The Red Room, Portland, OR

One of the reasons I take the train. Somewhere between Seattle & Portland.

Another gorgeous Vancouver day had begun when I woke up to catch my bus out of town. A nice smoothie and many hugs sent me on my way, and I enjoyed a sunny 15-minute walk to the station. I’d managed to snare an Amtrak ticket for my trip to Portland, but the first leg to Seattle was to be by bus. The Amtrak buses are a notch up from Greyhound, with better seats and legroom, and I again had the luck to find two seats by myself. Customs was a breeze, and we soon got to Seattle.

While I’ve never had a really great gig in Seattle (and was skipping it completely this time), I always find fantastic Asian cuisine there, and was looking forward to lunch on my layover. The Amtrak station is in the “international” district, and there are many choices around. I often go for a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, but last time had great Thai at the Ferry Noodle House some eight blocks away, and I calculated that I’d just have time to walk over, have lunch and return in time for the train. The sun was shining brightly (in Seattle, honest) and I had a lovely walk over to the Noodle House, and I was just about to enter when a small Korean place next door caught my eye. I have a soft spot for bibimbap, a sort of rice bowl with pickled vegetables and hot sauce and sprouts, and they were advertising a version with fish eggs. I could not resist, sat down at one of the three tables, and soon had an overstuffed, spicy bowl in front of me with plenty of green tea on the side. I devoured it all, the gregarious owners wished me well on my trip, and I walked back to the station feeling quite pleased with the day.

Bibimbap, king of rice bowls. This version was missing the typical raw egg, but fantastic anyway, with the fancy oblong bowl and brown rice a great touch.

It felt great to be back on a train, and the ride to Portland passed almost too quickly, with more of that wonderful Oregon scenery to enjoy. I’d made plans to stay with my friend who’d booked me the show that night, and he met me at the station and drove me to his house in the Northeast. His wife had put together a smashing Indian meal, with dhal, naan, raita and incredible pakoras, all fresh and homemade. We just had time to enjoy the food and catch up a bit before it was time to leave for the show.

Both of them are deeply invested in the local metal scene, and are frequent patrons of the Red Room which isn’t far from their house. When they learned I had a free night on my schedule, they talked the club into having me open the show this night. The other three bands were all metal (of the death, goth and thrash flavors), but they felt confident that my acoustic stuff would be welcomed. As a metal fan myself, I’ve always found other fans to be very open-minded and accepting, so I said I was willing to give it a go.

The heavily tattooed soundperson plugged me in on the low stage and ran a quick soundcheck before giving me the signal to start. I’ve never been cranked up so loud onstage, but it felt great, and I launched into Body of a Poet. I haven’t been playing it this tour, but I was guessing that it would work well for this particular night, and it was awfully fun to hear it so loudly, feeling the thumb thumps resonate off the walls. When it came to an end, there was a very encouraging show of appreciation from the small but attentive crowd, and I moved on to the next song. I’d picked my loudest and/or most epic pieces for this night, knowing that this audience would be up for anything I’d throw their way, and as I worked my way through the set I started stretching out some sections to take advantage of the situation, especially on If I Pass This Way Again, which I probably extended to double its normal length. I was having a blast, and the set passed by all too quickly.

Lots of people had nice things to say afterward, with several commenting how nice it was to have a different sort of sound to mix things up at the club. The members of the next band, a local outfit called Echoic, were especially complimentary, and the singer asked if I’d ever heard Dominic Frasca. I was pretty stunned by that – Frasca is a solo guitarist on the contemporary classical Cantaloupe lable, not exactly a household name and not someone you’d necessarily pick as being on the listening list of a death-metal vocalist. I told him that Frasca’s easily one of my favorite players, and we started discussing other musicians, with more surprising names coming up, like Antoine Dufour. 

I popped in my earplugs and went up front for their set, which was fantastic. Their guitarist Alex plays a seven-string and holds down the fort on his own without a bassist, which he did admirably. It’s very rare that I hear really rockin’ music while on the road, so it was a real treat. Then came Arsenic Addiction from Salt Lake City, a goth-oriented group with a very different sound than Echoic (or me, goodness knows), but they were also enthusiastically accepted. Portland locals Unruly Impulse finished up the evening with a fun set of classic thrash, then everyone, bands and crowd alike, repaired to the picnic tables outside the club to drink cheap beer and get acquainted.

It was all supremely enjoyable, but soon a set of comedy started up inside (brave souls, 11 p.m. on a Monday night) and people started to drift away. We all traded good wishes, then I and my two friends went back to their place to sample a range of their excellent homebrew (a smoked Scottish ale was my favorite, though another bottle with a mix of mead and champagne grapes added to the recipe was truly like nothing I’ve ever had) and chat about heady things until 3 a.m. Definitely one of the most fun nights so far.