Amid Referendum Push, Fair Rent Portland Explains the Difference Between 'Rent Control' and 'Rent Stabilization'

Over the last five years, Portland rents have increased by 40 percent. Meanwhile, income has barely moved.

The Portland Press Herald reported on Fair Rent Portland earlier this week ["Portland citizens group seeks referendum on rent control, other tenant protections," by Randy Billings], blurring the distinction between the "rent control" and "rent stabilization." Fair Rent Portland says the latter more aptly describes their mission, which distinguishes it from failed measures (in New York City and elsewhere) to protect working class citizens that were abused by wealthy long-term tenants.

Among other meaningful distinctions, the group says their proposed referendum would not freeze rents, would not apply to owneroccupied duplexes and triplexes (like many on Munjoy Hill), and not prevent landlords from making a profit.

For some, the difference may be subtle. But it's hard to argue against some type of action. According to a statement from Fair Rent Portland, “(r)ent stabilization will allow renters to feel secure in their homes, begin to build up financial reserves, and make long-term economic plans. It will ensure that the children of renters can remain in a single district, that vulnerable citizens with mental or physical health conditions can heal without having to face eviction, and that local businesses will have the workforce that they need to grow.”

According to the group, "units covered by the rent stabilization part of the ordinance (only non-resident landlords of large properties), the rent will increase at the rate of inflation as set by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). For the past 5 years, the CPI has been between 0.5 percent and 2.5 percent. For a rent of $1000, that means that the landlord can increase the rent $5 to $25." Some progressive cities around the country— like Oakland, CA—have adopted a similar plan, fixing the amount landlords can raise rent to the CPI (except in cases of certain justifications). Fair Rent Portland says they searched the country for cities comparable to Portland with model rent stabilization ordinances, and have settled on West Hollywood, CA.

Why West Hollywood? Why, when there are condo units and other additional housing being built throughout the city, is there a movement toward an ordinance of rent stabilization?

The Phoenix interviewed Jack O'Brien, Portland resident and member of Fair Rent Portland, about the group's plans. Currently a volunteer group with a nine-member steering committee, Fair Rent Portland is interested in all levels of support from community members, "whether you have only one hour a year or one hour a week."

For more information on the group, including how to assist in getting the referendum on the ballot, Fair Rent Portland hosts a "launch party" for its proposed ordinance on Sunday, May 28, at Local Sprouts Cooperative, from 5-7 pm.

Phoenix: Can you explain the appeal of the West Hollywood rent stabilization ordinance over others you found?

Jack O'Brien: There are two main reasons the example of West Hollywood and the solutions it put in place resonate for Portland: First, it's a small city (about 35,000) with a high proportion of renters (about 70 percent) and so comparable to Portland in terms of what tools it can bring to bear in dealing with housing.

Second, it's run this program very successfully for 32 years, and been able to leverage the success in stabilizing its housing into other domains, like public health and eldercare, which seems very relevant to Portland.

Right now, Portland is experiencing rapid gentrification. While we tend to think of the gentrification part as being the component that changes the city most substantially, it's the rapidity that does a lot of the damage in terms of displacing residents from the city. Folks who might be able to afford a $100-per-month rent increase if staggered three years (by finding a little additional work or adding a new roommate, perhaps) are forced to move if it happens over a single year. The key goal of the West Hollywood model is to slowing the rate at which gentrification can occur, precisely to allow regular folks and the city government to adapt rather than just react. West Hollywood's experience suggests that in the long run, this leads to a more vital and diverse community and a more resilient economy than would result otherwise.

The West Hollywood model takes a nuanced approach to slowing gentrification: rather than directly intervening in the market and fixing prices, it instead operates by putting into place a number of different planks that have the effect of slowing the rate of rental increases and improving the bargaining power of tenants. This balances the market dynamics with the long-term needs of the city and its residents. While landlords might not have been enthusiastic about it at the start, there certainly was no collapse in the housing market, much less any of the other, more extreme projections put forth by some property managers and developers. In fact, since the community has retained so much vitality, it's seen as a particularly attractive market to work in.

We're hoping that by taking a similar approach—slowing gentrification, increasing renters' security, promoting development, particularly of affordable housing—will yield the same sort of benefits.

Is there a particular sticking point that you have found this to be a sticking point in getting policy enacted in Portland?

Author Peter Moskovitz (How to Kill a City) writes: "There's a parable told by famous urbanist Jane Jacobs that I believe could easily be applied to Portland: a family loves to picnic on a hillside—it has great views, it's quiet, it's filled with rustic charm. They love it so much they decide one day to build a house on top of it, only to realize once they live in the house that they can no longer see the hill, and that it's rustic charm is gone, thanks to their house." Which is exactly the situation Portland faces, except that we've seen many other hills despoiled before ours and so have the possibility to avoid that result.

A couple of years ago, the City Council, in response to the gentrification of the city, the upward movement on rents, and the increase of eviction of tenants at will across the city, established a Housing Committee to investigate possible solutions. Despite a lot of input from city residents—rent stabilization was a consistent and extremely popular recommendation made by regular folks—the committee appeared to listen largely to suggestions from large property developers and property managment firms. Even the fairly mild rental protections proposed by Mayor Strimling were dismissed more or less out of hand. Some councilors would regularly question if there even was a housing crisis. Needless to say, solutions that were going to make any substantial dent in the problem were not discussed.

Housing committee work aside, as gentrification has occurred, developers and property managements firms—those directly profiting from the process—have appeared to have increasing amounts of influence over both the city council and the planning board. Which is exactly the opposite how this is supposed to work: the council and the board should be operating on behalf of residents, not developers. This is not unexpected: a very small number of people are making a lot of money off everyone else's housing. As long as the boom goes on, they have the money and the time to make sure their perspective predominates (this is what has also happened in a lot of other gentrifying cities: those profiting reinvest that capital to ensure the boom goes on as long as it can, indifferent to the fact that at the end the city won't really be a city anymore.) This means that we've reached a point where the only effective check on rapid gentrification is a popular groundswell, which is why we're pushing a referendum.

