by Leah Sottile and Alan Sculley

It ain't easy to say goodbye -- it never is. But in the case of Everclear, the time is now. In the '90s, the band led the wave of gritty rockers that made up Portland's small but spirited scene, which also featured Hazel, Hitting Birth and Big Daddy Meatstraw. But that all blew away with the piles of playbills from La Luna and the X-Ray Caf & eacute;, and went out of style when Chris Cornell cut his hair and when the rehab police caught up with Kim Deal, Scott Weiland and Courtney Love for the umpteenth time. Now we've got leftovers Saran-wrapped in the musical fridge -- ones that have enough preservatives to keep them good for a little longer, but it's getting to be that time to chuck 'em.

Because what you have before you now at this Friday's Big Easy show is not the Everclear you remember. Everclear was the sound that came from the genius hands of three talented musicians: Art Alexakis, Craig Montoya and Greg Eklund. But now Everclear is just one musician: Alexakis. He is Everclear -- hell, he owns the name. Montoya (originally from Spokane) and Eklund (formerly of Portland's Jollymon) are long gone now, says Alexakis, and he's seems more than fine with that. Now the limelight is his alone.

"Craig and Greg never really kind of figured into the songs or the direction of the band," he says on his way to a gig in Minneapolis.

Everclear was Alexakis' creation -- he recruited Montoya from a classified ad in the Portland Lafeyette, and he replaced his original drummer with Eklund. And even though it's hard to get him to say so, it was Alexakis' decision to lead the hard-nosed, edgy Everclear down the primrose path, slowly transforming "Heroin Girl" and "Nervous & amp; Weird" into "Wonderful" and syrupy covers like "Brown Eyed Girl." So it wouldn't be too tough to assume that it was also Alexakis' choice to include two covers and seven songs from the band's worst albums on Everclear's new Ten Years Gone: The Best of Everclear, 1994-2004.

But Alexakis doesn't get defensive at all when I even hint at asking him what kind of band Everclear is these days.

"We're a rock band, we're a rock and roll band," he says in the tone of a 13-year old being told to go to his room. "I don't know what you want me to say. I never pretended to be anything but a rock and roll band."

Touchy subject, Art?

"What I wanted to do with Everclear was have a singer/songwriter, which I am, and a hard rock band," he says. "You know, I'm 42 years old and I grew up with a lot of different music and I wanted to experience different things. And I have basically used Everclear as a palette for that," he says, explaining Everclear's shift from gritty noise to gumball ballads.

"World of Noise and Sparkle & amp; Fade and Afterglow kind of hit a resonant note for a lot of people, or hit them at a time when they were at a certain age or a certain place."

But he's not apologetic; he's always been the brains, the voice and the face behind the band from the get-go. He believes it was voice and songwriting that got the band a record deal in the first place.

"The guy who signed us to Capitol was looking for some aggressive music to compete on the radio with a lot of the alternative bands. But you're talking about bands such as Weezer and other bands like that weren't really the Seattle scene," he says, noting that Everclear never needed to ride on the coattails of the Northwest scene.

"We got lumped in because we were from the Northwest. We were a three-piece, and we were angry and I had blonde hair, so we were going to sound like Nirvana," he says, flecks of bitterness in his voice. "People would write us off without even hearing us."

Maybe some wrote off Everclear in the beginning, but it didn't last. Alexakis and Co. watched 1997's So Much for the Afterglow go double platinum. From there, he waxed on about divorce in the sappy "Wonderful," wrote the cheesy lyrics that echoed on "AM Radio" and carried through on the album Songs from An American Movie, Vol. 1: Learning How to Smile.

And that's when he lost me, and every fan of Everclear who I ever knew. Maybe that's when he really lost Montoya and Eklund for good, too. Even the current tour's name, "10 Years Gone," suggests that time has been lost since 1994, the year that Everclear first started riding the national radio waves with "Santa Monica." Maybe that's when everything started to go downhill.

"Ten years have gone by, and this [tour] is basically snapshots of those 10 years," he says.

And in that stack of mental Polaroids are snapshots of winning two Grammies, but also images of Montoya and Eklund walking out on Everclear. Shots of unforgettable live shows in cramped Portland clubs transforming into over-commercialized records and arena shows. Snapshots of self-promotion, egoism and commercialized rock 'n' roll. Snapshots of spoiled rock 'n' roll.

And the saddest of the stack, is the one that froze the moment when music stopped sparkling for Alexakis, and started being his job.

"To be honest with you, I don't really go out and listen to music. It's like going to work," he says. "I listen to music that I read about or that people turn on to me. Lately my 12-year-old has been turning me on to music, like Maroon 5 and Jet."

Everclear sparkled for longer than most bands, but the fading part will always sit on top of the band's stack of memories.

Mustaine Rally -- Just days before Megadeth's current tour was about to start, founding member, guitarist and singer Dave Mustaine was fired up about hitting the road.

