There is a long history of you and your friends piling into a car and driving well into the night in order to catch a show that is not coming to your home town. While the traveling performer is a very old trope in our world, it is only with the advent of national radio – where audiences could get to know artists before they ever made it to the town they play in – that listeners were in a position to know what a show might be like before they went. Of course, by then the lines of communication were open so you could promote shows like this, and suddenly, all the pieces were in place to develop a culture where not only space could prevent you from seeing something you want, provided you could get there in time.
A much more modern tradition revolves around the weekend after Thanksgiving. As people are visiting family and friends for that holiday, they are usually casting around for something to do on the days leading back to that Monday, when you return to work. Bars fill up and, if you’re lucky, a few bands will tune up in the corner to help pass the time. The folks at Turn! Turn! Turn! certainly had that in mind this year, and to that end, a select handful of us found ourselves huddled around a brand new stage as we took in one of these shows, bolstered by booze and food and a sense that, for whatever reason, this was what we wanted to be doing instead of standing around the kitchen as we cast around for the last few things we’ll be saying to each other before we go home tomorrow.
White Shark Shivers started the show, an ensemble born out of various Thinking Feller’s Union Local 282 projects, with a large horn section and two guitar players, delivering something that had some of the same spirit as that long lost band, while creating a much more specific tone and mood that is not only more appropriate for a gloomy, raining evening, but felt in line with the current national mood. While this seems to be an extension of Mark Davies’ 1994 solo project The White Shark – and the set certainly included some of those songs amid some covers and originals – this seemed like a new ensemble made up of old friends that is capable of so much more. If we can’t have the Feller’s back, White Shark Shivers is absolutely the next best thing.
Compared to the crowd on stage for the first act, Porest’s two members was certainly an interesting juxtaposition, to say the least. Having not played in the US for almost 10 years, this was one of two shows that were happening on this continent, and when you listen to some of the songs Porest is known for, it actually makes sense. While mining some of the collage / experimental territory that Negativland loves to explore, Porest takes their political tone and runs wild with it, intermixing comedy and collage with deconstructive lyrics that might explain why Mark Gergis has been living outside of the country in recent years. “Soapbox Cutter” is a scathing indictment of US policy and politics, delivered from his “karaoke soapbox” that so conveniently is the form of his stage show, “Diplomat Smile” continues to explore these themes, in a way that pre-saged the recent election, and yet seems to be commenting upon it, too. “Keep fighting the fight,” seems even more ironic, and yet hopeful, when delivered to a crowd of dancing, happy fans. Mix this with some on-stage destruction, comedy, and slick dance moves that accompany a song against smoking, and it was most certainly worth it to catch this rare artist in his natural environment.
To close the show, Sir Richard Bishop of The Sun City Girls took the stage, and amid protests that we’d already seen the best, and that he was far too wasted to play well, he continued to deliver acoustic originals and covers that felt celebratory in a way we all desperately needed. While his improvisational sonic explorations are always contemplative, he wasn’t beneath throwing in a few jokey covers like “Fly By Night” and an incredibly earnest version of “If I Only Had A Brain.” We swayed, we rocked, we laughed and we cajoled, but it was mostly because we didn’t want it to end. We still had an hour drive home ahead of us, and the liquor soaked joy and pot-tinged celebrations seemed to be just starting as Richard insisted that we had already gotten our money’s worth.
But as we blasted back down I-5 to return home, it seemed the perfect endcap to an incredible evening. If seeing them, as Richard insisted, was about getting our money’s worth, then he’s being incredibly disingenuous. Porest didn’t come to this country just to play for a small crowd in Portland for the money, and it seems odd that Mark Davies would assemble a group like his because there was certainly money in it. Rather, this was another one of his jokes. When it comes to shows like this, none of us are getting together in a small club because it is “worth it.” Rather, we’re coming for the comradery, we’re coming to get away from our families for a few minutes and enjoy ourselves. We’re looking for something else in the night, in the rain, in the darkness, in this November at the end of a year that has beaten us down, insulted us, degraded us, and made us feel like there is no hope.
We’re looking, for a few hours, for some music. And, fortunately, we found it.