I had an out-of-town trip planned for the weekend of April 27th, but when I got word about the King Black Acid, The Fur Coats, and Streetcar Conductors show at Mississippi Studios, I immediately postponed it. King Black Acid is a local act I never miss, and The Fur Coats are amazing! I’ve never seen the opening act, a new band called Streetcar Conductors, so I arrive early to be sure I don’t miss a beat.
Streetcar Conductors has only been together a short while, so the members are nervous and excited about performing on the stage of this incredible venue. Streetcar Conductors is the product of founder, Jonathan Moore, and although this is a new band, he’s been working on these songs for almost 4 years. Along with his partner, Carmen Charters, he’s put together an amazing band, including Matt D. of The Toads on bass, Jimmy Ling and Michael Hollifield on guitars.
Streetcar Conductors is quirky and poppy. Jonathan’s songs are born out of sadness and desparation, but instead of dwelling on the dark side, his music combats the darkness with lighthearted lyrics. The sound is reminiscent of 60’s pop acts like The Monkees and The Turtles. He mocks our preoccupation with narcissism in the tune “Pictures of Ourselves,” and laughs at our situation in the song “The Absurdity of Life.” These songs, and many more, are featured on their debut release, comically titled “The Very Best of the Streetcar Conductors.” At the end of their 45 minute set, they have successfully won over the crowd. This band has a future in Portland and beyond. Now Jonathan has got to get some rest, because he’ll return to the stage as the keyboardist of King Black Acid in an hour!
Up next is one of my favorite local acts, The Fur Coats. Fronted by singer, Chris Hoganson, and singer/ saxaphone player, Betty Downey, this band has got soul, groove, funk and hooks! Chris has got a soothing voice and the moves to back them up. Betty sings and blows the horn with passion. Each song takes you in a new direction and draws you in with memorable riffs and lyrics. The entire band brings their A Game every single time they perform, and it’s beginning to pay off. Their positive energy and warm personalities are infectious. The room sways to the beat, and I overhear people in the crowd asking “Wow, who in the hell are these guys, they’re amazing!” If you’ve never seen The Fur Coats in person, I encourage you to find them on YouTube. They’ve released some fantastic videos in the last few months. This band was put on the bill by Daniel of King Black Acid, who tells me that he always likes to book acts that he enjoys listening to, but has never experienced live. And his band is up next.
King Black Acid is legendary, but I caught on to them late. I was living in L.A. when KBA broke big here in PDX. Several years ago King Black Acid sent me some music to play on my show. I just assumed they were a new (and mindblowingly talented) act who wanted to airplay. It wasn’t until I saw them live a couple of years ago that my friend Bryan of the band When We Met pointed out that they were a band who’d been around for years. That first live show had me so moved I’ve never missed a show since.
Tonight the band celebrates the release of their new 7″ Single Vinyl, featuring two cover tunes that the band has reinvented. The first is a song called “I’m In Love With A Girl” by Big Star, a band I was entirely unfamiliar with. Daniel tells me, “The original version was just vocals and acoustic guitar, very stripped down, very sincere, almost sickeningly sweet. I keep a running list of songs I’d like to pay tribute to, and this one now has it’s time.”
The second track is one I instantly recognize as a song made famous by The Carpenters called “Superstar.” To reimagine a song like this means you need a passionate and resonating female voice to attempt what Karen Carpenter made unforgettable…and Daniel found her in a local singer named Gabby Holt.
Gabby has been working in the studio with Daniel for over 5 years, but performing as a member of the live act is new. When asked how it feels to be a part of the show, Gabby responds, “We’ve been in the studio working together for so long that it feels completely natural.” And once you see Gabby on stage with this band, you know that’s true.
Usually the band sets up, then excuses themselves to “grab a drink of water” before returning to the stage under heavy fog and dark lighting. Tonight they finish tuning up, get in position and then casually say “Here we go.” King Black Acid takes us through their musical history, opening with “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Drink My Blood” off their album “Super Beautiful Magic.” It’s instantly magical! The room is packed and ready. The vibe is warm and trippy. The music is mixed perfectly, the night is about to explode into a rainbow of sight and sound.
I experience mixed emotions during a KBA show, most notably where, at least once during every performance, I break into tears. Tonight it’s during their song “Headfull of You” off the album “Sunlit.” It’s a simple, slow moving melody with the line “Everyone Knows We Get High” repeating gently throughout. Get me a hanky. Overall, it was a feeling of family and joy. I’ve rarely seen so many sincere smiles in a crowd as I do at a KBA show. The band feeds off of this energy and takes the songs to a new level. The cover songs off of the new 7” are performed flawlessly, and the evening concludes with cheers, applause, laughter.
As the lights come up and people begin to disperse, it’s not long before the band emerges from backstage. They shake hands, take pictures, and spend quality time with the fans who’ve come out to show their support. Nobody is leaving this show tonight feeling that they didn’t get all they had hoped for. Magical.
Scott “Uncle Scotty” Hammond has been a radio show host for over 20 years. He brought his internet radio station, Radio Hot Tub, to Portland and has been a strong supporter of the local music scene. He currently does live shows featuring local rock bands alternating Friday mornings on Freeform Portland.