Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros Bring Their Alternate Universe Back To Portland

Come dance with me…”

When you’re Alex Ebert, it only takes a simple four word invitation to send an entire audience into a mild frenzy. Arlene Schnitzer Hall, a Portland venue known for sit-down shows and regular visits from the symphony, was temporarily ground zero on Tuesday for the circus-like atmosphere and intoxicating merriment of California band Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros.

The group’s approach is non-conventional. A wildly energized prophet of a singer at the helm of a 12 member psychedelic folk troupe attracts a following of blissed-out dreamers and romantics who cling to the singer’s words for all their literary worth. And while this description could certainly be associated with other acts, the hypnotic grasp Ebert has on his audience is like nothing I have witnessed before. It’s as if the singer obtained his leadership skills first hand while following Moses through the wilderness. His ability to round up complete strangers and unify them through song is astounding.

And what’s more, beyond all the good vibes and hippiedom is a band with serious depth; legitimate folky wordsmiths working in swift poetic action while blanketed in Disney character happiness. A topic touched upon several times by Ebert was human mortality. He spoke candidly of the time his father explained to a 5 year-old Ebert that all people will inevitably die. There was a peaceful tone in his voice that suggested a once distraught Ebert was now content and accepting of this notion.

Ebert’s unpredictable nature is felt and reciprocated from the band members to the audience. As the leader randomly jumps from song to song, the other players on stage clearly have no idea where the singer is headed, yet they appear unfazed by his decisions. The Magnetic Zeros ran through a large catalog of songs; tunes like the wildly popular “Home” and “40 Day Dream” to newer compositions like “Man On Fire” and “Mayla.” Ebert’s seemingly endless supply of energy had him twirling around the stage, often locking eyes with smitten audience members and the equally infatuated Jade Castrinos. Once a couple, it’s hard to ignore the natural chemistry between Ebert and Castrinos who sang in unison with each other throughout the night.

It’s obvious that Ebert is most comfortable when he immerses himself with his awe-struck audience. On several instances, the singer could be found in the aisles dancing with fans or staging a sit-in with Castrinos 25 rows up, audience members circling around the two as the they crooned affectionately to each other. Even this writer, overcome with joy at one point found himself locked in an embrace with Jade who just happened to be nearby.

As cheesy as it sounds, you need to see this band live to truly feel the sincerity behind their songs. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros has the capability of impermanently separating you from your reality while making you part of their own, simply through the power of music. And that is an organic experience that is hard to beat.

Double Header At The Oregon Zoo: Robert Randolph & The Family Band and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

Few bands have built a reputation for consistently explosive live shows like Robert Randolph & The Family Band and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. So it only made sense that the two groups were billed together for one of the final shows of the Oregon Zoo’s 2012 Summer Concert Series. As the number of sunshine-filled, 70 degree weekends in the Pacific Northwest slowly dwindle, Portlanders could not have asked for a more beautiful Friday evening for an outdoor show.

Let me preface this: If Robert Randolph wants you to have a good time, then he’s going to do everything short of stopping the show (which he used to do in the band’s early days) to ensure everyone in the crowd is feeling it. Hence the opening song, “Good Times,” which set the precedent for the evening as fast paced and no-holds-barred. Randolph’s enthusiasm is contagious. A smile rarely left the face of the master musician who was clearly loving every minute while on stage.

As for the Family Band members, a look of anticipation was undeniably on their faces. Each seemed poised and ready for Randolph’s next, unanticipated move. As Randolph soared gracefully on the pedal-steel during “The March,” he kicked away his chair and let the band take the lead while he encouraged the crowd to get up and dance.

In its simplest form, RR&TFB ‘s music makes you feel good inside. But what Randolph does on his guitar, slide or electric, is anything but simplistic. As the band’s set neared its close, RR&TFB jumped into a monstrous version of “Voodoo Chile.” At one point, while Randolph was on his knees wailing on the guitar, an enthusiastic fan beside me leaned over and shouted, “That’s some Jimi Hendrix shit right there!”

I couldn’t have agreed more.


As I waited in line at the bathroom during intermission, the lights cut out unexpectedly. James Brown’s recorded voice on the speakers faded away. Realizing that the zoo losing power wasn’t included in the evening’s program, I wondered when the next band would take the stage. But soon, the bathroom lights flickered back on and the ATM outside sputtered to life. A trumpet blast emerged from the darkness that brought a roar from the audience. And then a vocal-less intro, led into a wild, funky tune, was all the motivation I needed to hurry back to my spot near the stage.

