Nick Schroeder

Nick Schroeder

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Kneeling at the altar — The Very Reverend's debut EP keeps the faith

The modern rock canon has its heroes. I’m sure you can name several. on their new five-song EP, Portland’s the Very Reverend manage to conjure a whole bunch of them. Fusing glam-rock finesse, sexed-up fandango, and a noirish aesthetic, their slick debut nods toward a pantheon of established rock demigods while carving out fresh marks on the floor.


Recorded as a duo, it helps that this record sounds about as good as it possibly could — which is to say fantastic. Produced by Jonathan Wyman at the Halo and mastered by Adam Ayan at Gateway, the Very Reverend’s slim, trim songs are captured in their cockjest, most swaggeringly fat versions. The lurching, midtempo three-four of “Karenina” feels ready to topple over in its brazenness. A native of the Bangor area, songwriter and guitarist Justin Chamberlain’s aptitude as a vocalist carry the songs here, along with the fat-bottomed bass of Brendon Bouchard, which more than earns its keep as the album's premium sonic real estate. “Karenina” opens with Bouchard offering his instrument as a sort of pulse, with Chamberlain issuing taunts and parries before a cascade of spooky synths usher in his falsetto-heavy chorus.


The EP’s centerpiece, “Crying Like an Orphan” comes closest to capturing the sort of glory the group is capable of. A brooding, narcotized rock songs with explosive and rewarding chorus and galloping melodic bridge, the Reverend recalls the better rock bands to go dark over the last generation like Failure and Helmet, while Chamberlain’s vocal range surpasses that of Ken Andrews and Page Hamilton’s (as well as the snarl of Josh Homme, another of the album’s touchstones). As the most strident and barreling song of the bunch (and boasting a ballsy false end) it’s surely no accident that “Crying” is the favorite of this groove-allergic reviewer’s listen.


Grooves make the world go round, however, and the Very Reverend have plenty of them. “Leash” could be a heavier-sounding track from Spoon’s Girls Can Tell, while the mammoth-bass-driven “You Want Love” could work as a track by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Eagles of Death Metal, or even Portland’s much-loved Murcielago, a mostly defunct heavy rock band the Very Reverend make no secret of admiring.


It’s rare a band emerges from the woodwork sounding this professional and ready for success. The Very Reverend might sound like a lot of true rock fans’ favorite bands — perhaps too much, typical for new acts — but there’s more than enough distinctly memorable moments to keep the faith.


Fav Track: “Crying Like an Orphan”

RIYL: Spoon, Eagles of Death Metal, Murcielago


Hearin' out the crows — D.Gross & Los Federales travel far with new album 'Crooks'

In 2017, it’s downright radical to commit to an itinerant lifestyle. Virtually no one can pull it off. Worse, the ones who can afford to do so waste it by staying in lavish dwellings in isolated perches or sequestered in mile-high hotels, away from society. Few are those interested in both the road and the people who built it.

It’s tough to know how much D. Gross, the Portland poet and songwriter who fronts the group Los Federales, commits to itinerancy on a physical plane, but his musical excursions travel far. On the complex and triumphant Crooks, his third full-length and first billed with band Los Federales, Dana Gross sounds fully arrived, mucking around in musical styles and perspectives born from the soil and kept alive by a passion and dedication that the elites have long forgot.

Crooks is a record it’d be impossible to make for anyone who isn’t a keen observer of people. “I sit here in limbo, watchin’ the world go by. Don’t like what I’m seein’, well it makes me want to cry,” he sings on “Limbo.” “Train II” has nowhere to be and it’s not hurrying to get there. He sounds downright jovial on opening track “Fishin’,” dipping in his toes in the water and throwin his watch in the waves. Put this song or any on this album in a large room of people and they’ll be lively, cheerier, and more vibrant.

But a close listen reveals plenty of dark notes too. By track two’s “Big and the Bigger,” Gross and co. move into a kind of Rain Dogs-y, wayward Americana. “Well, the big keep getting bigger, the small sure come undone,” he sings over six minutes of loose, rootsy Americana. Sure sounds fun to play, crackling with rich and varied timbres — a mix of congas, shakers, piano, electric guitar, bass, fiddle, djembe, and Hammond organ — and Los Federales manage to make it sound like something you’d find inside some strange tavern off the Mississippi. Yet as playful as it is to the ear, there’s a strange, kettled anxiety in these notes.

The pendulous “Warman,” where Gross embodies the character of a mysterious sinister ego, is an album highlight. Gross waxes about weapons, war machines and killing floors, “feeling little and posing tall.” It’s one of the record’s most explicit, but in songs like these Gross is doing what the expert songsmiths do, collapsing the anxieties of a cultural moment into poetic kernels buried in an otherwise accessible sound. That takes work, and more importantly, it takes time. Gross has labored both.

Whenever Crooks feel a little listless, Gross and company know how to liven things up, as though taking a shot from the medicine cabinets of his various musical hosts. “Crows and Vegetables” opens with a vibe that sounds like an early rehearsal jam of some half-cooked idea. Fine, but nothing to pay close attention to. But a couple minutes in, the band stirs in some unexpected psychedelia — hardly sounding like the group on the first few tracks — giving Gross new sonic terrain to play with. By then, he’s head-down doin’ his thing, telling a sprawling seven-minute poem about soothsaying crows outside his window, explaining to him a harrowing future.

The dexterity on this album is mighty, the willingness to travel through ideas and relationships and personas. From the haggard and rugged Americana of “Big and the Bigger” to the fiddle-colored rockabilly of “Anchor in the Sand” to the Mediterranean-inflected instrumental “Intifada,” Gross and the band cover a lot of ground. On his first two recordings, Juggernaut (2015) and We Left the Roadside (2010), Gross showed off his finely calibrated indie-bluesy Americana songs nicely, but they also seemed to slot into pre-existing frameworks for how folks (or how I, I suppose) apprehend singer-songwriter material. On Crooks, he’s got an aesthetic all his own. It’s steeped in an appreciation for genelation’s of salt-of-the-earth folk players before him and hardened by a view of the future as a place he’s wary of going. But as much work as he’s done, we’re gonna need him to come along.

