February 18, 2010

10 bands to watch

Our annual survey of the thriving and diverse Portland music scene suggests these bands and/or solo artists are well worth a stop, look and listen.

It’s always surprising to see how many bands there are playing in Portland at any given time.

We know we’ve got a good music scene, and that it’s both healthy in diversity and robust in scope. But it’s still remarkable when you begin breaking it down and are reminded, again, of the richness of the scene.

Since 2008, it’s become part of our winter routine to present 10 bands worth paying attention to in the year ahead. These aren’t necessarily the best new bands in Maine, or the hottest bands on the Portland scene. Mostly, they are 10 groups or performers we feel deserve some attention.

They’re bands worth watching.

Staff writers Stephanie Bouchard, Ray Routhier and Bob Keyes compiled this list based on conversations with folks involved in the local scene, including musicians, club owners, promoters and radio types.

ZACH JONES

Folks in the Portland area are familiar with Zach Jones because of his stints as guitarist and vocalist in the local rock band As Fast As/Rocktopus. The 28-year-old Jones moved to California last year, but hasn’t forgotten his home state and his fans here. When he self-releases (“My parents became my record label,” he said) his debut solo album, “Fading Flowers,” on March 16, he plans to be in Maine for a rocking release party (details are in the works). Go to zachjonestunes.com to check out what he’s been up to since moving to the West Coast.

— S.B.

SPENCER AND THE SCHOOL SPIRIT MAFIA

It doesn’t take a genius to put a Spencer Albee band on the list of bands to watch. Given his track record, Albee is sure to turn his latest band of very-merry minstrels into something iconic. Albee, a former member of Rustic Overtones and As Fast As, has put together an 11-member band, with instruments ranging from guitar and drums to violin, ukulele and trombone. It’s pop-happy music, with depth.
Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia was last seen in Portland in January, playing the national anthems for the United States and Canada at the American Hockey League all-star game. The band is still actively promoting its first CD, the aptly named “Candy, Cake and Ice Cream,” released last summer. It has no current gigs planned, although in early March it will tape a studio session for use in an upcoming TV show.

To learn more and to keep up with the band, visit them on Facebook.

— B.K.

CONFUSATRON

This band began in Bangor in 2001 and would almost be considered a rock trio except for the presence of a guy known as “Mr. Tickles” using a laptop computer full of interesting sounds.

Band members Jason Lafrance (bass), Doug Porter (guitar, vocals) and Adam Cogswell (drums) say their music is a mix of world music, math rock and metal. They brought the house down at the Big Easy a couple of years ago when they did a night of Primus songs as part of  Portland’s “Clash of the Titans” competition. For more information, go to confusatron.bandcamp.com.

— R.R.

SIDECAR HEROES

It’s amazing the sounds the human voice can create. Whether the five members of a cappella group Sidecar Heroes – Jason Paquette, Dennis Boyd, Mark Rowe, Patrick McCarthy and Mac Mullen – are singing Aerosmith or Stevie Wonder, they wow their audiences with vocal acrobatics and harmonies.

The southern Maine-based group has been around for a number of years, but its current core lineup has been together for about a year and a half. In performance, you’ll also hear vocal percussionist Bill Ellis.

Four of the guys performed in the Maine Steiners, the University of Maine’s celebrated all-male a cappella ensemble. The band’s goal for 2010 is to put together its first album. Go to www.sidecarheroes.com to learn more and to watch a video.

— S.B.

SPOSE

The words “Wells” and “rapper” do not flow easily together. But long ago, we got over the awkward idea that credible rap music can emanate from anywhere in York County. Spose has made a believer of us all.

“I’m Awesome” has helped. The song was a monster regional radio hit this winter, and for good reason. It’s fun, infectious and entirely self-effacing. On the song, Spose takes liberties with himself, putting all his faults out there for the world to see. Call him the humble rapper.

Spose and Sidecar Radio play an all-ages show at 6 p.m. and a 21-and-older show at 9 p.m. Feb. 27 at Empire Dine and Dance in Portland. For information, visit www.myspace.com/spizzyspose.

— B.K.

DILLY DILLY

Sounds like a group, but it’s actually one person, Erin Olivia Davidson. She’s got a wide variety of experience playing in Portland bands, including in Cerberus Shoal and with Sontiago. She also plays a huge variety of instruments on stage, from eight-string ukulele, banjo and guitar to bass, violin, drums and musical saw.

Davidson has been playing solo around Portland since 2005, and is venturing outside of Maine as well. She was scheduled to play a club in New York’s East Village this week, and in March, she’ll be heading to Los Angeles. For more information and audio clips, go to dillydillymusic.com.

— R.R.

KENYA HALL

Neo-soul artist Kenya Hall moved to Maine from Ohio nine years ago. The 30-year-old singer sang a lot of covers while she lived in Hallowell, but has been pursuing original music hard since moving to Portland.

Hall and her band – bassist Josh Robbins, drummer Chas Lester, keyboardist Frank Hopkins and guitarist Calvin McIlwain – are working on their debut album, which features all-original music. Look for the album to be released in late this spring or early summer. Go to www.reverbnation.com/kenyahallband to learn more.

Hall and her band are opening for Miss Fairchild at the Big Easy in Portland on Saturday. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $6. This is a 21-and-older show. Go to www.bigeasyportland.com for information.

— S.B.

HOLY BOYS DANGER CLUB

This indie rock band, with members all in their mid-20s, spent the last year or so “playing every club in Portland.” But they took time out last fall to record an EP with producer Jonathan Wyman, “The Boo Box.” The EP-release party will be March 13 at Empire Dine and Dance in Portland.

The EP showcases the band’s influences, from Queens of the Stone Age and the Replacements to My Morning Jacket. Band members include Nathan Cyr (bass), Michael “Miek” Rodrigue (vocals, guitar), Zach Jones (guitar, not the same Zach Jones featured elsewhere in this story), and Dan Capaldi (drums). For more information, go to holyboysdangerclub.com.

— R.R.

GUNTHER BROWN

Gunther Brown’s music is earthy, eloquent and entirely honest. The four-piece band from Portland reminds one of early Jayhawks, with maybe a touch of Wilco. It’s Americana music, with roots that spread to folk, rock and old-time country.

Members includes Pete Dubuc on vocals and guitar, Ethan Gamage on bass, Derek Mills on drums and Chris Devlin on keyboards.
You’ve got two chances to catch Gunther Brown soon. The band plays an all-ages show at 8 p.m. Sunday at the North Star Music Cafe in Portland and at 8 p.m. March 17 at Run of the Mill in Saco. For details and other information, visit www.guntherbrown.com.

— B.K.

BALTIC SEA

Baltic Sea has been playing and writing in one form or another since 2001, although the band’s focus became sharper in 2005. The group plays edgy, experimental rock. The sound is atmospheric, progressive and sometimes psychedelic.

Band members include Todd Hutchisen on vocals, guitar and keyboards; Jeremy Smith on bass; Ray Suhy on guitar; and Nate Johnson on guitar and keyboard.

The band’s debut record, “Through Scenic Heights and Days Regrets,” is available now. For details, visit thebalticsea.net.

— B.K.
 

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