Guided by Voices West Coast reunion tour 2010—Portland, OR
– by Shawn Conner
Ah, Portland. City of dreams and microbreweries, of hip hotels and Powell’s Books. Where aging indie-rockers retire, and where everyone’s in a band and no one has a real job. Outside of Seattle, I’ve probably been to this American city more than any other, and I was looking forward to spending at least a few hours just hanging out before the show. Road trips down to the Oregon city from Vancouver are among my fondest road-trip memories, and Guided by Voices‘ appearance there, at the Crystal Ballroom, was a prime motivating factor in embarking on this whole affair in the first place.
I’d survived Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco, one show right after another. But there was a day’s grace between the San Francisco and Portland shows, owing to the length of the drive – at the very least, and only if you’re loaded on Red Bull or crystal meth, it’s 12 hours.
After nearly all day on the road, I was too exhausted by 9:30 p.m. to make it to Portland. So, about two hours south, I pulled off the highway and headed into Eugene, following a west-leaning hunch that took me past the chain motels to the downtown core. There, I found the quaint, rustic Timbers Motel, walking distance to a brewpub where I had a pretty lame pizza. But the beer flight was tasty. And though I was in town only over night, I felt I still got a feel for the city, enough to make broad general statements like, “Everyone rides a bike.”
In Portland, I passed on the Ace Hotel (at $200/night + $20 parking) in favour of the uber-hip Jupiter Hotel ($100+, street parking). It’s pod-like suites and attached hipster hangout the Doug Fir Lounge make this a Portland favourite; each suite also comes equipped with a copy of The Four Agreements. Once, an ex-girlfriend had packed up the spiritual guidebook, thinking it was mine, and eventually I read it. Also downloaded the sequel, which was read by two actors from L.A. Law. True story.
Yes, Portland is full of memories, many of them the Guided by Voices type. The last time I’d been was driving back from my one and only Burning Man, and the time before that was with Nicole, my then-girlfriend, who had lived there before moving to Vancouver; we were attending her friends’ wedding reception, in a park. In fact, I was planning to look up a friend of hers, Jeff, who was going to the show as well.*
First though I was going to meet up with some fans (met through Twitter) who were drinking at Ringlers, a bar next door to the Crystal Ballroom. At Ringlers, a somewhat depressing barn-like sports bar, I also met up again with Kyle, the dude who’d driven from Arizona for the L.A. show and also the San Francisco and Portland shows, to give him my extra ticket.
While chatting, I spotted through the window band member Tobin Sprout. Kyle rushed out to say “hi”; he reported back that the singer/guitarist had been surprised anyone would be excited to meet him. Then I spotted, at another table, none other than Guided by Voices guitarist Mitch Mitchell, sitting at a table with Robert Pollard‘s son Bryan (apparently a social worker in PDX), identifiable by his mop of curly hair a la dad’s, and Mitchell’s cigarette tech (the bearded dude who kept the chain-smoking guitar player supplied with smokes during the show).
And then it was show-time. I confess, I don’t have a lot to add about seeing Guided by Voices at this point, except to note I was getting off more and more on just watching the crowd react to the songs. I can’t rightly say if the Portland show was better or worse than the other three – it seemed like the band had more energy, that the songs rocked harder, and that the setlist, though not much changed, included a couple of new-old songs – “Watch Me Jumpstart” and “Bright Paper Werewolves”.
It was another 90-minute-plus, three-encore affair, with Pollard & co. doling out “hit after hit” from Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, obscure EPs (Pollard seems to really love announcing the title Clown Prince of the Menthol Trailer, which features set staple “Matter Eater Lad”) and a couple of other records. It was a great show, but they were all great, and all turning into one great big Guided by Voices blur.