On stage was Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, a young band of exceptionally talented musicians, all of whom excelled at their instruments early in their careers. Yet on stage, night after night, each continues to test his own individual limits as well as those of the others.

TS&OA bleeds New Orleans with every song they play. A little bit racousy at times, a little bit jazzified and everything else in between. During “My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now,” Troy Andrews aka Trombone Shorty, fired his trombone like a machine gun at the energetic audience while showing his Mick Jagger dance moves. And while Andrews is certainly known for his trombone playing, his trumpet skills are nothing short of amazing. In between scatting and displaying his ridiculously smooth, melismatic vocals, the musician used circular-breathing to move his trumpet up and down the major-minor scales.

The members of Orleans Avenue are equally impressive, of course. In what was an unexpected yet killer version of Nirvana’s, “In Bloom,” Andrews and the five other members of the band (tenor & baritone sax, guitarist, bassist and drummer) took turns exchanging solos in a rapid-fire showdown of skillfully shared musicianship.

I can’t imagine what the chimpanzees or the polar bears or giraffes were thinking when they heard all those strange noises coming from the concert zone. But all I could think as I walked back to my car Friday night was that I couldn’t wait for the release of the 2013 Oregon Zoo summer concert lineup.

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reviews

Zac Brown Band – Uncaged album review

It is probably no secret that most folks are in the market to have a little fun this summer. Well friends, Zac Brown Band is here to provide the good-times soundtrack to accompany your summer merriment. Staying true to the creed of unofficial party spokesmen Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band’s infectiously happy third studio release, Uncaged, reeks of reefer, ice-cold mass produced beer and beach parties.

Those familiar with the band know ZBB covers a wide range of styles. Their knack of bringing country, rock and jam-band fans together for a spectacularly live show has resulted in ZBB selling out large venues across the country. And it appears their hard working, blue collar approach to touring is finally paying off. The band is scheduled for their first appearance at Madison Square Garden in November.

“Jump Right In” ‘s conga-line-at-Margaritaville flare is an apropos opener for this energetic record. The title track, “Uncaged,” keeps ZBB’s ball of positivity rolling along with fiery dual-guitar action and impressive harmonies. And of course, what would a ZBB album be without a palm tree swayer like “Island Song.” Brown sings, “…and I’m a roll one up, like my name is Bob. Yeah, I’m gonna party like a Jamaican.” A total cheeseball, reggae-soaked country tune (don’t forget to put on your cowboy hat and cut-off Corona t-shirt) that is destined to be a crowd favorite. “Overnight,” complete with tambourine and the impressive chops of Trombone Shorty, features a certain RnB swagger previously missing on the past two ZBB albums. You got to hand it to these boys, they sure know how to reach a wide audience.

It’s obvious Zac Brown Band plays music they are comfortable with. Uncaged is strong, but yearns for something more. The band currently has an impressive nine consecutive #1 hit singles and it doesn’t look like that streak will end soon. However, it would be interesting to hear the group temporarily abandon what they already do so well and explore more outside of their comfort zone. I suspect their fans wouldn’t mind it and they just may gather a new following along the way.

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reviews

DIIV – Oshin Album album review

In the shoegaze, dream pop world, DIIV‘s debut release, Oshin, has potential to be considered a solid and pretty likeable album. The band follows a similar path as its predecessors of the genre, leaning slightly to a similar style as The Cure and Sonic Youth. But as one delves deeper and deeper into the album, the line has a tendency to blur from one song to the next, making the difference between the first and the last tracks virtually indiscernible.

Beach Fossils guitarist Zachary Cole Smith started DIIV as a solo project in 2011 but soon recruited former Smith Westerns drummer Colby Hewitt, guitarist Andrew Bailey and bassist Devin Ruben Perez. The band was originally called Dive, but in May of this year changed its name to DIIV “out of respect for Dirk Ivens and the original Dive,” says Smith.

The vocals on Oshin are minimal and the lyrics that exist are hard to decipher. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether Smith is actually saying something or if he is just singing along to the melody. The effects pedals play a huge role in each track as does the heavy reverb of Smith’s voice. This all meshes together quite nicely but after the first few songs a very familiar pattern has taken place. “Wait” and “(Druun Pt. II)” are two stand-out tracks on the LP that show more complexity than the rest.

A friend mentioned to me that DIIV’s music has a hypnotic quality to it. A pretty accurate statement. Oshin is indeed very dreamy. It has the ability to put you in a state where you can tune out everything around you and soak into whatever is playing. The bigger picture however shows this to be a fairly one-dimensional album. Sadly, Oshin lacks the depth that could make it a stand-out recording.

