Friday, April 9, 2010

Tobacco - Live in PDX

Last week, Kat, Todd and I ventured up to Portland to catch Tobacco on his tour up the west coast. For those not in the know, Tobacco is the pseudonym of Tom Fec, the man behind Black Moth Super Rainbow. BMSR is a 5-piece band, complete with live drums, bass, and multiple analog synths. Tobacco is essentially Fec on his own, and the music is more similar to hip-hop than the electronic hippie rock of BMSR. It is definitely not your garden-variety hip-hop, however. To my ears, it sounds like music from a ghetto in the distant utopian future, where the obsolete robots hang out and unsavory things sometimes happen after dark. Back to the events of the night though…

There were several other acts performing that night. We arrived at the venue during Pictureplane's set. His music is similar to mainstream late 90’s dance techno, except with vocals and some dissonance. It wasn’t really my cup of tea but it was fun watching the throngs of Portland kids dancing away with abandon. Especially impressive was the dance troupe that came in matching outfits with a load of accessories including strings of Christmas lights.

Next up was Small Black, an indie pop band from New York. They had good energy, especially their bass player. I think a bass player that really gets into it does a lot for a live band, but maybe I am biased since I used to be a bass player that got into it during my days as a rock star in the massive liberal arts college music scene in Tacoma WA. Unfortunately, small Black’s music was pretty forgettable.

Finally it came time for Tobacco to perform. Tobacco was backed up on synth by a woman from BMSR (his girlfriend?) who calls herself “The Seven Fields of Aphelion” and a mysterious masked individual who’s function seemed to largely be that of a hype man. They took the stage and set up two data projectors. One featured video mashups from the 80’s and 90’s – lots of low budget horror movies, break dancing clips, and some bizarre though not technically obscene porno. The other projector was hooked up to a laptop that was running Chat Roulette. I was unfamiliar with this program until the concert, but quickly learned that it connects you with random individuals that you are supposed to video-chat with. It turns out that a large number of the users consist of fellows that like to show each other their respective junks. As the concert went on, the program switched from dude to dude in their bedrooms and connected them to a room full of dancing weirdos. We more than once served as an audience for a junk display. Kat took the stage and typed out conversations with a few of these dudes. She also kept the laptop appropriately aimed at the crowd and served as a very effective hype assistant.

Aside from the projected wackiness the performance wasn’t super exciting. I think this is a common problem with live electronic music. Most of the music was coming from Tobacco’s laptop. It sounded great, but watching someone play guitar is certainly more interesting than watching someone type. He did do the vocals through a guitar talk box instead of his usual vocoder though. It was visually a little more entertaining but it didn’t sound quite as cool. BMSR was a lot more fun to watch with their live drummer and bassist. I am pretty sure Tobacco realized this, and that is why he had the hype man up there going nuts. He did a pretty good job of going nuts- his activities included crowd surfing, dancing on stage with random Portland girls, and occasionally manning the chat roulette laptop with vigor. As a side note, there is a rumor that the hype man in the Los Angeles show was Tobacco’s collaborator and all around famous guy Beck.

The hype mask

The crowd was quite in to the performance and there was much dancing and merrymaking. Everyone was very disappointed when the set ended and there was no encore. After the show, I visited the merchandise table where Tobacco and "The Seven Fields of Aphelion" (I really wish I knew her real name so I wouldn’t have to type that anymore) were selling stuff. I chatted with them for a bit and bought a DVD of the crazy shit that was projected during the show. They both came across as very down to earth and friendly, especially TSFOA.  As a fan, it sure is a lot of fun to chat in person with the musicians you listen to every day.

We skipped out on The Hood Internet’s set and left the venue on a quest for food as Todd had skipped dinner. I was turned away at the the Doug Fir because my driver’s license was expired (oops), so we went to Voodo Doughnut. They were sadly out of bacon maple bars, much to Kat’s displeasure, so we made do with apple fritters and regular maple bars. The fritter was delicious, although it probably contained more than one day’s worth of calories. One can’t be an anal cyclist all the time though, right? The drive back to Eugene went quickly with the good conversation provided by my chums. Overall it was a fantastic experience. Look forward to more reports from Portland concerts in the future.

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