Can you explain the material difference between rent control and rent stabilization?

This distinction is a pretty clear one: rent control fixes rents; rent stabilization slows the rate of rental increases.

Though it varies a bit in usage around the country, rent control usually refers to controls on the rent implemented to prevent price gouging. The standard example is in New York after World War I: the city directly intervenes in the markets and says 'this is the rental price for this unit.' Economists have long known that this causes all sorts of market asymmetries, which sometimes can be worse than the problem they were attempting to solve. Because of this few cities since have used strict rent control, preferring rent stabilization as achieving the same ends without many of the downsides.

Rent stabilization refers to programs where rental increases are controlled, usually indexed to inflation or capped at particular percentage per year, not the rent itself. Our version of rent stabilization—where landlords can set the rent as they'd like once a unit is vacated but have managed increases once a tenant is resident—allows for the most market flexibility while providing renters a great deal of additional protection. The experience in West Hollywood has been that, while a small number of units are occupied long-term, most turn over in about five years. This means rents can rise according to the market, just much more slowly than they would if renters had no protections.

As housing becomes a crisis situation across the country, rent stabilization is having quite a moment: it was passed last year in three cities in California: Richmond, Mountain View, and Santa Rosa.

"Fair Rent Portland Referendum Launch Party" | May 28, 5-7 pm | Local Sprouts Cooperative, 653 Congress St., Portland |

Nick Schroeder can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

[Ed: An earlier version of this report misstated the population of West Hollywood. It is 35,000, not 45,000.


Quite Psyched: SeepeopleS Drop the 'Hate'

In another world not far off from our own, teenagers in Nebraska are skipping school to make out to SeepeopleS songs behind the faculty parking lots. In this one, the 20-year-running pop-confection project of Will Bradford and Brooke Binion has released another meticulous, painstakingly crafted release of psychedelic pop songs, while the Flaming Lips sell hundreds of records a day by name recognition alone.

The last we heard from the Portland quartet was their massive double-album Dead Souls Sessions in 2015, a release as impressive in its execution as it was undigestible by its size. SeepeopleS tracks aren't necessary difficult, but they're often complex. On Dead Souls they could be both, but listeners will find that Hate, an EP with a compact five-song helping (and the first in a three-EP set), is an excellent avenue into the band's weird, cerebral art-pop.

Not halfway into opener "Burning Bridge" and Bradford has already pulled the lines of two equally infectious arrangements against each other, deftly spinning the song's verse and refrain as ambient eletronic hums, boops, and whirs float in the background. The sugary beach-pop throwback "Just Like the Animals" packs tension and unease into its content ("40 minutes in the parking lot, just waiting for a pill to drop / Somebody's looking out for cops, sometimes it seems so impossible."), juxtaposing oneiric, psych-mess verses with a driving power-pop chorus.

While surely cathartic to play, the decision to re-work "New American Dream" from the band's back catalogue and its cynical fantasies about "being the president" and "killing everyone" seems a questionable one. A straightforward pop-punk blazer, it's the least enjoyable of the bunch and far more on-the-nose than their newer work, but it's timely, and paired with an impressive and overtly political new video (designed by animator Pete List of Celebrity Death Match/MTV), it's an understandable outreach decision. Nonetheless, the band's new material shines. The lilting, lovely ballad "Scapegoat" echoes the versatility of iconic bands like Shudder to Think, Beauty Pill, and Blonde Redhead. And the instrumentation, in that and wistful closer "Maybe It's Your Fault," is some of the most nuanced and balanced of any Portland album I've heard in recent memory. 

SeepeopleS' story is long and their back catalogue, much of it nearing 20 years old, is barely relevant to the band's sound today. Whether Bradford's in the discussion for one of the best songwriters in Maine rock music is a matter of personal taste, but he's certainly among those taking the form most seriously, and willing to grow with it as far as it'll take him.

Will Bradford of SeepeopleS, "Hate" EP release party | With Vapors of Morphine and Pretty Sad | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | 

Looking back on a special recording time with Spencer Albee

Listening to Relentlessly Yours the latest album from Spencer Albee, I hit a moment here and there when I was thrown back to a prior memory of one of his other projects. I have to think it’s impossible for someone who’s been along for the ride as a fan not to think about his previous doings at some point of enjoying the new record. This guy has been busy alongside us for over two decades.

As I traveled through clever new songs laced with all kinds of keyboard and organ sounds, playful timing, sweet background vocals and always in season sleigh bells, I was thrown back to all the great work this guy has done. The Rustic Overtones stuff alone is enough to hang your hat on. That wasn’t going to happen though. If anything, that was the launch pad for Spencer to truly fly his way.

His own way has come in various ways. The first was the fun, all over the place project, “The Popsicko”, which allowed him to shake a bunch of styles at people. That lead to the pop rock, suit & tie offerings of Rocktopus, which a couple of years later molded into As Fast As and scored Spencer another record deal and another chance at the big time. Of course, we all know around that time, in 2003-2004 the music industry was becoming... well, something else. I’ll refrain from my accurate and passionate description of what the industry became and just say that due to a changing world of music and the state of the world at his record label, Spencer and As Fast As wouldn’t get the full shot they deserved. They would shift to operate out of home base here in Portland and continue to put out records maintaining the fanbase they worked hard for and earned from around the country.

AFA eventually called it a day, but Spencer was just getting warmed up. Adventurously, he would pull together ten wonderful musicians and friends to form Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia, a fine blend of influences from the Beatles, middle-era Kinks, Johnny Cash, and your high school marching band after a few drinks.

