¡Hola, amigos! As I type this here sentence, I’m situated a terrifying 33,000 feet above South Carolina, just an hour or so away from completing the last leg of my trip back to Richmond from a beachy Mexican locale called Playa del Carmen. And despite the fact that I derive very little enjoyment from being this high in the air, I’m excited to be writing these words, because I’ve been looking forward to this post for a while now. About five months, in fact.
In October of last year, Mrs. You Hear That and I took a trip to Portland (this one, not that one), where we tried some amazing restaurants, flipped through some excellent record stores, stumbled across an absurd number of tasty breweries and made sure to include a stop at the storied Powell’s City of Books. Why storied? Well, size, for one thing. A number of people told us about how Powell’s takes up an entire city block (it’s true, check out this screen grab from Google Maps), giving the store an almost legendary aura. It’s also storied in the sense that there are multiple floors in this city-block-sized bookstore, with separate rooms for different genres, meaning the shelves really do go on forever. And lastly, they’re storied because, ya know, that’s what they sell, and the story I decided to buy couldn’t have been more appropriate for the trip.
I’ve been good about merch lately. No shirts, no commemorative tote bags (What? It’s a joke. I’ve never gotten one of tho… OK FINE, but just that once), just a few records here and there. My most recent merch purchase, or merchase if you’re into that kinda thing, happened more “there” than “here,” in that it was made when I was in Portland, OR at the Doug Fir Lounge on October 6, just as Megafaun was getting ready to take the stage. Doug Paisley had just performed an arresting opening set, one that rendered an entire basement lounge of drinking twenty-somethings silent and holding their breath. With a left-handed guitar, his voice barely above a whisper, and the audience hanging on his every word, Paisley delicately navigated through a series of soulful and tender country songs about heartache, redemption, and love. At one point I closed my eyes and it seemed like Paisley’s words, delivered almost apologetically, were more like thoughts that had accidentally escaped from someone’s head (Maybe Sam Elliot’s. Paisley’s got some seriously gruff gravitas chops, or graffichops, if you’re into that kinda thing). It was stunning. Check out “City Lights” to see what I mean.
The trance was broken only by eager applause between songs and a single admonishing “SHHHHHHHH” during one of his later tunes, when a few people standing near the back were talking too loud and someone in the crowd stepped up to set them straight (To the guy/gal who did the shushing, you’re my hero). As soon as his set was finished, I picked up a vinyl copy of his newest album, Constant Companion, the symbolism of which name being impossible to overlook [just made the connection almost two weeks later], as I had to carry the record by hand back to the hotel, then to the Portland airport, then all the way back to Richmond, VA. In case you were wondering, records don’t count against your two carry-on quota and fit nicely next to the puke bag in that sub-tray-table magazine pouch. Thankfully, my copy of Constant Companion passed the travel test with flying colors and found its way to my record player, where it’ll be spending a great deal of time. As I listen in my living room, I can hear the same intensity that froze the air of the Doug Fir Lounge on October 6, plus we’re treated to some goosebumps-inducing guest spots by fellow Canadians Leslie Feist and legendary organist for The Band, Garth Hudson. Speaking of guest spots, Megafaun summoned Paisley to the stage at the end of their set for a full-band version of his song “What I Saw.” Check out that performance and the album version below, “City” Lights” above, and grab Constant Companion here.
Some people were blessed with the gift of foresight — “planners” I hear they’re called. I am not one of those people, which is why it’s a minor miracle that I got to see Megafaun this past Thursday. Early last week, my wife and I were a few days away from hopping on a 737 bound for Portland, OR (By “bound for Portland,” I mean bound for Houston, then Portland. I’m pretty sure Lewis and Clark took the same route.), when I did something so out of character, I’m surprised my wife didn’t accuse me of being involved in a Face/Off-style government plot — I checked to see what concerts would be happening while we were in town. It seems so simple, yet I can assure you, this was an evolutionary leap on par with the use of perspective in Renaissance painting and the special effects from Jurassic Park. The theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey should have been playing in the background as I looked online at venues’ websites and saw that Megafaun would be rocking the Doug Fir Lounge the evening after we flew in to PDX. This was very exciting news. I started learning about the North Carolina-based roots rock band over the past few months from Bon Iver’s glowing tweets about them, and I finally heard their music when it was featured on a recent episode of NPR’s All Songs Considered. I’ve had their self-titled album in heavy rotation ever since, but Thursday night’s performance was even better than I could have hoped. Amidst the backdrop of a super cool basement lounge that felt like a cross between a ski lodge and a woodsy version of Dr. Evil’s hollowed-out volcano lair, Megafaun put on a performance that made me and my wife fans for life. I’m a sucker for well-executed harmonies, and I was in the right place, as all four members of the band contributed to one sweet sounding vocal arrangement after another, culminating in their a cappella performance above of “Second Friend.” I may not have been blessed with the planner gene, but I felt truly blessed to have been at Doug Fir on Thursday night, and I’m definitely going to make a habit of checking for concerts before I head on vacation. Check out “Second Friend” above, hear the album version below, and buy their amazing self-titled album here.