CROOKS | by D.Gross & Los Federales |


8 Days a Week: Men breaking down, pre-holiday anxieties, and constructive girl talk



REAL BOYS | If there’s one thing men could learn from this cultural moment, it’s that they have a lot of work to do. Earlier this week, the journalist Eve Peysey published a piece titled “How to Apologize, A Guide for Men,” noting that if there’s one thing absent from the rationalizing explanations issued by Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein (to say nothing of the flat-out disavowals of Alabama GOP candidate Roy Moore), it’s an inability to say the words “I’m sorry.” A new and fantastic documentary titled The Work, which has been making the festival rounds this year, doesn’t deal directly with the subject of men’s systematic abuse of women, but it certainly serves as a necessary corollary. The one-of-a-kind prison documentary follows three free men sitting in on and participating in a four-day group therapy retreat comprised of (and facilitated by) level-four convicts in Folsom Prison. Through a series of intensely personal therapeutic practices and conversations, the men are able to excavate and isolate a ton of long-buried expressions of toxic masculinity, deeply embedded traumas, and self-flagellation. It’s a suckerpunch of a film (this writer saw it at the Camden Film Festival and cried a ton), but a necessary and unforgettable one. | 7 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | $8 |


HERE COME THE WINDS | If there’s one thing older generations adore, it’s watching young people passionately adhere to a tradition that they themselves once participated in. Even better if the youths genuinely adore the work they’re doing, as we have no doubt the USM Youth Ensembles Fall Concert participants do. Tonight, the next generation of Maine symphonic musicians and ensembles show off their obliging enthusiasms for orchestral music at the Merrill Auditorium. | 8 pm | Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland | FREE |


TONGUE-TIED | The upstart artisanal Westbrook beermakers Mast Landing Brewing Company pairs with Massachusetts based Vitamin Sea for a juicy collabo in the Old Port today, pouring a double-dry hopped IPA called Same Sun that they made together, like friends. They say it tastes tropical, which is rare on the tongue in these days. | 5-7 pm | Thirsty Pig, 37 Exchange St., Portland |


UP FOR A CHAT | The Maine fashion designer, entrepreneur, and cultural commentator Judicaelle Irakoze is the host of Girl Talk, a new series focusing on sisterhood and its various intersections as it plays out in Portland and nationally. Irakoze, a 22-year-old proprietor of Abigaelle Closet and founder of the initiative Choose Yourself, came to Maine via Burundi in 2014. “Girl Talk: A Conversation on Sisterhood, Resilience, and Power,” here in its second installment, is designed as a platform “to help women support other women,” designed to find common ground across generations and other divisions. Her guest today is Lex Schroeder (in full disclosure, the sister of Phoenix editor Nick Schroeder, this writer), a partner with the New York-based organization Feminists At Work, who lately specializes in feminist business model design and last week presented at the 2017 Entrepreneurial Feminists Forum in Toronto. | 5:30 pm | Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo St., Portland | FREE |




PLUCKED FROM REALITY | If FAMOUS BANJO PLAYERS were a Family Feud category, then we’d bet Bela Fleck would rank no lower than third, survey says. One of the most respected practitioners of the craft, blurring bluegrass and jazz en route to 16 Grammy wins (wow, actually), Fleck is now removed from his work with the Flecktones. He appears here on tour with Abigail Washburn, the clawhammer banjo player from Illinois, who calls him her husband. She’s on the board too. | 8 pm | State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland | $25-50 |


THE ONE | Years ago, I read an interview where someone asked a young Elton John what the strangest thing he'd ever put in his mouth. His answer was unforgettable (and un-Googleable, apparently, making me consider whether I invented it). And though it's technically printable, I'm not going to chance it here. (This was all before he was knighted, of course.) Sir Elton hardly needs a plug from us, but he's going to light up the Civic Center — err, the Cross Insurance Arena tonight. | 8 pm | Cross Insurance Arena, 45 Center St. Portland | SOLD OUT |




IN THE ROTATION | The Maine Roller Derby get at it tonight with their annual Thanks-For-Giving bout, bending the rules of play for the benefit of charity. As they have it, those who donate during the bout will be able to send skaters to the penalty box, add points to their favorite team, and reverse the direction of the game. Wild! It all benefits the Opportunity Alliance, an organization which supports advocacy, health services, crisis intervention and more for needy Maine families. | 8 pm | Happy Wheels Skating Center, 331 Warren Ave., Portland | $6-8 |


GREAT APES | Boston’s Hayley Jane and the Primates, billed as “theatrical folkadelic Americana,” seem true to their name. As frontwoman Hayley Jane explains in an interview with Relix magazine, she grew up Christian and obsessed with the relationship between humans and monkeys. They're safe odds at a good time. | 8 pm | Portland House of Music and Events, 25 Temple St., Portland | $8 |  


ROLE REVERSAL | The dance/burlesque troupe Red, Hot, and Ladylike have 35 dancers under their banner. Tonight, they mobilize to “stimulate your imagination from the temple to the brothel, through the after-school halls and to the moon” with a show titled “Give Spanks.” While we’re not wholly sure what they mean by all that, we’re in full support of women defining the terms of fantasy in this era of radical empowerment, while numerous pillars of a patriarchal order are being toppled and held accountable for assault, rape, and systemic abuse of power. And wouldn’t you know it — 100 percent of proceeds benefit the Family Crisis Center, an organization fighting to end domestic violence. We don’t know how much the dancers themselves want to politicize this stuff — they might just like to dance. We’re just saying nothing is without context. And no (wo)man is an island. | 8 pm | Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland | $20-35 |


CHAPTER BREAK | Even though insidious forces have conspired to saturate our free time, exasperate our attention spans, and keep us in a state of deep social media paralysis and paycheck-to-paycheck precarity such that it would seem that the only folks who actually have the expendable time to purchase and read printed matter are so-called elites of the leisure class, we’re all smart enough to know what’s really going on. Books fully rule, and tell you what! They still literally make the best holiday presents. Today at Print, the bookstore at the foot of Munjoy Hill, stock up on holiday gifts at their one-year-anniversary sale, where a whole bunch of books will be 20 percent off. (We’re sure other area bookstores are doing sales soon too.) | 10 am-7 pm | Print: A Bookstore, 273 Congress St., Portland |




HOW TO DO A LIFE | New Mainer Abdi Nor Iftin left East Africa in 2014, arriving by way of a U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery system and a bureaucracy-fueled waiting period so excessive his story was later the subject of an episode of This American Life (called “Abdi and the Golden Ticket,”). Today, he’s not such a new Mainer anymore, studying poly-sci at the University of Maine and working as an interpreter in Somali communities. He’s a big personality and a talker (hence the podcast), and his appearance at the High Mountain Hall in Camden Sunday afternoon should illuminate the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers pre- and post-immigration while checking off a few charming boxes as well.| 2 pm | High Mountain Hall, 5 Mountain St., Camden |


DERN TOOTIN’ | The boisterous Portland bluegrass group Dark Hollow Bottling Company do their thing tonight at Blue as part of a monthly residency. See why the barn-burning five-piece is up for one of our Portland Music Awards.| 8 pm | Blue, 650 Congress St., Portland | by donation  



