Wednesday, May 4, 2011

M Ward Live at the Crystal Ballroom, Portland, May 3, 2011

M Ward played the first of a 3-night stand at Portland's Crystal Ballroom last night, celebrating the grand opening of the Crystal Hotel down the street (between the Ballroom and Powell's Books).


I thought it was a perfect way to begin a stay in Portland - seeing M Ward play at the Crystal Ballroom. In my mind, M Ward is one of the first people i think about when Portland is touted as being "musician-friendly", i.e. an atmosphere, an environment that nurtures and encourages artists... the others being, i suppose, Stephen Malkmus of Pavement, Modest Mouse (of course), The Shins, The Decemberists, among many many others (i will note that several of these people are originally from places other than Oregon, including good olde California...)

The Crystal Ballroom is one of the best known venues in Portland. Fleet Foxes played there last weekend, Iron & Wine play there at the end of the month... about 1,500 capacity, the two aforementioned shows quickly sold out, as did Foster The People, scheduled to play there June 1. A word about Foster The People - a prime example of the hype machine in full frontal. People look for a "buzz band" to come out of SXSW and Coachella. Someone decides that Foster The People is that band and writes about it. Not wanting to feel left out or left behind (or god forbid, out of the loop), other critics fall over themselves to declare that they, too, adore Buzz Band X. Music fans read the hyperventilating reviews and wonder who the hell this new band is causing all this ink to spill and check them out. Viola! A true internet underground phenomena is created! Now sometimes those bands are good, and sometimes not. Foster The People seems to me to be rather unremarkable - a synth pop band. Hey, no denying that "Pumped Up Kicks" is catchy as hell (and we're supposed to think they're clever for having a sweet poppy song about a disgruntled kid with a gun on a shooting spree...) but a catchy hook does not a good song (or good band) make. And it's kind of bizarre that a brand new band, which has like 3 songs released, could sell out the Crystal Ballroom weeks in advance merely on the basis of hype...

Encore: "Roll Over Beethoven"

Oh, and a word, too, about The Crystal Ballroom. As I entered the ballroom (up on the second floor), I noticed that the stage was stuck in the corner and there was a huge ten-feet wide fire lane in the middle of the dance floor, to separate, I soon learned, the drinkers (in the back) from the under-agers (up front). 

This is a ridiculous set-up.

But anyway... it was a great show... a lot of us hadn't seen Matt solo for some time, as he's been busy with She & Him and Monsters of Folk. It was nice to hear the old songs, as well as some covers, and surprisingly, a Monsters of Folk song ("Whole Lot of Losing").

Matt seemed to be in fine form, as was his always excellent band. He's fine in these "supergroups" but he really shines as a solo artist, as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and keyboard player. We heard several songs from 2009's "Hold Time", including my former "get me going in the morning" song "Never Had Nobody Like You" (later sacrileged in a Budweiser commercial... ok, I get it, musicians need a couple of bucks, especially now that nobody buys CDs anymore, but.... couldn't you have sold a crappy song? Or at least not for a crappy beer?)

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