After a year plus with the Mafia came Space Vs. Speed, a slightly newer alternative rock approach for Spencer. SvS included other local music legends Walt Craven (6Gig, Lost on Liftoff) and Neil Collins (Twisted Roots, Murcielago), but that wasn’t meant to be either unfortunately. What would follow that band would be a string of solo releases as Spencer and Spencer Albee, which is where we’re at now with this popular, new release. Spencer Albee, Relentlessly Yours.

I’m not sure there’s a more appropriately titled local album in history that this one. The guy has never stopped working at his craft or eased up on his production of albums for us to have.

Spencer has once again compiled a great mix of talented folk to help bring his music alive: Renee Coolbrith, McCrae Hathaway, Scott Mohler, Blythe Armitage and his former As Fast As drummer Andrew Hodgkins are all on board for the latest journey with Spencer. It's a journey I hope will stay the course for a little while as he once again has an amazing set of musicians on his side and a terrific record to support. Better judgment tells me though that he probably already has his next album started and well underway. If so, we won’t be surprised. With a now remarkable 20 studio releases under his belt, the one thing Spencer Albee will never be is idle. That relentlessness has aways been there, lucky for us.

In my ongoing, STILL un-named series (I Once Caught a Fish This Big or Have I Got a Story For You), Spencer took a break from rehearsing with his band for next week's album release show to share a memory of recording in a busy place with As Fast As a few years back.

Spencer Albee:

In 2004, As Fast As had the pleasure of working with producer Matt Wallace (Faith No More, Replacements, Maroon 5) at the legendary and recently cinematically memorialized Sound City studios in Van Nuys, CA. Throughout the two-plus months of recording there and Matt's studio which shared a courtyard with Sound City, we were treated to an audience with a cavalcade of influential luminaries.

Jermaine Jackson took an interest in us and even brought his family over for a listen to what we were up to one day. I crushed a week's worth of coffee and cigarettes in 2 or 3 days with Chad Smith. Hell, Zach Jones was even mistaken for Tom Morello by his guitar tech and was nearly handed Tom's iconic guitar.

My most fond memory was sharing a lobby/kitchenette with Josh Homme, who was in Studio B cutting an Eagles of Death Metal record while we were recording basic tracks in Studio A. We chummed around a lot and were even invited (through sheer necessity of hands) to provide some claps for one of their songs.

We hoped that Josh would play some guitar on one of our songs, but that never came to fruition on account of who the fuck were we? AND they were in the middle of making a record. I still wonder what that would have sounded like, though. He's the one that got away.

Check out Spencer’s album release show June 2 at Port City Music Hall and visit him online at or on Facebook at Spence Albee Official. 

Time for a New Sport?

Everybody’s had a windfall at some time or another in their adult lives. Did you ever decide to take that change burning a hole in your pocket and invest in the equipment to begin playing a new sport? Did that gear end up taking up space in the back of your closet for months or even years, until you finally bit the bullet and went to unload it at Play It Again? There’s a way to avoid that kind of ignominious loss: make sure you try the sport in question (more than once, if possible) before you buy your own equipment. For example, at one of these two events this week in town:


Sea kayaking, in addition to bringing the peace that comes with being on the water, is a great way to condition your upper body and improve coordination and equilibrium. If you’re weighing purchasing the craft, the car rack and the other accoutrements, consider taking part in Portland Paddle’s Fort Gorges Sea Kayak Tour, launching at the East End Beach (Eastern Prom) on Sunday, May 28 at 9:30 a.m. The price is $52.00, $42.00 for kids 10-16. The default craft is a tandem kayak, so if you prefer a solo, let organizers know in advance at 207-370-9730. True beginners might want to stick with the two-person kayak, as those are more stable, more spacious and generally easier to use. The bonus of this trip is that once you get to Fort Gorges in Casco Bay (the chunky little granite one you can see on a tiny island from points along the shore in Portland), a knowledgeable guide will discuss the fort’s Civil War beginnings and history and answer questions. Bring a lunch if you want to picnic at the fort. Go to to register.


If you’d rather stay on solid ground, and not only that, stake out a piece of that ground and defend it from enemy attack, don’t worry, we’re not recommending a new career in the armed services. On the contrary, the sport in question is Dagohir, a Tolkien-inspired combination of live-action role playing and medieval war reenactment (see our previous piece about it at ). The local Dagohir chapter is holding a practice, with foam weapons available for use by walk-on participants, at Deering Oaks Park (Park St), on Monday, May 29 at 2 p.m. If you’ve never felt the catharsis that comes from defeating an opponent in a combat sport, this might be one you want to try. Admission and participation are free  More information is available at . It’s a great time, and a good time to sample it before you spend on equipment. We’re not sure what Play It Again Sports’ policy is on battleaxes.

8 Days A Week: Grief Chats, Hip-Hop Festivals, and Memories of 'My So-Called Life'



LISTENING TIME | The world is on fire, but your work is most needed in your own community. Facing systematic defunding as part of the Trump administration's proposed American Health Care Act, Planned Parenthood is on the receiving end of countless creative fundraisers these days. This one, at the quietly-awesome show space Oxbow Blending and Bottling, collects the power of storytelling, where Portland folks tell personal narratives of care and treatment they've received from the health organization, and of reproductive health care in general. The Planned Parenthood Story Slam starts at 6 pm.

| By donation | 6 pm | Oxbow Blending and Bottling, 49 Washington Ave., Portland |


DEATH BY DESIGN | Grief eventually hits us all, but for those haunted by it from a young age, this inspired informal setting at the Urban Farm Fermentory could offer helpful comfort and community, and the opportunity to talk through some shit that the everyday world rarely makes time for. Hosted by Gina Colombatto, an experienced facilitator on the topic of death (and host of the radio show DeadDogDinah), this experimental "Death Cafe" is a fine idea.

