No Evil Star's drummer Tony is holding court outside Captain Ankeny's Well, a congenial bar just a few doors up from the alcohol-free Paris Theater, where NES will be playing in just one hour. The empties ranged in front of him indicate he's been there for awhile. "Know how to play drums?" he asks plaintively of everyone who passes by. He gets few takers. The people on the street are a mixed crowd, old guys pushing oxygen carts and women with electric blue hair, young men in tuxedos and big black cowboy hats. Many of them are departing the close of evangelist Luis Palau's waterfront revival; they don't seem to know what to make of the scene they're walking by.
One of the band's cronies comes by and assures him that he will play drums for Tony at the show; another brings a three-foot-wide Afro wig that Tony dons with glee. A lovely young woman with cornrowed hair whips out a yellow camera and snaps a quick picture. The band's other members, lead singer and guitarist Jason and bassist David, are in and out, scribbling the set list on bar napkins in time-honored fashion and getting psyched up for the show, which will be No Evil Star's second public performance, and the first for their new lineup. Naturally, they're a little worried; their first show at the Paris was marred by poor sound management and diluted by the number of other bands on the same bill; plus, their erstwhile lead guitarist has moved out of state.
Eventually the band members start wandering down 3rd Street to the Paris, followed by the revelers. It's 10:25pm, and the band is scheduled to start at 10:30. Of course they don't make it - it's another half an hour before sounds start coming out from behind the worn curtain at the Paris - but the crowd doesn't seem to mind. The tiny Paris seems like a real concert hall. Someone even brings out a beach ball which gets batted back and forth half-heartedly. Snatches of Green Day's bass lines occasionally break free from the backstage bustle, and some niggling feedback doesn't seem to want to go away. Eventually, Jason calls for the house lights to be killed. Then he asks again. Third time's the charm; the house lights go down and the curtain's pulled aside to reveal the nearly-bare stage. David, Jason and Tony are ready to play.
They needn't have worried. No Evil Star's new lineup is much tighter than before - the loss of a guitarist has turned out to be a gain for the band's sound, which has been clarified, not diminished. Jason's guitar playing is fat and nuanced. David's bass is clean, stylish and enthusiastic. And Tony needs no replacement drummer tonight - he's in full command of his set from the very beginning.
They start off with "To Michelle" (no, not that Michelle) and, after one restart (because, Jason says, we want to do the best we can for you), the rest of the show is crunchy, edgy and professional. The crowd is small but enthusiastic and, as Jason congratulated them, they do look very, very good. Even the few bobbles - okay, Tony did get lost during one song when monitor volume proved insufficient - don't faze the band in the least. They're much more comfortable with their repertoire, and with their audience - the 'fro makes an appearance once or twice on Tony's head. David even lets a friend take the bass in the middle of one of the slower numbers, and the substitution takes place without audible effects though Jason looked nonplussed. Even the inevitable misguided attempt by a couple of mooks to start slam dancing late in the set didn't interrupt the flow, and soon ceased.
More high points: the song "Pop Queen" is a crowd-pleasing plea for various teenaged icons referenced by first names only - Britney, Christina, Jessica - to "straddle my face" and so on. The crowd gets into it. David's harmonies with Jason on this song are especially strong; the band needs to do more to fatten up its sound by getting David onto the mike more often. Jason's voice sometimes sounds a little thin all by itself out there, though the chicks seem to dig it.
I had to leave before the set actually ended; the last song I got to hear was "Feel Like a Freak," one of several in which Tony's rich drumming makes the song stand out. His ominous licks, reminiscent to this old fogey of the early Peter Gabriel, elevate this four-chord song to iconic status.
No Evil Star may not be, as I've been told, the best unsigned band in Portland, but they're contenders, the best Portland band I've heard in a long, long time. You'll be hearing more from them.
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August 19, 2000
Okay, so I was wrong. No Evil Star is defunct, fizzled out like a brown dwarf before ever attaining the main sequence. No Evil Star's website is no more as well. But it was good while it lasted.
©2000, 2001 Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.
Last updated June 11, 2001.