WE ALL FALL DOWN | In the early stages of a courtship or the middling stages of a friendship, it’s a nice idea to do a sort of diagnostics test on humility. Laughing at yourself is fun, arguably one of the first “games” people played (with their own psyches). As we know from the French philosopher Henri Bergson, comedy is a sort of “momentary anesthesia of the heart” that arrives in the sort of gray area between the expected and the impossible — the slip on the banana peel, for instance. You may agree that ice skating, a thing humans weren’t designed to do, is an activity often deeply in the service of laughter. The Rink at Thompson’s Point opens this afternoon for a third season, where lovers, families, and neighbors can suffer the rigors of winter in communion. This year, they’ve added a beginner’s rink for young skaters, leaving the main pond to adults and their various embarrassments. | 3-9 pm | The Rink at Thompson’s Point, 10 Thompson’s Point Rd., Portland | $8, $5 youth |


MEET ME IN THE CAVE | Sometimes, the venue a concert is held in can function as one of the artists on the bill. We really like seeing shows at Oxbow Blending and Bottling. We can’t always figure out why — it’s a big, chilly, cavernous and ill-lit warehouse on the edge of town, but that’s often exactly the mood we’re in when we want to appreciate music. (Plus, they’ve got good beer and that dope fernet from Liquid Riot.) Tonight, a few off-kilter folk songwriters convene there, and it’s a lovely Monday hang. See Montreal’s garage-folk maker Ada Lea and the experimental post-punk group Goodfight (from Brooklyn) playing with locals The Loblolly Boy and New Spine, the latter a tenderhearted roots-folk outfit fronted by Geneviève Beaudoin and aided by a cello. | 8 pm | Oxbow Blending and Bottling, 49 Washington Ave., Portland | prolly a few bux |




FORK TONGUES | If you’re on the hook for a Friendsgiving platter and don’t know when you’ll fit in the kitchen time, solutions exist at Fork Food Lab in Bayside. They host a “One Stop Thanksgiving Pop-Up Shop” from noon to five today, where elaborate and many-flavored desserts will be repped by local companies like The Whole Almond (granola), Bubbe and Bestemor (cookies), Renee By the Bay Maine Pies (tarts) and more. | Fork Food Lab | 72 Parris St., Portland |



SO ANX | Americans tend to treat this evening as a sort of nebulous interzone where it’s difficult to know which rules or social customs apply. It’s the evening before a family holiday — which is both uncomfortable for a certain and subjective batch of reasons (familial, trauma-related, dysfunctional) and also another set of reasons (colonialism, imperialism, racism), and often also excessively comfortable for yet another set of reasons (reprieve from capitalism, yesteryear nostalgia, binge nourishment), a condition which can sometimes unlock even more discomfort (lethargy, flatulence, confusion, dehydration, etc.) — which is itself the evening before an exercise in corporate-manufactured resource scarcity, which carries us until the dark season. So you’re forgiven if you don’t know what to do with tonight. Direct that wayward energy to Flask, where you’ll find other caught-in-the-middle types dancing it out at Drip Sweat, a dance party with DJ Double Dessert. | 9 pm | Flask Lounge, 117 Spring St., Portland | FREE |


ALT-AUGHTIES | Elsewhere, two of Portland’s interminable rock bands, Sidecar Radio and Paranoid Social Club, join forces to play songs they haven’t played in a while. Fronted by Walt Craven from go-for-it rock Portland rock band 6gig in the early 2000s (who got caught up in a national discussion for Ozzfest-style alt-metal bands), Sidecar Radio plays a more melodic, anthemic style. They officially split up in 2012, so their appearance is a special one. Paranoid play more frequently, a rock group side project of Rustic Overtones' frontman Dave Gutter whose sound can vacillate between Sugar Ray and the Foo Fighters. A decent community hang. | 8 pm | Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland | $8-10 |



RE-FLOW | While we're not going to outright tell you to spend Thanksgiving Day in some sort of volunteer service — everyone works hard and deserves some rest — we'd nudge you to consider supporting the organizations working to help those around us who don't have access to such comforts, whether they be soup kitchens like Wayside Food Programs, restorative justice organizations like Greater Portland SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), labor organizations pushing for causes like paid sick days (Southern Maine Workers' Center), or decolonization efforts working for advocacy and rights for indigenous peoples (such as Maine-Wabanaki REACH).

Movement-building — 'The Twenty' makes an art of resilience from American grief

It's been nearly five years since Sandy Hook, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, in December of 2012. And while little has shifted the country's desperation about gun violence — including not only mass shootings in national places of public conregation; violence by police on unarmed or otherwise law-abiding people of color; and the steady increase of gun sales and campaign donations from the NRA — a circle of friends have spun it into a praxis of healing.

This weekend only, it’s the origins of a captivatinf interdisciplinary piece called The Twenty, devised and performed by artists, educators, students and 15 dancers at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater.

Though performances are contained to four shows, The Twenty is an artistic response to a cultural phenomenon that's traveled across several art forms. Sprung from a long friendship between three women — dancer and choreographer Betsy Melarkey Dunphy, musician Barbara Truex, and painter Wendy Newbold Patterson.

Patterson, an artist in Gray, Maine, has a long history painting figures. A student of the human form particularly interested in relationships between mothers and children, she rendered 13 abstract encaustic paintings as a response to Sandy Hook, which were shown in an exhibition at the Gray Public Library last winter. Dunphy, a semi-retired dancer and choreographer who began working with Portland's Ram Island Dance Company in 1980 and has taught dance to intergenerational students for several decades, saw the paintings and was immediately moved to respond. In addition to dance composition, the paintings were also used as source material for “ekphrastic writing” (writing about art) exercises facilitated by artist and educator Marjolaine Whittlesey and written by students at the Telling Room, the material of which is also woben into the production.

Built over the past year with help from a Maine Arts Commission grant, Dunphy, Patterson, and Truex each agree that the piece eludes easy description. A hybrid of movement, theater, poetry and music, the performance is truly a patchwork of artistic expressions within a community, traveling across medium, demographic, and personal connection.

”Just as the paintings are abstract, this piece is abstract," says Dunphy. "It's not a linear story. It's not even always a literal interpretation."

Opening during a week the country again mourns a tragedy born from gun violence, the artists don't view The Twenty as a political piece. As national reports circulate showing the exponential rate of American gun deaths compared to other countries, linking domestic violence and toxic masculinity to the rate of mass shootings, this broad response led by three women artists speaks volumes.

“Newtown is the catalyst," says Dunphy, "but it represents so many things hurting in our society and culture across the planet. Children are in the
midst of it. It's spurred us on, but not enough has changed. This is our way of trying to make some art out of a horrible thing."

