Coast Narcs: A Philadelphian’s guide to finding Portland’s venue with no joke perfect sound (not to mention the Lower 48 and Future Historians)

Between 2/26 and March 7, two Narcs were out vacationing working on a piece on Portland’s and San Francisco’s music scene. This first of three parts finds our young adventurers wandering the bearded streets of Portland in search of a venue with spellbinding sound.

There are many thing that a Philadelphian will find familiar about Portland. The beer scene. The unpretentious vibe. The bikes. The universal signposts of hipster culture, the universal denial of said hipster culture. That choosing a spot for jazz on a Saturday night based solely based on the beer (Rogue Brewery) is an idea that will meet its end four minutes after the 30 minute wait is announced. But what befuddle a Philadelphian as unfamiliar? The looming presence of Mount Hood? The quiet but extroverted PacNW friendliness? All those Philadelphians you used to know who have checked out of the Illadelph and are now even MORE bearded? Sure. But what about an indie rock venue with perfect sound? That, my fine Philadelphian friend, is a Portland site for sore ears.

The Stay

Our room at the Jupiter, Portland's converted motel, where faux-midcentury and wall decals make it seem like you never left home

We laid our head at The Jupiter, in the Burnside East hood, conveniently located a few blocks from the Burnside Bridge and Portland’s center. East Burnside’s a neighborhood that Inqy food critic (and indisputable non-hipster) Craig LaBan would call “funky” (think a less dense version of Philly’s Northern Liberties: galleries, bars, et al). The Jupiter (disclosure: the Jupiter gave us a media rate for their stay, but my enthusiasm is for reals) is a converted motel with an emphasis on Ikea-ish contemporary furnishings and clean lines at very reasonable rates (starting at $119), free Stumptown coffee, and friendly, like-minded staff. Recommended.

The Venue

Future Historians infused by the Doug Fir's purple-ish tinge (not pictured: the best goddamn sound I've heard in a blue moon)

In the same “complex” and affiliated with The Jupiter is the Doug Fir Restaurant & Lounge. The restaurant and bar area are formidable, one part Twin PeaksGreat Northern and one part updated ’50s lounge. Solid local-sourced foods: Philadelphians should think of a localvore Silk City. But the venue that resides below is the real gem.

The proximity to the Doug Fir’s venue is itself a compelling reason to call The Jupiter your Portland home. The look of the room is nothing mind-blowing. A purple hue that’s a tad too invasive much. A slanted floor that offers good stage views from most vantage points. In terms of lineup, you’d do well to think of Philly’s Johnny Brenda’s (a mix of touring mid-sized indies and notable locals). But the sound, oh my, the sound! I’m no sound nerd (you could correctly say that I don’t know shit). But I can say this: I could count the times that I’ve been blown away by a room’s soundboard work in Philly on one post-Woodshop 101 hand. But the perfection of the Doug Fir’s sound had me blabbering to the bartender (who confirmed: sound’s always this good unless a band’s guy takes over the board) and then post-show expressing my admiration to the sound guy (“um… thanks, man”). So, here’s my unqualified advice: no matter who’s playing, if you’re in Portland, go see a show at the Doug Fir. And the Jupiter is one hell of a convenient launching point.

The Music

The Doug Fir’s 2/27 lineup included three local folk rockers. Although we missed the first half of Mike Midlo’s set as a duo, his brand of frenetic folk spoke well for his main gig in Pancake Breakfast. Would Pancake Breakfast’s freak folk fit well in Philly’s scene? Yes, yes it would.

Pancake Breakfast, “Little Bird” [Buy]

The Lower 48 hearken back in name to a time when those goddamn whippersnappers Alaska and Hawaii weren’t ruining everything. And their sound has a tinge of that yearning towards a simpler musical time. Yearning folk? Sure. A tad of what Pomplamoose has going on with their male-female vocal pairings? Sure, but without the latter’s gimmick or soulless sucking. A band to take note of.

The Lower 48, “Miles from Minnesota” [Myspace]

The Future Historians’ brand of folk has a roots rock base with a alt country kicker. If alt western were a real genre (and why the hell isn’t it?), these guys and their charming rocker If You Slip into the Fog would be the flag-bearers. And I’d be behind the flag.

Future Historians, “Swagger of your Mind” [Bandcamp]

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