Review: KINK FM Holiday Benefit

The sold out crowd sang along to Car Crash and Come On Get Higher and did their best to keep up with the sing along portion of the set closer, Answering Machine.  All in all, Matt Nathanson seemed the perfect opener for this great night.  Fun and engaging and all the while keeping the on air censors busy and hoping for a l-o-o-o-o-n-g delay (Did I forget to mention that KINK.FM broadcast the entire night live over the air and internet?  Sorry, probably would have been good to know last week sometime, huh?)

Next up, after the short break, was Amos Lee. In contrast to Nathanson’s light hearted banter, Lee was more intense and focused. Opening with Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight from his self titled debut album, Lee filled the next hour or so with sweet, soulful, story songs of love, freedom and life on the streets. He played mostly selections from his latest disc, Last Days At the Lodge. One that stuck out for me was Corner Street Preacher. His voice literally dripping with Philadelphia soul, Lee railed and wailed, tossing in a few scats to get the audience cheering and spilling drinks in his honor.

There were times, while Lee was singing that I heard tiny flecks of Bob Dylan’s voice along with some Dylan-esque characters leading passionate lives in song.  With Careless, Bottom Of The Barrel and the like, Lee’s songwriting skills are in top form, as he tells stories of people we all know, feelings we all have felt.  Lee sings the phrases we should have said dozens of times in our past, if only we had thought of it when it mattered.  He finished the set with his debut album’s touching Seen It All Before, again it was his silky vocals meshing with the Hammond organ that turned this bluesy tune into a passionate, defiant statement of purpose.  I could have listened to another hour of Amos Lee and not have gotten enough.

Between sets I met other, like minded music lovers who didn’t mind standing/dancing on the hard plywood flooring in the front row for over five hours.  It takes a certain dedication to the music, a deep appreciation of the art and mastery that goes into creating live music.  It takes stamina and a strong bladder to keep your spot at a sold out, general admission show like this.  And I was among pros.

There was Bob and Sue Ellen, and their friend, Chuck. One of Bob’s proudest moments was taking his son into the KINK Live Performance Lounge.  Sue Ellen, I hope you are feeling better. You would have loved the second half of the show from up front, but I understand.  It’s not for everybody. I know Bob got some great pictures.

There was a certain KINK staffer, let’s call her “Hot Donna” and her boyfriend, let’s call him “Foreman”.  Hot Donna absolutely loves her job at KINK.FM and believes it is what she was born to do. Foreman loves the fact that his girlfriend works at one of the best FM stations on the planet and he gets to go to shows like this with backstage passes and endless drink tickets. Hell, Matt Nathanson gave him shit from the stage about his hat between songs. What’s not to love? Good times, good times.

There was another couple who shall remain nameless (this time because I plain forgot your names, I apologize). Dead center up against the plywood barricade, they were live music junkies. Word on the street is that, for five years running, these two had out bid all other music junkies in town for the most prized, most cherished live ticket of the year: An open invitation, for two, to the KINK Live Performance Lounge for a year.  Everybody who’s anybody (Or anybody who’s destined to be somebody) stops by the studio to play a few songs. These are like three to five song, intimate concerts with a meet and greet opportunity with the best of the best. I bowed to him before I forgot his name.

The ‘surprise guest’ was next on the bill. The cat was out of the bag days ago, but some were still shocked when they heard that Augustana was next. In front of a black curtain, a single, silver microphone stood center stage. Out strode Dan Layus and Jared Palomar, acoustic guitars in hand.  Explaining that they were “forced” to play acoustic, they begged for a bit of quiet and got started, without plugging into anything.  The mike picked up just enough and the effect was amazing. Their harmonies lit up the sparse arrangement of I Still Ain’t Over You. The rest of the band crowded around the solitary mike, only plugging in occasionally due to the crowd around the only sound sensing device in the area. This format really suited the bands interplay as banjo, bass and twining voices blended in a way that got the audiences attention by the second song.  A really pretty version of Tom Petty’s Even The Losers got perhaps too much attention, as the crowd singing along drowns out the band for a bit. We all got quiet again really quick when they stripped down to a twosome again for Boston.  Sweet And Low followed and again, the hall grew quiet. They finished with Creedence’s Long As I Can See The Light. This was another where the whole band joined in and, aside from the crowd around the lone mike, they ate this one up.  Spot on harmonies and a nice solo by Palomar made this a really fitting closer.

Somewhere during Augustana’s set we lost Hot Donna and Foreman. Probably hanging out backstage somewhere, partying with the band. Good for them. Bob went off in search of Sue Ellen, opting to give up his front row position in the interest of greater domestic harmony. Good for him.

The show’s final headliner of the night was The Pretenders. I’ve seen them a few times before but never from up close.  Wow, after all these years, Chrissie Hynde is still hot. They came out sizzling with Boots Of Chinese Plastic from their latest release, Break Up the Concrete. Wielding her white guitar, Hynde led the band through over an hour and a half of their hits as well as cuts from Concrete. The new blended seamlessly with the old.  Their next single (“If we were the kind of band who had singles”, remarked Hynde) followed, Love’s A Mystery.  With the heavy pedal steel rhythm this tune has ‘crossover’ written all over it.

The backbone of the Pretenders has always been the backbeat brought on by drummer Martin Chambers.  With more facial expressions than Jonathan Winters, Chambers’ looks seem to speak a language all their own, punctuated by the pointiest blond sideburns this side of the late Duane Allman. Combined with the aforementioned pedal steel of Eric Heywood and smoking lead guitar work of James Walbourne, this rendition of The Pretenders rocks very hard. There’s an old-timey feel to Rosalee, there’s something forceful in Stop Your Sobbin. There’s something unbelievable when Chrissie Hynde breaks into a loving, almost Elvis tribute style Blue Christmas until the band blows it apart at the end with loud, screaming guitars, punk splattered vocals and power chord ending.

I fell in love with Chrissie Hynde all over again.  Sure, twenty years ago she was all attitude and “Make you notice”, but she has aged very well.  In her “TAX MEAT’ tee shirt and boots of Chinese plastic, she lit up the stage, coming out in front of the monitors several times and singing right to me!  She’s on the list.

Two encores later, it was all over.  The floor covered in spilled beer and the occasional lost hat, the roadies breaking down the gear on their way south before sunup.  I checked downstairs, I hadn’t won anything in the silent auction this year (if you’d seen what happened to my 401K, you’d think I was crazy to be bidding on anything in the first place.)  I did score a set list from the stage (Thanks, Sting) and the Oregon Food Bank scored over twenty three grand to help eradicate hunger in the area for a bit longer.  Seems like a win-win situation to me.

Much peace to all who happen here, especially during this holiday season.

Rock on through the Christmas fog

A.J. Crandall

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