disbanded in 1966, Burdon established himself as a California boy at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival (he would later record the song "Monterey" as an homage to the fest). Soon after, he began performing with the spacey L.A. soul-funk outfit War. That collaboration resulted in some of Burdon's most memorable and wildly creative work, including the Top 10 smash hit, "Spill the Wine."
Burdon left War after three successful studio albums to record with jazz/blues legend Jimmy Witherspoon before embarking on a solo career interspersed with a seemingly endless number of reunions with the Animals.
The latest incarnation (dubbed Eric Burdon and the New Animals) features Burdon, guitarists Dean Restum and Neal Morse, bassist Dave Meros and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. The current lineup's set list is dominated by chestnuts from Burdon's long career but leaves room for new material and classic rock covers as well.
In a very significant way, Burdon -- who once played before thousands -- has returned to his roots. Now playing in medium-sized halls and sweating it out in the clubs, he's out there to remind us of his contributions to the legacy of rock. And after all this time, it's obvious that Burdon is still into it for the music and a chance to perform. A line from his autobiographical song, The Road says it best: "I don't live if I don't play this rock and roll."
& & & lt;i & Eric Burdon and the New Animals perform at The Met on Friday, Sept. 29, at 8 pm. Tickets: $25. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &