Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Night Pub Crawl

Since I've now had a few days to decompress, I figured I would let anyone passing this site know what I did on that big ol' election shindig we all had the other day.

First, a bit of background. I'm a devote political junkie and have been following this election as if it were a two-year long interactive Super Bowl (assume for a moment that I actually care about the Super Bowl). I read a handful of political sites and check for updates at least five times a day, along with a variety of other material. I don't watch television or read newspapers (not physical copies, in any case), just online stuff (oddly, I find that I'm better informed than quite a large group of people I come in contact with. Huh.)

Given that all of my election experiences have been done alone and indoors (given Oregon's mail-in voting system, I didn't even have to leave the building to cast a ballot), I decided I would spend election night out and about.

I started my evening around 4:30 at the Bier Stein, a bar on E. 11th that specializes in having every goddamned beer in the world (I like to think of it as a "beerateria"). I chose this as my starting point because of all the bars in town, this one has the best food (not much competition for that title. Sam Bond's Garage is close, but it's on the other end of town and has no television). I picked up a couple of ales and a sandwich, along with some German sausages and a cup of beer cheese soup, and settled in at a table with a view of CNN Headline News. I probably would have stayed there all night, but the owner got frustrated when Nancy Grace came on the air and changed it to a football game (Nancy Grace deserves to choke to death on her own vomit, so I can't say was disappointed). I took this as my cue to head off to stop #2.

This ended up being Max's Tavern, which as a good place to settle for an hour or so. I got another beer and watched Wolf Blitzer read off the returns. I also pulled out my Go board and played a game by myself while some younger guys playing pool gave me weird looks. I left around the time Ohio was called for Obama (I exchanged some terrorist fist-jabs with a couple on my way out, since that pretty much wrapped things up, election-wise). Once again, I might of stayed longer, but the bar was still holding its weekly trivia night that night. Though I like me some trivia, I was more interested in filling my election fix.

I tried a few of the downtown bars after that, in particular Horse's Head and Jameson's. I decided against spending time at either place for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that Horse's Head is about the most depressing bar in downtown, which puts it up there as the most depressing in the county. It reminds me too much of youth clubs you occasionally find in larger cities, where under-age kids can hang out and sneak booze into. The interior of the place screams "infectious pulmonary disease." I chose not to spend time at Jameson's because it smells like wet dog and bum dung.

I headed back to my place, cracked open another beer and read some of the returns on my favorite sites and was about to settle in front of my computer for the night when a friend of mine called and invited me to a house party across town. Since I was still good to drive, I headed over just in time to see McCain's concession speech and Obama's acceptance speech. It boiled down to the kind of experience a lot of people had that night: A bunch of slightly intoxicated 20-something males cracking jokes, with their female counterparts telling them to shush while wiping away the tears. I'll admit to feeling a little teary-eyed myself when Obama accepted, though, being manly, I sucked it up and didn't let it show, finishing another beer in as macho of a manner as possible while drinking Belgium white.

I headed home around 9:30, but almost immediately got a call from another friend inviting me to hang out at Jameson's. At first I thought of declining for the above stated reasons (wet dog, bum dung) but I realized my friend would be out on the patio, indulging in his smoking habit (or "cancer hobby").

This little get-together lasted for about an hour and a half, during which time I struck-out with a drunk girl and argued about vampires with the drunk girl's less-attractive friend. I also knocked down a Guinness and watched roving bands of youths wandering by screaming with joy (Eugene was in a festive mood that night, despite the intermittent rain).

My friend and I left around 11:30 for a house party he knew about, but he found out before we got there that none of his friends had shown and we both decided to call it a night. I headed home, read some more election updates (including the results of the local elections, which were just coming in). I finished off the beer I had left before and drifted into a slightly buzzed sleep.

Monday, September 29, 2008

How Much Fun is a Lot More Fun? Not Much Fun at All: Silver Jews @ the WOW Hall

Before I tell you about the show, a couple of notes about my depressing life.