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reviews

Royal Thunder – CVI album review

Hard-rocking Atlanta quartet, Royal Thunder, brings their influence of classic-rock, southern blues and prog-metal to life in their first full length release, CVI. With unmistakable Sabbath guitar riffs and James Hetfield-style vocals, the response from the average metal freak will no doubt be positive. But once the figurative smoke clears from this firestorm of an album, there is potential for the listener to be left with an unsavory taste of déjà vu.

There is a theatrical template that Royal Thunder follows in nearly every song; the slow, assertive intro eventually reaches its dramatic climax only to fizzle out quietly into the darkness. This suspenseful arrangement is certainly powerful in the beginning. Sadly the album’s too predictable nature makes it lose steam rather quickly.

Vocalist Mlny Parsonz is the young band’s biggest asset. In fact, she is so much so that whenever the group decides to break down to one of its gothic-y jams, the result is often times an overdone, unnecessary space filler for something that could have easily been more effective.

The album’s major strength is in its opening tracks. “Parsonz Curse” and “Whispering World” set a pace that one would hope the remainder of the tracks would follow. A battle of psychedelic guitar playing and thunderous drumming leads to an explosion of distortion and doomy theatrics. But again there is too much open space where one wishes the band would just get to the point already.

Truthfully, the yawn factor sets in not long into the album. One can’t help but hear the ghosts of metal past in every aspect of the music. This leads me to believe that an album featuring one of rock’s strongest female lead-singers could easily have exchanged its meandering melodies for more of Parsonz sultry vocals.

Coming in at over an hour, CVI is simply too long. The musicians’ talent is supreme but its approach is unoriginal and imitative. Cut down the tracks’ time a bit and eliminate the needless jams and “CVII” could be a promising follow-up.

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reviews

Jake Shimabukuro & Leo Kottke At The Oregon Zoo review

Indian poet, Kabir, once wrote, “Music without words means leaving behind the mind. And leaving behind the mind is meditation. Meditation returns you to the source. And the source of all is sound.”

Much can be said without using words. Sound, body language and energy can all be as powerful if not more so than the spoken word. When a song abandons words, it must find a way to captivate the listener. And once it succeeds in captivating, holding the listener’s attention until the song is over is the greatest test. Jazz music has been doing this successfully for nearly 100 years. However, there is a bigger challenge for a solo musician to pull off this feat versus a group of musicians.

Ukelele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro, is one of those rare individuals who can dazzle thousands of people with just four strings. Fittingly, last Friday evening’s concert at Portland’s Oregon Zoo featured two solo musicians who are famous for mesmerizing audiences around the world with their incredible instrumental compositions. The other being guitarist Leo Kottke.

If there is one thing Portlanders can handle well, it’s a little rain. An hour-long, light, rainfall before the show seemed to have minimal effect on picnnickers and their elaborate food spreads. And once Shimabukuro promptly took the stage at seven o’clock, it was nothing but 90 minutes of solid musicianship. Shimabukuro has redefined the whole image of the ukelele as an instrument. Long gone are the days of breezy, Hawaiian tunes that bring thoughts of tropical sunsets and luaus. Shimabukuro has taken the instrument to a level of playing that may have never been reached before. His energy and enthusiasm is also special in itself.

Shimabukuro is good at balancing his set-lists. After a modest intro, he busted out the suspenseful “Bring Your Adz,” a song that showed newcomers to his music just a sliver of his ferocious playing. The ukeleleist purposely holds back on some songs, when it is obvious he wants to tear up the stage. While on others he shreds- yes, shreds- on the uke, at the same time joyfully, bouncing around the stage engaging the audience in the music.

Carefully plucking the strings, Shimabukuro laid out a beautiful version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” that had the uke sounding like a harp. “Island Fever Blues” was a new song that Shimabukuro played for only the second time live. Again, his delicate plucking was seamless and precise. During “Ukelele 5-0,” the musician jumped up and down, rocking his ukelele with a wide, contagious smile.

Shimabukuro’s ability to make each string sound like its own instrument is certainly worth noting. Whether he is playing his music or covering a tune originally played by a full band, he is able to fill the necessary voids so that each song sounds complete. One example of this would be Shimabukuro’s rendition of “Bohemian Rapsody.” He played this in its entirety without a hitch. By the time the musician was finished with his 13 song set, the crowd was in awe of the truly inspiring performance.

A brief intermission paved the way for veteran guitarist Leo Kottke. While Kottke will sing on occasion, it is clear his style of finger-picking is what draws so many to his music. The musician also has a knack for good story-telling. Growing up, Kottke was raised in 12 different states. This is evidenced in many of his childhood tales as they are classic Americana.

