M a y   2 0 0 1

Guest Writer

The Bella Fayes at Dante's
Can a rock band's songs be too catchy?
by Kurt Dahlke

While we gather at Dante's to check out the Bella Fayes, Portland seems to be becoming Portland-on-Willamette -- or so this crowd's attire attests.

The Burnside nightclub's darkly glowing interior can't manage to conceal its contents. More muttonchops on display than a Cornwall butcher. Lots of relaxed late-'60s cockney-farmer foppishness ala post-Faces Ronnie Lane. Long bushy sideburns and peg trousers on nearly every male. It makes me relax, secure among the mild-mannered farmboys. I just hope they don't get drunk!

But maybe I'm the one that's drunk, lulled by Dante's old giant-wok-fireplace into a phantasm -- hypnotized by the tremendous kick-drum beats endlessly pulsing from an excellent audio system.

Louder, louder they beat while we wait for opening act Lowcraft to play. Maybe I'm a geezer with a poor memory and sense of time, but it seems Lowcraft don't take the stage 'til almost eleven o'clock -- nearly an hour late. Shame, shame on Dante's. The Brits have plenty to chat about; I talk to my beer.

Eventually, Lowcraft takes the stage, and with the great sightlines at the club, I can see easily from my barstool. The stage at Dante's is great too, yet deceptive to the eye. Due to some bizarre trick of perspective, Lowcraft appear to be giant Muppets in black turtlenecks. They perform curiously restrained, mid-tempo power-pop. Tight, pulsing bass and drums create pleasing grooves over astute, catchy chord changes. Heads nod, feet tap.

Ten minutes into the set, this six-foot dude parks right in front of me. At least I can still hear.

Lowcraft's well-tuned guitar-driven pop ultimately leaves not much of a lasting impression -- at least not on first blush. I'm sure the songs continue to open up given repeated listening. Yet despite the fact that the songs totally hit their mark, they don't stand. It's that restraint in both stage presence and songwriting that makes Lowcraft something great that hasn't quite happened yet.

The Bella Fayes

The Bella Fayes walk the same road as Lowcraft: mid-tempo, super-catchy power-pop. Their evolution is further along, however, as their songs stick like glue.

Chief Faye Lael Alderman does his best to kick out intense energy, hoping to incite the crowd to frenzy. The house doesn't turn into a rock-n-roll riot (not Alderman's fault), but there is a sizable crowd and a throng of swaying bodies clotting up the dance floor.

The Fayes knock out a skintight professional set with emotion and drive. Alderman's Vegas-crooner-on-PCP thrashings suck the other players into the vortex. Occasionally, guitarist Adam Wayne in particular looks like he wants to knock people over as he flies about.

Sincere effort aside, the songs are a bit too good, if you get my drift. Sometimes Wayne or the other guitarist, Jason Henry, drifts to the side of the stage to twinkle out a keyboard figure that lasts in your mind for a long, long time -- even as the tune and melody have already hooked you like a fish. Shane Fisher's authoritative yet confidently un-complex drumming and Daven Hall's synched-up, supportive basswork ensure that, later, while you try to sleep, you'll be unable to get their songs out of your head. Enough already!

It's a strange problem to have, songs that are too catchy, but the Fayes seem to have it. Their efforts to craft songs wherein all things support the hooks -- hooks upon hooks -- leave not much room for the danger and unpredictability of rock and roll that Alderman works so hard to inject with his 110-percent stage presence.

If the songs want to go out of control, let them. Which is not to say that the Fayes are boring or uncreative. In fact, a lot of their songs seem to be in the less conventional 3/4 time. Though they rock hard enough to make it hard to tell.

Alderman's lyrics strive for the magic combo of emotionalism and non-specificity that allows all listeners to relate. In some songs, however, the content is so elliptical and vague that the words become hard to feel. "Head light, head bright." What does that mean?

After the last song of their hour-long set, I head back to the subie, knowing these tunes won't be dislodged from my cortex anytime soon. And yet, I'm compelled to listen to them again. They're cryptically emotional pop-rock confections with top-notch musicianship, and the live show is invigorating, with an aggressive heart and a wink.

Something might slip through your fingers during the experience; that sense of the unpredictable, or a lyric that hits you in the chest. But a good dose of the angry, fucked-up blues and the Fayes might be unstoppable.

See the Bella Fayes in Portland:
• Friday, May 4: The Fez Ballroom (w/Nicole Campbell)
• Friday, May 11: Cobalt Lounge (w/Alan Charing)
• The band tours the West Coast later this spring and summer.
• The Bella Fayes' debut recording, "So Much More Than 'Hello,'" is available on Secret Decoder.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

site design / management / host: ae
© 2001-2005 nwdrizzle.com / all rights reserved.