| Free | 5:30-7:30 pm | Urban Farm Fermentory, 200 Anderson St., Portland |


SMOKED | Takes some real ear-to-the-ground folks to make up a show this good. A product of Chris Gervais's weekly Are You Kidding Me? Tapes Thursday night concert series (which we covered last week), we'd be shocked if there were more than a couple dozen folks at this out-there evening of sounds—conjured up by blown-out overlords 'Cuse Me, radical skronkists Diva Cup, and resident shredder Tom Hamill (of Burr) — but everyone else in town besides those couple dozen will be quietly suffering.

| FREE | 9 pm | Geno's Rock Club, 625 Congress St., Portland




SAX GHOST | Legend ran away with the Boston blues-rock band Morphine, whose moody sax-driven sound cut through the alt-rock squee to find a massive cult audience in the '90s. Of course, bandleader and bassist Mark Sandman passed away of a heart attack in 1999, halting the band and sending the Boston community into shock, but the surviving members reunited in 2009, and have been carrying the banner ever since. They play with Will Bradford of the adventurous Portland-based pop-project SeepeopleS, and Pretty Sad, a winning duo of emo-rock songwriter Dustin Saucier and Renee Coolbrith, she of the voice.

| $12 | 8:30 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland |


THIS DUDE DID THIS | With limited time left on this planet (technically true no matter your political perspective), it's crucial to appreciate the earth while you can. Join Barney Scout Mann as he shares stories, video, and slides from the Pacific Coast Trail, a 2,650-mile trek from Mexico to the Canadian border, all while sippin' on your favorite pils.

| FREE | 4 pm | Oxbow Blending and Bottling, 49 Washington Ave., Portland |


ROLL HARD | Bayside Bowl's all revamped, and if you're smart you whipped up your bowling game over the winter. Exercise both virtues tonight as the multifarious pop group Forget, Forget plays with Dan Capaldi's long-time rock project Sea Level and Akela Moon, a supergroup playing soul, funk, and Afrobeat-inspired tunes.

| FREE | 8 pm | Bayside Bowl, 58 Alder St., Portland |




FIRST CRUSHES | If you had a copy of that My So Called Life soundtrack along with everyone else in the '90s, let's hang the eff out. Track two, of course — a prime spot — was Buffalo Tom's "Soda Jerk," a fine song on a soundtrack full of fine songs. The Boston-based slacker-rock group hovered around mainstream success awhile before the bottom fell out (of the industry, not really the band). They've always produced albums at a leisurely pace, and 2011's Skins was still a fine piece of Yankee grunge music. They're celebrating the 25th anniversary of Let Me Come Over, their landmark album, at Port City Music Hall.

| $25-28 | 7 pm | Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland |


EAT THAT | If the sun be shining, learn the merits of urban foraging today in a wandeing lesson by ReWild Maine, which teaches you to identify and use wild, edible, and medicinal plants growing in urban or suburban settings. We all need better post-apocalyptic skills.

| FREE | 1-4 pm | Eastern Cemetery, 224 Congress St., Portland | 


RHYMERS UNION | The Boston-based emcee Akrobatik burst onto the hip-hop scene by way of his singles nearly 20 years ago (this writer remembers not being able to keep "Say Yes Say Word" 12-inches on the shelves of the record store he worked at in the late '90s). Subsequent inspired collaborations with the lefty rapper Mr. Lif (as the Perceptionists) cemented him as one of cult favorites in the game, over which he's been a flagship artist on Def Jux and Fat Beats. Akrobatik's the prime draw of on a sprawling night of hip-hop artists at Oxbow (which we're aware we're hyping for the third consecutive day, but chill). Titled "Hip Hops 3," and hosted by local rapper Ben Shorr and DJ Myth, you can expect "Rap Night" veteran Ill By Instinct, P. Dank artist Lady Essence, Dray Jr., Busybars, ill Murray, and more on the mic. | $10 adv, $15 day of | 7:30 pm | Oxbow Blending and Bottling, 49 Washington Ave., Portland |


GONE COUNTRY | Songwriter Joel Thetford lived in the Maine woods for more than half a decade, a time over which the Texas-raised songwriter got swarms of Maine devotees to his honest, direct style of lightly indie-fied country songs. He celebrates the release of his new EP, The Outer Bank, with a Bissell Brothers-produced show at Empire tonight. The former bull-rider plays with Jake Hill & Deep Creek, New Hampshire's Sarah Blacker, and Jim Betts & the Beach People—all good songs to sip beer to.

| $8 | 8 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland |


FATAL FLOG | Anchored in Ireland, Detroit, and Los Angeles, the group Flogging Molly have been playing their Celtic-inspired songs with a punk panache since the late '90s. They weren't the first band I'd have picked as a teenager to be headlining the biggest venue in my home town, but I don't think anyone gets that right. Their new album, Life is Good, is as direct a statement as anything that punk kids grow up to be normal, mainstream men and women, and that's okay. (It also proves that terrible band names can make sound investments if people find them fun to say.) With Irish-influenced country songwriter Jake Smith, aka The White Buffalo, and Dylan Walshe.

| $38 | 8 pm | State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland |


STAY GOOPY | One of the most trusted of Portland's constellation of dance parties, "Slime" returns to Flask Lounge tonight, courtesy of DJs Barfhorse and Laura Vanilla, who spin freak-forward electro, R&B, house, and whatever else makes 'em pop that night.

| FREE | 9 pm | Flask Lounge, 117 Spring St., Portland |




CHILL OR BE CHILLED | Some of us here at the Phoenix like to waste away a lazy Sunday afternoon occupying space at a local coffee shop until we’ve developed a caffeine headache. We recommend you do the same, but maybe, pace yourself with the espresso. This Sunday’s proves to be a fine day to get mellow at a cafe, as the alternative-folk band Hunter descends on the Arabica coffee shop. Time to settle in, sip a latte, and get lost in this dynamic four piece’s effortlessly chill vibes.

