Weekend in Portlandia

Oct. 31st- Nov. 1st.

What do you get when you mix passionate and talented musicians, an incredible lights show to accompany the music, and a crowded auditorium full of strangely dressed people? You get a pretty good idea of how my Halloween went.

It started at 5 am. The preceding week was the week of midterms, big projects, and a generally heavy load of schoolwork. I had a paper due at midnight Friday night, but I knew I would have no time to do it Friday. I began my paper Thursday night (as any good procrastinating college student would) and made little progress, my analytic and poignant lines turning to mumbling, incoherent jumbles of letters and consonants as I began to slumber at my keyboard. I knew I could not turn this in (although sometimes when I exist in that twilight between being fully awake and being fully asleep, I type out some of the happenings of my dreams, which may have at least evoked a few laughs from my professor), so I set my alarm for early Friday morning. Five am, to be exact, earlier than I had awoken in quite possibly a year. I typed out a hurried essay, not my best work, more of a conglomeration of facts from different news sources than an essay. However, soon (much sooner than I had anticipated) my ride had arrived.

My two travelling companions were Maytal, a dark haired friend from middle school with impeccable taste in music and a passion for life and photography that is addicting, and her friend Laura, who I found to be quite sophisticated and intelligent, a quiet force in the fight for good.

They had already been driving for two hours, from Redding, my hometown (one of my hometowns, I suppose), and stopped at my humble abode to pick me up in the predawn hours. If my house is beautiful by day, it is even more beautiful in the low early morning light, enveloped in the shroud, not quite solid but existing in a translucent, dreamlike state.

The drive from Ashland took around four and a half hours. I tried my best to stay awake and I did for some time, catching up with Maytal and reminiscing, getting to know Laura, but eventually I again succumbed to the wiles of sleep. May (Maytal’s nickname, at least, what I call her) and Laura sat up front, talking lightly and watching the picturesque and green landscape of Oregon slide by. The only notable part of the drive up was at one point when the overwhelming scent of cauliflower, or some other odd vegetable, permeated our car and our souls. It was enough to give us all contorted facial expressions and wake me from a blissful slumber.

Portland is a beautiful, convoluted city. Roads twist and turn and tumble over one another like a mass of wriggling, playful children. The streets of Portland proved too much for out TomTom and Google map navigation, and several times we found ourselves at dead ends, taking the wrong turns, and driving down secluded back alleys, garnering the curious faces of Portlanders, who saw our California license plates and dismissed us as confused tourists.

Finally, we arrived at our destination: Laura’s grandmother’s apartment. Laura’s grandmother, simply put, is an angel on earth. The kindness she showed us on this trip was incredible: cooking for us, making us gift bags of Halloween candy, buying us glow in the dark necklaces (that were worn proudly at the concert), and letting the three of us crash in her small, but immaculate, apartment. She spoke Spanglish, being of Mexican descent, and gave me a chance to practice my Spanish speaking skills. May was shocked when I was able to mumble a few coherent sentences, and although my grammar wasn’t always perfect (I relayed the story of my dead grandfather by simply saying “He dead”), my vocabulary had impressed my friend.

We wanted to arrive at the Moda Center, the location of the concert, early, so we set out nearly three hours before it started, to make sure we would have a good spot in line and we could pick up our tickets from will call without any problems. After a few more fun adventures in Portland trying to find a parking lot and subsequent parking spot, we found we arrived so early we were probably 20th in line! We could not believe our luck, expecting Portland to be full of die hard Black Keys fans. It gave us plenty of time, enough time that I could even find a local coffeeshop, pick up three Americanos (since they were out of coffee) from a woman clad in what must have been a tiger costume, and return back to our spot in line with no problems. Since it was Halloween, as people began to trickle in we spotted our favorite costumes (my personal favorite was a couple dressed as Tina and Louise from one of my favorite tv shows: Bob’s Burgers. Tina had her handwritten fanfiction about butts and Louise carried the iconic ‘Burger of the Day’ sign). Although we had all planned on wearing costumes, external circumstances made this impossible, namely, the postal service. I went as myself, figuring that I am a pretty scary person, all 5’5″ of me.

Our excitement was tangible, and only heightened with the lowering of the sun and the gathering of more and more fans and the time of the concert approached. There was an electricity in the air, and as soon as the doors opened, the mob of fans entered, were braceleted, and on their way. We walked faster than humans were meant to walk, into the empty auditorium, and found a spot in the front row. We were standing, nay, leaning against the metal railings that kept fans from suffocating the band. We held onto our spots dearly, as the slow trickle of people turned into a constant flow, and soon the huge auditorium was filled, from the standing area in the center to the seats around the sides.

