“I’m going to ask you the same damn thing people are always asking me.”
“What do you do?”
– Wanda (Faye Dunaway) & Henry Chinaski (Mickey Rourke), Barfly, written by Charles Bukowski
There is a Barfly quote for every occasion.
Kill Rock Stars had record release shindig at Berbati’s Pan in Portland, Oregon on Thursday, October 1st, celebrating the release of locals The Shaky Hands’ Let It Die (QRO review) and equally local labelmates Panther’s new EP, Entropy. Looking for the words to quantify what was seen, one can fall back to searching for quotable quotes from Mickey Rourke’s Henry Chinaski, the film’s protagonist, and come to Chinaski’s first encounter with Wanda, played by Faye Dunaway.
In the movie, Henry Chinaski is a vulgar, unemployed, remorseless, irredeemable career alcoholic. He doesn’t get asked what he does as a means to make conversation. The damn thing people are trying to figure out when they pose the question is, “How do you make a living?”, which would also seem to imply things like “How did you get to be where you are?” and “Where are you going?”
These are the same damn things one tries to figure out about The Shaky Hands. What is it you guys do? What’s the goal here? Where have you been?
Approaching Berbati’s Thursday night, walking by the bar there’s a band in there playing “Career Opportunities” by The Clash. They are doing a fine job of playing it – to a room of about three people. One wouldn’t think much more about it at the time, but it was actually foreshadowing the evening. As if some unseen force was recalibrating expectations. Providing an example of a band that knew what they were doing, knew where they’d been, and, at least at the point in time “Career Opportunities” was released, knew where they were going. Halfway into The Shaky Hands’ set, one is at a loss for answers to these questions.
As one would expect, many of the bullet points on The Shaky Hands’ PowerPoint presentation included material from Let It Die. The band opened with “Never Fine”, a Stones-ey, Zevon-ey, Petty-ey blues rocker, followed by another PowerPoint slide molded from the same template, “Slip Away”, and a third horse of a similar color, “Love Curse”, anchored by a catchy, do-the-pony 60’s Motown rhythm. The presentation of each bullet on the slide was tight and concise, easy to understand and follow, despite the lackadaisical nature with which they meandered from one slide to the next. The crowd at Berbati’s seemed quite pleased with it. Yet the more they cheered on this creative reorg, the more puzzled one felt.
That point where the emperor disrobes all that he wasn’t wearing to begin with, to reveal the Mike Campbell riffs sold to him by the two swindlers that were his youth. They sneak in at that point when the emperor settles into that warm blanket of street cred. It happens, and everybody’s okay with it. It’s what everybody does. All of which can leave you with the feeling like you have to play the part of the kid, politely pointing out that the emperor is in his birthday suit.
The slides transitioned from there to previous endeavors, including a very upbeat reading of the Lunglight album’s (QRO review) “Loosen Up”. From there, they showed the fancy new Let It Die graphics of “Caught In The Storm”, and one of the more memorable Petty-fied/Dylan-ified numbers off of the new record, “Allison and the Ancient Eyes”. The Shaky Hands closed things out on a high note with a couple of slides imported from older presentations, “Why & How Come” off of their first LP (QRO review), and ended the set on a high note with one of the tunes they seem to be best known for, “We Are Young”, off of Lunglight.
The performance review of the hand shakers’ presentation:
Bullet one: They have some really, really good piano driven ballads and mid-tempo numbers sprayed throughout those slides that were part of the records they sold. The Shaky Hands should hire a keyboard player or stick singer/guitarist Nick Delffs behind a Rhodes for a couple of songs and let him go trip the night fantastic on stuff like “Leave It All” or “Oh No”. Yes, they’re playing in clubs, where the collective attention span is the time it takes to throw back a PBR tallboy, but they will keep everyone’s attention if they slow things down here and there, promise.
Bullet two: It gets a little harsh here, but Delffs doesn’t look like a dude that should be fronting a band, and doesn’t ‘not look like that dude’ in a good way. He’s starting to look like the auditor that one has to deal with at the end of Q4, dressed for casual Friday. He should get a full-length mirror; maybe consult the girlfriend for some help. And there are some fundamental posits about playing in small clubs that he might have forgotten about, what with him being on his third album and all. He should stop asking the sound guy to turn him up in the monitor, repeatedly and with a hint of annoyance, especially when the sound guy apparently just finished doing battle with monitor feedback during the opening band’s set. Saying something once is okay, more than once is probably the tipping point. By all accounts, Delffs is a nice guy, but it makes him look like a guy that isn’t nice, to put it mildly. He should what he did when no one knew who he was, and just do his best to deal with not being able to hear himself play.
In conclusion, The Shaky Hands’ salary is going to remain flat for this round. Spruce up that PowerPoint and maybe they can get a five-percent bump next year. They’re good guys who just need to remember what it is they’re doing & where they came from. And use that to think about where they see themselves in the organization in the next five, ten years.
Enough of the business metaphor. Onto Panther.
Charles Salas-Humara is a restless man. He began life in the early aughts as Panther, some spastic Al Green smoking from whatever Brian Eno had in his pipe when he made Here Come The Warm Jets; a one-man, one iPod, one amplifier floorshow, spinning tales of getting pedicures over E*Rock-produced glitch/IDM/art-damaged electro. Then he put a bullet to the head that was Secret Lawns, Panther’s debut release on Audio Dregs. Once distanced from that carcass, he found drummer Joe Kelly and an electric guitar, and reinvented Panther as angular white boy funk/post-punk, copulating odd time signatures and afro-cuban rhythms for their first Kill Rock Stars release, 14 Kt. God (QRO review), then promptly walked it out to pasture and put that creative redirect down as well. With Panther’s Entropy EP, they’re treating all to a third act. Shimmery, at times vaguely proggy, piano-driven pop nuggets that taste so good, it has been reported that P-Town’s own Gus Van Sant even lent a hand on the video for the track “Birds That Move”.
Like The Shaky Hands’ Let It Die-heavy set, Panther’s was peppered liberally with material from Entropy, opening strong with “Control Yr Ships” and “Birds That Move”. Despite a slow roll over a speed bump halfway through due to technical problems, despite the feedback, despite what appeared to have been a minor crack to the back resulting from jumping off the stage during a guitar lead, and no matter how much Charlie wants everyone to know how old he is by making Quaalude references & telling that he’s growing a beard to cover his double chin, Charlie and Joe never failed to entertain.
If one were to have left the show before The Shaky Hands came back out for an encore, one would have been met with the sweet harmonies of The Clash’s version of “Pressure Drop” wafting through the air from the bar around the corner where The Clash cover band was playing. That would have been bad. There was no need to again be reminded of all those burning questions that would come later. Something special happened that one would have sorely missed, as Panther joined The Shaky Hands onstage to cover a song written by 70’s Krautrock pioneers Can.