The Portland Phoenix

Jeepers peepers: What’s to come for Portland’s musical spring

a collection of album covers released by Maine artists in early 2023

Top row left to right: Max Garcia Conover's "Everything in Winter," Tiger Bomb's "Sugar Buzz," Cushing's "in the clutches of...", Joe K. Walsh's "If Not Now, Who?"; Middle row: Liza/Liza's "Breaking and Mending," GOD.DAMN.CHAN's "DIRT!"; Joel Thetford's "Battery Steele," Jared Fairfield's "Wounded by Love"; Bottom row: John Hughes Radio's "Outsail the Sea," Neil Pearlman's "Reflections," Lady Lamb's "IN THE MAMMOTH NOTHING OF THE NIGHT," Toby McAllister's "Autumn Skies"

Whether it’s the pandemic era or the streaming era, the old rhythms of local music have been disrupted. While winter months used to be pretty fallow, the past couple months have seen a slew of strong album-length releases, from Whitney Walker, Joe K. Walsh, GOD.DAMN.CHAN, Mike Maurice, Zeme Libre, Lemon Pitch, Cushing, Jared Fairfield, Uno Lady, Tiger Bomb, John Hughes Radio, Max Garcia Conover and Toby McAllister (whose late-winter release is called “Autumn Skies,” as if to prove that things are not the way they used to be). 

There is longer any “downtime” on the calendar. Things happen when they happen and there is increasingly lots of stuff happening in a city recovering its musical vibrancy. 

Just this past week, Joel Thetford released the six-song “Battery Steele,” produced with help from Ryan Hommel of the Amos Lee Band. The replanted Texan has clearly embraced his new environs with a descending and piano-filled “Congress Street” to open and the title track done in Bolero style until the vocals come in, announce a ride on the ferry and give way to a shagadelic chorus. 

But this piece is about a look to the future, a spring that shows off the breadth and depth of Portland’s rich musical community (with a few side cuts into the likes of Biddeford and Belfast). Here’s what’s on tap:

"take me alive" album cover by zeme libre is a collage of rooms
The ska-punk band ZEME LIBRE’s “Take Me Alive” came out in January.

March 21: Are you a fan of folk songstress Caroline Cotter’s “Dreaming as I Do” and “Home on the River”? Well, you might want to have this day marked on the calendar so you don’t miss the Kickstarter for “Gently as I Go.” She’s looking for $25k to make this thing happen. 

April 1: A purveyor of grimy beats with pop sentimentalities, Max Felker drops a new album on April Fools, “Where Do We Go From Here?,” that whipsaws all over the place. Look for the finishing “Gallows,” a New Orleans rocker with a five-day shadow. 

April 2: It’s not often that true metal royalty comes to town, but that’s what we’ve got with the arrival of Anvil at Geno’s Rock Club, supported by local loudness from Murcielago and Hessian. If you’re into Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, you’re going to need to get your head banging in front of these Canadians. 

April 8: While Aron Werman’s work could be eclectic and out there, it could also be achingly intimate and personal. It’s no wonder he engendered a group of passionate friends and fans. This winter, his life was taken by a hit-and-run driver, and so people will gather tonight to remember him and celebrate his work at Sun Tiki, with donations going to his teenage son. 

April 14: Who said Portland can’t produce rock bands in the classic style? First it was Rigometrics hitting the scene last year with Elton John vibes; now we’ve got a debut album from 3rd Shift, released today at Port City Blue, that feeds on CBGB-style ’70s rock, not unlike what Nuclear Bootz are doing. The album is “I Don’t Want To Want” and the vibe is the Cramps. 

April 20: You want more from producer GOD.DAMN.CHAN? You got it. Following on this winter’s “DIRT!”, his first proper album in five years, Chan’s “Big Smoke Vol. 1,” a “beat tape about weed,” releases on this high holy holiday via L.A. electronic label Dome of Doom. But the beatmaker is also a hash maker, so watch out for his signature hash at Hazy Hill Farms, where each gram will come with a QR code giving you a free download of the record. 