I haven't been in a relationship since my wife left me last December, though not for lack of trying. I've gone on dates with maybe a half-dozen women this year and none of them have worked out. I've failed at this with the sort of focus and determination usually only seen in success. One woman canceled on my twice and then left for Europe. One went out with me once and then told me she wasn't interested. Another went out with me twice and then laid out the "just be friends" rap. And so on.

So I was looking forward to this show when I woke up this morning. Not just because the Silver Jews are a recent favorite of mine (I burned copies of the bulk of their work from the local college radio station during a stint their this summer), but because I asked a girl from a book club I'm in to go with me and she said yes. However, this morning she sent me an email saying she was feeling ill and probably wouldn't be going. I waited until a few hours before the show before deciding to find someone else to go with me (going to concerts alone is remarkably depressing activity) but all of my friends either had other plans or couldn't be reached or were entirely disinterested. I even asked the girl who said she just wanted to be friends, but she turned out to be in Portland for the week.

So I trudged off alone and decided to just try and enjoy myself. I sold my extra ticket at the door to someone waiting in line and headed inside. While waiting for the show to start, I met a cute young blond lady who was asking folks if they were registered to vote. I made small talk with her for a few minutes. She said she would probably be staying for the show and might have a beer in the bar downstairs. I said I would be happy to buy her one and would be down in the bar during the opening act. She said she would be happy to join me and would come down once the music started. I figured things were looking up for me for the evening.

The feeling didn't last long. She never showed and wasn't upstairs when I went up for the Silver Jews. My only company in the bar was a drunk woman in her mid forties who asked me why I looked so morose (not out of concern, more as an accusation). At least I managed to avoid the opening act, a band called Monotonix. What I heard from the speakers sounded like utter shit and I heard a few people grumbling about it afterward.

So I was in an odd mood heading up to the SJ performance. Probably the right mood. The Silver Jews are essentially the work of singer/songwriter David Berman, whose discomfort on stage is evident in almost every stiff movement of his body (and in the way he obsessively played with the microphone cord throughout the performance). Though the band has been active in some form or another since the early 1990s, Berman pointed out that this is only his 92nd show. But Berman's awkawardness was more than made up for by his solid backing band (including his wife, Cassie, on bass. They way he looked at her during some of the more romantic songs added a sweetness to the concert that wouldn't have been there otherwise). The music was country-tinged and mid-tempo, tightly wound, with little of the lackadasical nature of the earlier incarnations of the group.

The highlight of the show, and the band in general, was Berman's literate, poetic lyrics. Full of disjointed imagery and fascinating narratives, he's one of the best lyricists in rock. Though his rough bariton can't seem to fashion the sort of melodies that would turn these songs into pure classics, he comes close enough to make them stick. And the group has only gotten better over time.

It was music that almost unervingly fit my mood at the time. Not depressed or depressing, just tired and a little thoughtful. It was a solid show, and worth taking the time to come see it. On my way out I picked up a copy of the only album by the band I didn't already have and headed on home. I'm not as bummed as I was when I started the evening, so I guess that's something.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Monsters of Accordion @ The WOW Hall

I don't remember what my first show at Eugene's WOW Hall was, but I remember plenty of the later ones. It was notable during my college years for having more shows than just about any venue in town. In a town with no large concert spaces, and few medium-sized venues, the WOW Hall was a small bastion for indie music loves. I saw countless local rock shows there, getting deeply in touch with the music scene in town (or as deeply as I could without actually hanging out with the bands).

In the intervening years, it seems the WOW Hall has changed in some ways. Well, one way in particular: No more rock acts. This might be a tad bit of an exaggeration, but I was surprised to find that their once punk-heavy schedule is now dominated by world music, techno/electronica, hip-hop and the occasional touring indie rock band. While this rise in the diversity of music offered could be seen as a good thing, for me it means that a place I used to go to once or twice a month now has half-year long stretches of absolutely nothing I'm interested in.

