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Live Review and Photos: Girls, Sonny & the Sunsets, and PAPA, October 6, 2011, Wonder Ballroom – Portland, OR



It was a calm and somber night at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland, Oregon. Not to say that it wasn’t an electric and enthusiastic show, as the half-capacity ballroom was focused squarely on the stage, but the headliner, Girls, commanded the minds and hearts of every audience member, stabilizing and entrancing the crowd.

The night started out with newcomers, PAPA. The four-piece band, two of which later played as the backing band for Girls, displayed why their new album A Good Woman is Hard to Find is gaining so much attention. Their sound, especially live, is an overpowering rock-pop hybrid that’s nothing short of mesmerizing when it all clicks. What ties their entire performance together, though, is the work of their keyboardist. Scrolling side to side, pounding on his Nord, the piano keys are the most catchy part of PAPA’s music. But to call PAPA catchy is not to insult them, as their music is still intricate and huge, an exciting mix of toe-tapping rhythms and rock ‘n roll aesthetics. If you still haven’t checked out their newest single, “Ain’t it So,” I suggest doing so now.

Next to the stage was San Francisco collective Sonny and the Sunsets. Before their set even began, you could tell these guys (and girl!) where a fun bunch. Sonny jumped into the crowd after his soundcheck, dancing to the house music with fans, enjoying a drink and sharing a few laughs with band members. Once on stage, weilding his gorgeous and weathered baby blue guitar, Sonny’s persona was that of a storyteller, whether it was through nonsensical banter with band mates, exchanging jabs with audience members, or rambling mid-song about how stiff the drinks at the bar were mixed. He even laughed at the death of Steve Jobs, adding “Steve Jobs didn’t invent the electric guitar” before strumming his next tune. Their new album, Hit After Hit, was certainly the theme for night, tackling half of the release in their short time on stage. I’ve always believed, as a concert goer, that if the band is visibly having fun, the crowd feeds off that more than any track they can play. So even though Sonny and the Sunsets’ music is great, it was their attitude and smile that made their set so enjoyable.

The headliner for the night was Girls, another San Francisco product. Decked out in roses and bouquets, the stage at Wonder Ballroom resembled a church in the physical sense. And it was clear that every audience member was there to pray at the alter of Christopher Owens’ music, a platform which has taken on a monstrous following since the release of Album in 2009. Owens and company immediately took control of the room, as the drum intro for “Laura” kicked off the show and the fans gathered around the stage to sing along to every note. And as I wrote in the intro, although the crowd was absolutely enamored by Girls, each person seemed to be soul searching with each lyric. And I think that’s a testament to how far Girls have come in just a few short years, from the bedroom and garage recordings of Owens, to the musically religious experience the crowd had on this Thursday night.


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