Other noteworthy shows:
Num Num, the new pop band fronted by Disc Jockey
Gregarious, debuted with practically virulent enthusiasm
and more hooks than a meat packing plant.
Rollerball failed to achieve the ambient
heights and depths it reaches on disc.
Scared of Chaka delivered a harsh midnight
wake-up call to its new hometown at EJ's, soon to be
Portland's most-mourned venue.
Braille Stars kicked a reportedly gorgeous new
CD into the world with a glimmering Satyricon set.
Natrons torched Jimmy Mak's (I mean figuratively, but it
was almost literally--the bass amp blew up in spectacular
fashion) with an unhinged offering of blues/punk aggression.
"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench,
a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and
good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."
--Hunter S. Thompson
The Russian in white shook like a seizure victim, vibrating
in place on the Green Onion's stage. Tall, ostrich-thin and
awkward, he sometimes leaned to the microphone to flap his
tongue and hiss. Mostly, he let the off-the-rails momentum
of Auktyon, his eight-member post-sane carnival from
St. Petersburg, drive him further into the quivers.
Auktyon's music put a hot iron to most of the hundred or
so crowded into the narrow Persian-themed club as the final
witching hour of North by Northwest 2000 passed.
Spirals of maniacal horns, a thunder of drums and guttural
vocals spun from the stage. Auktyon first formed in the days
when deviant music was anathema to the rusting Empire that
still believed it was Building Socialism. After decades of
fighting like blood-hungry pitbulls for the right to shriek,
these eight guys turned everything loose in a cacophonous
If Auktyon's ecstatic, volcanic Saturday night coup de
grБce captured everything right with the annual
gathering of bands and music industry types, it was because
it was far, far removed from the shop-talk and schmooze that
mars the festival. While this year's conclave at the Embassy
Suites offered a few moments of genuine insight into an
industry that currently has its collective panties in a
twist over technology, it mostly provided a reminder that
the music business crawls with glad-handers, gizmo merchants
and ten-percenters eager to squeeze a living out of other
But it's just like anything--it's all in how you look at
it. Every day of trade-show hawkery and meandering talk
evaporated into a night of music, and in just enough cases,
the music was good enough to redeem the whole affair.
I began my NXNW immersion Wednesday night at Berbati's,
in the fierce barrage of scattergun emo-agitation of At
the Drive-In. The Texans survived the curse of "industry
buzz," blistering an opening-night crowd with a display of
unfeigned intensity. I could have done without lead singer
Cedric Bixler's silly between-songs poetry--though
not without his throat-ravaging fire. Careening around the
stage with animal abandon, ATDI spared no quarter in a show
that was clearly too over-the-top for some in attendance,
but just fine by me.
Thursday night at Ground Kontrol, I caught the precocious
yearlings of Seattle's The Vogue dealing a
hard-to-swallow set of stripped-down, glam-filtered rock to
a half-befuddled crowd. I went back and forth between loving
and hating these ambitious kids about six times, which is
probably just how they planned it. Their songs radiate a
cold and mysterious menace, and lead singer Johnny
Whitney is a one-man spectacle, vamping and preening as
he spits his upper-register venom. At the same time, their
studied preciousness can get annoying--and as for the reedy
back-up vocalist occupying space at the back of the stage,
well, he must be toting an awful lot of gear to justify his
presence. Still, by the time the last wiry guitar line and
poisonous keyboard crash went down, I was converted by their
inventiveness and aggression. Yes, they're young--but so
what? Pete Townshend did some of his best work before
he hit 22, and while I wouldn't want to curse the Vogue with
that fate, they carry promise beyond their years.
It took a sweat-box set at Meow Meow by Olympia's The
Gossip to really set the festival rolling, though. With
the fresh-faced indie-rocker crowd fervently clapping along,
the three transplanted Arkansans hammered out an
authoritatively vicious fusion of blues, punk and soul. By
the end of their all-too-short Friday set, the stage was
crowded with revelers dancing and grabbing a few seconds of
mic time apiece. In a weekend overflowing with soulless
industry jockeying and talk, it was a moment of pure
pleasure, the kind that can't be packaged for sale.
Saturday night came Auktyon's uprising, along with a
gorgeous set by Portland's Braille Stars. The
Vue, a shaggy San Francisco contingent, were completely
unchained at Berbati's, nearly hitting the feral energy
levels of At the Drive-In. They do need to lose the boring
retro fashion and fourth-hand Stones hooks and really
live a little, but anyone looking for a cleansing jolt of
passion got it. Finally, I ducked out of the Green Onion in
time to finish the night with Black Angel at Dante's.
The soul band practically owns that stage, and it defended
its claim with a set as smooth as it was steeled.
As this year's NXNW faded into gilded memory, it's safe
to say that it changed very few lives. From some angles, it
showcased all that is and will continue to be warped and
wrong with the music industry. But from others, it proved
that music is often where the last fragment of our cultural
Id not yet annihilated by focus groups, therapy,
pharmaceuticals and television comes out to play rough.