Fortunately, the schedule at the WOW Hall now seems to be going through a good stretch, for my tastes in any case. While there are no upcoming hard rock acts of any kind (punk has been almost exiled from Eugene, while metal still remains ghettoized to a single downtown bar that caters to that demographic), there are a few solid acts coming through. Federico Aubele, an Argentinian dub/bolero/spanish guitar/techno fusion act is coming through in late September, with alt-country poets the Silver Jews following shortly after (The McDonald Theatre also has a whole slew of shows coming up next month as well, including Built to Spill, Okkervil River, and Iron & Wine, so the next couple of months are going to be good for me).

Last night brought me a solid slab of entertainment to tide me over until the next month. The Monsters of Accordion tour came through town, brining a batch of crazies with their neglected instruments to the stage. Five acts total, with one local band (the mostly-girl old-time group The Bad Mitten Orchestra) followed by four solo performers. The music ranged from modern rock and punk covers to bubble gum jingles, but mostly stuck within the range of "old-time music," that odd mish-mash of European folk, classic American country, blues, barroom ballads and Appalachian mountain jams that has been rising in popularity recently among a particular alternative mind-set.

The solo performers averaged out to a pretty good group, but the night was owned by the closing act, Jason Webley. His skinny frame dominated the stage while snarled and growled like a soulful junkyard dog. He made his accordion, an instrument that has been widely demonized in America, seem like it was the only thing holding him back from attacking the microphone and the audience beyond it. His apocalyptic songs were edged with a goofy humor (the above mentioned medley of bubble gum jingles? That was him). His closing song, where he screams out that he "wants music that tears itself apart" had the audience stomping and wailing along with him. It was a remarkable performance.

If the point of this tour was to show that the accordion is a legitimate instrument to be playing in this day and age, it certainly accomplished its task. The performers didn't take themselves all too seriously, but they didn't descend into camp either. It was a wonderful, and unique, musical experience.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Classical and the Trivial

Been a little busy this week and haven't been updating a few of the events I attended. I've been pumping up my social life a tad this summer and as such will probably be doing more updates.

Sunday I attended the final performance of this year's Bach Festival, which is Eugene's little classical music shindig. Been going on for nearly four decades now, bringing high culture to the burg every summer. The performance I attended was "The Passion of St. Matthew," a three hour depiction of the last days of Jesus sung in German. I know, thrilling, but I actually am a total sucker for anything by Bach and had a great time. The concert was in the Hult Center, the large performing arts center in Eugene. The seats are built with pygmies in mind as the expected audience, but otherwise its a great place to catch a play or symphony performance.

The median age of the audience was old enough to collect social security, so I felt a tad out of place, but at least I didn't fall asleep during the performance as I noticed a couple of the old timers do.

While not done by a world-class symphony or choir, the performance was still more than worthwhile. I look forward to next year, so I can feel all posh and sophisticated for another couple of hours before going home to my one-bedroom apartment to eat Rice-A-Roni.

The second event I attended this week was a little less high class and a little more interactive. Max's Tavern is one of the better bars in town, a classic college town bar that doesn't make you feel like a total tool for hanging out there. Every Tuesday night is Trivia Night, a common enough bar activity that Max's lays its own laid-back attitude over.

Teams sign up for the event and compete in two rounds of three innings of six questions a piece, with one three-question lightning round at the end. Contestants fill in cards with their answers and the scores are tabulated at the end of the inning, with raffles held between innings for cheap prizes. The winners get a slightly higher class of cheap prize at the end.

I didn't have a team and didn't know anyone at the bar, so I competed alone, the only guy flying solo in the competition. I came in fifth out of 15 teams, meaning that I beat a combined total of 30 drunkards in a trivia contest. I won a Frisbee in a raffle and some guy offered to buy me a beer in exchange for it (I got a Guinness). I also got a honorable mention prize at the end, which meant I got to pick something from the pile of cheap crap they had in the back. I picked up a box of cupcake mix (I was on my third beer by that point) and called it a night.

