Saturday, February 19, 2011

(Don't) sing me a song piano man...leave it to those with talent: a few suggestions for good live music in Portland

While patronizing a local establishment in the Old Port, I recently experienced a rather pathetic yet sadly common pick-up attempt. It was about ten minutes until closing and I had gone over to the bar to order a drink. I had hoped to quickly grab my beer and then resume my evening on the dance floor. On this particular evening, I had met up with some coworkers from a very new job and was trying to get back to the group before last call so they could all marvel at how cool I am outside of work. However, I was unable to return to the dance floor to impress these coworkers with my awkward un-rhythmic jolting because as I turned to walk away from the bar, I was blocked by a very intoxicated and lonely looking man in a suit and tie. I’d seen this man drunkenly eyeing me from a few feet away and even heard him mumble something incoherently while I’d ordered my drink; his speech was so slurred that he wound up sounding more like the prospector Gabby Johnson from Blazing Saddles than the white-collar young person he appeared to be.
At first, I couldn’t be certain he was speaking to me as he certainly wasn’t speaking any human language I’ve been made aware of. However, as he stepped in front of me, head bobbing in a drunken trance, I knew what was coming and whole-heartedly dreaded it. Just as I suspected he might, he opened his gaping drinking hole, gave me a full body scan from his crossed eyes, and somehow (kind of) spoke: “Dojoo like live music?” Despite the intellectual witticism of this opening statement, I felt my eyes going for the roll. I stopped myself from completely dismissing and embarrassing this fellow merely out of the truly pitiable nature of the come-on. Amazingly, as drunk as he was, he seemed to realized the blunder he’d just made. He tried to recover by hitting himself on the head with his palm and essentially shouting à la Napoleon Dynamite: “That was stupid! I’m so bad at this!” I actually felt bad for him and was about to agree with him while politely dismissing myself, when he carried on by asking me what I do for a living. As I was about to respond with another phrase for "goodbye," he blurted: “I work at such-and-such office, but I’m really a musician…”
 I immediately felt my gag reflex preparing for launch.
The rest of this man’s awkward attempt to talk with me was sad and boring. He didn’t listen to anything I had to say, although what I was trying to say was goodbye. He just continued to go on and on about how his guitar and his music were his “true loves.” The worst part of this annoying encounter is that it was not the first time a “musician” has tried to impress me (or anyone) with a very lame come-on about their musical interests. Even more, not only have they crashed and burned with their self-promotional conversation topics, these guys (and sometimes girls) tend to ignore everything you say, only waiting for another chance to tell you about how talented they are.
At this very same bar a year or so earlier, I was settling up my tab at the end of the evening, when the night’s musical act thought it’d be a good idea to approach me by stating that he “couldn’t help but notice” I was dancing along. There were only about six of us dancing, so he immediately impressed me with his keen observation skills. Instead of being the mean, sarcastic person I sometimes want to be, I smiled nicely enough and grabbed my jacket. As I was trying to make my exit, he tried again: “So, do you like original music?” I might add that this guy was doing pretty terribly rendered Billy Joel covers throughout most of the night. I responded (perhaps rather freshly) that anyone who liked music probably liked original music, as all music was once original. Instead of being stung by my sarcasm, he completely ignored my disinterest and proceeded to tell me about his “other gig” doing “originals” and “that kind of thing." To top it all off, not only did he fail to notice my boyfriend standing right behind me the entire time, he also concluded this painfully boring “conversation” by asking me for my e-mail address so he could “get in touch," as well as alert me of any upcoming shows he might be playing.
I guess my point in writing about these unfortunate run-ins with would-be musicians is that this is a fairly common occurrence in Portland, and probably every other city where instruments are freely sold. I for one would like to see an end to it. I love music. And live music is even better. But not if you’re a moron that can barely play guitar. There’s too much good music to settle for mediocre ego-maniacs whose idea of a good conversation starter is something as brilliant as “do you like original songs?”  Rather, I would like to steer us all towards some of my favorite places in Portland where you can enjoy some good live music and I'd also like to mention some of the great acts coming to play here in the near future. Hopefully, these venues and shows will let you avoid the previously written about run-ins (although I’m not making any solid promises).
