I drove down to Potland to meet my college friends Ben and Debbie for a night of folk metal: Huntress (LA), Arkona (Russia), Alestorm (Scotland) and Turisas (Finland). This was nearly a four-hour drive each way, plus an expensive hotel stay (if one wants to avoid Portland’s infamous bedbug motel complaints), so one may infer from this that I am very enamored of the music. The metal growl (which sounds to me like the noises one would make under medieval torture) doesn’t do much for me, but some of the music is very inspiring and the environment is fun. Plus, $20 is a pretty good deal for four hours of music.
At least at the Hawthorne, the theater is divided into two areas: the non-moshing alcohol area in the back, and the moshing no-beverages (except water bottles thrown by bands) front area. Call me hardcore, but I think the show is more engulfing in the front. Of course, if you have a bad knee, you have to do this sensibly. As I described from the last time I went, basically it’s a bunch of young people behaving as if in hockey and there is action in front of the goalmouth. Lots of shoving. If you are on the edge of that, you may get bumped some (or someone may throw a young female at you). Some of the impacts are pretty hard, thus the hockey analogy. However, the people are friendly, and there was a certain respect for age. I think the young lady was misaimed–I didn’t take a lot of shots, and I don’t think it was my size (plenty of much bigger guys). I think it’s just that the kids are nice, and if older people are going to be near a mosh pit, they aren’t going to go out of their way to nail us. What does occur is in the ‘accidents happen’ category. It reinforces my experience of being older than the norm at youth-oriented events, which is that if you don’t bring preconceived notions, neither do the kids.
Yeah, it’s loud, but for some reason this didn’t seem as loud as the last time. Maybe that one permanently dulled my hearing; not sure. I didn’t have the ringing in the ears afterward, though the nighttime bustle of Portland sounded distant for a bit. Part of it may also be that with three of the four bands, I knew all the songs they did, so I could make out more melody and lyrics. Huntress was mainly for Debbie (not Debby my wife; Debbie Ben’s wife), who was familiar with them. I thought they did all right.
Arkona was superb, great with the crowd, clearly happy to be back and digging their reception. They do the hair swirl thing (I cracked Debbie and Ben up by trying to do it with my beard), and Masha Scream really does come off like a Slavic pagan priestess of wilder days. The dark-haired guitarist, Sergei, is also a hell of a showman with the gift of making anyone in the audience feel like he was connecting with them. They have a really talented bagpiper. Alestorm was good, but a slight letdown after Arkona in terms of energy. I’ve always found Alestorm’s lyrics tending to hokeyness, but I don’t regret going to see them. Their keyboardist impresses me. We’ve all been pronouncing Turisas wrong: say it teresa’s. Evidently one of their guitarists has a broken rib and played anyway; got to love a showman’s ethic. Turisas pretty well knocked the joint over with an excellent show and an encore callback, doing all my favorites. All in all, a fine night of folk metal.
Afterward, we went for coffee and VD: Voodoo Donuts, a PDX tradition. Donuts with bacon. Donuts with crunch berries. Donuts with crushed oreos. Good coffee (I pity the Portland donut place that tries to serve lousy coffee). Pricewise it’s like buying Mrs. Fields’ cookies, but the flavor, value and quirkiness factor at a 24/7 east Portland donut place leaves glaze all over Jenni Fields’ makeup.
This isn’t the sort of thing I’d want to do every weekend; for one thing, it’s too long standing in one spot on a concrete surface with a bad knee. Once in a while, however, is fine, especially with friends. I wouldn’t do it by myself. The natural question from my fellow late boomers, raised on Petula Clark and BTO: what’s the appeal? A good metal show is more than just people who sound like they’re being branded with hot irons, ringing ears and people making a hand gesture with the index and little fingers. It’s powerful music, a safely wacky environment, and surprising acceptance and general goodwill. In a small setting, it’s pretty intimate and enjoyable.