Overall, a fun social event and as good a way as any to spend a Tuesday evening. I'll have to make some friends so I can have a team next time.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wine 'n' Dine

Just for something to write about, here are my thoughts on some of the restaurants here in town. I'm only listing places I've been to in the last few months and only ones I feel like writing about.

Broken down by cuisine. Enjoy:


Pegasus Pizza: Decent college pizza and good beer. I've had great pizza there and I've had bad pizza there, but most of it lands in the "pretty good" zone.

Sy's Pizza: The closest thing I've ever found to New York-style pizza on the West coast. A good, cheap meal.


Rennie's Landing: Basically, pub food. Solid burgers and beer, though it's really more of a hang-out that a dine-out kind of place. I used to go there for lunch until I got bored with it.

Cornucopia: Best burgers in town, in my opinion. The Blond Bomb is a big, cheesy chunk of delicious. Great beer selection and good specials. The meatball and provolone sandwich is another favorite. Doesn't seem like you get enough for the price, but I'm never unsatisfied when I finish it.

McMenamins (any of them, there are three in town and they're all the same): Good burgers, good fries and the Terminator Stout is a pure delight. Can't go wrong with a place that names a burger after a Led Zeppelin song. This Northwest-based company is trying to own every bar & grill in Oregon, I'm pretty sure.

The 'Witch House: Fairly new gourmet sandwich place on Willamette. I've never had anything there that I haven't thought was at least decent. They do a solid braised pork sandwich that's one of my favorite meals in town. Every time I want to go there, I'm worried it will be closed. I never see anyone there (must do solid lunchtime business).


Sweet Basil/Sweet Basil Express: Solid pad thai and some pretty good curries. Makes a good lunchtime stop, but I think it's overrated.

Ta Ra Rin: Excellent and highly recommend. The yellow curry is the stuff of dreams.


Bombay Palace: Good lunch buffet and a cheap, but no great shakes. Has all the atmosphere of a truck stop, though they play soccer matches on the big screen every now and then.

Evergreen: Very good lunch buffet, with a rotating selection of curries that I always enjoy (I had goat curry there once, and was not disappointed). The rice pudding is always a good way to end a meal.


Caspian: Nice little place on the 13th Ave. stretch heading into the UO campus. Serves some good kebabs and gyros (lamb kebab with rice is a favorite) as well as traditional American breakfast items.


Mid-Town: I've never eaten at the restaurant in the same building, but the coffee shop is one of the best in town. Real pros making the drinks, and some innovative specials (the honey cardamom latte is the best thing I've had on the menu).

Full City: Eugene's classic. Sort of MOR for a high end coffee shop, but the do good, consistent work.

The Beanery: Allan Bros.' own coffee stand in town. Great espresso made with handle-pulled machines (if you know what that means you already drink there) and a fine tea selection. The place is a barn though and it roasts in there all summer. Not a pleasant place to be when the heat gets up into the 80s or 90s.

Espresso Roma: Best coffee shop in town for atmosphere. Nice place to hang out and read/study/chat/lose game after game of Go to my friends. The coffee is motor oil, but strong and effective. Good pastries and some nice smoothies for the hot months.


Cafe Yumm!: Local chain, good for lunch or a light dinner. Most of the menu is variations on the basic Yumm Bowl, which is rice, salsa, veggies, cheddar and "Yumm Sauce," which is what ties the whole thing together into something worthwhile.

Provisions: Small gourmet marketplace in the bottom of the 5th Street Public Market. Good cheese and coffee selection. Also will fulfill anyone's need for gourmet-pizza-with-ingredients-you-wouldn't-think-to-add-to-pizza-but

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sasquatch Brew Fest

I haven't been a beer drinker for very long, but as with all of my obsessions I went from novice to well-informed snob in only a matter of weeks. Oregon is a good place to feel elitist about your taste in beer. There are seemingly countless microbreweries in the Pacific Northwest and some of the best beer in the world is made here.

