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.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ubiquitous Eugene

One of the things that I missed most when I moved away from Oregon a few years back was the Friends of the Eugene Library annual book sale. This is a big event in Eugene. 70-80 thousand books, thousands of people trying to buy them. I went to the sale for the first time while I was a freshman in college and subsequently went for the next three years. I always spent twenty dollars, no more. Doesn't sound like much, but considering the pricing structure (buck a book) it got me a nice set of of literature.

Since I've been away, the event has only become bigger. I had planned to show up at 1:30 in the morning to get a pass to enter early, but after some friends of mine ditched me, I decided to just to show up at 9 with everyone else. Turns out this was not that bad of an idea. I got in line at about 8:45 and still managed to make it inside with the first group they let in. I broke my $20 rule, but not by any significant amount ($26, the extra amount going to some more expensive cookbooks and large coffee table volumes). Some of my best finds included a 1960s edition of "The Circus of Dr. Lao," a copy of Mao Tse-tung's guide to guerrilla warfare and a copy of "The Portable Carl Jung."

Overall, a well spent morning.

After taking my purchases home and cataloging them (yes, I catalog my book collection. No, I do not have a girlfriend. Yes, I do think these to things are interrelated) I decided for a little excursion to CD/Game Exchange, one of my favorite music shops in town (near the corner of 11th and Willamette, in between a hobby shop and a RPG haven, in case you haven't indulged). While I prefer House of Records for general purchasing, CD/Game Exchange is great for just filling the holes in my ever growing (and paycheck-depleting) music catalog. All of their used music is between $5 and $2.50, and they offer a decent price for trade in. I finally managed to pick up the last Mission of Burma album I needed to complete my collection of their early works ("Peking Spring" in case you're interested, which I could not imagine that anyone other than myself and at most three other people would be). While it might be possible for me to download all the music I want for free, as so many of my friends remind me whenever they see my 1,000+ music collection, I still enjoy the tactile pleasures of actually owning a physical copy of my music. And when you get down to it, I seem to listen to more music and know more about music than any of my download happy friends. I can't really explain that (other than the possibility that I'm an obsessive geek and they are normal human beings with functional social lives) but it does seem to be the case.

Next, I took a short walk through downtown and found myself surprised to find hundreds of people wandering around. Naturally, the first thought that occurred to me was that I had actually wandered into an alternate dimension where downtown Eugene isn't a comically unprosperous dead zone full of failing businesses, the kind of place where bad urban planning ideas go to die. The second thought, brought on by reek of body oder mixed with patchouli, was that the Saturday Market must have started operating again after its winter off-season. This turned out to be the correct notion.

The Saturday Market is the defining Eugene experience for me. A tightly packed clusterfuck of tie-dye and homemade crafts, populated by a oddly assorted mixture of second-generation hippies and middle-class gawkers, the Market is the only ongoing business venture in Eugene that is able to get people to come downtown on anything resembling a consistent basis. You can buy anything from homemade soap to skirts made out of neckties and get a pretty decent lunch as well (grilled portobello mushroom burger, anyone?). Just across the street is the Farmer's Market, which runs concurrent to the Saturday Market (as well as Tuesdays during approximately the same spring-early fall schedule). There is also a pretty lively protest in front of the courthouse that shares the unfortunate corner space to all of these events. Current Protest Effectiveness Level: None. Current Protest Subject Matter: Take your pick.

After the Market, I spent a little time at a Perugino, a mock-pretentious European style coffee shop on Willamette between 7th and 8th. Not my favorite kind of place, but convenient for the purposes of meeting a friend of mine for a couple of games of Go (yes, I play Go. This also might be related to my current relationship status. I prefer not to think about it too much). The reason I tend not to prefer Perugino to other spots in town is that, and I'll admit I feel bad saying this, their coffee isn't all that good. Sure, they pull a decent shot of espresso and can make great lattes, but the house coffee (which is still how I judge a coffee shop in the end) is generally a pretty bland Sumatra or an uninspired house blend. And at $2 for an 8 oz cup, it can't help but feeling like a rip. I don't pretend to be an expert on coffee by any means. However, I've had great coffee and I've had bad coffee, and in my experience Perugino falls somewhere in between. The atmosphere also doesn't jive too well with me, though this is even more of a personal call. A mock-European cafe in the middle of Eugene feels phony to me. Espresso Roma, which serves some of the strongest, most bitter and foul tasting coffee in town, is still in my opinion a better coffee shop simply for being such an organic part of its environment. Right next to the University of Oregon campus and sucking in the ideal crowd for this kind of business, it practically bleeds coffeehouse atmosphere. Local roaster Full City, with its two locations in town, serves better coffee than Perugino at a lower price and without the pretentiousness. Still, good pastries and solid lattes, so I can't complain too much.

