Black Band at the Spare Room
blues-rock for four aging couples
one living has met The Judge if there is one. Maybe some
saw the light but got pulled back, but no one living can tell you
what it's like to get to the light.
Folksinger Dave Carter came close and, after reviving
for a moment on his deathbed, said something like "I just died,
baby" to his wife Tracy.
Room (4830 N.E. 42nd Ave.): unique among Portland spots.
We spend so much time concerned with how others judge
us, and it sure is nice when judged favorably, but in the spiritual
world we've created we know true judgment doesn't come until we
Is playing blues-rock for four aging couples on the dance floor
at the awesome Spare Room (no, not the Space Room on Hawthorne)
the stuff of a favorable verdict? A night when you go home with
your collar pointing heavenward instead of toward your feet?
You be the judge.
My wife and I were reminded recently about the fact that Barfly
(one of Portland's best publications) is a monthly, meaning you
may or may not have the most recent issue, and it may or may not
have been updated since a bar made a change. Hence our sadness while
checking out the Spare Room and finding '70s-'80s crooner Randy
Burt (or some such) missing in action.
Band: Put the band in tailored suits even just collared
shirts and slacks and give the people a sense of occasion.
That's to say that the action we see is courtesy of the Aaron Black
Band instead, a father-and-son outfit I had actually heard of. I'd
thought they were a higher-profile group, drawing throngs of people
to clubs of more renown than the Spare Room. But I keep forgetting
it's still January, and Tuesday night to boot, when the band is
playing its standing gig from 8-11 p.m.
The Spare Room is unique among Portland spots: half 1201 Club circa
1995, half Shawdon's. It's a bar that would fit well in Montana.
Check the scene: large room, dirty checkerboard tile, blue Naugahyde
booths, low-slung ceiling, twinkling stars on the horizon (Christmas
lights behind cork-board), two dance floors and three bars! One
of the bars actually fronts the bandstand, but you can sit there
having a drink one foot from the knees of the band's patriarch,
Johnny Black! How cool is that?
The club emits literal and figurative dim light through its eerie
greenish bar, fast service and mysterious nether regions, plus free
dance lessons on Thursdays and Sundays. Accoutrements aside, we
can see blues-rock at nearly every other bar in P-town, so we're
a bit down. Even with three pints (one Mirror Pond, two Budweisers
... I know) and some jalapeño poppers for $10.95; even with
all this, we're a bit down.
Not to say that we don't like blues-rock. Lord knows you readers
have gotten your fill of my take on the blues-rock scene, and the
Aaron Black Band indeed does a really good blues-rock.
In fact, the small group tonight is really into the band, as rabid
as a mostly over-50 crowd can be.
And things may have gotten even more frenzied; we don't know because
we scurried home after the first set.
Nevertheless, before we leave we see Johnny Black attack the mic
with showmanship and energy: gruff voice and looking like he just
got off a day as foreman. Don the drummer plays with Stuart Copeland
flourishes skipping hi-hat and ride cymbals and a trick with
the china-hat (or was it a splash?) that makes Sarah and I clutch
at our chests. Jimmy on the bass cruises to speed as well, with
tight, solid grooves; an Intel refugee with a five-string, perhaps?
You know what blues-rock is really about, though, don't you?
light: fast service and mysterious nether regions, plus free
dance lessons on Thursdays and Sundays.
So how good a guitarist is Aaron Black, anyway? We get our money's
worth with solos every song, as expected. His rhythm is unassailable
if not too remarkable, and his leads are quite tasty for the average
But what stands out? A solo with 16, maybe 32 beats of one quavering,
odd interval note for instance, along with other idiosyncratic,
odd-notion genetic-stamps but never enough. We like the parts
that say: "Judge me not because of how I measure up, but for
the way in which I am different."
That said, the laid-back look has got to go. Put the band in tailored
suits, even just collared shirts and slacks, and give the people
a sense of occasion. Because it is, after all, a show.
It is blues-rock. For the Aaron Black Band there is the potential
to rise. And, at least for the time being, we're all our own jury