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.