The Builders and the Butchers
This is a band I've seen twice before before, both times as a backup band, and they have a fantastic live energy. The 5-man band features a number of members who can play multiple instruments, which adds a lot of interest and diversity, but the most striking feature is the fact that for about 70% of the songs they have 2 drummers playing side by side, giving a very high-energy, wall-of-sound effect. And I have to say, two nerdy Portland boys next to each other putting their whole bodies into ferocious, totally-committed drumming is pretty damned impressive, and kinda adorable, and so Portlandic. And the rest of them are just as committed. The band's live energy is so awesome that on their bio on their web page they talk about the extreme difficulty of translating that energy to their studio work. It is no surprise that they have won awards for their live performances, but they have won other awards too, indicating that they have found some happy medium in their recorded work.
They are also an awesome Portland band story. The story goes that each member migrated separately to Portland, Oregon from Anchorage, Alaska a to start a career in music and pure chance, or maybe something about their similar roots, helped them find each other here in Portland. Pretty awesome that they're all from the same unusual city, but it took moving to a new city to find each other and the kind of sound and music they wanted to make. And they are so very much a quirky indie Portland band, just like so many who move here, they find their place and they belong, as I do, because they feel like they do.
So I wanted to see them when they came back to town, but I was not quite ready to see them alone. Fortunately, my dear friend and former coworker, Kirsten, the biggest fan of live music that I know, was up for a new (to her) band experience, based on my exuberant endorsement of the previous times I'd seen them perform. They played two nights and we caught the second.
The warm-up act was Kelli Schaefer, a woman with a nice voice and an interesting sound that was still quite experimental and showed a lot of promise. I would like to see how she develops over the next couple of years. Her style was quite reminiscent of Björk at times, and at other times of Sia and another band whose name eludes me. Kirsten and I sat for this performance, though several rude schmucks talking loudly near us spoiled some of the softer songs, of which there were many. I bought Kelli's download and plan to give the music a better listen without the schmucterference. I'm taking The Builders and the Butchers endorsement of her as a big positive.
And then on to the main show. As soon as the Kelli Schaefer crowd dispersed to the bars and loos, Kirsten and I moved up and found a spot at the very front and middle of the stage. Having seen them before I knew this was the best place to be and I'd never gotten the chance before. Now all we needed was for them to be on their game, and boy were they ever. Apparently the crowd was double the size of the previous night and they were extremely energized by this and really poured themselves into their performance. They are better every time I see them, but this time was simply spectacular, for pure energy and commitment, right up there with some of the best concerts I've ever seen. There is nothing quite like seeing a band at the top of their game and totally committed... and having a great time. It was a great mix of awesome new songs and familiar old ones.
Part of their act is to give out instruments to members of the audience, most of them children's instruments and noisemakers, so much so that some regulars have taken to bringing their own tambourines and similar shaker instruments. I need to find one for myself for the next time I see them. I ended up with two that the band gave out to audience members, one a kind of large kid's rattle and another a toy with bells on it that another audience member later surrendered. Seemed to me it was nothing short of criminal to let it go unused, so I put in twice the effort and had twice the fun.
There is something awesome about being able to participate so directly in a performance, so I was fully engaged, just as the band were, and the audience were. Kirsten and I danced for 2 hours, me shaking my children's rattles, her shaking her child's tambourine. It was also a very audience-interactive show in several other ways and there were many songs where we were encouraged to sing along or, in one case just make tantric aaaaaaaaah sounds. I did a lot of singing out loud, at times at the top of my lungs, and so did hordes of others, and most of the crowd were dancing, more and more as the show more on and the contagious energy affected even many non dancers. It was like we were all swept along by the currents of near-hypnotic energy.
The lead singer also likes to lean into the crowd with his guitar and play over and into the audience, and because Kirsten and I were right up front, he was over us and between us 90% of the time... and why yes, I did help this by clearing a spot for him on the stage right in front of us. Heheheheh, I'm a sneaky sod when I need to be. Wait, did I say sneaky? I meant helpful... and considerate... yeah... that, not devious at all. At one point he actually leaned right on my shoulder for effect, with me propping him up as he strummed the crap out of his guitar. I totally f*cking loved it.