April 21: If you want to take your weed-based reveling into a second day, you could do worse than this “BASSM3NT” party at the Cavern at 77 Free Street. Here you can find not just a huge selection of drum & bass, techno, and electronica producers, but also a cadre of video artists who’ll add the visual element your buzz is looking for. Dave Bregoli plays host. 

April 28: Liza Victoria, aka Lisa/Liza, returns with more of her ethereal folk today with the full-length “Breaking and Mending,” her first long-form effort since the pandemic’s haunting “Shelter of a Song.”

Whitney Walker’s “A Dog Staring into a Mirror on the Floor” features contributions from members of Morphine and SeePeopleS

April 29: An Overnight Low’s train of pop-rock releases rolls on at Biddeford’s Elements, where they’ll release tonight the new single “Chemistry,” which previews the full-length “Holyhead,” coming this summer. Don’t worry, they’re still traveling around the U.K. with their material. 

May 5: The inimitable Lady Lamb celebrates her emergence into mid-career artist with the release today of a five-LP box set version of “Ripely Pine,” her first big album, which now turns 10 years old. The release is full of outtakes and alternative versions like “Bird Balloons [Introspective Version],” where she moves to a speaking voice to vocalize “it was so cold you could see both sets of ribs almost escaping your skin,” and the goosebumps race up your arms. 

But this day is not done with you. You’ll also find jazz pianist Neil Pearlman at the Portland Conservatory of Music (thanks to the never tiring Dimensions in Jazz and Paul Lichter) releasing his first album of solo piano works, “Refractions,” where he takes Scottish and Gaelic melodies and riffs on them with improvisations that turn them inside out.

May 7: It’s hard times for the lobster industry, but maybe music will save them: Holy Smoke, John Hughes Radio, Mike Maurice and One Hundred Thorns promise to put on a full-scale rager tonight at Portland’s Elks Lodge 188 to raise cash for the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. 

May 11: Aura might just have the touring get of the spring with ex-Against Me founder and frontwoman Laura Jane Grace hitting the stage tonight. Probably want to get your tickets nowish. 

May 19-20: Obviously, there’s plenty going on right here in the city, but this weekend the All Roads Festival takes the Portlandia experience to the midcoast with a slew of bands in a slew of venues all weekend long. Headliners include Spose, Bait Bag, Dave Gutter and the Yonder, Weakened Friends, Dead Gowns, and Angelikah Fahray (but, seriously, there are a lot of bands). 

May 26: They’re not the biggest band that’s coming through, but Bridge City Sinners, playing tonight at Geno’s, sure do check a lot of boxes for this particular music columnist: It’s black-banjo-driven goth-grass you’ll fall in love with.

June 6: Finally, as the spring thinks about giving way to summer, Cidny Bullens releases today his memoir, “TransElectric: My Life as a Cosmic Rock Star,” which details a career in the music industry that maybe shares a few things with Laura Jane Grace’s, actually. Plus, a forward from Sir Elton, himself (Cid used to sing backup for him).

Sam Pfeifle can be reached at

2 Weeks, 5 Songs

Ethan Setiawan – “Carolina Avenue” | Hard not to hear the melody of the Kinks’ “Strangers” in this delicate piece that may also you remind you of fellow mandolinist Joe K. Walsh. Check out Ethan — with fiddler Darol Anger — at One Longfellow on March 23.

Coyote Island – “Casio Magic” | As the name would suggest, we get here a crispy 8-bit beat, especially in the open, but then a reggae beat builds in to introduce Matisyahu, which is kind of a big deal. 

Sons of Alfond – “Church” | Classic pick-up truck country (aka rock-and-roll with a twangy vocal), this baby’s an ode to going to see country hero Eric Church in concert: “I found grace in every single verse.”

Assasi – “Ya Nana” | Produced by Coyote Island, this piece really goes places, with everything from Middle Eastern-flavor guitar solos to stinging strings to rollicking congas — but make sure to watch the video, where you can see their great chemistry together.  

Alice Limoges – “Renascence” | Limoges here announces her return to Maine after a seven-year sojourn in New York with a song of traveling back up 95 for a chance at rebirth, classical guitar overlaid with stirring cello. 

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