"The people I'm playing with right now are very passionate about what they do, and it's just really, really exciting for me," says Mustaine, who will be joined on tour by guitarist Glen Drover, bassist James MacDonough and drummer Sean Drover. "I was playing yesterday and there were a couple of moments listening to the songs, and it was as if you were listening to a studio record. The timing and tempo and the playing was so pristine, it just rocked my world."

That Mustaine even has a chance to be this excited about his music and Megadeth comes as a welcome surprise to metal fans. Two years ago, it appeared that Megadeth was finished once and for all -- and that Mustaine might not even have a future in music.

Following the release of the 2001 Megadeth Album, The World Needs a Hero, Mustaine had entered rehab for renewed treatment of a substance abuse problem that he had appeared to have kicked back in 1990.

Then, during his rehab in January 2002, came a freak injury. Mustaine fell asleep one day with his left arm draped over a chair and inadvertently compressed a nerve in his arm. The damage was so severe that Mustaine's arm went numb. Facing a year of rehab and physical therapy, with no guarantee that he would ever regain enough use of his arm to again play guitar, Mustaine disbanded Megadeth, the group he formed in 1983 after he was booted from Metallica following a two-year stint in that then-fledgling band.

As this fall's tour obviously suggests, diligent rehab gave Mustaine use of his arm, allowing him to return Megadeth to active duty. But in a sense, that's only because of a technicality.

Mustaine intended to have the new Megadeth album, The System Has Failed, be his first solo record. But he still owed an album under Megadeth's record contract, so the new project went under the Megadeth banner, even though The System Has Failed was recorded without any of the other musicians who were in the Megadeth lineup in 2001.

Instead, Mustaine brought on bassist Jimmie Sloas and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta to record the new album, and then formed an entirely different lineup for this fall's tour.

The fact that the other members of the final Megadeth lineup -- long-time bassist David Ellefson, drummer Jimmy DeGrasso and guitarist Al Pitrelli - are nowhere to be found is proof enough that Mustaine wasn't completely happy with Megadeth as the group entered the new century.

In the beginning, though, Megadeth was purely as Mustaine's vision, blazing a trail for today's extreme metal bands with a mix of thrashy, raw rockers mixed with just enough melody to make the band's music palatable.

But by the mid-1990s, the band had changed several members. One of the new recruits, guitarist Marty Friedman (who joined in 1988) pushed for a more melodic sound that would give Megadeth a better chance at a mainstream commercial breakthrough. The result was two albums -- 1997's Cryptic Writings and 1999's Risk -- that were seen as major departures from the classic Megadeth sound.

Mustaine says he didn't agree with the direction, especially on Risk, but bowed to the wishes of Friedman, as well as the band's record label and management, for more melody.

After Risk failed to turn Megadeth into platinum-selling superstars, Mustaine reasserted himself. Friedman left the band, Mustaine took control of virtually all of the songwriting, and 2001's The World Needs a Hero marked a significant step back toward the band's original sound.

Now The System Has Failed goes even further back to Megadeth's roots. There are songs with a good deal of melody -- such as "Die Dead Enough," "The Scorpion" and "Back in the Day." But other songs like "Kick The Chair" and "Blackmail the Universe" (two of several politically charged songs on the CD) are among the most brutal tracks to appear on a Megadeth CD in a decade.

"I put my heart and soul into this last record, and the critics and the fans have said this record is better than any record for years that we've put out," Mustaine says. "I'm happy to hear that, and I believe it, too, because the music hasn't been damaged, the songwriting process hasn't been molested. Basically what you see is what you get."

Mustaine promises that he will record under his own name from now on and that the tour behind The System Has Failed will be the last for Megadeth.

"If you don't get your tickets before it sells out, you're stupid because it's the last tour. And when it's over, it's over," Mustaine says. "I'm going on as a solo artist, but this will be the last Megadeth tour. So if you snooze, you lose." -- Alan Sculley

Outsizing Turiaf -- Ronny Turiaf isn't the only native of the Caribbean living in Spokane. Sure, he gets the limelight because he's tall and he can dunk - but let's not let him overshadow the islander that we Inlander staffers are more apt to check out on a weekend night: Raggs.

Raggs Gustaffe, a native-born Jamaican who has made his home in the Inland Empire, is Spokane's answer to multicultural music. He can be found on most weekends singing his original reggae tunes and bopping to hip-hop beats at any of the music hot spots around town. And he makes sure that his stuff is top-flight; he periodically retreats back to Jamaica for the sole purpose of working with the world's finest reggae masters to hone his island sound. He's even played in the past with Peter Tosh, formerly of Bob Marley & amp; the Wailers. Now that's something that even poster boy Turiaf can't even measure up to. --Leah Sottile

Publication date: 11/25/04

Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through May 16
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