My day ended with a film premier at the DIVA (the Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts, an art gallery/community art education center on the corner of Broadway and Olive). The film in question was "Depraved," a gruesome little 30 minute revenge thriller that I can't really judge with any kind of objective criticism, considering that I wrote it and the director is one of my best friends. Writing excessively violent horror film scripts that somehow actually get zero-budget productions made out of them is my own personal contribution to the Eugene entertainment scene. I won't say too much about the film (I'm too self-conscious to be a good self-promoter) other than to say that the 70+ capacity room was packed for a small half-hour indie film, and that if you want to learn more about the project you can look it up at the production company's website:

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mood Area 52 and Golem at the Indigo District

When I heard that Mood Area 52 would be playing at the Indigo District, my feelings were mixed. They were one of my favorite local bands when I was in college and I had been looking forward to seeing them play again. However, I was never able to stand the Indigo District. When I last lived in Eugene, it had a painful and justified reputation as a hipster joint, the sort of pretentious hangout that usually doesn't survive in this town. I'd been given no indication that it had changed in the preceding years, so I bought a ticket to the concert with some reservations.

Things started badly. The Indigo District is a bar, but the show was all-ages. This involved a tad bit of finagling to make sure the bar and concert crowds were separate, and the subsequent set-up basically meant you could not have drinks in the concert area. You could either drink and try and hear the music, or not drink and watch the band, or go back and forth. Basically a pain in the ass, especially considering that, by my estimate, 95% of the audience was over 21. The show should have either been made 21-and-over or been moved to the WOW Hall, which is better suited for all ages shows.

But once Mood Area 52 hit the stage, things picked up. This was for two reasons: The first is that they are a hell of a band. The second is that a crazy-eyed, long-legged young woman in nylons and a short skirt danced smoothly and sensually through most of the band's set.

Mood Area 52 are that rarest of musical outfits: a tango band. As tango has nearly zero presence in American popular music, the pure novelty of the group is enough to make them interesting. That they are also a tight and highly skilled group of musicians insures that the novelty never wears thin. The last time I saw the group, they were strictly instrumental. They have since added a female vocalist and perform a fair number of Tom Waits-ish jazz and tango numbers. While I wasn't too sure about hearing the band do anything other than instrumentals at first, I now fully support the decision. The vocals take what had been an interesting intellectual abstraction and give it a new intensity. The group will have a new album coming out in a month or so. I'm looking forward to seeing how it comes out.

Golem took the stage next. A NYC group that specializes in another style of music with little popular presence in the US, in this case Eastern European folk, the band is a raucous and energetic mix of musicians. Containing drums, electric bass, accordion, violin, trombone and a tambourine-shaking vocalist, the group plays a highly propulsive style of music that is tailor-made for pumping your fist in the air shouting "Oy Oy Oy" and then smashing a glass on the floor.

The set was marked by a drinking song, a song about cats, a song about the rent being due, a song about Poland and a song about loving someone who broke your heart (the latter sung in Yiddish).

When all was said and done, the concert could be considered no less than a success. I just wish it had been held somewhere else.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Eleven Eyes and the Excellent Gentlemen

An evening in which I was able to head bang to a rousing cover of Radiohead's "National Anthem" is anything but wasted.

I went to Sam Bond's Garage again, there for Eugene's premier jazz/fusion/funk/electronica band. I had intended to go to some shows at other venues between my last post and this one, but life got in the way of the Led Zeppelin tribute concert at John Henry's and subsequently this is the first event I've been able to go to in Eugene within the last two weeks.

The opening act was the Excellent Gentlemen, a Portland band I hadn't heard of before. I was a tad apprehensive when their set started, as they were four white guys attempting R&B. Much to my surprise, they sounded nothing like the Maroon 5 and subsequently were an enjoyable performance. Blending funk, neo-soul and R&B, along with a health dose of Prince, they put out a more than solid set of tunes intended for use during heavy fornication. I'll be keeping an eye out for them next time I decided to take a show up in PDX. Should they not find success as a live act, I'm confident they will find gainful employment in the porn soundtrack business.

Next up was the band I came to see, Eleven Eyes. I caught them a few times back during my college days and promoted their first album heavily on the campus radio show I operated at that time (which is like saying I played it for two or three people every week. Euphemisms are primarily to protect our dignity at the expense of honesty). This is the first time I've seen the group in about three years. I thought they were excellent then, and they've only improved. A tight jazz outfit above all else, the six-man combo of tenor sax, trumpet, electric bass, guitar and two percussionists put out a solid set of jazz fusion that managed to fill the dance floor. Ever seen a group of slightly intoxicated hippie-types dance to cuts off of Miles Davis's "On the Corner"? I don't recommend it.

Eleven Eyes, however, I recommend highly. I stuck through their first set but wussed out on the second. What I did see impressed me enough to make sure I'll try to catch any other show they play in the area. While jazz fusion might have gotten a dirty name due to the endless diddling of John McLaughlin wannabes, Eleven Eyes takes the basic concept of "fusion" and does something worthwhile with it. Finding room in their set for everything from stuttering horn charts to dancefloor-packing funk grooves, they give a prime example of what jazz might have become had it not been institutionalized so throughly, reduced to the tired retreads of classic cuts by players who are more jazz recreationists than artists.