Kottke moves about the strings swiftly and powerfully. Without hesitation, he gracefully dances along the fretboard in an assertive manner. His singing during the show is very minimal, but when it’s present his baritone compliments his playing naturally. When he’s not singing, he fills the space of a song tight with intricate notations and impossibly difficult chord changes.

Kottke has a somewhat Eeyore cadence to his speech. He shares stories of silly mishaps and (clearly) exaggerated tales. His ho-hum attitude to his misfortunes is loveable in a way. But he has a tendency to downplay his talent. I’m sure it’s a front of course. The man is incredibly talented, a natural entertainer and a hell of a guitar player.

On any given day, you can catch a show loaded with looping, sampling, and other crazy auditory and visual effects. Those kinds of live experiences aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But to see two musicians play like Jake Shimabukuro and Leo Kottke is a rare, organic moment that you should never make the mistake of missing if they ever make a visit to your city.

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tour dates

Leo Kottke and Jake Shimabukuro At The Oregon Zoo This Friday

The Oregon Zoo continues their Summer Concert Series this Friday with Grammy-nominated guitarist Leo Kottke and ukelele master Jake Shimabukuro. The two musicians are playing a few select dates together in the Pacific Northwest before they continue on their solo world tours.

Leo Kottke’s innovative finger-picking style and unconventional tuning has always put the artist in a special category of musicians. Widely known as a folk artist, Kottke’s influences from blues to jazz meld together naturally with his own unique style. As a result of being pressured to be a singer-songwriter early in his career, Kottke’s baritone vocals are featured on a handful of his early numbers. One would be very lucky to catch the musician singing a song or two at any of his performances.

In the ukelele’s recent resurgence in popularity, 35 year-old Jake Shimabukuro couldn’t be in a better spot. The Hawaiian native was already hailed as a virtuoso of the four-stringed instrument in his 20s. Starting his career playing in local Hawaiian venues and coffee shops, it wasn’t long before Sony Music Japan showed interest in the ukeleleist and things were taken a step further. But it was the now-famous YouTube clip of Shimabukuro playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in Central Park that sent the young musician’s career sky-rocketing.

Come on out for a special performance this Friday evening, June 29, at the Oregon Zoo in Portland. The show begins at 7:00pm. GA tickets are $24.00, reserved seating is $44.00. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster or at the Oregon Zoo.

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music videos reviews

The Snipes – Psychobitch album review

If one were to do a Google search of “The Snipes,” roughly 12,800,000 results will pop up. “The Snipes + Band” will narrow it down to a mere 1,820,000 results. And if that is too high, “The Snipes + Band + Psychobitch” should bring the figure down to about 27,000. Interestingly enough, less than five pages into your search you will have already found four punk bands in the western hemisphere named The Snipes. All of which, incredibly, are somehow credited with the album Psychobitch.

So the question is, Who are The Snipes? Are they Georgia-based punk band, The Snipes? They could very well be the Boston punk rockers with the same name. Part of me was hoping it was the English punk band that claims to hold the record for the “longest unbroken playing career in history.” (They started in 1947. Wait, hasn’t punk only been around since the mid 70s?)

As unclear as it is to who the real creators of Psychobitch are, all signs seem to be pointing to the Scottish chapter of The Snipes. A Glasgow quartet formed in 2007 by ex-members of various other UK groups. Psychobitch, which appears to be the second release this year for these ambitious Scots, is 40 minutes of disorganized, power-punk rhythms and misogynistic lyrics that closely resemble those of an 8th grade garage band. But instead of a pimply 14 year old with a cracking voice at the helm, this singer sounds like a 55 year old smoker who is in his first band ever. (I know a musician like this back in Madison. His live show is both painfully difficult to listen to and heart-warming at the same time.)

On a few numbers, The Snipes appear to make a valid attempt at creating hardcore punk rock. “Bottom Scheme” makes you want to break shit, flip over cars and light it all on fire. Other times, the songs end up coming across as weird, creepy, nursery rhymes. Case in point: “Ein Zwei Drei Vier,” a sweet tale about a German girl who likes The Ramones and likes to count to four. The melody sounds like it may have been an inspiration from a toddler’s early learning video.

Punk music is not dead. In fact it is very much alive. But in order to be taken seriously and not risk getting swept under the carpet in what is already an over-saturated market filled with less than mediocre punk bands, it is imperative for punk music to consist of more than super-jacked 4/4 beats and repetitive, mindless banter.