The band was maybe too fired up. The lead singer broke strings on his guitar, replaced the guitar, broke another string, snuck off stage and fixed it while the other band members covered for him by rocking an impromptu jam session... that was awesome, and then when he returned he promptly broke another string. Taking it as a sign, and because the show was almost over, he gave up and stole a completely different kind of guitar from the warm-up act for the last 2 songs, joking that this would become the new look of the band; it was a shiny white electric rock guitar, whereas his were the kind of guitars that look like old school non-electric guitars that have been so thoroughly played for so many years that they are heavily scarred with strumming grooves.
Through all this the band just went right along with the flow, rolling effortlessly with every punch. The lead apologized to the audience and said we were a very tolerant audience, but we were all so much in the groove that, quite the opposite to detracting from it, it all just added to the experience. Because of the lost time they skipped the obligatory (in Portland) leaving the stage and then coming back for an audience cheer-induced encore. The lead singer talked us through it, saying something like, "This is the part of the show where normally we leave the stage, go back stage, take a sip of beer and talk about the show, saying things like, 'Damn, dude, what's with all the broken guitar strings?' Then you'd all be applauding so loud that we'd come out for an encore and perform some 'unrehearsed' music. Let's just pretend all that already happened." I loved it. Like so many, I laughed. I laughed a lot this night, long and freely.
For the last song they let anyone in the audience who knew the lyrics come up on stage and sing backup and they had several other musicians join them from the crowd so the stage was packed for the last number and every instrument was in use... well all except the broken guitars of course. It added to the wall of sound and the 8 to 10 fans, including Kelli who had commandeered a child's drum, were clearly in 7th heaven, dancing and singing at the top of their lungs. It was an incredible finale to a 2-hour concert, and the band were spent. And I do mean spent. They looked exhausted. They had nothing left to give us. And we were spent and sated too.
I know being in a band is a hard way to make a living, so I always try to buy their stuff. I'm more than a little broke, but they had earned some additional patronage, so I bought another of their awesome octopus t-shirts, the new edition with a red octopus that pops way more than my old orange one, and their new CD.
It was, quite simply, f*cking awesome. I had such a great time I hardly thought I had it in me right now. In fact I was almost certain I did not. It was the best live show I've been to in a very long time. It was kind of reminiscent of Johnny Clegg and other African bands I've seen where energy and exuberance were paramount and where musical variety and interplay are intrinsic to the style. So I was delighted when Kirsten, like me a huge fan of African music and also a regular volunteer at Zimfest, feeling some of the same energy, engaged in occasional awesome African ululating, which I found truly delightful. I laughed... one of the many times. It has been a while since I laughed so openly, so freely, so fully, like my whole body was one with the laughter.
I sincerely got a healing from this show, a rush of joy and adrenaline that flushed some of my deep thoughts and pains right out of me. I was in the church of The Builders and the Butchers and I tasted salvation. There was a time during the first moment of the show when the wall of sound hit me and my wounded heart closed in and tightened in my chest, and I thought to myself, no, I love this band and I'm going to open my heart to this night, to this experience, to this vitality, and I did, and the music washed away my cares for a time. What makes this all a little strange is that they have a tendency to write really dark and morbid songs, but it was not about the words, it was about the energy. And yes, I am wise enough to know that my head-space and heart-space were both factors in my enjoyment and reaction to this show, that I needed this right down to the core of me... but it was more that that. It was the band being in the moment too, and the audience, and the sweet friend by my side... and the energy flowing through us all. It was one of those perfect moments in time for me, one I will always remember.
Thank you Kirsten for going with me, for being totally in the moment, for dancing your heart out and shaking that tambourine... and for the ululating... and for the sweet joy of your company. Thank you Barron for loaning her to me for a night.
Wow. What an evening. I'll never forget it. It took me two hours to wind down enough to sleep... and they were pretty good hours. If you ever get the chance to see The Builders and the Butchers live, I highly recommend that you do so.
Today, when I signed those divorce papers that were then delivered to the court, I thought of last night and I focused on that to help me get through the day. I knew that tonight the sorrow would overwhelm me, and it has, but I also know that I will feel joy again, that I will survive this miserable ordeal, that my broken heart will heal... and that my laugh will again be full and free.