Friday, Dec. 9th
Friday night was the first night of Cairo's annual Expo festival (this year's was>"/>
Friday, Dec. 9th
Friday night was the first night of Cairo's annual Expo festival (this year's was Expo '89), a yearly celebration of the industrious DIY scene that coalesces around the hyper-local art, music, and fashion space. Headlining was White Rainbow, the mercurial one-man band of Portland's Adam Forkner (also of oddball house/R&B duo Purple & Green, ex Yume Bitsu). Forkner is something of a musical polymath, a student and enthusiastic preacher of jazz and avant-garde, as comfortable with cheesed-out synth funk as with droney electronic noise--but he's also a massively likeable goofball who describes his sound as "pizza based laser music." (Proof: download the mix he made for Expo '89 here.) He's as good a mascot for Cairo as anyone playing the weekend-long fest (other than the fact that he's not a Seattle youth): one part un-ironic embrace of new age crystalism and '90s vibez, one part jokey stonerisms, a ton of do-it-yourself energy, and the actual talent to back it up. And the fact that his set drove at least half of an especially rocking Flexions' crowd out into the cold--well, that was perfect, too.
The very thing that makes a space like Cairo great is that it can afford to be small and weird and occasionally alienating. It's the exact opposite of, say, last week's Deck the Hall Ball--the corporate "alt" rock radio station the End's annual winter showcase, whose slick synergy Chris Kornelis praised here as exemplary of "a station that knows its audience, booked their signature show accordingly, and hit one out of the park." Where Entercom has to book the most middle-ground, widely inoffensive bands possible for its annual fest (Something the Something, Mumford & ZZZZZZZZZs), Cairo's micro-niche model allows it to be truly experimental in its offerings--and its supporters expect this, even if it means they won't like every single thing they put on. It exists for an audience that would rather be offended than pleasantly coddled, for whom excitement is still the best thing, but for whom mere mediocrity may be the worst. An act driving half its crowd away (while moving the remaining to get on down), well, that's precisely indicative of Cairo knowing its audience, booking its signature fest accordingly, and hitting it out of the park.
And, you know, those people might have had something else to get to (the Juan Maclean at Chop Suey and Second Sight at ETG made for an excellent after-party), or else they just missed out, because White Rainbow's set predictably killed. Last time I saw White Rainbow at Cairo, his set was an abrasive Black Dicey murk; last night, it was a groovy, drum machine beat-driven funk with much synthesizer filigree. Dude is like the Dam-Funk of Pacific NW all-ages art spaces. For each song, he'd set a simple beat going, then start improvising little riffs on his keyboard, bending and squeezing the synth tones into trills and portamento via joystick, ribbon controller, and Kaoss Pad. There was also the occasional polyphony of layered vocals, and only one great swell of distortion the whole night. And like Dam-Funk, about the worst you could say is that White Rainbow's jams could get a little long-winded in their repetitive grooves. "Don't get daddy drunk," Forkner said at one point. "He'll play all night."
Other banter: "It's a centipde. It's a centipede with each arm playing a separate keyboard!"
How to undress well: Forkner was wearing a funny cat sweatshirt, when he took it off, there was whistling and cat-calls.
Amateur Trainspotting: A friend thinks the guitar stab sampled in one song might've been the Commodores' "Machine Gun" (I don't think so, though); Forkner himself told me the horn sample in another song was one of many projects from Billy Cobham, the drummer for the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but I failed to write down exactly which one.