| FREE | 11 am | Arabica, 9 Commercial St., Portland |  

AVENGERS (AND BASEBALL FANS) ASSEMBLE | For better for worse, narratives of superhumans saving the world have deeply entrenched themselves in our culture. There have been at least 67 big budget superhero movies just in the past decade! But let’s not kid ourselves, as much as we love to bemoan the tired nature of the “the hero’s journey,” we’ve probably seen (and loved) most of those films. Mingle with others that are unfazed at the prospect of Marvel and DC imprisoning our attention and milking us of our dollars for decades to come, during “Superhero Day.” Dust off your superhero costume, pack your favorite comic books, and nerd out before the big Portland Seadogs game against Trenton Thunder. A faux Ironman will be there for some photo ops because we know the real Tony Stark would never be on board with pleasing a crowd of paparazzi.

| $14 | 1 pm | Hadlock Field, 271 Park Ave., Portland |


SCREW PHYSICS | Those thirsty for an off-grain dance night might find something they like in tonight's "Deep Sea Reserve," a night of beats and dancing, with proceeds benefiting the Wounded Warrior program in honor of Memorial Day.

| $15-25 | 9 pm | One Longfellow Square, 181 State St, Portland |




YOUNG AND WISE | Retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant (and Mainer) Travis Mills, a celebrated military man who lost his legs on assignment in Afghanistan in 2012, is the beneficiary and namesake of an annual 5K in Augusta called Miles for Mills. Proceeds benefit the Travis Mills Foundation, which raises funds for combat-wounded veterans.

| $20 | 8 am | 50 Front., Augusta | 




YOUNG AND WISE | Are the Orwells the best new live band in America right now? Surely that must be hyperbole, the number one tool in a music writer's handbook? We’ll leave it up to you, but note that several music mags across the country are lauding the garage-punk-rock band’s new album Terrible Human Beings as mandatory listening for anyone that wants to hold hope for the future of modern rock. They fuse strong influences from the past (think early Strokes and Iggy Pop) with a modern flair reliant on back-breaking intensity, youthful spirit, and a sprinkle of calculated sloppiness. The Walters from Chicago are set to open.

| $21 | 8 pm | Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland |



LET’S REVISIT | Full disclaimer: I actually haven’t seen Netflix’s new and contentious young adult drama 13 Reasons Why, but many who have are calling for a broader, more nuanced discussion of its often misconstrued themes of tragedy, mental illness, and suicide. If those directly affected (or deeply knowledgeable) on those heavy subjects are decrying the TV series as problematic, then perhaps we should hear what they have to say. The discussion will be led by Meg Rooks, a librarian, Devon Mulligan from the Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, Jenna Rodrigues from the Young Adult Abuse Prevention Program of Family Crisis Services, and Greg Marley from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

| FREE | 4 pm | Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Sq., Portland |


DEAD HEADS UNITE | If you’re one of those music heads yearning for a show that conjures the magic of the early days of psychedelic rock, a la the Grateful Dead, then you’re in luck. All summer long, every Wednesday, the Portland House of Music is offering a double dose of dead, through the musical resurrection skills of The Maine Dead Project and the Working Dead.

| $5 | 5:30 pm | Portland House of Music and Events, 25 Temple St., Portland |


SIMPLE GIFTS | They say it’s hard to get young people engaged with classical orchestra music, but if any group’s going to do it, it’s going to be Palaver Strings. This Boston team of veteran musicians is “dedicated to the collaborative interpretation of classical masterworks,” and reports fresh young faces in their crowds! With a musical mission rooted in healing and promoting social issues, perhaps it’s time to pit their talents against your easily distracted attention span.

| $14 | 8 pm | One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland |



LOOKING AHEAD | This first week of June brings with it an onslaught of curious cultural offerings. Pick up these pages next week for detailed previews on events that will easily make you laugh, cry, shout in glee, and think deep thoughts (but not all at once). What’s on our mind? Well next week the Costume Society of America will screen a film at the PMA called Suited; which shakes heteronormativity to its outdated core, Bella’s Bartok will showcase the darker side of Eastern European music with a show at the Portland House of Music; Portland’s favorite coffee shop chain will throw a party; two-time Grammy winner Laurence Juber plans a tour stop at One Longfellow Square; Spencer Albee will kick of the album release party for his hotly anticipated new album Relentlessly Yours; and the first First Friday Art Walk of the summer will (naturally) be a bit more politically charged. Good stuff; see you next week.

MFA Thesis Exhibition Shine a Light in Dark, Dumb Times

If we can’t count on art students to draw us plebes away from mass political confusion and inane HuffPo headlines and toward thrilling, liberatory ideas, then we’re in trouble.

Luckily, the Maine College of Art’s annual MFA Thesis Exhibition—first of the Trump era—finds our most supple art minds up to the task. With video, installation, performance and multimedia work, these nine MFA students not only confront the stultifying, oppressive, and boring-ass norms of American cultural life, they also embrace the avenues by which identity and physicality is developing political bite.

Queerer and more boldly physical than years past, the collection shows that for all the stupidity and nonsense in American political life, artists are making personal and discoveries from the repression and the haze, recognizing that body and identity can be powerful tools for political agency.

Exhibit A of this is Shelby Wynne Richardson’s Will You Pet My Pussy?, a handmade mixed-media artist book which fuses the visual vocabulary of illustrated pop-up stories with a queer feminist ethos and the language of consent-based sex education. Drawing, as she states, from the “Instagram-famous, those who wear their ‘plastic-ness’ on their sleeves,” each spread displays a hand-rendered vagina rendered in materially discrete forms. Some are kitschy, some cute; many are indeed fun to pet (which Richardson invites). Alongside each is a dictum of pussyplay the artist spells out in blocky nursery-rhyme verse (“First tickle on my inner thights / With foreplay please be slow not shy”). During my visit, a mid-fifties male security guard approached Will You Pet My Pussy? with what looked to be curiosity and bemusement, wearing a uniform and the thin armor of a smirk. It reminded me of the Instagram phenomenon of viewing a familiar feed (yours or another’s) imagined through the eyes of an interesting friend. What did that person think of that image?

