Witnessing the development of a band is something special. More often than not I’m turned on to bands that have existed and established their sound over the course of years and years.
By no means do I essay to suggest that artists can’t change courses despite a reputation. I guess what I am saying is that it’s exciting to see sonic profiles take root and to watch performers hone their craft.
The headliners at Sun Tiki Studios this past Saturday, Feb. 5, are a perfect example of this. Comparing my experience seeing The House Flies in November to the show they just put on demonstrated how explosively this group has staked their claim as a formidable force of music in Portland. Sharing the stage with the tried-and-true Plague Dad and the other relative newcomers, Haze, made this night one for the books.
When Plague Dad took the stage, I’ll admit I had no idea what to expect from their sound. I saw the drummer, Miguel, take a seat at a remarkably stripped down set of percussive devices. Usually when that happens, it becomes abundantly clear the artist has either over-estimated their abilities or they’re as calculated as they are adept at improvisation.
One song in, and it was obvious to me that Miguel’s drum set is an extension of his creative soul. From spoons to bongos and everything in between, Miguel crafted a rhythmic backbone that proudly postured Plague Dad’s music. Even when rolling with a broke string, the guitar portion of Plague Dad carefully synthesized folk-punk with grungy undertones that left everyone in the crowd clapping along and stomping their feet. I even saw a bit of square dancing. Opening up with their tune “Cops On Acid” immediately played to my liking with some references to one of my favorite Grateful Dead shows, not to mention its immediately catchy chorus.
Full transparency Frank, the group’s guitarist and lead vocalist, runs this blog and approves my articles.
However, that in no way influenced or biased my opinion of their set. Frank and Miguel have captured something so uniquely essential to what it means to be folk-rockers. They’re integrated deep into the culture of the scene. One glimpse of the band’s website, a perusing of their Instagram, or even just a passing conversation at a show will no doubt convey how authentic and admirably passionate they are about it.
It’s people like Frank and Miguel that show us all the staying power and life-long dedication that music fosters. If I may draw from their “Plague Song”, it’s times like these that we all need a hand. And sometimes the proverbial hand that picks us back up is music. When Plague Dad reaches out, make sure to open your ears.
As Haze took the stage the evening took a turn towards high energy alt-rock. Electric guitars populated the stage, drum sets filled out, and crowds prepared for motion. Luc, the frontperson for the band, let everybody know that not a single song would be played until the crowd fused with the front of the stage.
Immediately we were treated to an electrifying mix of metal-influenced rock, soaring vocals, and sprinkling of ethereal musings on the guitar. I’ll admit that looks can be deceiving. Young they may be, but Haze’s caliber of musical performance was only paralleled comfort on the stage. Crowds can smell disingenuous personalities from a mile away. Even through our masks we could tell there was nothing rotten in the ranks of Haze.
By all accounts, Luc was the center of my focus during the set. Their ability to scream into a mic without sacrificing tonal control is something truly unique. I’ve not come across another vocalist in Portland like Luc. Underscoring an impressive vocal showcase we’re multiple ear bending solos I can still hear days out.
This isn’t to say that the other members were any less talented or technically adept. I make it a point to focus on each member of each band throughout their sets and it was like discovering new delicious meals at your favorite restaurant.
The other guitarist, Mason, plays an immensely integral role in maintaining the structure and timing of each song while sprinkling in a tonality wholly their own. Bassist, Will (a.k.a. Haze Bass), delivered a powerful demonstration of what it takes to contend with such a dense, rich sound. At no point during the show was Haze Bass’s performance drowned out by any other member of the band. His ability to stand out while avoiding shallow, bombastic bass lines was truly remarkable. Haze’s drummer, Gavin, worked with Mason to keep the band on track and in synch.
More than anything, I was impressed by how quickly their drumming metamorphosed with each new sonic component to Haze’s performance. Gavin was able to seamlessly transition between sludgy metal riffing and high-octane punk runs.
All in all, Haze blew me away. In brief chats with them it sounds like they’re gearing up to finalize some songs into recordings and I will absolutely be tracking those down. Their polished cohesion is incredible when you consider all the little tributaries they branch off into during a song with so much as a passing glance to one another. Go see Haze. They’ll melt your face off.
When I first saw The House Flies back in November they were opening up for Spud Cannon and The Bumbling Woohas. I only caught the tail end of their set, but it was enough to leave an impression on me. When I saw they were headlining their own show I wasn’t surprised to see them go from an opening act to the main attraction. Well in advance, I knew I would be attending this show.
The bandleader, Graydon, took the stage and immediately won the crowd over with their intensely magnetic stage presence. Graydon has an ability to come across as completely off-the-cuff and calculated at the same time. Every flourish and flair within each song was no doubt thrown in on the fly, but when you combine it with technical prowess it feels completely intentional and planned to the tee.
Before the first song was even halfway through I had noticed an incredible marked growth in the House Flies performance. Within a span of 3 months, the House Flies had progressed leaps and bounds. You could have told me this crew had been well established and gigging since the early 2010s and I would have believed you.
Combining garage-rock with a bit of surfer-punk influence, every single song had the crowd jumping and dancing around. We were all there for it. Every member of the band was dialed in. Graydon’s vocals and guitar stylings directed the band faithfully through the evening. The house flies other equally talented guitarist, Evan, filled in the gaps with memorable licks between Graydon’s fronting. I’m particularly partial to atypical uses of instruments so watching Evan strumming and picking above chords on the neck was a real ear-catcher. Sometimes second-guitar gets glossed over or lost in the mix, but Evan manages to stand out in every song and adds their personal touch that helps make The House Flies who they are.
Jacob, the drummer, impressed me with his ability to connect with the crowd despite being at the back of the stage and behind a full kit. He lead us in a stumbling rendition of the National Anthem, to which the crowd was completely invested in. Crowd members were cheering his name throughout the set, hanging on to his every drum beat. Beyond just being a crowd pleaser, Jacob is an energetic drummer who is as fun to watch as he is to listen to.
Last, but absolutely not least, the House Flies’ bassist, Andy, is really something else. Andy knows how to exhibit restraint through a show, build up tension, and then blow the living daylights out of our minds with an explosive demonstration of bass playing. Andy’s stoic demeanor gives them an air of mystery on stage. Andy isn’t as outwardly energetic on stage as the rest of the band, but that’s perfect because Graydon and Jacob fill that role.
Where Andy shines is in their undeniable technical mastery of garage-rock bass. As I’d mentioned before, sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the mix, but Andy never has that problem. I was keenly aware of the structure and rhythm fostered by the bass line in each song. Towards the end of the show when Andy postured up to the precipice of the stage to take a bass solo the crowd went nuts, and rightly so.
Every member of the House Flies adds something completely unique to the dynamic. You can tell they’ve all earned one another’s respect and trust on stage. Sharing a stage with three other talented people can feel a bit cramped when you want to give everyone their time to shine, but the House Flies know when to let one another take the forefront. There’s something truly special about watching a group of friends come together and deliver a performance of this caliber. I would hazard a guess that even if none of the crowd was there, they would still have enjoyed their time on stage. We were all lucky to bear witness to their performance. The House Flies are greater than the sum of their parts and I wholeheartedly hope they continue their rise in the Portland music scene.
One of my biggest takeaways from this evening was the tremendous amount of respect bands in the Portland music scene have for one another. Multiple times during their sets, each band expressed gratitude towards Sun Tiki Studios and the other bands.
It was clear to me that everything we have here is special because each ingredient in the recipe is wholly authentic to loving music. The bands believe in their songs. The crowds believe in the bands. And venues like Sun Tiki believe in the union of the two.