The Sandy Hook Massacre has sustained the artists’ focus, yet horrors have recurred. The shootings at a country festival in Las Vegas occurred as The Twenty was halfway through their rehearsal process, and last weekend's tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas, occurred in the interim between this writer's interview for this story and its publication.

“Iwould think for the adults there's a lot of internal dialogue going on," Truex says. "That happens to me when I'm sitting and watching it. There are a lot of moments for me that I start to get a little teary. The base emotional content is coming through all of these pieces. You can take that base emotion and apply it to your own experiences."

Truex, a songwriter and composer for Portland theater companies since the 1990s, arranged the music for the performance, piecing together old recordings and new compositions for the seven women, four girls, two men and two boys among the intergenerational cast, comprised of dancers aged six to 70.

Projected during the performance, Patterson's paintings themselves dance around the subject matter. In one, a woman braids a young girl's hair, an image that Dunphy and the dancers reimagined as movement.

”The painting that really got me was just three figures sitting on a bench," Dunphy says. "Wendy's figures don't have facial features, so you just see these three sitting on a bench."

Despite it’s short run, the long process of making The Twenty has been an effort toward healing. "We want this dialogue to be happening," Dunphy says. "It needs to be."

"We don't talk about children who died," says Patterson. "We don't need to. It's much bigger than that. It's about human connection and seeing each other and trying to find a way to work through it."

The Twenty: A Resilient Reckoning for Our Times | Nov 10-12 | Portland Ballet Studio, 517 Forest Ave., Portland | Fri 7:30 pm; Sat 2 & 7:30 pm; Sun 2 pm | $20; $15 students/seniors |


  • Published in Dance

From Portland to Puerto Rico — Mainers discuss the island post-Maria (and how you can help)

It’s been six weeks since the worst natural disaster to hit the Caribbean, and more than half of Puerto Rico is still without power.

Last month, as President Trump briefly visited to toss paper towels and tweeted that Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” two Mainers with connections to the island flew there to help.

Jo Silver and Todd Weeks touched down in the city of Ponce — where Jo grew up and her mother, father, and grandfather still live — less than a week after the hurricane hit. The stories they witnessed of the resilience, collective effort, and transformation of the island is staggering.

For those in the states — and particularly some 1,700 miles away in Maine — it can be difficult to understand the complexity of the situation in Puerto Rico, or understand the ways that ordinary citizens in the states can help. The magnitude and complexity of the problem is exacerbated by the Jones Act, a 1920 law stating that all incoming ships must come from the United States, making it harder and more expensive for countries to send aid.

For that reason, the Phoenix is publishing the conversation with Jo and Todd in full, leaving the stories in their words intact.

This conversation was with the musician Nat Baldwin, a co-producer of a fundraising effort (“Maine Stands With Puerto Rico” on Friday, November 10 at SPACE Gallery) benefiting the Hurricane Maria Community Recovery Fund, a/k/a the Maria Fund, a frontline organization which provides emergency assistance and helps build communith agriculture programs among the most vulnerable parts of the island.

This interview was conducted on November 2 and has been edited for length and clarity.

What were your first steps when the hurricane hit the island?

Jo: I lost contact with my family the day before. After it hit, we didn’t speak for four or five days. Then my mother just called me from a satellite phone. Todd and I just bought a ticket. I’m not going to be here in Maine just waiting. We packed supplies and decided to go. We brought our own food. The weird part was that we didn’t get any information on the TV or the news. We didn’t know what was going on. The only way to have an idea was by Facebook, from friends from the island who were living in the states.

What were the conditions of their living arrangements?

Jo: For the most part, okay. Their house is concrete, so it wasn’t that bad. I think the big problem is the people inland, but the wooden structures along the coast are also wrecked. We didn’t have communications, so we didn’t know where they’d be. We thought we’d just go down there, talk to the neighbors and figure it out.

Did you participate in relief efforts there?

Todd: The first couple days we were just checking in on family and friends. Friends from here were super generous in donating supplies, so we were able to get water filters and solar lights and a couple chainsaws down there. Actually, Home Depot in South Portland donated two chainsaws. That was kind of funny. The girl there was like, yeah, we try to do what we can, we actually donated a bunch of stuff to Standing Rock.

Hah. I thought Home Depot was owned by conservatives.

Todd: Ha, I know! Maybe the individual stores have some autonomy? We saw family and friends and then we went to Adjuntas, which was roughly in the center of the island. When we first flew in, it was pretty startling. The place Jo and I got married last winter just doesn’t exist anymore. When I landed there in the past, I had always been impressed just how green it is. Now — well, it was still green, but it looked like Maine in the winter, minus the snow. No leaves on the trees, everything dead. Lots of roots ripped off. Anything that was within any wooden structures was just ripped off to the slab. Personally, I expected maybe damage to be more uniform, but you kind of quickly saw that it wasn’t. Probably more than any geographical boundaries, [the damage correlated to] class boundaries. If you don’t have much money, you’re probably in the less sound structure.

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Were you in touch with other networks of folks who went to the island?

Todd: No, we were one of the earlier flights going down. The networking was really hard. There was so little communication with people who were on the island. We just kind of went down there hoping that we would be more useful than not. We were worried — were we gonna just be two more people consuming resources?

Ultimately, at the time we bought the ticket we still hadn’t heard from Jo’s family, so that was the most important. After checking in with friends and family, we went to Adjuntas where a friend of Jo’s has been living. In the town, there’s this pretty rad community center called Casa Pueblo. It’s been involved in a lot of environmental struggles, and kind of a somewhat radicalized community organization [Casa Pueblo was founded in 1980 in response to an effort by the Puerto Rican government to start a catastrophic mining operation for gold, silver, and copper deposits]. They were going to a lot of the neighborhoods on the outskirts of this town. It’s a small town but it functions as a hub for a lot of the small communities in the mountains in the area. They had been getting them resources. At that point, a lot of those were being brought in by people on commercial flights — just bags of full of stuff. Which is what we did too — the airlines were waiving the typical baggage fees. We were up there for a little while helping them to distribute things, and some of the places we were going, no help had arrived. They were asking, Where’s FEMA? Where’s the Red Cross?

Jo: They were asking us. We were like, we don’t know, we don’t work for them.

Nat: Are there some areas where in order to get out there would have to be structures built?

Todd: Yeah, there were bridges that were down. But even in those cases, people had made ziplines for passing across the river.

Jo: But that was even weeks after the hurricane, so those people had probably no water or food [during that time]. Another point is that there’s no communication. People that live there don’t know what’s going on. They don’t even know they’re not supposed to be drinking the water.

Todd: At a certain point, we actually had a lot more information than people there, which was weird.