It was Foucault who believed that society was a grid of ideological planes stacked incongruously atop one another, never fitting properly, and artist Dayna Riemlind makes no less vivid a statement. She stitches patterns and embroidered design onto dye-sublimated prints of photographs of distinct places, drawing out historical and personal meaning by contrasting spheres of time, geography, and memory. Her Watcher (2017, hand embroidery on cotton, 34” x 40”), arguably the show’s most vivid image, conjoins two hands in embroidered red fabric pocked with teary blue eyes, a sign that the artistic terrain Riemlind works in expands beyond the physical world and into dream.

A loud piece by Jose Rodriguez, Jr. builds on queer theorist Lee Edelman’s principle insight from the landmark 2004 book No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Edelman’s theory of “reproductive futurism” identifies that the common American political platform of being “pro-children” and “pro-future,” which both party’s figures adopt as unassailable rhetoric during political campaigns, is intrinsically and problematically heteronormative and assumes the supremacy of procreative families above other citizens. (In the book, Edelman cites a GOP operative complaining in the New York Times about a 1997 Bill Clinton photo-op beside wife and daughter: “This is the father picture,” says the Republican media consultant. “This is the daddy bear, this is the head of the political household. Nothing helps him more.”)

Rodriguez wants to fuck with this. With campy humor and nods to Edelman, This Land Is My Land erects a mock political rally—complete with original political branding, a lot of bear imagery and cosplay, and one hypnotically repetitious speech, all of it a satire on the politics of family values and its latent homophobia. As the show’s only piece wiith sound, Rodriguez’s looping audio track (and its recurring fugue of “This Is Our Time”) can dominate the atmosphere. But in a world where prominent right-wing figures formed Gays For Trump coalitions and recast the real estate mogul as “Daddy,” there’s much to explore here beyond Edelman.

I can’t remember a gallery experience as visceral as I had viewing the work of Sarah Emch, an artist whose three video pieces attempt to reconcile past experiences of self-multilation and the methods of confronting personal trauma. In one, a five-minute video titled Recollection, we see the artist’s bared upper chest repeatedly sliced with a small blade (presumably by her own hand). Though the blade cuts at bare surface level, her skin’s response—the slowly forming scars and dotting pockets of blood—effectively conveys a rhythm of pain far deeper than skin. In the disquieting Involuntary, we witness the artist seeming to attempt (and fail) to condition herself to the reflexive physical response to a red-colored fluid periodically dripping onto her forehead. Viewed as she lays supine with eyes closed, it is an agonizing and intimate 17-minute ritual. As challenging as they are to watch, Emch’s artful, vulnerable explorations of the body’s relationship to trauma and abuse are tremendously affecting.

Other standouts include Seed, a stratified woman, in which Louise Coupar-Stamat evokes themes of birth and emergence through the material history of clay, a substance she entombs and cakes around several women over video. Three large material sculptures by Benjamin Spalding, collected here as Bacaloo, fuse discrete, transregional cultural signifiers (like Santeria altars, hockey gloves, and New England flannel) into ecstatic figural representations of the amalgamate identities of the artist’s cultural heritage. They’re kind of glorious. I missed the live performance by Crystal Gale Phelps, said to summon political agency through contemporary dance and circus arts (though viewers can catch her again on June 9 from 1 to 4 pm).

There may never have been a stupider, more cynical time to be alive. But look at these folks. They’ve found a few ideas worth holding on to.

MECA MFA Thesis Exhibition | Through June 9 | ICA at MECA, 522 Congress St., Portland |

Nick Schroeder can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Tiki Take Two — Rhum Revamps Its Menu

The Portland restaurant scene is so competitive that it often takes a creative approach to opening a new eatery.


Last year, two seasoned industry vets teamed up with two local developers to form the 5th Food Group. Jason Loring and Michael Fraser sat down with Jed Troubh and Chris Thompson to figure out how to keep track of each of their existing investments while venturing forward in two new fooderies—Rhum Tiki Lounge on North Cross Street and Big J’s on Thompson’s Point, both in Portland.


“It’s taken a bit for us to get our feet under us and find everyone for the right positions,” Loring said.

Rhum brought on Trevin Hutchins as bar manager in March, and Chad Egeland to manage the kitchen, resulting in a brand new menu.

“On our new menu, we wanted to do something more approachable, fun, stick-to-your-ribs food,” Loring said. “People drinking want to fill themselves up, not with something light. Our food’s nostalgic. It hits on Chinese, Asian. Our lo mein reminds you of a local Chinese restaurant, done with a little more care.”

Loring, of course, has had his hands full with burger joint Nosh and the Sicilian-inspired pizza restaurant Slab, which he opened after selling Taco Escobarr. Michael Fraser was juggling the Bramhall Pub and new plans for the Roma Café, which he plans to resurrect in July. Chris Thompson, a principal at Thompson’s Point Development Co., and Jed Troubh, a partner there, had their hands full with a major expansion of food, beer, and music at Thompson’s Point. While the group's banding together has been a boon in an already bustling industry, at the time it felt like a calculated risk.


“We met with them a couple times a week for a year and got comfortable with each other, and to find out what we wanted to do," Loring says. "So we formed a restaurant group—the 5th Food Group. Like the four food groups, we’re the fifth.”


Their 60-plus years of restaurant experience came into play quickly when early success at Rhum led to long waits that could have unsettled their new regulars.


“We’re not overpriced; it’s all quality and value-driven and people don’t always understand that," Loring explains. "The response at the beginning was insane, and there was backlash from people having to wait, issues with getting the right bar staff. We went through difficult times with customers, but many hung on. We wanted to show them our improvements and expanded drink menu.”

