SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE: The Patient Mrs. Reports on Mars Red Sky and Argonaut in Portland, OR, 03.25.12
I was madly jealous of my beloved wife not only for being able to travel to Portland for her work where mine keeps me mired in Jersey’s swamps by its very nature, but also because she’d be there the same weekend that French heavy riffers Mars Red Sky were wrapping their post-SXSW tour of the West Coast. In no uncertain terms, I made clear my recommendation that she allow me to live vicariously through her by going to the show — which was with Argonaut, White Orange, Ancient Warlocks and probably others — and she took the advice to heart.
Not only that, but as if to reinforce why she’s the love of my life and why I’m the lucky she even talks to me let alone is legally obligated to give a crap whether I live or die, she turned in a review of the show for me to post here. And though her cell-phone pics aren’t the kind I was begging for all weekend, I’m appreciative of the fact that she included them, as I have here, to go with her words. While I delight in the coincidental abbreviation of Mars Red Sky as MRS, please enjoy the following:
Unable to join me as I set off for a Portland, Oregon, work trip, our dear blogmaster and my dear husband sent me off last weekend with the urgent advice that I go see Mars Red Sky at the Ash St. Saloon — after all, they won’t be playing the East Coast, and since I won’t be going to Roadburn, it might be my only chance this year. So on Saturday night, finished with all my work obligations for the day, I set off on a solo adventure to see the doomy side of Portland.
Still too early to head over to the venue, I began the evening at the Lucky Labrador Brewpub in southeast Portland, an unpretentious local public house with a full — if hop-heavy — slate of house brews. It was a great place for a few beers, a sandwich, and some reading before moving back across the Willamette River (rhymes with “dammit”) for the show. I was particularly pleased to sample their cask-conditioned doppelbock, which was a nice balance of strong and sweet and the perfect amount of warm and flat. The last several times I’ve been somewhere with a cask tap, it’s been out of commission, and well, I really like warm, flat ale. But onto the show.
Taking advantage of Portland’s near-European quality public transportation system, I hopped a bus back westward to the Ash St. Saloon, just a block off of Burnside, the city’s main artery. There was a line of food trucks across the street, and a random group of bagpipers standing on the opposite corner (at 10PM), so I felt like I was really getting a quality taste of the reputed “Portland experience.”
Boasting a five dollar cover and a crowd that was utterly familiar, the Ash St. Saloon was welcoming. They had a nice selection of beers on taps, quickly responsive bartenders, and again, a pleasantly unpretentious vibe that is a welcome change from most doomy shows I’ve been to lately (I’m looking at you, W-burg).
Now, before getting to the actual music: I have seen more doom and stoner rock shows than most dedicated fans, and I genuinely like the music, but it’s not really my thing. Frankly, I think when you’re married to someone who has a real passion, it’s better to not have the exact same passion. You’d get in each other’s way too much — maybe that’s just me; I’m a pretty competitive person — but while I know and can discuss dominant genealogies of doom, can talk effectively about what I like and don’t like, and can generally identify whether something is hackneyed or mind-blowing, what I can’t do is remember the names of songs, or talk about nuances in playing, or even tell you how many songs a band played. Take my thoughts for what they are.
When I arrived, Argonaut was at the front end of their set. The Tacoma-based band played good, solid rock and roll, with some decently developed and interesting riffs. The drums were bizarrely loud in the mix, making it a little hard to focus on the guitar lines and really drowning out the bass, but they were clearly having a good time. Their ReverbNation page says they have punk roots, but I didn’t really note that in listening to them. It was perhaps most evident in the guitarist’s visual presentation — he looked like a grown-up hardcore kid — which leads me to my strongest impression from their whole set: these guys are adults who are doing something they both enjoy and know how to do. Power to them for getting out there and doing their thing.
Mars Red Sky was up next, though I was pretty confused for a few minutes because they were listed as going on before Argonaut, but when they started to set up, I was pretty sure they were speaking French, so I figured I was okay. Their first song confirmed they were indeed Mars Red Sky because I knew that I knew it. We have listened to that CD in the car a lot, so it was all very familiar. My great critical reflection on this first number is that it was very pretty and much more contemplative than the straight-up rock of the previous band. The trio is very well balanced and on stage, the richness of the bass stands out a bit more than on the album.
The next song they played was the one I know best. While I don’t know the actual words, the melody was familiar. Again, there was a richness and a grittiness in the live performance that stands out against the recorded version. For example, the vocals are multi-tracked on the album, but even with whatever effects, they stood out as more emotionally driven live. The album is polished. The virtue of the live set was it showed a less mediated iteration – live, the song seemed to suggest a great deal more vulnerability than comes across on the album. Having looked it up, it turns out this was “Strong Reflection.”
Next they played a new song, the title of which I did not catch. A bit more up-tempo and guitar focused, it relied on more traditionally stoner-ish riffs, sitting in some abrasive grooves, while not losing the thoughtfulness that characterized the songwriting on their first album. Either on this song or on the next, the bassist took up the vocals. The bassist’s, Jimmy Kinast’s, vocals are less distinctive than the guitarist’s, but cohered well with the overall aesthetic. Ultimately, the rest of the set moved in a heavier direction, turning up the doominess a few notches across the board.
A relatively short set, they finished up, loaded out, and set up shop at the merch table. I had already snagged a White Orange CD for JJ, and while I had been planning to say hi to Jimmy as JJ had let him know that I would be there, he was occupied selling and signing, so I nodded to the merch girl/someone’s girlfriend and wandered off.
I could definitely spend more time in Portland.
Unbelievable amounts of love and appreciation to The Patient Mrs. for filing this report (really, I’m tearing up as I type this). Here’s a MRS video from SXSW that gives me something — as if I needed more fodder — to look forward to a couple weeks from now at Roadburn.
Tags: Argonaut, Ash St. Saloon, France, Mars Red Sky, Oregon, Portland