Jo: We were bringing bottles of water and they were like, we don’t need that, we have water. And we told them you’re not supposed to be drinking that water!

Nat: Yeah, people have died from drinking bacteria.

Todd: It felt important to see [Casa Pueblo’s work], because it was roughly the same day that Trump came down and was throwing paper towels and talking about people just sitting around waiting for help. Everything that had been cleared there had been cleared by the community. You’re seeing guys standing on a slab of his house that’s been totally wiped clean, just pulling nails out of two-by-fours to try to cobble together some kind of new structure to live in. It was a pretty infuriating contrast, what we were seeing there to how it’s been described.

What was your family’s experience during the hurricane?

Jo: Well, the hurricane was 12 hours. It was moving very slow. It was a long time with all the sounds and the wind. Friends described the hurricane as like Godzilla going through the streets making that awful sound.

Todd: Everyone talked about the sound.

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Did they know what they needed help with? Did people know how to direct you to help?

Todd: It was pretty obvious, just getting basic stuff to people and clearing things out. There was still stuff that’s down all over the place. That fear that we had before going down there [that we would not be useful], thankfully — or not, I don’t know — ended up being relatively unfounded.

Jo: Something that really impacted me was the relationship this one lady had with her property. I mean, if you saw the space, there’s nothing there. Her house was completely down. She was talking on the satellite phone with her sister, and her sister said, leave your space, come here. She was like, no, everything’s here. All that I have is here. And I was looking at her, and there’s nothing there. I mean, there were some dirty clothes; she was just cleaning all her clothes. My point is that maybe for someone, she could get away and just move to New Jersey to live with her sister and forget about everything. But she was like, I have to keep working on this. It was pretty beautiful.

There were horror stories, too. I heard this story about this guy who before the hurricane hit was with his partner/wife, who had cancer. She started dying before the hurricane hit the island. When she died, he called the mayor and said my wife just passed away — can you send someone to help me with her body and do something? And the mayor said, well, you have to wait for FEMA. We can’t do anything for you right now. He had to wait five days.

On the other side, there are people who are being super brave and getting together, being patient. The country is working for the country; the town is working for the town. I hope that helps the mentality of the island.

Todd: It’s interesting to see Jo’s mom interacting with all her neighbors.

Jo: People are opening up more to their neighbors. Right now, that’s what they have. Neighborhoods were created so that if you need help, they will be there to help you. That was the essence of a neighborhood. It’s [become] very different [these days] — like gossip; looking out the window. That essence is lost. Now on the island, it’s coming back. Things like that are changing in a good way. People are also realizing that they can’t wait for the government to do something for them. They’re like, alright guys, we have to start building our own communities.

Todd: Granted, we were just two people with our own subjectivity, but we saw such limited assistance in terms of government or FEMA or even big NGOs. We saw close to nothing. Occasionally we’d see a couple big FEMA trucks on the highway.

Nat: Was there a military presence at all yet?

Jo: A little bit at that point. I think now it’s more militarized.

Todd: We went to this small town that was hit really hard. They had a sports stadium that had been turned into a resource center for that town. That was super militarized. Limited resources, but lots of dudes hanging around with guns.

How useful or possible is it for people to come from the states to help?

Jo: Totally useful. There’s a bunch of organizations that are doing the right work. Most of them are non-governmental, obviously. They need volunteers. The best way is to contact them or donate. They need some basic stuff, or if people from outside came and did some physical work.

Todd: Communication there is still so limited. It’s way easier to communicate with someone up here from down there than it is for two people down there to communicate with each other. I think it’s gotten better than this, but when we were there, there were maybe a couple points on the highway where you could get service. Just lines of cars.

How did you settle the Maria Fund as the primary donation fund for this event?

Jo: We met them on the island. They’re super well organized. All the supplies they’re getting they distribute to other organizations, so everything isn’t going to one organization.

Todd: Yeah, it’s more of a fund than an organization. The groups we saw were really cool, helping with small-scale agriculture, pretty granular-level stuff.

Nat: People that would probably be the last to receive federal funds? Like the hardest hit and rural communities?

Todd: Not necessarily exclusively rural, but yeah, people who would probably be the last to have the wherewithal and ability to access federal help. The work they were doing seemed really positive.

Nat: And it’s run entirely by Puerto Rican people, right?

Jo: Yeah, like 50 percent are working there and the other half are in the states working. Just because working from there is very hard — to organize and get in touch with people.

Todd: It was nuts, even when we went to [the Maria Fund’s] headquarters, most of their resources were still coming from people carrying bags in commercial flights. Which I guess is cool, but does not address the scale of the problem.

Jo: There are also some private airplanes bringing in more stuff to the island, but you have to have that connection.

Do people there understand the level of neglect by the President and the US government?

Jo: I don’t think people have the time. And they don’t have the access to read the news. We’re just here surviving.

Todd: I think it’s also a colonial exploitative relationship that they’re kind of used to. So expectations are pretty low. Politically, the fault lines are a little different than here. There are basically three parties there. There are people who want to become a state. There are people who want to maintain the status quo. And there are people who want independence. For the people who want independence or to become a state, they’d probably find a lot of confirmation of their opinion [in Trump’s behavior]. They’d think something like, well, if we were a state, or if we were an independent country [they’d help us]. I don’t know what people who favor the status quo are thinking.

A lot of conversations here are about whether Trump is going to privatize the energy grid in Puerto Rico. Are they thinking about that there?

Jo: Some are. That’s one thing people are really scared of. They’ve been privatizing everything already, like the airports, for example. So now, the opportunity is big. It’s scary.

Todd: That sort of disaster capitalism-type approach was already underway with the junta, the taking control of the island’s finances by this board of bankers forcing a bunch of austerity measures. So it’s already happening with the debt. I think some of our friends who are more politically aware in general are aware of that. Other people are just wondering when they’re going to get their power back.

Jo: It’s going on two months now, and I don’t think things are changing. I mean, people are more helpful with each other, but things are not moving. I’m wondering what’s going to be the new normal over there.

Todd: It’s definitely not going to be the same.

Jo: I’m also thinking about employment. I was talking with my mom, and she was saying that the problem right now, in her opinion, was jobs. She does marketing for a pharmaceutical company, and she said the doctors don’t have the same schedule. They just work [abbreviated hours], and everyone else has to adjust. Other people can’t run their business because they don’t have power. Some businesses have started cutting their employees, so you have less hours and you’re not making the same amount. Most people on the island already live paycheck to paycheck. For Halloween, they had a curfew of 9 pm. That’s hard for businesses who want to make some money. So it’s like a domino effect.