Despite Glitches Tedeschi Trucks Band Leaves Everybody Talkin’

Partway through the Kings of Leon’s 2007 performance at Bonnaroo, the sound unexpectedly cut out. Caleb Followill, the turbulent and often unpredictable frontman of the group, threw down his microphone and stormed off stage. The Kings of Leon singer did return eventually but that image of a temper tantrum from one of Rock n’ Roll’s biggest names is forever ingrained in my mind.

Tedeschi Trucks Band‘s Sunday night show at Arlene Schnitzer Hall was an amazing display of musicianship. The group’s highly touted art of bringing music to a extraordinary level exceeded all expectations. The evening, however, did not go off without a hitch. In a night plagued with technical issues and what even appeared at one point to be a broken string from Derek Trucks’ guitar hitting singer Susan Tedeschi in the face, the professionalism of the band ultimately overrode the unforeseen and unexpected obstacles.

A joyful rendition of Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin” was the perfect start to the evening. Susan Tedeschi’s gritty yet soothing voice has the ability to pierce through the ears of men like a lady siren. That paired with the majestic guitar playing of husband Derek Trucks and you have a musical-spiritual experience like none other. Brothers Oteil and Kofi Burbridge played well off each other throughout the night. Kofi’s modest organ playing teased the audience while Oteil’s fluttering bassline carried each song stronger than the last.

TTB is orchestrated beautifully. The musicians’ willingness to take a step back so that others may shine is unique. But it’s hard to deny Trucks’ role on stage as the driving force. While blowing minds with his slide-guitar skills, the musician stays humble and focused. For this writer, though, Tedeschi’s guitar playing was the biggest surprise. With so much focus on Trucks’ mastery of the instrument, Tedeschi’s talent is often overlooked. Tedeschi’s spectacular guitar solo during “That Did It” lit up the audience.

The band was forced to take a ten minute break only five songs into the night when crackling and popping from the speakers eventually led to a complete disabling of the speaker system. But once the eleven musicians were back on stage, the energy picked up exactly where it left off. “Wade In The Water” was rich in the delta blues spirit. Tedeschi’s husky vocals playing against Trucks’ haunting slide guitar made for a worthy version of the gospel number.

Up until this point in the evening, the horn presence was minimal. I along with a few others around me found the horn players constant exit and re-entry from the stage during the show a bit distracting. However, it did lend to a certain loosely organized, New Orleans vibe that certainly made the environment relaxing. Trumpet player, Maurice Brown displaying his impressive chops in “Uptight (Everything Is Alright)” is certainly worth noting.

During “Space Captain,” technical issues once again ensued when Tedeschi’s microphone briefly failed to produce any sound. Once the band reconvened onstage for the encore of “Love Has Something Else To Say,” Tedeschi at one point appeared to be struck on the side of her face by a broken string from Trucks’ guitar. Rubbing her cheek in dismay, the stunned singer quietly finished out the song.

Judging by the response of the audience as they left the venue, the few minor glitches didn’t appear to impact anyone’s experience. In fact, the Tedeski Trucks Band prevailed once again in providing their fans with a memorable evening. I just hope Susan’s face is alright.

Setlist: Everybody’s Talkin, Ball and Chain, Bound For Glory, Get What You Deserve, Shelter, Rollin’ & Tumblin’, Wade In The Water, Mahjoun, Nobody’s Free, That Did It, Uptight, Space Captain

Encore: Love Has Something Else To Say

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tour dates

Tedeschi Trucks Band To Play In Portland This Sunday

Portlanders are going to be in for a real treat this Sunday when Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks bring their 11-piece ensemble to Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. What has been hailed as one of the hottest touring acts on the road today, Tedeschi Trucks Band consistently amazes audiences around the world with their extraordinary musicianship and incredible live performances.

Despite only being mid-way through, 2012 is already shaping up to be quite the epic year for the husband-wife led band. In February, Tedeschi Trucks Band won a Grammy for Revelator for “Best Blues Album” and followed it a week later by hosting an all-star concert at the White House with some of the greatest names in blues music. All of this leading up to a tour that began in March and has dates running until the end of October.

At 33, Derek Trucks is already one of the most respected guitarists in rock music. Trucks has been mesmerizing people with his slide guitar playing since he was a teen. His all encompassing blend of genres is hard to define, however; tastes that range from blues and southern rock to jazz and Eastern Indian music. Six time Grammy nominated musician, Susan Tedeschi is equally as powerful a force in the band. Her vocals have been likened to that of Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin; a style that is rich in blues, soul and R&B.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band plays this Sunday, June 17 at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland. The concert starts at 7:30. Ticket prices range from $32.50 – $74.50 and are available at the PCPA Box Office and Ticketmaster retail outlets.