I never intended to live the life of a swashbuckling adventurer, but I get so easily bored. And summer just encourages excess. So on Monday nights I make my pilgrimage to the Portland House of Music and Events to see Gina and the Red Eye Flight Crew, or, as the kids on the street call it, “Funk Night!”
Led by singer Gina Alibrio, the band is a who’s who of Portland musicians, including Emma Stanley on trumpet, Lucas Desmond on sax, Jamie Colploys sliding the trombone, and the ubiquitous Max Canton on guitar. Dan Boyden plays drums, Chris Sweet hits various percussive doodads, Colin Windsor lays down the bass lines, and Tyler Quist, who also seems to be following me around, is on keys.
Because I’m a nerd, I get there early, when the crowd is thin and space is plentiful. As the night progresses, the hive gets busy and turns into a real dance party full of animated babes. Each week, guest singers and musicians show up to help deliver the groovy goods. I park my wheels in front, where I can get an unobstructed view of the festivities on stage, but the occasional glimpse over my shoulder reveals a playpen of libidinal merriment. Fortunately, I am immune to such bait.
Being notoriously muckle-mouthed, I have a keen appreciation of anyone who can use their voice artistically. Thus I returned to the House of Music last month to see a Whitney Houston cover show. Amanda Tubbs, the headliner, told me the spark to create this tribute was struck back in 2013, when a local “Clash of the Titans” cover battle pitted Whitney Houston against Mariah Carey.
Amanda and co-producer Nestor Matos lined up the dominos to create a memorable night last month, and each took a turn emoting into the microphone. Other singers included Susie Pepper and Katie Oberholtzer, with vocal cameos by Viva and Hanna Harlene. The band included guitarists Josh Prescot and Owen Conforte, drummer Tyler Arnold, with Ken Fasulo on percussion, and keyboardist Leigh Charest. John Sargent Patterson blew trumpet and Bailey Giles blasted the saxophone. The emotional gravy of Whitney Houston’s songbook is particularly thick, and it lacks the jocularly juvenile sprinkles I so enjoy in music and in life. But sometimes it’s good to ditch your preconceptions and entertain an appreciation for other entertainments.
The very next day, Saturday the 6th, I went back again to the House of Music to hear the Latin sounds of the 10-piece band Primo Cubano. The musical frenzy was frizzy with textures, the vocals delivered in a muscular script of rolled Rs. Primo’s sexy rhythms set the dance floor afire and invited revolution — any kind of revolution — political, sexual, whatever! I felt like a naturalist watching an orchestrated mating ritual!
Back in the mid-nineties, I was a high school student in Saco, but even from that distant perch I heard rumors of a cool place in Portland called Zootz. Zootz, which closed in 2001, was a cultural monument in the city’s underground dance scene that notably welcomed patrons of a wide diversity of social niches.
I moved to Portland in 2008, so I never actually set foot in the Forest Avenue club, but I’ve befriended many ex-regulars, as well as former owner Kris Clark. On July 13th, Port City Music Hall hosted a Zootz reunion. The event sold out, and everybody was dancing to the luscious squish of ’80s and ’90s hits. Much of the crowd was on the older side, but there was a fair showing of younger people who, like me, had never been to Zootz, but were there to celebrate the spirit of the time. Institutions rise and fall, but the lives they touch resiliently boogie onward.
Sometimes life can seem like a desperate attempt to build a nest from the twigs of distraction upon a branch of past disappointments. We must cancel this subscription to serial regrets if we hope to achieve clarity of purpose. What we consign to the trash heap is often the important stuff, and what we erect a shrine upon is often nothing more than fluff. #TUBMANONTHETWENTY