How’s your relationship with live music?
As strange as it is to remember the fog of cigarette smoke that once dominated a rock show, it is now stranger still to think of experiencing genuine joy at swapping sweat with people in a mass of bodies in front of the stage at the Big Easy (or Port City Music Hall, Bitter End, Stonecoast, etc.). It’s like ancient history – before the pandemic era.
But Rigometrics, a trio of University of Southern Maine grads playing new classic rock tunes inspired by Elton John and Freddie Mercury, sold out Portland House of Music and Events on Temple Street last week, so plenty of folks really are OK with getting up close and personal in front of the band. It all depends on your risk tolerance.
The risk of a global pandemic shuttering his club for a year probably wasn’t in Ken Bell’s business plan when he opened PHOME in 2015 after landlord troubles put the kibosh on his Big Easy. With a famously big heart and great taste in musicians, trying to keep a rock club afloat was already a skin-of-the-teeth operation. That’s the nature of the business when you commit to being one of the first venues to tell the world a band is great and ask for money to get in the door to hear them.
It’s no wonder Bell was ready to hand his place over to a willing buyer in Patrick Calabro, a guy in the biz who sees Portland’s potential. Bell deserves hearty congratulations for getting to something resembling the other side. And a vacation.
Calabro told the Portland Press Herald he’s not planning on changing much, but he’d maybe get some more national acts on stage. He’s a talent buyer by trade, after all.
But I hope he cleaves as much as possible to Bell’s commitment to locals – who are of course “local” until they’re not. A stage like PHOME’s, with great sound and lights, elevated and with plenty of room to roam, in front of a space that holds about 300, is a genuine milestone for a band like Trawl, who this week release the physical edition of their “From the Murky Depths” EP, a follow-up to 2021’s “Shark Piñata.”
Trawl play PHOME on Aug. 11, with Twin Grizzly and Diana Drive. This is the kind of show you put on the band resume as you hit up clubs further afield. Folks in Boston or Manchester or Albany? They know PHOME. “You sold that place out? OK. We’ll take a listen.”
And Trawl deserves it. They’re a band that does their part. Full of industry veterans (bassist Seth McClellan and drummer Adam Nichols in Loki; singer Sean Matthews in Devils Night Out; guitarist Justin Patry in Left on the Outside) and their website is updated and useful. They have a little band logo and an aesthetic having to do with sharks and underwater steampunk that’s consistent and memorable.
Did you buy one of the first 100 hard copies of the new EP at Bull Moose? Well, you get a holographic sticker. Give them an email during Shark Week? Maybe you got the custom wax seal they gave out. They even did up a fake Scholastic Book Fair-style book cover, “Curse of the Zombie Shark,” as a promo flyer.
This is a band that’s doing the job of being a rock band. Go to their show and rock out with them.
Of course, they have to deliver the music. But have no fears on that front. They ply a melodic sort of metal-rock, with debts to Rob Halford and the Chili Peppers at times, and a tight rhythm section that encourages old-time head-banging.
The classic metal riffage of “Lightspeed” has a ton of energy, with a lot of the new-age introspection Rush liked to dabble in: “I find myself sitting alone in here/ pondering all the mysteries of fear.” Matthews is a big voice and those post-chorus “yeah-hea-aaahs” ought to deliver even more punch in person. “2003” opens with brooding indie rock, recalls some bad decision-making with a rocking verse, then pulls back into spoken word as we’re encouraged to “bring back hope” in something that sounds a little bit like a mission assignment in Fortnite.
But they did well to make “Kaiju King” the single. The primary hook is wicked, with some Foo Fighters to it, and the imagery of a giant reptile fight fits well with the syncopation, like blows raining back and forth.
A release show to celebrate a record like this is exactly what PHOME is for (along with some cool regional and national drive-throughs). Here’s to it staying that way.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 weeks, 5 songs
• Sound of Our Town, “Portland, Maine: The Face-Melting City Elvis Left at the Altar” — OK, so it’s a podcast episode, not a song, but it’s worth a listen, a tour through Portland’s live-music options. Then listen to the episodes on Chicago, Boston, and Asbury Park. How do we hold up?
• Joel Thetford, “Out of the Way” — Thetford’s full, pedal-steel country here, old-timey and a touch high and lonesome with his delivery, a little bit Bakersfield, a little bit Neil Young. The piano at the finish of the chorus is a nice touch.
• Frankie Moon & Dave Mathewses Band, “Blast Off!” — Frenetic indie rock, this is the newest from Madison, Maine, a little town on the come up. Hard not to hear a little bit of the Weakerthans here.
• EDT, “Depths” — The opening track off of “it was a wave, of course,” this is an introduction to the first solo release from Emily Dix Thomas, who recorded this back in 2017 and is now releasing it for consumption with Pretty Purgatory. This is an arresting and powerful record featuring Thomas’ cello front and center alongside her ethereal vocals.
• Brad Terry & Lenny Breau, “The Original Living Room Tapes” — Wow. This is the sort of thing that restores your faith in the internet. Just posted this week by jazz clarinetist and whistler Terry, this is a treasure trove of 22 tracks of wild recordings that show off the late Breau as among the world’s great jazz guitarists – and Terry every bit his equal.
— Sam Pfeifle