Bella Fayes at Dante's
a rock band's songs be too catchy?
While we gather at Dante's to check out the
Bella Fayes, Portland seems to be becoming Portland-on-Willamette
-- or so this crowd's attire attests.
The Burnside nightclub's darkly glowing interior
can't manage to conceal its contents. More muttonchops on display
than a Cornwall butcher. Lots of relaxed late-'60s cockney-farmer
foppishness ala post-Faces Ronnie Lane. Long bushy sideburns
and peg trousers on nearly every male. It makes me relax, secure
among the mild-mannered farmboys. I just hope they don't get
But maybe I'm the one that's drunk, lulled by
Dante's old giant-wok-fireplace into a phantasm -- hypnotized
by the tremendous kick-drum beats endlessly pulsing from an
excellent audio system.
Louder, louder they beat while we wait for opening
act Lowcraft to play. Maybe I'm a geezer with a poor memory
and sense of time, but it seems Lowcraft don't take the stage
'til almost eleven o'clock -- nearly an hour late. Shame, shame
on Dante's. The Brits have plenty to chat about; I talk to my
Eventually, Lowcraft takes the stage, and with
the great sightlines at the club, I can see easily from my barstool.
The stage at Dante's is great too, yet deceptive to the eye.
Due to some bizarre trick of perspective, Lowcraft appear to
be giant Muppets in black turtlenecks. They perform curiously
restrained, mid-tempo power-pop. Tight, pulsing bass and drums
create pleasing grooves over astute, catchy chord changes. Heads
nod, feet tap.
Ten minutes into the set, this six-foot dude parks
right in front of me. At least I can still hear.
Lowcraft's well-tuned guitar-driven pop ultimately
leaves not much of a lasting impression -- at least not on first
blush. I'm sure the songs continue to open up given repeated
listening. Yet despite the fact that the songs totally hit their
mark, they don't stand. It's that restraint in both stage presence
and songwriting that makes Lowcraft something great that hasn't
quite happened yet.
The Bella Fayes walk the same road as Lowcraft:
mid-tempo, super-catchy power-pop. Their evolution is further
along, however, as their songs stick like glue.
Chief Faye Lael Alderman does his best to kick
out intense energy, hoping to incite the crowd to frenzy. The
house doesn't turn into a rock-n-roll riot (not Alderman's fault),
but there is a sizable crowd and a throng of swaying bodies
clotting up the dance floor.
The Fayes knock out a skintight professional set
with emotion and drive. Alderman's Vegas-crooner-on-PCP thrashings
suck the other players into the vortex. Occasionally, guitarist
Adam Wayne in particular looks like he wants to knock people
over as he flies about.
Sincere effort aside, the songs are a bit too
good, if you get my drift. Sometimes Wayne or the other guitarist,
Jason Henry, drifts to the side of the stage to twinkle out
a keyboard figure that lasts in your mind for a long, long time
-- even as the tune and melody have already hooked you like
a fish. Shane Fisher's authoritative yet confidently un-complex
drumming and Daven Hall's synched-up, supportive basswork ensure
that, later, while you try to sleep, you'll be unable to get
their songs out of your head. Enough already!
It's a strange problem to have, songs that are
too catchy, but the Fayes seem to have it. Their efforts to
craft songs wherein all things support the hooks -- hooks upon
hooks -- leave not much room for the danger and unpredictability
of rock and roll that Alderman works so hard to inject with
his 110-percent stage presence.
If the songs want to go out of control, let them.
Which is not to say that the Fayes are boring or uncreative.
In fact, a lot of their songs seem to be in the less conventional
3/4 time. Though they rock hard enough to make it hard to tell.
Alderman's lyrics strive for the magic combo of
emotionalism and non-specificity that allows all listeners to
relate. In some songs, however, the content is so elliptical
and vague that the words become hard to feel. "Head light,
head bright." What does that mean?
After the last song of their hour-long set, I
head back to the subie, knowing these tunes won't be dislodged
from my cortex anytime soon. And yet, I'm compelled to listen
to them again. They're cryptically emotional pop-rock confections
with top-notch musicianship, and the live show is invigorating,
with an aggressive heart and a wink.
Something might slip through your fingers during
the experience; that sense of the unpredictable, or a lyric
that hits you in the chest. But a good dose of the angry, fucked-up
blues and the Fayes might be unstoppable.
See the Bella Fayes in Portland:
Friday, May 4: The Fez Ballroom (w/Nicole Campbell)
Friday, May 11: Cobalt Lounge (w/Alan Charing)
The band tours the West Coast later this spring and summer.
The Bella Fayes' debut recording, "So Much More
Than 'Hello,'" is available on Secret Decoder.