In addition to Hutchins at the bar, he lured Egeland, his “chef de cuisine,” from the Thai fusion restaurant Boda in the West End.


“The new drink options are Tiki-driven, a nice mix of classic cocktails, like Trader Vic’s,” Hutchins said. “And we bring in more 'modern Tiki' with updated flavor profiles, like the Thatched Roof, based off Monk’s Respite, using a bright fresh green chili vodka. And Dead On Arrival, our version of a Zombie.”

He says this is where the value comes in. “It’s a $14 cocktail, but you’re essentially getting two for one,” he says. “It’s a big drink. We need to have a two-cocktail limit.”

Over on the food side, the Rangoon dip comes with wontons and is the biggest seller. “We offer a pupu platter for two, a throwback to your childhood sit-down restaurant,” Egeland said, “as well as General Tso’s lo mein and a soy sauce Kimchi rice bowl. We’ve started selling four, five times the food, and the customers have received it well.”

Loring said he came up with the menu with Chad, “but now it’s all him with a crew of three guys.”

“Each of us are prep cooks, line cooks, and dishwashers,” Egeland said. “It’s a team mentality. No one is like ‘Oh, I’m just a prep cook.’”

“It’s like Nosh meets Chinese food, with fun and forward flavor ideas,” Loring said. “It may not be people’s first thought when they go to a bar where you get turkey sandwiches. But in the way we approach it, food isn’t an afterthought.”

 food Rhum tabledrink

That was Then


Much lauded now, the Portland restaurant scene used to be much more subdued. Loring, whose first kitchen job was at the Back Bay Grill, remembers the less lucrative times.

“Back then [in the mid-'90s] it was just us (BBG). Stephen King’s daughter had Tabitha’s Jean’s, but it was short-lived. There were a few others—probably 90 percent fewer restaurants—maybe five or so," Loring recollects. "Congress Street had nothing.”


In 2010, Loring helped bring Portland, Maine, to the food map when Nosh’s Apocalypse Now burger—packed with crisp pork belly, bacon, foie gras paté, mayo, cherry jam, and American cheese—and its bacon-dusted fries were featured on the Food Network’s “Man vs. Food.” The newfound relative fame brought with it a reputation for admittedly fatty foods offered to the late-night bar crowd, as well as a reputation for creative menu items that extended to his other ventures. Now he has a handful of investments, so to get it all done, he balances time between restaurants and has managing partners at each one.


“They manage the staff. I have weekly meetings with partners and managers, and I’m around all the time. I try to stop into every restaurant during the week, but this (Rhum) has been the place where I spend most of my time lately, getting where we want it to be.”



This is Now


The spacious Rhum can accommodate large parties, with shareable food and shared bowls of booze for two to twelve. They plan to open a new patio this summer, with outside seating and lighting, under an alcove on the side of the street.


“The only reason to be in this business is if you love making food,” Loring explains. “You do not get rich quick."

"People look at me like I have all these restaurants, and I just bought a used car four years ago. Competition in Portland is huge, with so much high-end food in a simple setting. There’s casual and fast-casual, which you didn’t see before. It’s even harder to stay in the thick of it when people can spend $100 to $300 and it’s always good.”


The Rhum Tiki Lounge | 98 North Cross St., Portland | Mon-Sat 4 pm-1 am; Sun noon-10 pm | Happy Hour Mon-Fri 4 -7 pm |


Speak the Language — Ziggurat's Electric 'Ninshaba'

In the 1920s, a Syrian farmer discovered some very old bones, which turned out to be from the graves of the lost city of Ugarit, circa 1400 BCArchaeologists also found Ugaritic texts, including one story, written on 10 clay tablets, that they think dates to 8000 BC Turkey. It tells of a young woman named Ninshaba who dreams that her long-lost mother is a goddess on a mountain, and who sets out to find her. Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble re-tells the Ugaritic re-telling in the visually arresting, stunningly performed Ninshaba, on stage at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater under the direction of Ziggurat co-founders Stephen Legawiec and Dana Wieluns Legawiecwho first created and staged the show 20 years ago.

We hear the historical background up front, in chummy everyman narration by Stephen Legawiec, and the story’s entire plot-linewhich unfolds over 10 episodes, is previewed—several times—by a seven-member ensemble, dressed in white robes and headdresses, faces painted white and lips red. In this way, Ziggurat allows to pretend that we, too, have long heard the story repeated, and it prepares us for what is most idiosyncratic and revelatory about the show: Ninshaba is performed almost entirely in an invented language. 

As early as the first tablet, as Ninshaba (Erica Murphy) shakes in feverthen tells her nurse Batzabbay (Kathleen Nation) of her visions, the experience of watching immediately feels differentGesture, costume, and sound become momentous and charged, become the crucial, archetypal currencies of the story, much like Stacey Koloski’s simple set of white-gray pillars, textured like fossils, feels both ancient and timeless. Loosened in time, freed from verbal language, we watch with a different part of the brain, and it is exhilarating.

Murphy’s tall, elegant Ninshaba is an earnest, innocently imperious ingénue, in contrast with the slapstick-y vagabond Quaqsaya (Dana Wieluns Legawiec), a kaleidoscopic fool who guideNinshaba to the mountain, ribbing and joking on the wayLegawiec’s timing, whether guilting Ninshaba out of flatbread or chasing away a paunchy paramour (Megan Tripaldi), is impeccableAnd Murphy is sinuouspreternaturally graceful, and sometimes—in a belly dance or a flailing ritual ecstasy—electric. Without words, everyone’s least gesture resonates. When a rat in a nun’s habit (Molana Oei) shows up, all it has to do is look sideways at Ninshaba—once, twice—and the sense of threat is primal.