Todd: There’s a lot of really fucked up feedback loops over there. People losing jobs, and then in some cases leaving the island because they lost their jobs.

Do you have plans to go back?

Jo: I hope to go back in December. We have to build our own assistance. I don’t know if you know about the Jones Act [a/k/a the Merchant Marine Act of 1920], that says if there’s another country that wants to send supplies or help, [Puerto Rico is] not allowed to accept that.

Todd: Only American flag vessels. Not just for aid but shipments of commercial products, which even under normal circumstances makes everything more expensive. If you’re buying something from Brazil or the Philippines, it has to go all the way up to some American port where they take everything off the ship, put it on an American ship, then bring it to the island. In a situation like this, it means that if Cuba offers help, Puerto Rico can’t even accept it.

Jo: It was lifted for like ten days — that’s not enough. [President Trump temporarily waived the Jones Act on September 28, but it was restored on October 8.] I think what we are trying to focus on is trying to grow our own stuff and not depend on others. For example, the only foods coming in are shitty foods, like foods that people don’t like to eat here. We don’t have, like, red tomatoes. Just pale tomatoes. That’s another thing we have to change.

“Stand With Puerto Rico,” fundraising event for the Hurricane Maria Community Recovery Fund | with performances by milo + Lina Tullgren + Kafari + African Dundada + Lisa/Liza | Nov 10, Fri 8 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | $10 sugg. donation | |

  • Published in Features

"Love is Alternatives to Incarceration" — Youth organizations Maine Inside Out and Portland Outright collaborate for Nov. 8 show at USM

One year after performing their original production ("Do You See Me?"), the student artists of Maine Inside Out are set to produce a new show at USM's Hannaford Hall on November 8.

Maine Inside Out, a youth theater group comprised of current and formerly incarcerated young people at Long Creek Development Center, is teaming up with Portland Outright, an LGBTQ+ youth advocacy and organization-building group for the production.

In addition to MIO's dramatic works, the installation pieces are being created collaboratively between artists within Portland Outright's organizing crews, who along with the performance are facilitating action tables and breakout sessions, presenting the audience with different ways to respond to the material in Maine Inside Out's production. Maine-based film production company Smooth Feather Productions is also aboard.

The work has been created inside of Long Creek Youth Development Center and in groups based in the community. “Creating of this work has been a vehicle for our members to have conversations, across the barriers created by systems, about their visions of justice and of the communities they want to live in,” says Osgood, Director of Portland Outright.

“This process, and the movement we are building, is carving out space for young people whose lives have been directly impacted by mass incarceration and systemic oppression to be the leaders of this work. Together, we are countering a culture of isolation and scarcity by cultivating community power based in love, solidarity, and shared resources.”

Osgood says that 30 percent of incarcerated youth in Maine organize with Portland Outright.

“Seeing groups from different parts of life coming together for the same cause is inspiring to me, and to others to speak up for what they believe in,” says Maine Inside Out participant Joey Munsey about the collaboration.

"Love is Alternatives to Incarceration," performance and installation by Maine Inside Out + Portland Outright + Smooth Feather Productions | Nov 8, Wed 7 pm | University of Southern Maine, Hannaford Hall, 88 Bedford St., Portland | $20 | 

  • Published in News

Maine Senator Susan Collins Could Again Dash GOP Reform Plans

When the GOP unveil their tax reform bill Wednesday they'll have a by-now famliiar obstacle to clear: Maine Senator Susan Collins.

The Republican senator indicated Monday that she is opposed to two tax breaks for the wealthy included in the draft of the GOP tax reform bill expected to be announced in Congress Wednesday, November 1. The tax reform bill is same one that Donald Trump has referred to as "historic" in recent tweets, alleging that "Democrats" and FBI special prosecutor Robert Mueller are trying to obstruct the party's progress with the recent indictment of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and assistant Richard Gates.

“I do not believe that the top rate should be lowered for individuals who are making more than $1 million a year,” Collins said during an interview with Bloomberg News. “I don’t think there’s any need to eliminate the estate tax.”

The U.S. estate tax takes 40 percent from estates valued above $5.49 million for individuals or $10.98 million for couples. Last month, the GOP and White House officials released a tax reform proposal that would eliminate the estate tax. It would also be expected to include a provision that would cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent over a span of five years, shaving three percent per annum.

On several occasions in 2017, Collins's vote was a critical wrench in the gears of a GOP-led congressional effort to repeal Obamacare, most recently voting NO on the Graham-Cassidy bill in late September. Reuters reported on October 15 that Senator Collins said she was "likely a yes" vote on tax reform.

On Monday, Topher Spiro, a Senior Fellow of Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress, tweeted "When the history books are written, it's quite possible Susan Collins will have done more than anyone else to bring down Trump."

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

  • Published in News

MAGA — Manafort and Gates Arrested

In what some are describing as the most significant political development of the past year, FBI special prosecutor Robert Mueller indicted the former chairman of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign Paul Manafort with federal crimes on Monday.

Along with business associate Richard Gates, Manafort was ordered to surrender to federal officials. George Papadopoulos, a member of Trump's foreign policy advisory panel, also admitted that he lied had to the FBI in an interview earlier in the year. In records released Monday, George Papadopoulos "falsely described his interactions with a certain foreign contact who discussed 'dirt' related to emails" concerning 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Records also describe an email between Trump campaign officials suggesting they were considering acting on Russian invitations to go to Russia.

With charges dating back to the 1990s, Manafort was charged with conspiracy to launder money, failing to register as a foreign agent, false statements, and numerous counts of failing to file reports for foreign bank accounts.

Mueller's charges don't specifically address the Trump campaign nor the president himself, though as some have noted, the specific wording could be read as an indication of the prosecutor's line of inquiry.

"What stands out for me is Mueller's strategic use of implicit threat. Not only the ones he names. Not only against Manafort and Gates," tweeted journalist and Washington Post contributor Barton Gellman Monday. "Count 35 against Manafort hits at risk of bank fraud charges against his son in law, with potential financial drain on his daughter too. Counts 38 & 41 share ominous phrase 'together with others.' People may fear he's thinking of them & they won't find out in time to deal. Mueller knows things, some of them about Russia, and has proof. He's warning other campaign witnesses against perjury."

Since the indictment, many GOP leaders have been silent, while others have seemed to deflect or discredit the probe. This week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders downplayed Papadopolous’s influence, saying the adviser was "basically a volunteer.”

As Salon's Taylor Link reports, Sanders also attempted to spin the degree of influence Manafort and Gates had with the 2016 campaign, saying that they "mostly handled the delegate process and were let go after Trump clinched the nomination." As Link points out, Gates continued work on the campaign after Manafort left, and Manafort kept a telephone correspondance with Manfort for months after the nomination.

