I moved to Portland in January, 1999. It was a great music town back then. It still is today.
Here, in no particular order or rank, are 10 of my favorite songs by 10 of my favorite Portland artists.
1. Hey Mr. Smalltown – Pete Krebs and the Gossamer Wings
The first concert I went to after moving to Portland was a Pete Krebs show. Elliott Smith was standing beside me. I was a small town kid who had dreamt of being able to go see live music without driving for hours and I was in heaven. I don’t remember if Pete played this song that night but it seems likely as it was about to be released on the album Sweet Ona Rose. While this isn’t the best—or even my favorite—song on the album, it still speaks to me.
2. Needle in the Hay – Elliott Smith
It’s really difficult to choose just one song from Elliott Smith for a playlist like this. For me, this track, from his self-titled 1995 album, has a special place because of the full-band version he played the last time I saw him in concert—at the Roseland Theater in November, 2000. I somehow ended up with a bootleg copy of the show and it’s one of my favorite live recordings. I’m embedding a recording of the whole show here. Needle in the Hay is the opening track, but I bet you’ll end up listening to the whole set.
3. Coward’s Luck – Hip Hatchet
I love going to a concert to see one band and discovering another one. That’s how I stumbled upon Hip Hatchet. They were opening (along with my band) for American Aquarium at Mississippi Studios and their set was unexpected and captivating. This track is from their most recent album, 2015’s Hold You Like a Harness.
4. Violence in the Snowy Fields – Dolorean
The title track from Dolorean’s 2004 album has a Harvest-era Neil Young vibe. For me it’s a total earworm. Dolorean called it quits in 2014 and the Portland alt-country scene hasn’t been the same since.
5. It’s Raining – Quasi
If I got to choose a theme song for Portland, this would be it. From the 2001 album The Sword of God, this song has picked me up on many days when I wanted to moan about the weather.
6. The Late Great Libido – Menomena
I Am the Fun Blame Monster has my favorite cd packaging ever (check it out). (Back in 2003, when this came out, cds were still relevant.) The packaging is fun, the music is smart and catchy. What happened to this band?
7. One for Jimmy Mak – Mel Brown Quartet
Some of my favorite Portland memories are of watching the Mel Brown Quartet on Thursday evenings at Jimmy Mak’s. The band’s Thursday night run started before I moved to town and ended in December, 2016 when Jimmy Mak’s closed to make way for condominiums. This is one part of old Portland that those of us who experienced it will never get over losing. The 2006 album, Live: An Evening With the Mel Brown Quartet that this song appears on along with the 2004 album Live at Jimmy Mak’s don’t totally recapture the experience of a Thursday night show, but they’re still a great listen.
8. You Can Move Back Here – Richmond Fontaine
Richmond Fontaine released 11 albums between 1996 and 2016 and defined the sound of the Portland alt-country scene during that time. All of that music is worth listening to. But, if you’re new to the band, this song from 2009’s We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River is a great place to start. Like Jimmy Mak’s, they’re another piece of old Portland that went away in 2016.
9. Deep Politics – Grails
Grails is the only band on this list that I’ve never seen live. For some reason, they don’t really seem to play Portland. Come on fellas, don’t make me fly to Germany to see you when we live in the same town.
I don’t think there’s a bad album in the Grails discography, but 2011’s Deep Politics was my introduction to the band, so that’s what I’m going with here.
10. Texaco – Blitzen Trapper
I’m the kind of person who feels a little bit sad when one of my favorite bands becomes too big to play small venues any more. But, in Blitzen Trapper’s case, I’m confused as to why they aren’t insanely popular. They’ve opened for Wilco, but I think they should be headlining at those same types of venues.
The band has released eight studio albums, all of which are exceptional. Maybe the ninth album (coming in 2017) will be the one that finally brings them to the massive audience they deserve. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy seeing them at small venues.
This is the first Blitzen Trapper song I ever heard and it’s still one of my favorites. It comes from their self-titled debut album, which came out in 2003.