The Brew Fest is a small, unimposing event that takes place every year in downtown Eugene. It's not by any means the best celebration of beer in the area (Portland has a major brew fest every summer that probably holds that title). However, it makes up for its small size with its variety. The bulk of the better brewers in the area had at least one beer a piece representing for them and a few even brewed special batches just for the event. All of this took place on Broadway Plaza, which meant that the city of Eugene was just fine with cordoning off a city block right in the middle of downtown so that people could drink. That everything was set up around the commemorative Ken Kesey statue in the Plaza added that extra hometown touch.

I had friends working the taps at the festival, so I ended up with a number of solid recommendations. I started with a Red Hook Golden Ale that went down really smooth and then moved on to Willamette Brewery's IPA, which had a wonderful floral flavor. After that things started to get blurry, though I do remember having a really nice tri-tip sandwich from a booth being run by the Bates Steakhouse (I've got to try that place sometime). I remember having a solid imperial stout and a couple other good IPA's. The names all get a little fuzzy. Ninkasi's Tricerihops stands out though, and they have quickly become one of my favorite breweries. That they are local just makes them easier to like.

After I had drank about as much as I could handle (not much, as I'll cop to being a lightweight) I moseyed over to CD/Game Exchange and did some humorous CD shopping ("Def Leppard? Those guys are hilarious!") that I will probably come to regret later. Overall, a well-spent day.

Friday, May 30, 2008

John Henry's 80's Night

John Henry's is a Eugene institution, though not in the way that anyone intended. Located right on Broadway, it's by my estimate one of the more successful businesses in a downtown noted for being pathetically inactive. It has the looks of a seedy dive bar, yet like so many things having to do with the place this is merely appearance. Its biggest customer base is currently twenty-something college students who wear trucker hats and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon ironically (have you noticed that no one drinks PBR because they like it? You either drink because you are too poor to afford anything better or because it's currently trendy to drink shitty beer).

I used to stop by every now and then for shows back during my college newspaper days, but as I didn't drink at the time I had no reason to frequent the place. Since I have now discovered the joys and wonders of beer, and as I was looking to fill a Thursday night with some diverting entertainment, I decided to head down for 80's Night, the highly popular dance party that has been going at least as far back as when I was in school.

80's Night is not an original activity. Plenty of college towns have similar events in which people dress up in goofy exaggerations of an ill-remembered past and dance spasticly to music they despised only a few years before. I grabbed a table and watched, drink in hand, while sweaty men with closed eyes and goofy haircuts thrust their crotches around in what had to be the most high-intense workout of their otherwise pasty, Arby's-fueled lives. Somehow or other, this made me very depressed.

It seems that these days I have a low tolerance for kitsch. 80's Night is swathed in irony, layers upon layers of it, coating every feathered haircut and every red leather jacket in a thick sheen of twice-removed satire. Much of the music is terrible, but people dance to it anyway, reveling in its terribleness (how this makes them any different than people who sincerely enjoy listening to cuts from Eddie Murphy's dance album is beyond me). People dress up in clothing styles they hate to go to a bar that caters to their need for fake-squalor so that they can listen to music they don't really like from an era they can't remember. All of this to strike one pose in one place on the one particular evening when it will make any sense. Campy nostalgia-fueled theme nights are not supposed to be this existential.

I could just throw this whole experience into the same shit-pile as all the other cultural experiences that thrive on the goofiness of 1980s pop culture (elevating said culture up to some heightened level of appreciation it never really deserved even while pointing out its awfulness, never realizing that this doesn't make up for the celebration of mediocrity). I could dismiss it as such, except for this one guy. He was dancing all night, to every song. He wore tight, sparkly pants and a pair of white leather cowboy boots. His t-shirt was a screen print of a Stratocaster with the neck pointing up, ending at the neck of his shirt. He danced when their was no one to dance with, he danced when the floor was packed. He twirled and did the robot and every time something new would come on his energy would spike. He didn't notice the other people there, didn't seem to care how ridiculous he looked. He was probably old enough to have been in high school during the 80s. He was sincerely having the time of his life.

You can't argue with that.