Jake Bugg was the opening musician. Perhaps I am not as big a fan as others, but initially he failed to impress. Although his voice has a distinctive twang that draws you in and makes you want to instinctively trust him, his one expression got a little old around the third or fourth song. It seemed he was not having the best of nights, but with each song it built and built and finally near the end of his set, both he and the audience were having a blast. In the words of my friends, the “drummers hair was on point,” and indeed it was. Jake Bugg finished with the audience wanting more, with some no doubt literally salivating at his performance.

There was a long awkward time between Jake Bugg and the Black Keys, to set up the stage, which was highlighted by a small, tense moment when a woman somewhere behind us called security as she was being both verbally and physically harassed (spoiler alert- she wasn’t). This was balanced by a man dressed as Dwight from the Office standing up, and dancing the most bizarre and energetic dance the audience had ever seen, to the sound of no music. He danced with such passion that a spotlight illuminated him, and the awkwardness of waiting was transformed into simple joy.

Eventually, the lights dimmed, the dull murmur of the audience died down, and subsequently turned into an eruption of applause as the members of the Black Keys took the stage. They threw themselves into their set with the passion that has made them famous, with their distinctive sound a blend of blues and hard rock. The audience clung to the music. Dan Auerbach, lead singer, moved around the stage naturally with every song, coming so close to us we could tangibly feel his energy, and at one point he made eye contact with May, and I thought she would die of joy.

The rockous songs were interrupted by a slow ballad, “Too Afraid to Love You,” for those Black Keys fans out there. This song has great lyrics and such soul that everyone in the audience couldn’t help but lean in and hang on his every word. Those who knew the song either mouthed the words along with him, or, like me, sang along, without my inhibitions as I was so close to the speakers that I would have to shout just to be heard. According to my friends, the drummer, Patrick Carney, drummed so hard that at one point the glasses flew off of his head and he had to wait until the song ended to grab them.

I know this is an odd thing to fix on, but the lights for this show were phenomenal. No expense was spared as a dazzling array and variety of colors flooded the stage, from the iconic blue and red like the cover of their latest album ‘Turn Blue’ to a deep purple on the more emotional songs, to bright orange and white flashes that serve only to pump up the audience even more.

It is difficult to describe what it felt like. A rush of emotions, a simple and pure existence with the music, not disparate but wholly with the music, enveloped in its warmth, moving and swaying with the crowd, and just solely rocking out. It was phenomenal.

After the concert we stood in the slowly draining center, dazed, ears ringing the best ring, and seeing all the costumes that we previously missed. A personal favorite was someone dressed up as a ‘Rubber Factory’ (the name of The Black Keys’ third album), which was simply a shirt that said ‘Rubber Factory’ on it and a ton of condoms glued to it. Points for ingenuity.

Needless to say, I slept soundly that night.

The next day was spent wandering the streets of Portland, first the Saturday morning Market, a beautiful blend of people and colour and art and music and food. I had brought along a camera I borrowed from the school, and tried my hand at photography, capturing as many senses around me as I could. Portlanders, as a general rule, are kind and friendly and talkative, although for some reason when you point a large camera at them they give you strange looks. We also wandered a large mall with an ice skating rink in the bottom, where we dined for lunch.

It was a quick trip, leaving on a Friday, and arriving back in Ashland around 9 the next night, where my two friends stayed at my house for a breather, standing on the back porch under the blanket of stars, although I am not sure if either of them felt the simple and grandiose awe I always feel under such natural splendor. They soon departed, with me soon after them, for I had to head south to Redding that night for a funeral the next day, which is a story for another time. That weekend, as a whole, I felt a range of emotions far greater than what I had felt in a long time. From the immense excitability and happiness, to the morose and somber sadness. The funeral was at my old high school, and I hung around for a little after, surrounded by so many memories, funny, awkward, and teenage.The passing of Tristan and Darian made me think a lot about life. I feel I saw grief in a way I had not before, never losing anyone too close to me: saw friends of his who were still growing and finding their way in the world, family members who had lost a huge part of their world, ex coworkers who told comic stories of their favorite memories, and a general reflection on the transience of life.

Sorry to end this in such an unexpected way, it just generally follows the roller coaster of my thoughts and emotions this past weekend, and writing it helps me process it slightly. I can only hope that I am truly living my life to the fullest, taking advantage of every opportunity that I have, and trying to make a difference for the short time I am here.

On that pensive note, until next time, thanks for taking the time. Enjoy your journey.

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