March 5, 2012

That Was The Show That Was: Peter Case & Paul Collins | Star Theater | Portland, OR

THat Was The Show That Was, Peter Case and Paul Collins
[PHOTO CREDIT: Amie Althaea] What began as a potentially precarious and non-commital show blossomed into a legendary, manic rock event. Saturday evening's performance at the Star Theater in Portland built slowly to a boiling point at which Peter Case and Paul Collins began to tear through the power-pop gems that spangle their respective, nearly 40-year careers. The energy, skill and conviction of their show transcended both time and male pattern baldness, proving that an intelligent, youthful spirit can persist to incite future generations to dance like it's 1964, or '74, or '84. Hell...

The show was part of a tour intended as a celebration of Mssrs. Case and Collins' work, more than a plug for any specific release. The duo are best known, of course, for founding the seminal and short-lived 70's punk-pop trio The Nerves, as well as their individual '80s projects including Case's The Plimsouls (creators of the sublime, oft-covered 1983 Top 100 hit "A Million Miles Away") and Collins' The Beat. The Nerves produced only one official release, a four-song EP that cemented itself as pop gold on the strength of "Hanging On The Telephone," which was written by bandmate Jack Lee and famously covered by Blondie. Upon completion of the fabled recording, the group executed an exhaustive cross-country tour opening for The Ramones, playing nearly 100 shows in a very short period. Such an ambitious early experience likely placed unnecessary strain on The Nerves. That, coupled with the fact that the group had the Beatles-esque dilemma of three talented songwriters, led to sufficient tension in the band to plunge it to a premature death. Lee, of course, went on to fame and perhaps even wealth via Blondie and "Hanging On The Telephone," while Case and Collins forged ahead, never receiving their real due.

Just before the main event the room seemed to suddenly fill up with a diverse punk and pop assemblage. It was as if Case and Collins sounded some fantastical horn and called forth their army of young hardcore kids, overdressed record store clerks, 70's Los Angeles hipsters, and white collars in polos who had spun the Nerves EP on their college radio show so many years ago. It was truly a scene to behold, and some really fabulous people-watching as the men took the stage with able bassist Timm Buechler and drummer Amos Pitsch, ready for a blitzkrieg. Because of earlier audience indifference, one could not expect what was about to unfold.

The set was played fast, with little word from Collins, as the group pounded through a balanced, electrifying list of songs from The Nerves, The Plimsouls, The Beat and the seldom-heard, mid-period project The Breakaways. In true power-pop tradition, E major chords and Rickenbacker chiming abounded. Case, Collins et al. wisely stuck most of their more famous numbers toward the end of the set, riding a wave of anticipation from the crowd. Within the first few songs, dancing broke out in the middle of the floor, with several very unassuming-looking women going around and grabbing any guy they could find while swinging and grinding. It was a moment of elation for which rock music inherently strives. Half-way through the set, the band kicked things into overdrive with "A Million Miles Away," spurring a chant from the crowd loud enough to be heard over the roaring guitars.

Case and Collins, both approaching 60, may have looked worn and old, but they performed with an animalistic energy that did not betray their histories. Collins smartly wore a purple bandana around his neck in a nod to his vintage cool. Case strode out wearing a blazer and long hair, looking not unlike The Dude from "The Big Lewboski." This band didn't need distortion pedals, just vintage guitars played into overdriven tube amps. Loudly. Between songs, Case proved to be the more endearing member, as he offered background and stories about the songwriting, recording and genesis of the various projects. He broke a string mid-song and never flinched in his grizzly guitar solo, using the detuning to his advantage. "When You Find Out" proved to be the highlight of the show, with his voice sounding exactly as it did in 1976; a feral young man's plea, surely an inspiration to Paul Westerberg.

The fascinating crowd provided some really enjoyable moments itself. One woman, who seemed roughly the same age as Case and Collins, heckled the band for about 15 minutes. It became apparent that she was a former paramour of Collins' from decades ago, and she repeatedly asked if he remembered her. Finally, acknowledging the nuisance, Collins looked her in the eye and simply mouthed "no." Rock and roll, indeed. Another happy sight was the father who was accompanied with his three young children. This gentleman had come for one thing. "Walking Out On Love," he repeated yelled. He soon got it.

The final portion of the set had the band rolling through some key Nerves tracks, The Breakaways classics, "Walking Out On Love" and the blistering Case-penned tune of escape, "One Way Ticket." With that, the band quickly said goodnight and walked off the stage. No needless posturing, or long closing speech, just the reassurance that keeping it real transcends all. Brilliant musicians and songwriters apparently can continue to burn down a house if they stay true to what made them great all along. If you can, catch the band at one of their tour dates here.

The Carnabetian Army, a local Kinks cover band, opened. Resplendent in their dandy outfits, the group delivered tight and faithful renditions of many of the Kinks tunes that were so influential to first wave power-poppers like The Nerves. The venue's odd lounge-style seating and open floor plan left The Carnabetian Army afloat amid emptiness that threatened to suck the energy out of their set. The fact that many Portland venues feature cool outdoor patios and fire pit havens occasionally leaves early openers with little to do but play for themselves. Nevertheless, The Carnabetian Army gave it their all, adding details like the adolescent "oh, go home!" before the charged solo in "All Day and All Of The Night."

Filling the middle of the bill were Summer Twins, a sister-led pop-rock outfit that had a very astute knowledge of the songwriting and spirit of the headliners. The Riverside, Calif.-based group, presumably hand-picked by Case and Collins, played a set of strong, shiny tunes to the slowly gathering crowd. "I Don't Care" in particular, showcased Chelsea and Justine Brown's perfectly blended harmonies. Guitarist Marcio Rivera was also nice to listen to. With his curly goth hair and bored expression, he resembled one of the Reid brothers while playing very simple yet arresting guitar patterns that nearly beat the sisters in brightness and quirk. -- Edward Charlton

Peter Case | Paul Collins | Remaining Tour Dates

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