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xmag.com : October 2000 : nxnw


NXNW by Viva Rock is dead. Long live rock!

These goddamn festivals are the nails in the coffin. North by Northwest is the epitome of the sly corporate leeching of any and all soul from the beast formerly known as rock'n'roll. What started as merely crass has proved to be mortal poison. This much-hyped "showcase" for "independent" music is always promoted in the same breath as "Your band's one-in-a-million opportunity to sell-out!" A contradiction in terms? Yeah, but who's listening? It's all the same damn thing nowadays, as indie labels get sucked into the vortex of mega-corporations. To be viable you've gotta be a made-for-money machine like Brittney or 'N Sync, or learn how to produce, record and market your music yourself, which can wear on the always fragile muse responsible for the goods. But, hey, that's independent! Just be sure and get your MBA before you pick up that guitar, son. A law degree might be useful, too. But, says Satan, wouldn't it be nice to have someone do all that for you?
Ever hopeful and ignorant, bands seem perfectly willing to play the corporates' bitch, shelling out plenty of money to be seen and heard by wasted industry types who are drinking on their blood, sweat and tears. You asked for it! Just don't let me hear you complain when they get you in debt by making you pay for your tour bus with the insufficient funds your (their) record earned while they forgot to promote it.
Anyway, I couldn't imagine a worse fate for a Friday night than to be forced to participate in the peregrinations of the amateur live music aficionados. It's a hassle, boring and downright dangerous. Not to mention depressing as hell! But, as I've explained before, sometimes a deadline will find you doing things you'd never dream of doing otherwise. So, I found myself at the Green Onion, a decent Middle-Eastern restaurant, at 9 PM on a Friday night,
where four guys and a girl were playing perfect Pornland pop to a capacity crowd.
Here ya go, folks, my tell-all diary of a one-night stand with NXNW 2000.
 
9 PM: Norfolk and Western
The hype was heavy for this local outfit when I asked around at the titty bar the night before. There's a Portland sound, ya know, and this band is it in a nutshell. And I'm no fan. Yawn. It's melodic, guitar oriented, Elliot Smith-y, three vertebrae up from shoe-gazer dopey rock. No head bobbing, just buy the cd and play it on a rainy day while you're cooking dinner or cleaning house in your pre-yuppie bohemia.
A lot of people turned out for this show, even though Norfolk and Western are local and you can presumably see them any time for less money and easier parking. Outfit of choice was khakis with tucked-in shirts. Smart guy stuff. Wire rim glasses and undyed hair. Natural fibers with Patagonia shells instead of leather coats. Cute guy factor was a big fat zero.

9:30: Polecat/Dora Flood
I ran around the corner to Dante's, hoping to catch some of Polecat, which, according to the write up promising high-energy loudness, I hoped would be more up my alley. I was late. I forgot the festival's basic tenet, namely that in order to haul in as much possible dough from poor little bands and non-wristbanded patrons, the NXNW machine must operate with deadly precision. That being the case, I arrived at 9:36 to the last little chugga-chuggas of this Seattle band. Oh, well. I was well in time to catch what proved to be the most exciting aspect of the festival for me: the virile tear-down and subsequent mounting of the bands' equipment. This part is HOT! All those instruments of revolution, bandied about by real WORKERS! The little band boys show off their muscles and grace while wheeling Marshalls offstage and delicately packing up bass drums.
After this spectacle, I was treated to some U2-inspired sludge by Dora Flood from San Francisco. It was all I could do to keep myself from shouting "Boo!" or "ZEN GUERRILLA, motherfuckers!" after every song. I entertained myself by looking for cute boys in the audience. I found three passable ones. One was suddenly standing next to me, offering to get my next drink. He didn't like the band much, either, but he did like Blonde Redhead, which is not really ok with me.
The crowd at Dante's was about three times more hip than the Green Onion crowd. Nearly everyone wearing glasses had those ubiquitous Buddy Holly ones, there was a lot more creative hair-coloring going on and leather coats were the rule.
On my way out, I asked one of the other cute boys what he thought of the band. He said he liked 'em. "Really?" I decided he wasn't so cute close up.

11 PM: No. 2
The Cobalt was packed for this group of Elliot Smith castaways. Folks here were even more hip than at Dante's! Black tee-shirts, mixed races, mixed glasses. Some sweetheart shared his flask of Jameson's with me. And that's the extent of that. Well, that and drummer Paulie really is so superfine.

