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PDX garage rockers get their time in city scene's spotlight

by: COURTESY OF SUICIDE NOTES - Portland's Suicide Notes is one of the bands celebrating the garage-band scene Dec. 15 at Slabtown.It all started with a question.

Or, more accurately, a “?”

Five years ago, a fire destroyed the Michigan farmhouse belonging to Rudy Martinez, better known as Question Mark of the Mysterians. Before he could shed “96 Tears,” garage rock bands all over the country, including here in Portland, organized benefits for the beloved 1960s garage rock forefather.

Out of that Portland benefit, which took place at Slabtown, 1033 N.W. 16th Ave., was born “Nuggets Night,” an annual show that highlights the various “Nuggets” garage, psychedelic and punk music compilations issued over the years, first by Elektra, then Rhino.

Doug Rogers, Slabtown’s owner, notes this year’s 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, show will feature 13 bands performing three to four songs apiece. Admission is $8, and you can find out more at slabtownbar.net, or by calling 971-229-1455.

Luke Strahota from The Satin Chaps organizes the gig, and says in addition to his band, this year’s lineup consists of The Pynnacles, Suicide Notes, Queued Up, Beyond Veronica, The Ex-Girlfriends Club, The Cool Whips, Dirty Rubbers, Paradise, The Sellwoods, The Very Foundation, The Deep Joy, Cry of the Shadow Animal and disc jockeys HWY 7 and Web of Sound.

Strahota says his horn-oriented band plans to play such tunes as “Nobody But Me” by The Human Beinz, and “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” by The Bob Seger System.

“They reflect the sound that we like to play, which is a bit more soul oriented than garage psyche,” he says.

Slithering jackhammer

On that note, despite its seemingly confining label, garage rock’s simple direct danceable sound has marked bands as diverse as The Yardbirds, the Electric Prunes, the Chesterfield Kings, the Fleshtones, Black Keys, White Stripes and The Hives.

Jessi Lixx, one of three female singers in The Suicide Notes (hovercraftpdx.com), says her own group combines the punk power of the Ramones with the come-hither-but-not-too-close-mister style of The Shangri-Las. Lixx says she loves to check out similar minded bands at Slabtown, which often hosts garage, psych and punk bands.

“Anyone who says there aren’t any new good bands to check out in this town is silly,” she says, listing No Tomorrow Boys, Audios Amigos, Hey Lover and Boom! among her faves.

Tamar Berk sings and plays Farfisa organ with both Paradise (weareparadise.com) and The Pynnacles (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). She says Paradise plays “uncompromising, raw, groovy, loud, brash, Farfisa driven garage rock ‘n’ roll,” adding she believes the garage psychedelic scene in Portland is “exploding!”

“It’s the instrumentation and raw aggressiveness that got me into the music,” she says.

Budding hipsters should realize garage rock has influenced such newer outfits as Black Keys, she says, a point seconded by her drummer in the “trippy” “fuzzy” Pynnacles, Thom Sullivan.

“I’ve seen this music come and go in waves since I first got hip in high school to the sounds of The Unclaimed, Tell Tale Hearts, Morlocks, Chesterfield Kings and Miracle Workers,” he says. “The waves are coming faster now because the information highway is thousands of times more efficient.

“There will always be an audience for great, raw, exciting rock that actually rolls,” he adds. “If musicians need to borrow from earlier eras to get ‘the sound,’ then that is what they will do, and the audience will always respond in kind.”

One of the first things you notice about the garage rock scene is the evocative nature of band names and members.

Take The Ex-Girlfriends Club (theexgirlfriendsclub.com), featuring Albatross on vocals, Action Lord and Orion on guitars, Karlito Franz on bass and Dr. “Scottie” Time on drums. You can debate whether these are the bandmates’ given names, but there’s no debating their music is “a slithering jackhammer held by dirty velvet gloves,” says Albatross who got into garage music for the best of reasons.

“It made me want to smash my body against the sun,” he says.

A kooky mix

The Baroness plays drums and sings for The Sellwoods, (facebook.com/TheSellwoods) and like other garage rockers in Portland she likes the fact there’s an audience here for it but wishes it was larger.

“The audiences seem to be a kooky mix of diehard ‘60s garage rock nut-nuts and curious young hipsters,” she says.

Eric Ramon, guitarist for The Cool Whips, has been playing in bands since the 1970s and says garage rock rises and falls all the time in popularity in Portland.

“Occasionally one of the local bands will do a crowded show but I don’t know if the audiences are there yet,” he says. “Or maybe this is some sort of labor of love by the musicians, and the audiences have moved on.”

He credits Nuggets Night for inspiring him. “I went to see some of the bands doing full sets, ran into a great bunch of people, kept going to shows and realized I still had the itch to show off on stage,” he says. “The fact that Nuggets Night will have 13 bands, all happy to be doing this sort of music, is a good indication that this particular scene, at least from the musicians’ perspective, is very much alive.”

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