Last Tuesday Frank picked me up on campus right after I wrapped up my journalism class and we headed to Portland in the rain. This mid-week diversion was prompted by a stunning convergence of events (what my friend Mello would surely label a harmonic convergence) that resulted in two great bands playing within a couple blocks of each other in Portland on the same night.
When I see a show in Portland I like to stay over, not a cheap thing to do — impossibly expensive in the summer, and pricey even now in September. So getting two shows for the price of one night in the Holiday Inn is a good deal. And there they were: Jeremy Loops, all the way from Cape Town, South Africa opening for Milky Chance at the State Theatre at 8 p.m. and Mt. Joy headlining at Port City, show starting at 9.
The rain was relentless, so we were dripping wet by the time we entered the State Theatre and made our way to the floor. Loops was already on stage, alone, with an acoustic guitar, and no doubt the majority in the audience were thinking at this point that he was fairly pleasant opening act. Then appeared the drummer and bass player, and the show got a little livelier. When sax player Hiram Koopman arrived on stage, audience attention kicked into high gear. Koopman, frame impossibly lean, dreadlocks wondrously long, is a South African Clarence Clemons counterpart to Loops’ Springsteen showmanship. Next came Motheo Moleko adding an unexpected rap to build on the energy even more. By now the crowd was with Loops and “Squad,” happy to participate in raised-hand claps, arm wavings, and sing-alongs at the band’s bidding, to the point where everyone in the room seemed to forget these guys were the opening act.
Loops and band routinely headline shows around South Africa and could be found pretty high on the line-up for any number of European festivals this past summer. Songs like “Down South” showcase their sound marvelously: the African sort of chanting that Loops “loops” into a swirling overture, the unexpected saxophone and rap solos, a beat that sounds a bit Jamaican to our ears but I suspect is purely African.
Someone from the crowd called for “Gold” from Loops’ new album Critical as Water, and Loops seemed genuinely sorry not to launch into it. But an opening act plays under strict time constraints and far too soon the Loop Squad was taking its bows.
Frank and I had plenty of time to run over to Port City, dripping all over a new venue after another dose of rain. Even when I was young I didn’t like standing for shows, so Port City is not my favorite venue, unless I’m lucky enough to get a seat at the bar. This time I got lucky, and we settled back, beer in hand, for show #2.
No hip hop, no saxophone, no surprises here; Mt. Joy are old school, and in all the right ways. Lead singer Matt Quinn has a strong voice with impressive range and writes quirky lyrics, stringing together vivid images in Beat poet style. A couple times during their set in the middle of one of their own numbers, the band segued into a classic rock song, the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize” at one point and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” at another, then gracefully moved back into their own tune. I’ve never seen that done in concert before, but it’s a great way to make a nod to some of your sources of inspiration without turning into a cover band. “Astrovan,” which came fairly early in the set, was the highlight for me. “Angels smoking cigarettes on rooftops in fishnets in the morning” is as good a way as any to begin a song, and I bet Bob Dylan would agree. While the band can fit pretty neatly in a folk rock category, there is, in Quinn’s voice and the arrangements, a bit of soul woven in which adds color and texture to their sound.
After the high energy of Jeremy Loops, I was afraid Mt. Joy might disappoint, but they did not. In fact, they provided the perfect mid-tempo tone to the second half of the evening, and Frank and I left Port City feeling a sense of accomplishment in seeing two such memorable shows in one night. The next morning, after a quick coffee and pastry on Congress Street, we headed back to Farmington. Frank dropped me off back on campus and suddenly I found myself standing in front of a classroom full of students, and it was Wednesday afternoon.