Sometimes, even I forget that not all folk music is slow, meandering, or filled with brushed drums and lightly plucked guitars. Three of Portland's finest bands (Y La Bamba, Blue Giant, and the Builders and the Butchers) brought lively, foot-stomping folk to the Crocodile last night. There were no string sections in sight; instead, this folk was filled with drums, guitars, and the occasion accordion. The Builders and the Butchers, in particular, played call-and-response songs to a packed and enthusiastic house: audience members were shaking tambourines, singing at the top of their lungs, and clapping along to nearly every song.
The crowd sand along to the Builders and the Butchers foot stomping folk at the Crocodile last night.
Other notes on the night's performances:
Seeing Y La Bamba is like watching a band metamorphose almost overnight. When lead singer Luz Elena--whose voice bears a strong resemblance Leslie Feist--started playing music in Portland a few years ago, it was just her and a guitar. She now boasts a five-piece backing band, complete with accordion. Her music sounds more rounded, but it's just as emotional and intense and ever. The parts of songs where Elena might sing sadly over a sparse guitar are now amplified with Ben Meyercord's harmonies, light drums, and melodic, repetitive guitars.When Kevin and Anita Robinson perform together in Blue Giant, it echoes the same energy as Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Unlike Viva Voce--the psych rock band the couple is best know for fronting--Kevin is the true front person of Blue Giant. Anita's soft and sweet vocals are a backing player in this band; instead, her heavy guitars are more prominent.
It's also a testament the Robinsons' talents that Blue Giant really does sound like a completely different band from Viva Voce. Both bands share heavy, droning guitar solos in common, but otherwise, Blue Giant falls into an entirely different genre of music. Songs like "Target Heart" are honest-to-goodness country songs, with just a touch of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Finally, as a former Portland resident, I've seen my share of Portland bands play Seattle, and Seattle bands play Portland. But I've never seen a band bridge that 150-mile divide like the Builders and the Butchers did last night. When lead singer Ryan Sollee motioned for the crowd to clap along, they did. When he split the audience in half, asking one side to sing, "Ooh," while the other sang, "Ahh," they loudly obliged. When a band member pulled out a melodica, someone in the crowd screamed, "Melodica rocks!"
The Builders' version of folk was inspiring in a way that electrified the crowd, making them active participants in the music. They ended the set with a one-song encore of "Bringing Home the Rain," which brought down the house.