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.