On Tuesday, it was reported that Manafort owns multiple passports and traveled with a phone registered to a fake name while traveling out of the country.

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

  • Published in News

"There'll Always Be Graffiti" — Portland photographer Nick Gervin makes historic documentation in new book 'The Lines Don't Lie'

This week, Portland photographer Nicholas Gervin releases The Lines Don’t Lie, a sprawling and comprehensive 190-page photography book documenting a generation of Northeastern freight train graffiti art.

Inspired by Subway Art, the influential 1984 book by photographer Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant documenting New York City subway graffiti in the ‘70s and ‘80s, The Lines Don’t Lie is a sui generis piece of New England art documentation.

Three-and-a-half years in the making, Gervin's photos in The Lines Don’t Lie date his love affair with freight train graffiti art as early as 1994. Each book is handmade, and all shots were taken in New England (though the trains themselves might have come from anywhere on the continent). The pages are printed by Curry Printing in Portland, while Gervin himself is hand-binding each book.

Gervin says that nearly all shots were taken while trains were moving — typically 60 or 70 miles per hour. As a photographer (and not a practioner, he notes) of graffiti art and co-producer of recent film documentary Year-round Metal Enjoyment, released by Portland’s Mint Films’ in 2015, Gervin’s knowledge of the form and era is nearly unparalleled. With the help of Michelle Ferris, a street art documentarian (and Gervin’s fiancée) and numerous quotations and commentary from graffiti writers themselves, the book is a passionate and spirited physical documentation of a marginalized art form often shrouded by misinformation and fear.


art nickgervin

The Phoenix met with Gervin at a Dunkin' Donuts on Forest Ave. to discuss the book, his knowledge of the history of graffiti writing, and the art form's intersections with contemporary society.

So, how did you get into this?

As a kid, I was really into comic book art. Then I started making oil paintings. I moved from South Boston to Portland and lived on Newbury Street next to an abandoned building called Crosby’s. It was covered in graffiti. I saw the art on the walls and it immediately drew me in. I would borrow my mother’s camera and take pictures. First I tried to re-draw it, but didn’t even know what any of it said. I felt like an archaeologist, decrypting codes.

Did that connect you to the larger scene and its history?

Yeah, I got really into the photographers Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant. I got a copy of Subway Art. Martha Cooper would do more like big shots, see the trains in the environment. And Henry Chalfant would do big panoramics. Back in the subway days, they used to sit on a bench and talk and watch the pieces go by [a process known as "benching" in the graffiti community].

In the '80s, Mayor Koch's big campaign for re-election was to stamp out the graffiti on subway cars in New York. It worked. They double-fenced the yards, put dogs between fences, and invented chemicals that would wipe the paint right off. When that happened, graffiti writers had no way to express themselves so they moved to the streets.
What was appealing about the trains was that they went to all parts of the city. The whole city would be able to see your art. Back then, New York was a shithole. Buildings were bombed out; there were endless drugs, gangs, crazy robberies. A lot of kids joined a gang or didn't — if you didn't, you were a victim. A lot of those younger kids who didn't want to go into a life of crime joined art. You had a crew. It's not a gang; you got together and made art. it was a positive thing to try to do. Some kids got sucked into crime or drugs, but that's what happens when you're a kid, you make shitty decisions. 
There was always a perception that the two were conflated, right? That this was gang imagery?
Even still. A couple years ago, Portland put out an ad stating that graffiti is gang-related. There is no gang-related graffiti in Portland, Maine. I can tell you that. 100 percent. Now, if you go to L.A., they have some gang-related graffiti. If you go to New York — guess what? There's no gang graffiti. Not in the sense of the art form. It's like me trying to talk about Expressionism or sculpting. I'm not an expert in it. It's like I were to assume that like, all sculptors wear hats — well, I don't know that! That's just something I heard. Folks have to ask themselves, how much do I actually know about this art form? 
Basically, kids invented it. Some of those kids in that era lost their trains because of Koch, but they eventually found freight trains. It's a different surface. It's not metal; it's flat. See these numbers here (Gervin points to a photo in the book)? See how they're not painted over? This is because graffiti writers respect the guys that work on them. It's not even really [about] respecting the company, but the writers respect the working man and the working man needs these numbers. These are the weight limits, the identification number. Everything is nicely cut out (of the graffiti image). The workers didn't do that, the graffiti artists did that. So there's a silent communication happening there.
art gervin
When Koch was trying to clean up the trains, was there any sort of organized effort on behalf of the writers? 
There was. it was definitely before my time, but different crews got together and tried to form legitimate organizations. There were a lot of people in New York City who really did enjoy it on their commute. You'd get something new every day that didn't have any motive to sell you something. It was just, hey here's a goofy character. And these were teenagers, sometimes 12-year-old kids doing it.
When you were growing up on Newbury Street in Portland, did you end up meeting any of those writers?
Yeah, my first experience was this guy at the time who wrote JIB. I was just a little kid with a camera and he was a teenager. I looked up to him. He was nice enough to let me watch him paint. I never really participated in it, but I was definitely documenting it. 
It goes without saying you've earned a lot of trust and cache in this world. It's fascinating that so much of this has to stay concealed, but you're trying to give credit and make it visible.
Right. I even battle myself talking to you about it. Like, is it even relevant for the average citizen to know about it? Is it better that most people are oblivious to it? But a lot of people see it. The freight train runs by right here (in Woodfords Corner where we met). What I found was when I took all these pictures was that a lot of the writers didn't document this stuff. I'd roll through with photos and they were like, oh, you got a picture of that? Can I get a copy? And this is analog, there wasn't even a one-hour photo in Portland then. I think a lot of people appreciated that.
Are there a lot of differences of opinion among writers about how visible it should be?
Oh, sure. It used to be, don't ever talk to a civilian about it, ever. there's no point. But with the internet, everything's changed. With social media and Instagram and Flickr accounts, it's all out there anyway. You can go to YouTube and look at graffiti videos for 20 years. Most people like to conceal their identity and stay separated, but a person who does graffiti could be sitting next to you drinkin' a coffee at Dunks. Or be an old man from the New York era who's in his 50's and still doing it. I mean, these guys are still doin' it. A lot of those old school graffiti writers from the Subway Art days picked up cans again and started writing. That's just amazing — 50 years old and making art for the public. 
There's a line in the book that reads there's no graffiti on the Internet.
Sure, there's pictures of graffiti on the internet. But there's no graffiti on the Internet. Like any art, it needs to be experienced in person, in the present, in the physical form. In a book like this, at least it's tangible, you can decipher it. When you see it in person, it's like BOOM — there go the colors, what did that say, where's that train from? It's literally a rolling exhibit that travels around the country. What other art form is there where the artist walks away from the finished piece and then has nothing else to do with it, yet it still travels the country?  
Do you ever talk to train workers about this? What are their opinions about this?
Absolutely, they're in this book. It depends what level of worker you're talking to. Your average train worker is just like your average worker anywhere. They work for the man, they work for a corporation, and lots of times corporations aren't very nice to their employees. Some people that work for the railroad are bitter because the railroad industry is becoming tighter with rules [and worker restrictions]. For the most part, what I've gathered from the blue-collar railroad worker, they kind of like it. Some of them even do it. The biggest concern with rail workers is that people don't realize how dangerous trains are. They're not stopping for you; they can't stop for you. There's nothing you can do. Going into a trainyard is ridiculously stupid if you have no experience around trains. You're basically biding time until you get hurt. There have been plenty of writers who have died.
Have you witnessed any?
Yes. Not a writer, but I did witness a guy get hit by a train in 2013. I was there on the scene. It was right there on Forest Ave. I documented that. It's a different story — had nothing to do with graffiti — but it just shows you how dangerous walking along the tracks can be. Not to mention imprisonment. I've had acquaintances spend years in jail because they wanted to paint on things. (Their sentences were) longer than rapists; I'm not joking. Something's wrong with that.
I don't want to inject too much political sentiment into this that isn't there, but I'm curious what overlap you've seen in this community with national issues of justice and politics.
Well, one of the big things affecting our country everywhere is heroin. In the graffiti community, we've lost a lot of writers to drug overdoses, depression, suicides. It just seems really high lately. A lot of really talented people just gone. Not just graffiti writers; people in general. The people that do this type of art definitely live a double-sided life — one minute they're going to work, they're participating in society, and then at night on the other side of their life, they're completely outside everyone. It's tough. Locally, there was the LePage graffiti (in late summer 2016 on Portland's open mural space near the Portland Water District). I thought it was free speech. It was a representation of our governor in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, with another one [the words DUMP LEPAGE] in big letters underneath the highway. It expressed what a lot of people were feeling. Again, if I was a corporation and I wanted to put an advertisement somewhere, I can because I have money. If I'm an individual who wants to express a political opinion about our country, I'm a criminal. 
Are there some artists who have political motivations?
There are, sure. I mean, no one's looking to change the world through graffiti. It's just art. I mean, why would anyone want to paint a canvas? Because you enjoy it. Even if you don't want it to be political, it is, because it's illegal. I'd love to see more legal walls. Other countries in Europe, societies have embraced graffiti and have worked with the artists to designate where artists work. The argument against that is that it's going to cause more graffiti, and that's ridiculous. The graffiti's there whether you give them a spot or not. Providing a place where people can do it safely is the responsible thing for a city to do. It's like the war on drugs. Are we gonna win that next year? No. So we might wanna change how we combat the drug issue. You can't; there will always be people using drugs. We can't lock them all up — we can't afford it as a country. It's the same thing with this whole "eradicate graffiti" mentality. There'll always be graffiti. There'll always be something that says BOB WAS HERE. 
And meanwhile, there are drones out there bearing advertisements.
Yeah. So if graffiti is going to exist, how is society going to find the appropriate balance? They started locking people up for it in New York in the '70s — guess what, it's now a global movement. 

