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Aural Report

Turning the big oh-four
In Music We Trust
by Kurt Dahlke

There's this local hell-themed club (I won't mention names) that happens to be a great place to see a show: a stygian cabaret with diabolical drinks, damnably good sound and a layout with Mephistophelean attention to functionality. Plus it's dark and cozy, and they've got fire dancers right out on the street.

So when the nostalgic strains of Betty Already reach diminishing returns, we turn our heads toward Burnside Street – watching baffled tourists leap out of the way as a sexy young thing weaves scorching circles in the air like a whirling dervish who got too close to some open flame.

Independents day: Betty Already helps In Music We Trust celebrate four years as an indie Web site.

Betty Already opened last month's birthday party celebrating In Music We Trust, Alex Steininger's Portland indie empire.

In Music We Trust is a fan-friendly review site spawned from the '80s drunk-punk philosophy of the Replacements. As a middle-aged (four-year-old) free content site, IMWT has definitely made the grade.

But there's more!

IMWT is also a growing label and promotions company – and that's where the music for tonight's celebration comes from.

Betty Already is fortunate to have Steininger doing promotions; the live set paints the band as a bit of a hard sell. What do you do with a mix of Bay Area punk, the B-52's and Brit-sleaze tendencies?

The band hearkens back to the weightless party-rock of the B-52's, both in lyrical content and vocal style. Ever popular boy/girl vocals combine cheerleader-style exhortations with enough shakes and shimmies from Miss Kitty to evoke Daisy Duke at an amateur strip competition.

Undeniably tight and catchy enough, Betty Already parties through songs that rely heavily on dense riffs and less on melodic focus – leaving little room to breathe. Finally, the last tune opens into a funky lope with airspace and a genuinely crafty pop melody. But that's it for the ass shaking.

Pop vacuum: Spare Change, Luther Russell's latest CD, doesn't suffer from room conversations.

IMWT's own Luther Russell wedges himself between Betty Already and the show-closing Pinehurst Kids with his end-of-millennium acoustic laments.

Russell's latest CD, Spare Change, overpowers with immediacy: beautifully smart guitar, strong melodies, distinctive voice.

This night's set, however, is a different story ... different circumstances … different times. Right now Russell is swallowed up by conversations in the room. His delta moans and quiet strumming almost disappear in the loud pop vacuum, sucking the blues away from his performance. The talkers aren't giving him a chance.

At last Russell summons the Pinehurst Kids to back him on a crackling version of his "John Hardy," which wakes everybody up. But too late to save the set.

Crafted to please: The Pinehurst Kids as polished punk-pop machine.

The veteran Pinehurst Kids have grown from a two-piece impersonation of the Tasmanian Devil to a polished four-piece punk-pop machine.

However, consummate professionalism doesn't hide main-Kid Joe Davis' sincere enthusiasm and bratty charm – both of which might be construed as either completely genuine or shamelessly contrived.

The Kids' blistering confections and confessionals are crafted to please, even if Davis and crew create a wall that's too dense at times for my ears.

Davis' solos fight for recognition in the squall. Jam-packed distortion-drenched pummeling chords do the trick (though one overdriven bass note hitting the root of each chord would serve almost as well). Such pummeling tends to numb one's head after awhile.

I almost order another cheap slop beer, but instead decide it's time to grab the wife and leave. Why spoil a good thing with discount drunkenness? IMWT wants us to feel fulfilled, not ill.

Certainly, the Pinehurst Kids and Betty Already make sure we don't go hungry. And Luther Russell's Spare Change awaits us at home if we need a midnight snack. But we're left with more than enough chords to serve as leftovers well into next week.

Hear Betty Already:
The band's CD,
Amerimaniacs, is available on Fly Lyla Records.
Hear Luther Russell:
His CD,
Spare Change, is available on In Music We Trust Records.
Hear the Pinehurst Kids:
The Kids' CD,
Bleed It Dry, is available on Barbaric Records.
And see the Pinehurst Kids all month:

• Sept. 1: Roseland Theater; Portland (opening for Guided By Voices)
• Sept. 3: Skychurch; Seattle (part of Bumbershoot; all-ages)
• Sept. 7: Los Gatos Outhouse; Los Gatos, Calif. (w/Alien Crime Syndicate; all-ages)
• Sept. 8: Capitol Garage; Sacramento, Calif. (w/the Bell Rays)
• Sept. 9: Paradise Lounge; San Francisco
• Sept. 10: 3 of Clubs; Los Angeles (all-ages)
• Sept. 11: Mr. T's Bowl; Los Angeles (all-ages)
• Sept. 12: Chain Reaction; Anaheim, Calif. (all-ages)
• Sept. 13: The Casbah; San Diego
• Sept. 16: Spaceland; Los Angeles (w/the Shins)
• Sept. 21: Cobalt Lounge; Portland (part of MusicFest Northwest)
• Sept. 27: Breakroom; Seattle (w/Arlo; all-ages)
• Sept. 29: Fox and Firkin; Corvallis, Ore. (w/Gravity and Henry)

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

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