Weekend!Nightlife: On the Rocks
Clowns, demons, jesters, fire dancers and Russians fill the street. This is, roughly speaking, the fan base for the band Mirumir, whose chaotic, multicultural act is equally appealing to those who like to dance around in face paint and tutus, and those who can actually understand the group's lyrics, sung mostly in Russian by frontman and St. Petersburg native Andre Temkin.
It's the eve of April Fools' Day, and Mirumir is playing as part of a larger celebration of fools and the foolish, beginning with a parade, and ending with a dance party at the nightclub Rotture.
I'm walking down a dark, roughly paved part of Southeast Third Avenue, toward the club. The air smells like candy - apparently, someone was overzealous in deodorizing a nearby phalanx of Dumpsters.
Four blocks away, I can see the procession marching toward me, led by riders on 8-foot-tall bicycles. A band is playing, dancers are twirling, giant puppets are hoisted into the air. One man is wearing an American flag for a cape, adding a touch of political protest to the mix.
It's surreal, but by no means the most surreal moment of the night. After all, post-apocalyptic-indie-tribal-circus parades slow traffic here in Portland on a fairly regular basis.
Vegas by way of Volgograd
Inside, Elvis is waiting to start his set. 'This reminds me of Vegas,' he says. 'So many beautiful women. Just waiting for my band to set up,' he adds.
There is no band, and, as you might guess, this isn't the most famous Elvis, Elvis Presley, but rather Portland's own Coke-glass-bespectacled version. 'This reminds me of Vegas … ,' he says for a second time, trailing off, as someone somewhere in the background fiddles with a CD player.
Meanwhile, a crowd has gathered around a wavering, makeshift screen onto which footage of practical jokes is projected. Somewhere, in some foreign country, people are being flashed, sprayed with water and unexpectedly wrapped in duct tape.
In a corner, two strapping young men are helping a mermaid onto her swing, which hangs above a pool of blue and green balloons. Elvis has begun to sing, and on a secondary stage, a band of fellows wearing white sailor caps is setting up. Downstairs, in a separate room, a DJ'd dance party is already under way.
A flying pig circles overhead. A statue reaches out and taps a cowboy on the shoulder. Asidalia the Living Statue remains convincingly motionless for most of the night, but occasionally reaches into a small beaded purse to hand out fortunes. For this, and a few other scattered activities, you can buy 50-cent tickets, like the tickets at a high school carnival.
It's around 10:30 p.m., and there are a few hundred people in the club, many in costume. Most of the costumes are thrift store motley - a sideways wig, a feather boa, faux fur - but one man is dressed (or I should say, not dressed) as the Naked Chef. How did all these people get here? I ask around. Everyone is here to see a friend, or a friend of a friend, who is either DJ'ing or in one of the bands.
An uncanny number of these partygoers are people who have previously appeared in my columns. Team members from a trivia contest, a friend from the Barfly bus, the MC from the Someday Lounge, and even the guy from the reality TV dating show - they're all here. Could this all be an elaborate April Fools' joke on me?
Sirens don't sing; they tickle
I walk over to the mermaid's lagoon to watch a man in a 2-foot dunce cap pay four tickets to be tickled by a mermaid. He gets more than he bargained for, as he's overwhelmed by the touch of three gauzy sirens, and falls into the deep pool of balloons.
The dunce's wife is pulled in, and several other people dive into the pile. Everyone is tickling everyone else, writhing, disappearing and re-emerging. Limbs are flailing. Balloons are popping. Everyone is laughing, and it looks like an orgy, or a mosh pit, or maybe an entirely new ritual. It only ends when the whole mermaid enclosure has been crushed into nonexistence by human bodies.
It's time for Mirumir to play. If you like the Clash but wish they'd played more instruments, been more influenced by Euro disco and sea chanties, and sang more in Russian and Japanese, then you'll love Mirumir.
After a song, frontman Temkin tells the audience, 'You're going to watch, and I'm going to show you something you've never seen before.'
And we believe him.