The Lines Don't Lie, book release by Nicholas Gervin | release party Nov 3 5-8 pm | Broken Crow Collective, 594 Congress St., Portland | 

  • Published in Art

To the moon and back — Jeff Beam turns the page with 'Something Came From Nothing'

In his new release, issued days before embarking on one of the most ambitious tours of his career, Jeff Beam has found a new band. His EP drops four songs, including the near-perfect '70s rambler "Something Came From Nothing," a single that sounds like a modernized lunar lounge-rock version of Todd Rundgren, along with intimate, simpler versions of earlier tracks. It's a modest release, but its impact is significant.

The Portland songwriter has brought aboard multi-instrumentalist Kate Beever to play vibraphones and keys; McKay Belk (If and It) on slide guitar; and Elliot Heeschen (Builder of the House) on drums, while returning Sam Peisner on bass and Scott Nebel on guitars. This additional instrumentation seems like a turning point — the fit feels so natural it’s almost something to celebrate. In particular, Beever's vibes and Belk's slide guitar totally show up. Their work stretches the song out, which helps to shift the focus of Beam's guitar away from some of the more astral projections of his back catalogue into tight and tidy arrangements, allowing for better conversations with his vocals, which are some of the best in any Beam song to date. 

A squall after the first chorus of “Clairvoyance” does little to disguise a paranoid android-influence, as a cavernous-sounding whoooo brings faint Radiohead heat to simmer the familiar touchstones in American rock. Though the guitars can recall Jonny Greenwood's in tone, stylistically, Beam plays like an American player. That’s a gut feeling and I don’t know how to back it up, but that tension feels like a huge part of the appeal. His songs seem to balance on the axis between a type of music that is on the one hand deeply interior, existential and self obsessed, and a kind of music that’s about freedom, community, and inclusiveness — the type of music you used to hear on the street. It’s like 50 years after Steve Miller wrote “Space Cowboy," Beam's finding ways to define the term. First listens seem weird and psyched out, but further ones reveal harmonies and arrangements that seem now right out the American dad vaults, from Miller and Petty to The Moody Blues, or Crosby, Stills and Nash, and later like noise compositions you’d find only at basement shows.

A more intimate version of "Cherryfield," a nine-minute standout from 2015's Is Believed to Have Been (where alternate versions of "Wholed and "Clairvoyance" live) finds the artist steeped in his whatness, anchoring the song with a cool vocal refrain four minutes in barely adorned with accompanying instruments. Listening now, its contrast to the clamor of the prior version is both stark and significant, both for the artist's growth and the absence of the great Portland artist Tanner Olin Smith, who played sitar on the original and collaborated with Beam on many earlier tracks (Smith died unexpectedly last month).

There's only one true new song here, but it's indicative enough of a chapter-break to take note. While always mostly accessible, there's something that has seemed to be shrouded in a lot of the songs of Beam's back catalog. That veil seems lifted. What has sounded in the past like a sort of fealty to his guitar, an instrument over which he has considerable command, is waning. I don't want to read too much into this; I'm not saying this guy's done with weird noise. But if this release is any indication, the space that's opened up could be enough for the dude's voice, and its many complex personalities, to shine through. He's got a new band, but he might have a new instrument too.

Jeff Beam | Something Came From Nothing EP release | with Theodore Treehouse + Fort Gorgeous | Portland House of Music, 25 Temple St., Portland | $7-10 | 

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