Grab your Ivies gear: an early musical weekend in Portland
March 29, 2019
Temperatures in the high 40s beg the lingering piles of snow to sink back into the earth, and bare legs to begin to peek out below shorts and dresses. With spring break over and many students’ closets swelling with newly thrifted overalls and bucket hats, murmurs begin to wind their way through dorms and dining halls: so, how close is Ivies?
If you are one of the many students counting down the days to a long weekend filled with head-banging, clout glasses and bad decision-making, I’m happy to tell you that a music-filled few days could come sooner than anticipated—if you can find a ride. Next weekend, Portland boasts a pair of performers who may excite you more than vibey R&B artists. Between Suitcase Junket’s growly folk-blues sound and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong’s (isn’t the band’s name enticement enough?) psychedelic funk jams, Portland’s downtown might shake with hundreds of pounding feet and intense shreds. Just remember to shield your eyes if you see me try to air guitar.
On Thursday, April 4, the Suitcase Junket will be performing at 8 p.m. at One Longfellow Square—an intimate venue dripping with twinkly lights and old rugs. The Suitcase Junket is Vermont-born Matt Lorenz’s one-man band, a project born from a guitar pulled out of a dumpster and, as I imagine, the energy of a handlebar mustache. While this old guitar takes center stage on his tracks, Lorenz is a true multi-instrumentalist, whose arrangement of instruments is as rough and jangly as his musical style. Sitting on an old, faded accordion case, Lorenz is the conductor of a pit orchestra filled with dried bones, broken bottles, thrifted silverware and sawblades.
I struggle to place the Suitcase Junket within a genre. While “Mountain of Mind” carries all the conventions of a folk ballad, Lorenz’s warm voice soaring through the chorus, guitar chords still growl in the background like angry revving engines. In “Everybody Else,” gentle acoustic guitar plucks accompany a new whistling tone coming from Lorenz, equal parts Bob Dylan and Andrew Bird. Nearly all of Lorenz’s music sounds slightly too loud, as though every song is a recording from a live show with the speakers turned up a bit too high.
The Suitcase Junket sounds like heat vibrating off sandy highways, like a too-strong bass rattling the windows in your car, like buzzing cicadas over a bonfire in marshy grass. With both the spectacle of his sound arrangement and a new album dropping the next day, I imagine the concert will carry the energy of both a highly anticipated movie premiere and a baby shower gone wild. What better way to spend your night?
Two days later, an even wackier time awaits in the State Theatre where the four-man funk band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong will showcase its famously nutty stage personas and undeniably joyful tracks. Their music will have you craving a disco floor to slide across, as electric guitars and self-described “drumagic” and “electro-swag” accompany the smooth voices of vocalists Greg Ormont and Jeremy Schon. If you need more convincing, Ormont shares an eerie similarity to iconic comedian Eric Andre, a comparison that transcends just the physical, as Ormont dives into an eye-bulging, tutu-wearing, chaotic stage personality in a quest for positive energy throughout a set.
As the band’s name indicates, none of its music is all that deep. No dark themes about death or heartbreak hide in the lyrics. In “Sunny Day,” while they sing about recognizing internal sadness through a positive exterior (”It’s a sunny day, sunny day, but it feels like pouring rain”), the song still concludes with a hopeful, light-hearted conclusion that “well, life goes on.” Pigeons Playing Ping Pong does not sugarcoat life but merely chooses to focus on the bliss of crushes at 13, on “fooling around when the lights go down,” on celebrating the people and things they love.
I am sure you have always wished that Ivies Saturday headliner would have you butterfly dance to funk grooves, and even if E-Board never announces that Lipps Inc. is coming to take us to Funkytown, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong will have you scanning the ceiling for a disco ball. And while the Suitcase Junket’s musical entourage takes the form of gas cans, toy keyboards and old shoes, any episode of “Chopped” can tell you that even the wildest arrangement of ingredients can make a damn good dish. So, pack a bag, grab a paddle—this early April musical weekend will be worth the trip.
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