1)The State-Thank goodness this wonderful and historic venue is back in action. It was a dark time for the Portland music scene (and certainly for me) without it. It definitely brings in some musical acts that aren’t normally inclined to play at the Civic Center. No Kenny Chesney stadium blow-outs at this more intimidate theater (though I must admit, I’ve been known to belt out lyrics to “Keg in the Closet” on more than one occasion). This place has a knack for attracting some world-renowned talent. I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know, but The State’s got some pretty sweet shows coming up this spring that are worth checking out. Plus, most of the tickets are very reasonably priced. Here’s just a sampling of the great stuff they’ve got lined up:
Soul Live comes to Portland Saturday, March 19. Tickets are only 20 bucks.  I’ve seen this funk/jazz trio before, and they kick butt. So, scoot on over to the State and embrace your funky side.
Sara Bareilles is performing Friday, April 1. Tickets are $22 in advance and $25 at the door You may remember her from her 2007 pop hit “Love Song.” While I definitely sang along to the radio every time it came on, that particular song doesn’t really do Miss Bareilles justice; it sounds more like a Kelly Clarkson chart climber. However, Sara Bareilles is actually a really talented vocalist and musician—she plays four instruments in addition to singing. Plus, while I’ve never seen it first hand, I’ve heard she gives a great live performance. Skeptical of her talents? Check out this really nice stripped-down cover of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”                                               
Iron & Wine will be performing Monday, April 18. Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam is really talented, a bit of an oddball, and he kind of looks like Zach Galifianakis, so what’s not to like? Tickets are $23 in advance and $25 at the door (if it doesn’t sell out).
The Avett Brothers come to Portland Thursday, June 2! I am unbelievably excited about this one. I first heard of these guys a few years ago when I was researching the bands at Bonnaroo to make sure I didn’t miss any shows I’d kick myself about later. Well, I did end up missing The Avett Brothers because I slept through it. And ever since my friend Pete later got me into them, I absolutely have been kicking myself. But now it seems life has given me a second chance as they’ll be gracing Portland with their folk-rock-bluegrass-pop-honky tonk fusion of loveliness. I will say though, while I usually recommend pretty cheap entertainment, the tickets for this show are a wee bit more expensive than the rest of the acts I’ve been suggesting: they’re about 40 bucks. And if you’re a broke college student, or just plain broke, quit your whining and skip a weekend in the Old Port so you will have enough money to go see this amazing band. You won’t regret it. It beats another drunken night at Gritty’s anytime. Anyway, if people can shell out hundreds of dollars to see Miley Cyrus wear a blond wig and badly sing crappy songs, then you can spend $40 on The Avett Brothers.
2) The Empire­-Because I just freaked out over national (and international) musical acts, I want to make sure I also promote the local talent we’ve got here in Portland. The Empire Dine and Dance is usually a pretty fun place to go to dance and listen to some local musicians. They often have pretty decent acts. If you’re a bluegrass fan, definitely check out The Stowaways (no cover), playing every Monday night 8:30 to 11:30. Also, the drinks are reasonably priced and it can be a really fun atmosphere. The downstairs and upstairs almost seem like two different bars which is kind of fun in itself—upstairs is more dance-happy, while downstairs offers a more relaxed astmophere to sit and chat with friends while you sip on drinks. Plus, they’ve got open mic night every Sunday, which can sometimes be a good way to scope out local talent or even show off your own chops. Although, at such an inclusive event, you’re almost guaranteed to encounter some of the aforementioned talentless airheads with delusions of grandeur—proceed with caution!
3) Blue on Congress Street is absolutely one of the most intimate venues in Portland to relax and listen to music. It’s got a cozy and neighborly feel to it, and the close quarters makes the audience very much a part of the experience.  They’ve got both local and national talent streaming in. Every Wednesday is Irish Night, which is a cool way to check out something a little different. There is never a cover at Blue (though about once a month they have a ticketed show), but don’t be a stingy jerk. Musicians need money in order to keep entertaining you, so throw some love their way and toss a few bucks in the basket. Blue is a great place for everyone. They’ve got a really nice beer and wine list and if you’re not a big drinker they’ve got more than just alcohol to offer: as I’ve stated before in a previous post, they’ve got a wide array of teas and yummy coffees to choose from. Plus, the food is good and cheap so enjoy a nice home-style meal while being entertained.
This is a very small list of musical happenings in this city.  I am by no means cool enough to know all the good live music spots and goings-ons in Portland. So, if you have suggestions, comments, or ideas that could contribute to this post, by all means let me know. Furthermore, there are many places where you can see very talented local musicians which I've excluded only because I didn't want this post to go on for the rest of my life, and you probably don't want that either. As far as what I have suggested, I can’t guarantee that the musicians won’t ever be self-involved morons, but at least they might be talented ones. Until next time…

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