That nun, its rat-face mask tapering out eerily from its habit, is one in a gorgeous and inventive array of costumes and masks (by Anne Collins and Beckie Kravetz). The goddess Ashera (Emily Grotz) wears iridescent green-gold; plague victims hang red strips of gauze over noses and mouths; a black-gauzed woman in mourning (Hollie Pryor) stoops under the weight of white-wrapped corpseAs we watch, we hear drums, chimes, and—most importantly—the powerfully tonal human voiceIn their invented language, the voices convey fear, exasperation, and grief; whisper little cacophonies of gossip; and sing Middle Eastern harmonies, carrying the emotions from tablet to tablet.

Each tablet’s scene is short, sweet, and perfectly framed, like poems, or—and I mean this in the best way—like television episodes good enough to binge-watch. It’s a reference I don’t make frivolously, because part of what’s remarkable about Ninshabais how wisely it understands what’s most timeless in how we need and craft our stories. We may currently preserve them in ones and zeros instead of clay and cuneiform, but their essential shapes—dream, joke, mountain—remain our own.

NinshabaCreated and produced by the Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble; directed by Stephen Legawiec and Dana Wieluns Legawiec; produced at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater | Through May 28 | Fri-Sun 7:30 pm | $20, $15 seniors/students, $5 youth 8-12 |

Megan Grumbling can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Why Are Women Still Looking for Witches to Burn?

A few weeks ago, I went to Augusta for “Women’s Day at the State House,” an event presented by the Maine Women’s Alliance. After scouring my closet for the suggested red article of clothing—I found one, but latex is not State House or even outside-of-my-house appropriate—I settled on a black dress and black coat and black leggings because, honestly, that’s just where I’m living these days.

I think this perpetual mood is best described by a sign I saw at the Women’s March in January. A young woman, whose half-shaved head mirrored my own, was carrying a piece of cardboard that read, “We are the daughters of the witches you didn’t burn.” I remember making slightly pained eye contact with her, the way in which only women who are so tired of this shit can.

But the phrase has stuck with me, and I’ve talked about it at length with most of my acquaintances. A few weeks ago, my best friend, who has recently taken up embroidery, proudly showed me a tote bag she’s been making for me with the quote stitched on one side. (My love for the bag, and my friend, is not lessened by the fact that her beginner stitchwork reads closer to, “We are the dogwalkers of the witches you didn’t burn.")

Back at the State House, one of the first panel’s speakers was a lobbyist whose credentials were better than average. She spent her allotted five minutes going over a series of talking points on how to best reach and influence your elected representatives. It was a useful topic, and I thought she delivered her spiel well. A woman sitting next to me, however, pointedly kept her hand raised despite an earlier explanation that a Q&A period would have to wait due to time constraints.

The lobbyist, weary of pretending not to see the raised hand, took the woman’s question, which ended up being more of a snotty statement that disagreed with the speaker’s position on whether to contact state representatives outside your own district—the lobbyist said this wasn’t a good use of time, and could backfire, which is a true and reasonable thing to say. The woman asking the question, however, found the answer less practical than I did, and muttered under her breath to her friend, “Don’t womansplain to me.” I listened to them cackle in horror.

I’ll freely admit, I laughed out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of it. Our speaker, a progressive woman with plenty of practical experience, offering her expert opinion, couldn’t even find a wholly welcoming audience among the liberal women gathered to support the (now failed) constitutional amendment hoping to enshrine gender equality. The sheer idiocy of the situation, juxtaposed with the reality that liberals are failing miserably to consolidate power, much less halt conservative policy initiatives, nearly left me hysterical.

It’s enough to wonder why, in the middle of one of the most insanely batshit presidencies this country has ever witnessed, liberal women are still finding ways to rat each other out to the Inquisition. I can’t stomach any more talk about women who voted for Trump, but I can focus on the women with whom I’d hoped to align post-election. Thus far that focus has been particularly disappointing.

Later in the day, it was revealed that Kellyanne Conway was in the building for a discussion with the Governor and Secretary Tom Price about Maine’s opioid epidemic. The Hall of Flags, buzzing with angry women, was suddenly alive with energy. Planned Parenthood signs were distributed, and chants of, “Shame!” could be heard echoing through the State House. In my black dress, I watched the sea of red find solidarity against a new foe.

At least these daughters can recognize a dark witch when they see one.


Sultana Khan can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.




The Age-Old Aphorism

Let’s talk about healthy kids. Assuming they’re generally happy internally (that is, emotionally) there still remains the issue of encouraging them to learn maintenance skills for the body. That means, as we’ve all heard millions of times, diet and exercise. Good food at a healthy level of intake, and plenty of all kinds of moving around, will build a strong young person. So, if we take nourishment and activity as separate points for the time being, the Phoenix has learned of the following two family events to address each area, while having an awesome time:


Diet: Your youngster(s) may already be cognizant of the quality and types of food they eat and how it affects them. Take those curious bottomless pits to the 13th Annual Veg Fest: Exploring Vegan Living, at the East End Community School (195 North St.) on Saturday, June 3 at 11 a.m. Admission and all events are free. Your family can sample vegan fare, enjoy displays and information from a scad of exhibitors, enter raffles, and have your questions about healthful, ethical food answered, when you hear the scheduled guest speakers. With titles like, ‘Food Choices and your Nitrogen Footprint,’ and, ‘Thriving on a Whole-Food, Plant- Based Diet,’ these speeches can’t steer you and your young ones wrong.


Now to get them outside and running around. For a few hours’ worth of fresh air that includes a dash around the bases for kids at Hadlock Field (271 Park Ave.), go to Superhero Day with our own Portland Sea Dogs. It’s on Sunday, May 28 at 1 p.m. The main draw is the appearance, including photo and autograph opportunities, of the official Marvel-sanctioned Iron Man character. For more participation, kids and adults are encouraged to wear crimefighting costumes of their own. Prizes for the best will be awarded. Costumed kids may even be chosen and brought onto the field during one of several between-innings promotions. And of course, you’ve got the game itself.


Now, all you have to do is things like those, all the time. No problem, right?


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