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Aural Report

TriMet Interstate line opens with one helluva block party
Portland takes it to the Max
by Kurt Dahlke

ow, who would have thought there were so many commuters in Portland? The newly minted Killingsworth station of the Interstate Max line looks like a scene from the William Friedkin bomb, "The Hunted," and when the train arrives it's strictly SRO.

Tri-Met's new Interstate Max line: time to squeeze onto the train.

This is all in honor of the opening of a rail line, an opening that – and this bears all the repeating it's gotten – was ahead of schedule and under budget.

So TriMet (which semi-altruistically wants to increase ridership) and tons of neighborhood-based organizations (which would love to see more of the economic development the rail is supposed to deliver) put on one helluva block party the first Saturday of May.

We dive into the park next to the station, checking out booths, getting free pens and signing up to have bike maps mailed to us. OK, this is less like a party than a school fund-raiser, so it's time to squeeze onto the train.

Taiko drumming at the Expo Center stop: let the banging begin.

Hopefully, this is the only time Max will compare to a Tokyo subway at rush hour. It compares favorably, at least, and we're quickly at the sweltering Expo Center stop for some Taiko drumming.

Brief mention is made of the area's wartime role in the 1940s as a one-way station between freedom and internment for many of the region's Japanese residents, and then the banging begins.

Portland Taiko has a pretty high profile, but if you've never seen a performance it's a necessity. Complex rhythm arrangements and ritualized, super-aerobic movements are performed with pure delight to generate a transforming vibe that crashes out into the audience.

Despite just being a spectator, sweat starts pouring down my back. It's time to hightail it to the air-conditioned comfort of the train.

Sneakin' Out: eerie bluegrass with a quiet acoustic flavor.

Next stop is Kenton, home of Paul Bunyan and the Dancin' Bare. Down the street is a tiny section-8 motel featured in "Drugstore Cowboy."

Will motel or Bare succumb to Max's transformative powers?

Strolling up Denver (Kenton's cute main drag) on a sunny, hot May day, it doesn't matter. Maybe it never will.

We pass an eerie bluegrass-ish trio called Sneakin' Out, its relatively quiet acoustic flavor unable to draw many away from the more obvious burgers and funk down the street near Friday's. Now it's time to head south. We stop at the Widmer brewery.

Norman Sylvester: spilling nasty Fender-blood on the loading dock.

If you've made it this far with us, you must know that beer and blues are on the agenda. More booths are in effect on Mississippi, presenting more history of the area and Hannah Bea's delicious pound cake, along with the rest of the pamphlet-set.

We cruise by as Norman Sylvester spills some nasty Fender-blood on the loading dock, while his band of accomplished, pasty-faced freaks weave that familiar blues carpet so smoothly you'd think you were back on the train and all your butt remembers is that bumpy No. 5 ride.

Our emcee, in pressed slacks, gold-rimmed glasses and a sailor's hat, out-styles everyone – reminding us that if we like the music, most of the performers "live just down the street!"

Lloyd Allen: a guitar séance that makes arm hair stand up.

He brings out little Lloyd Allen to do it again for a few tunes with a soul-scratched howl bringing new life to another ancient complaint – "baby don't leave me" or something – and a guitar séance that stands up the arm hair even in the back row. And it's so nice seeing that exposed rotating Leslie speaker, making the organ visceral in gospel transcendence.

The Original Cats then sit their large selves down and delve into some conga-drum-led blues horn-charts that either take a while to warm up or hang with some heavy soul slackness that I don't get. We hold off heatstroke a bit until the Cats find their groove and we're able to drift off satisfied.

We like that Interstate Avenue is once again the belle of the ball (at least for a day). We like that we've found yet more dedicated performers we'd enjoy seeing again. And mostly we like that we can hop our drunken selves on a clean, quiet, fast-moving train.

Adios old No. 5, hello satisfaction.

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

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