But enough pontificating. Eleven Eyes is one of my favorite Eugene acts from the old days that are still performing. I hope they keep performing for some time, and it's more than likely they will end up mentioned in this blog again.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sam Bond's Garage Bluegrass Jam

I don't know how you spent your Tuesday evening, but personally I spent it in a bad part of town, drinking beer from a mason jar and listening to a bastard form of country music played by a group of old-timers and crazies. Were there hipsters pathetically misinformed of their own coolness shouting rebel yells at annoying intervals? Was there a washboard player? The answer to both is a hearty yes.

Sam Bond's Garage is one of my favorite spots in Eugene for music. They never get anything resembling big acts, but they're so unpretentious in their presentations that it's actually quite refreshing to spend a few hours there. The decor is a subtle combination of neon beer lights, oil paintings of boxing matches and furniture made out of logs. The crowd is generally locals, which in this case includes everything from college students to aging intellectuals to old-fashioned drunkards to that one guy in the tie-dyed Oregon Country Fair tee shirt who is stumbling around and muttering to himself to a guy who I swear looked uncomfortably like Kurt Vonnegut.

The Bluegrass Jam happens every Tuesday night at 9:30. No cover, so it makes a cheap date if you happen to be twang-inclined. The band started off with five guys and quickly grew to seven. This included a mighty fine banjo player, two guitarists, two fiddlers, a mandolin player and the above-mentioned washboardist (standard for guys who play the washboard, he had an unkempt beard and a goofy demeanor. I latter found out he was the owner and operator of Eugene Jeans, one of the town's finer local vintage shops).

Bluegrass is one of those forms that I'm slowly growing fond of, thanks to a few solid tribute albums I've picked up ("Moody Bluegrass: A Nashville Tribute to the Moody Blues," best country album of 2004, check it out) and a slight obsession with Bill Monroe. This is the first time I've checked out the Sam Bond's jam. Might become a regular fixture for me. Not much else happening on a Tuesday night.

Monday, February 25, 2008


I write a lot of things on the internet. Mostly bawdy nonsense that I think up while sitting in this coffee shop or that. This is one of the few things I've thought of writing that has a specific focus behind it, i.e. to give my impressions of the various forms of entertainment in the city of Eugene, Oregon. A modest goal to be sure, but I think I can manage to make it stoke my own ego to a satisfying extent.

A little history on myself and my qualifications. I was born and raised in Oregon and have lived in or near Eugene for most of my life. I went to college here and wrote about arts and entertainment for my college paper. Had some strong ties to the art and music communities. Knew most the venue owners in town.

Then I left town for three years and lived in Grand Forks, North Dakota. My reasons are my own.

In the end I moved back to this area. I'm currently living just outside Eugene, with plans to move back into town as soon as I can find gainful employment. I'm starting to reconnect to the city after my absence, catching up with old friends, stopping in at old hang-outs. Eating the food. Breathing the air. Absorbing the indescribable ethereal atmosphere. Chilaxing. This blog will deal with this process and describe for anyone interested some of the more compelling activities in this corner of the Northwest.

For a little introductory nod, here are some of my favorite spots in town:

For Coffee: Espresso Roma on 13th near the UO is my favorite for atmosphere and essential coffeehouse aesthetics. The coffee is motor oil, no subtlety but enough kick to make me a happy caffeine junkie. Great pastries as well. For actual good coffee, Full City is my local fav (though I've heard good things about Wandering Goat, and there is a shop in town near the 5th Street Market that is bringing down Stumptown coffee from up Portland way).

For Music: Depends on the mood. Sam Bond's Garage is a favorite for the decent country sounds they bring in (something lacking in this town, unfortunately. Bluegrass is an art, people. Respect the twang.). The WOW Hall get a lot of the good small level acts and is nice if you can stand the underage crowd. Nothing too thrilling on the calender right now though, for me anyway. Not a big fan of The Shedd, as it's mostly Old White Guy music, that particular brand of jazz and blues that caters specifically to the Boomers. If I want something respectable, I'll shell out for tickets to a decent traveling show at the Hult Center. There used to be some good jazz/jazz fusion acts roaming the city, but I haven't heard any word on them since I got back.

For Food: Taste of India, Laughing Planet, Burrito Boy, Ta Ra Rin, Rennie's (the burgers, dear god the burgers), the Bier Stein (the beer, holy christ the beer), the Oregon Electric Station and others that will be spoken of later as I reconnect to them.

There are more that I'll call out as time goes by. I'll be updating pretty infrequently at first, but once I get a job and place in town, I'll be making a stronger effort here.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Under Construction

This is intended to be a blog about entertainment in the city of Eugene, Oregon, or at least my experience of it. I'm currently working on the format and will have actual postings within the next week or so.