Lower and Merchandise at Mississippi Studios in Portland, OR (October 3, 2014)
Arriving at an enclosed venue at 9 pm on a dry October Friday felt unfashionable in a town where being outdoor is maximized. In the dimly lit stage at Mississippi Studios, the female-fronted Arctic Flowers blasted the PA wit their cacophonous punk to a small crowd - most likely comprised of their friends and folks who are more familiar with local acts than the headliners. Because that seems to be the cool thing in Portland, but I never seem to pick up the trend so this was my first intro to the quartet.
While waiting for the crowd to camouflage my sober self, I grew impatient and stepped out to Bar Bar and gave into a glass of whiskey. The warm numbness sealed some of the void caused by self-consciousness. This would be the first time I would see Lower live and the first time catching Merchandise in the States. Last year, I managed to catch the Tampa Bay band in England, Spain, and Portugal - totally unintentional.
It's difficult to talk about Lower without mentioning Iceage - both acts hail from Copenhagen and make rather despondent punk music. Having seen Iceage, Lower was bit of a downer. While some of their music/videos have brilliant moments, live set felt more like watching four lads casually fulfilling their duties after the initial excitement dissipated with first few songs. Singer Adrian Toubro didn't have the dramatic flair of Iceage's Elias Bender Rønnenfelt. I wanted a punk show with the usual chaos, but it never reached that level. Having said that, it could have been my extrasolar mood of the day that made me feel indifferent to Lower live. Perhaps, if I had drank another serving of whiskey, the experience would have been more singular.
The moody nocturnal set of Lower was soon overshadowed by Merchandise's colorful ( as in mood, not visually) entertainment. From the moment frontman Carson Cox stepped up to the mic, I could feel a surge of energy in the venue without any audio reference. There was something different about Merchandise. Yes, their music has evolved into more of a pop territory, the trio has picked up couple of band members, and Cox's bangs have grown over his eyes; but it wasn't that. The blonde singer had become much more animated and talkative since I last saw Merchandise five seasons ago. But then he wasn't holding a cup of alcohol and dribbling back then.
The room was healthy full, and Merchandise made the night out worthwhile. Cox and guitarist Dave Vassalotti both had red on their hands. While the bantering crooner nursed something burgundy-ish in his cup, the acrobatic Vassalotti adorned his guitar with blood oozing from a cut on his finger. The possibility of an extended noise-fest was largely replaced by more radio-friendly songs from their commendable debut LP, After The End. While Cox's intoxication and self-deprecating bantering about how we hate them now wasn't the brightest moments, it was hard to break away from the show, even if one didn't have to stay for the whole set to write a review. I came to see a punk show but left feeling I had just been treated to vignettes of stereotypical rock moments - sex (Cox kissing Lower's drummer, Anton Rothstein), drugs (didn't see any but seemed like Cox was on something), and rock 'n' roll (I define this as any rock concert that has plenty of action - falling on stage, licking a camera, petting an audience member, etc.). I waited a bit for an encore, but everyone else thought it was unfashionable.
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