Tuesday, September 26, 2000
By SCOTT D. LEWIS, special to The Oregonian
There are two ways to travel: You can go out into the world, or you can stay where you are and let the world come to you. I decided to use the recent North by Northwest Music Festival as a means to experience the latter.
Though the festival, which ran Wednesday through Saturday in Portland, relied heavily on bands from the Northwest, 13 of the 300 acts were from exotic locales.
My tour of Japan began with Lisa Go. The name of both the band and its frontwoman, Lisa Go hails from Tokyo, but the group sounded pure red, white and rocking blue during its set at the Jasmine Tree. If this group is an indication, the Japanese have moved beyond a fascination with 1950s American culture and have arrived squarely in the early '80s. Lisa Go's band members (standard guitarist, bassist and drummer) were all clad in logo-splashed T-shirts, dark denim and sneakers as they punched through anthemic, driving pop-rock topped off with Go's spitfire vocals.
Playing her second NXNW in a row, Rika Shinohara displayed a different side of Japan, but one no less influenced by American musical culture. With her red-dyed, impeccably messy hair and hefty boots, Shinohara looked right at home in Portland. When she played her acoustic guitar and sang her fragile tales without even the slightest trace of an accent, she sounded like she had been born and raised at Lilith Fairs. However, her between-song banter gave away her roots as she gushed about Portland in her charmingly dented English.
In sharp contrast, Argentina's ultra-heavy Natas didn't speak a word between their bouts of what sounded like Black Sabbath on Quaaludes and can best be tagged as "sludge jazz."
Equally as heavy, but far less creative and enjoyable, was the confusingly named Peter Pan from the Netherlands. The three young men sounded like a scrap-metal grinder.
Germany's Myballoon offered up grunge-infused pop-rock. The group's midnight show at Union Jack's was being filmed for German MTV and featured the added attraction and distraction of exotic dancers onstage, but the too-cool trio managed to stay focused on their American radio-ready fare and by-the-book rock-star poses.
Though touted as being from the Arctic, Lucie Idlout was gracious enough to point out that her home of Iqaluit, Nunavut, is really on Baffin Island. Then with her lovely, sunburst-colored Gibson guitar and backing band of relatives, she opened her set at Kelly's Olympian sounding a bit like Patti Smith with a tribal bent. Idlout gracefully paced through her 40-minute set displaying a penchant for melodic folk-pop.
Ireland's Jaewan was surprisingly about as un-Celtic as one could get and as equally referential. Its choppy, whiney boy-pop sounded as though it could have come from any college campus in the United States.
Predicable beats and an apple pie crowd were the last things I was to find on the final leg of my backyard journey. Hailing from St. Petersburg, Russia, Auktyon crowded onto the stage at the Green Onion and dazzled the audience with a frolicking, furious set that sounded like a 17th-century Slavic carnival experiencing a psychotic episode.
Listening to the inexplicable arrangements that used time signatures and musical phrasings that were anything but Western-based, and watching the manic tambourine player/co-yelper and the tuba player theatrically slap each other on the shoulder in time to the beat, I was finally transported to a different place.
As with most action-packed adventures, in the end, I was both excited and exhausted. Yet despite all the new sounds and sights, I was reminded that music knows no nationality, and it speaks a language we all can understand.