[hub capped] Exploring Portland's intimate venues + sounds of the Boo Jays, Light*House, Psychic Feline, Formica Man

Portland's Psychic Feline have roots that extend back to New England. But your cat already knew that.

The past few weeks living in Portland have just flown by in a blur of shows, practices and days spent fighting off a terrible stomach bug and scouring Craigslist for gainful employment. I’ve refused to let that last one affect my ability to hit the town however, as it is my sworn duty to report back to my east coast counterparts on exactly what it is that is drawing so many of us these days, like moths to a flame, to the pacific northwest.

I’ve been working hard on my own projects in the interim, finally planning out some springtime shows for RUBY RIDGE as well as taking over keyboard duties in one of my favorite PDX bands, THE BOO JAYS. I’ve also been having a great time exploring some of the city’s smaller venues, including such standouts as the Waypost, a cozy, low-lit and well-decorated coffee shop tucked away in Northeast Portland; Little Axe, which is an incredible little experimental record shop; and Valentine’s, a tiny 26-by-30-foot box downtown with exceptionally high ceilings and a balcony (for some reason).

The musical talent in this city is just downright inexhaustible. It took me a lot of work to whittle the list down to just a couple more bands of note to tell you about, some of whom I’ve now seen several times and just can’t get enough of.

One such group is LIGHT*HOUSE, a trio that features ex-Rapture keyboardist/programmer Christopher Relyea along with singer Dawn Sharpe and guitarist Brooks Blackhawk. They specialize in the kind of moody, theatrical dirge which brings to mind classic 4AD acts such as Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil. I’ve been to several of their shows now with plans to catch them at least a few more times in the next month or two.

PSYCHIC FELINE are one of about a dozen bands I’ve seen out here so far featuring members who trace their musical trajectory back to New England. Their propulsive post-punk style favors energy over affectation, and it makes for incredibly fun, no-nonsense performances.

It was while checking out Psychic Feline for the first time at the Know that I was introduced to FORMICA MAN, a frenetic female-fronted no-wavey noise pop ensemble whose spiky slide guitar style was reminiscent of DNA’s Arto Lindsay. I look forward to catching them again ASAP.

While I’ve seen a lot of great live bands in Portland, to be honest I’ve yet to see a DJ who wasn’t staunchly mediocre, which is a big departure after leaving a city as full of talented floor-fillers as Boston is. By my next update, however, I will have been able to finally catch some world-class EDM in this city courtesy of XXXY and NGUZUNGUZU.

I’ll be sure to report back on the local openers next time around. Until then, stay classy Boston!

John Von Bittrich is a lifelong Bostonian chronicling his new adventures in Portland, Oregon, for the Boston Phoenix. He updates the Hub Capped blog bi-weekly.

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