Midnight: Scared of Chaka
I crossed the river for this Albuquerque band. They rule! Their lead singer is an Adonis, and way won the Hottest Guy Award. Chaka is what the Makers wish they could be. Fun loud punk rock. Straight outta the garage and into your heart. The crowd was stereotypically EJ's: people to whom hip has no lingering credence, and who drink Pabst any night of the week, not just on bowling nights. The cool kids. All types of spectacles were represented. Lots of black. More cute guys than anywhere else, but who was looking? Chaka's lead singer is such a dish! If I weren't such a dedicated editor, I would have flung myself at him with reckless abandon. But I got a job to do here.
No sooner had Scared of Chaka shut off their amps than I was back on Sandy, headed downtown. Unbelievably, cell phones seem to be the latest accessory of choice for the street ho's. A perfect match, really. Loitering near pay phones is always a dead giveaway.

1 AM: Smegma
Back at the Green Onion, I watched the last bit of the Kerby Street Trio--jazz for the über-hip new-mods. Punks filtered in for Smegma, and I scouted the joint for local hero/martyr Richard Meltzer. Meltzer was one of two or three who wrote the book on rock criticism back in the
70's, and the author of A Whore Just Like the Rest. His band, Smegma, is a motley crew of music veterans who put on a wonderfully unique show of highly offensive poetry and carefully crafted music montages. Call it Factory-esque. People left in droves about half-way through the first song, which began with a little couplet, something like "You ask me to piss on you/ then you piss on me. We turn on the shower/ then I fuck you in the ass." Or was that the sound check? Whatever. I am a huge Meltzer fan.

1:30 AM: The Natrons
Back at EJ's, I found myself wondering whether there was any middle ground in Portland between scene du jour slow and punk rock fast. My question was answered an hour later at Jimmy Mak's by the fabulous Natrons--Portland's finest, without a doubt. Their music is hardly original--very Cramps-like, which was a rehash when it was born twenty some years ago. But who the hell cares. It's the real thing, and perfectly executed. The rhythm section is truly the best around, with the Fellini bartenders we all know and love, Craig and Juliette, on drums and bass, respectively. The lead singer does a perfect Lux Interior, but is superfiner. He wins the runner up Hottest Guy Award. And what a guitar player! Smokin'! He bent the bluesiest notes out of his axe whilst standing atop a tipsy table, then wrestled his sex-imbued song to the ground where it moaned and gasped, and ultimately delivered us all to an exhilarating afterglow. Jesus!
As the Flamin' Groovies say, all's well that ends well. I mean, I got my rocks off at NXNW, so it can't be all that bad, right? And when else could I see such a diverse assortment of bands? Well, probably any night of the week, if I was willing to drive all over town to search 'em out. How
ever, the NXNW-sponsored hype still works to get the kids out, and every musician puts a little more into their show if they're playing for more than ten of their close friends (with the possible exception of Portland-soundsters and Elliot Smithies--they're so shy and humble, see). Maybe I'll even try it again tonight...after all, I have yet to see a show at Rocco's Pizza, and I'd like to interview some rockers about the injustice of having to play at Union Jack's--a STRIP CLUB that of course EXPLOITS WOMEN (There have been pamphlets distributed to this end. How silly.).
To those protesting the use of Union Jack's as a NXNW venue, fuck you. Any musician with a brain and a couple years experience will recognize that stripping is a lot less exploitative than selling your soul for a free round of PBR (and at Union Jack's, it's several rounds of free JD!) or the chance to be seen by slime of the earth music magnates. Yeah, yeah. We strippers have to pay a percentage for the "privilege" of working at clubs. And sure, some of us get hooked on drugs. But look at yourselves! The music industry couldn't be more exploitative or drug-addled.
Finally, while we're on the subject of sex workers, NXNW progenitor South by Southwest is threatening to sue the local girls who have been hard at work bringing you Portland's second Sex by Sex Workers film festival. For copyright infringement, naturally. So forget about any good intentions of fostering independent music and video. They just want your greasy money.
It's a never-ending ring of hypocrisy, and I have a headache. As far as I'm concerned, the "independent music" ethos was bullshit shot through with holes from the beginning. Mission accomplished.

 

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