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August 31, 2006
We have certainly all heard the adage that the "third time's a charm." I wonder, though, if there's a saying for the exact opposite. Maybe like, "third time's a letdown." Or, in the case of Burn to Shine 3: Portland OR, "third time's a disappointing bore."

It's a little harsh, I know, but it couldn't be more true. The film series was on such a high note following its first two volumes, set in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, but its first trip to the west coast has resulted in what could best be described with the sound PFFFFFFTT. The pattern was pretty simple to follow for both viewer and participants alike: find a city with a good music scene, find a member of said scene to curate a list of exemplary musical groups from that area, find a house that is going to be destroyed, play in the house, destroy the house, film all of it. The process went awry somewhere around step two for the Portland edition.

The key figures behind Burn to Shine remain director Christoph Green, producer Brendan Canty, and a curator from the featured city. This time around Chris Funk of the Decemberists was that third member and, whatever happened, he put together a showcase of groups that missed the mark.

But it wasn't just the bands, it was also the house. As the narrating Canty explains, the house they used was 20 miles outside of the city of Portland in a town called Tualatin. The area is described as a retreating rural community where farms are constantly being razed to build up spacious country McMansions. This particular house was constructed for an elderly woman whose farm was bought from her and soon thereafter razed. The woman only lived in her new residence for a year before she passed away, so the property is actually in near-new condition. Unlike in the Washington and Chicago stories, the chosen house in this case doesn't seem to have any intriguing history, nor is there any real need to be destroyed. Were it not for the wastefulness of American culture, the house would continue standing for decades.

The following is a summary of the 12 performances that were recorded in the cushy living room of this particular house in the summer of 2005.

1. The Thermals ("Welcome to the Planet") - Punk/upbeat indie rock trio that leads off with an energetic performance. One of the newer prides of the youthful scene. The group has a sorta unconventional look for a rock group with a left-handed female bass player. She can sing too, and the harmonies that are crafted between her and the lead singer/guitarist guy are pretty tight. The drummer performs with some flare, as during the chorus when he rebounds his sticks well over his head.

2. Quasi ("Peace and Love") - Duo of Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss, who is also in Sleater-Kinney. The singer-songwriter-pianist thing works sometimes for Coomes, but in this case his voice is far too whiney. His songwriting style can be a bit questionable, as it is here with highly repetitive and inane lyrics and just generally basic and again repetitive piano parts. Weiss tries to pull it together with her powerfully and fill-laden drumming, but it's not enough to impress.

3. The Planet The ("Look of a Woman") - Hardcore synth-punk sound that can be somewhat likened to the mainstream emocore sound that popularized Motion City Soundtrack, et al. The lead singer's voice stretches pretty hard to hit some notes, and he likewise tries really hard to make a performance work (hitting a guitar sitting idly to the side for feedback, but not actually playing it).

4. Mirah ("Light the Match") - What is with these Pacific Northwesterners and their pussy pirate sea shanties?? By this point in the film annoyance is a near certainty. The group does a ballad as performed by accordion, fiddle, vocalist, and upright bass. Pretty decent, but just a little over-theatrical (see #9, The Decemberists).

5. Sleater-Kinney ("Modern Girl") - Indie legends Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker, and Janet Weiss (previously seen with Quasi). Always critically acclaimed, the trio is hot off their successful 2005 Sub Pop release The Woods and subsequent national tours. I never took the time to get into them but this tune is pretty good. Two guitars, two vocalists, one strong drummer, and Weiss also plays an eerie harmonica melody. Anybody else think that Brownstein looks more and more like that kid from the Mac commercials?

6. The Ready ("For All You Know") - Are you serious? Is Portland really that hard up for performers on this one? This group is the result of the city's "School of Rock" derived program called Rock Camp For Girls. No one in their right mind wouldn't be into wholeheartedly supporting such an awesome program, but c'mon. I'm sure there are some homeless dudes in Portland who could also use some support, but they're not included in this film (and rightly so). The Ready is a band of 10 year-olds that sounds exactly like a band of 10 year-olds. Your stock is slipping, Funk.

7. The Lifesavas ("The Warning") - This is the first time that hip-hop has been part of Burn to Shine, which is somewhat sad/surprising considering the much larger scale of the previous two cities. Here, in Portland, the reason why it has taken three volumes for the inclusion is apparent. Although the Lifesavas are a solid collective of two word-slinging MCs and a scratch-savvy DJ, the platform doesn't really work in the living room setting. The trio looks out of place in the suburban, carpeted living room with a brick fireplace in the background. The footage feels like a really bad homemade music video; easily half of the shots are of the one MC performing straight into the camera. That being said, Lifesavas provide what is easily one of the better songs and overall performances in this edition.

8. The Shins ("Saint Simon") - The tune is from 2003's Chutes Too Narrow. Don't these guys have anything a little bit more fresh? The Shins are a pillar to the Portland scene, but here they just sound stale. Lead singer/guitarist James Mercer has a great voice, but it is contradicted by the abysmal backup singing and cracking attempts to hit falsetto notes. Here the Shins look and play like a bunch of old dudes; Herboth actually fell asleep while watching this performance.

9. The Decemberists ("The Mariner's Revenge Song") - The theatrical manner and literary prose are in full play here. Although the song is a little too long, the band has one of the most balanced collectives in all of indie music - acoustic guitars, strings, accordions, bass drums, drum sets, tambourines, you name it. Despite the need for a pocket dictionary to keep up with some of Colin Meloy's lyrics, his band is exceptional and naturally impressive in any setting, including this one.

10. Wet Confetti ("Take My Advice") - The dark indie-punk threesome plays their collective ass off here. An important aspect is that they look like they fit in this video. Even though they aren't the best performance or overall band, they are definitely a developing band in the Portland indie scene.

11. The Gossip ("Listen Up!") - Although I normally don't dig The Gossip's shtick - garage rock dance-funk - their performance here is perhaps the best of the entire disc. Let's break this one down: solid disco-dance beat, short and funky guitar riff, potent and fun lyrics. When combined as one, the elements sound good and the band doesn't look like they are over-performing, nor do they appear to be going through mundane motions. The Gossip appears to be naturally getting into "Listen Up!" and gently building up to a swaying dance step as the song carries forth.

12. Tom Heinl - A regional musician who performs country and traditional tunes in a serious tone but satirical manner. Imagine Ween's 12 Golden Country Greats. Heinl appears standing in front of the fireplace, mock-crooning one of his songs, "Christmas Tree On Fire," through a karaoke machine. The novelty act Heinl provides is just what this video needs because it is goofy and yet not entirely tasteless.



As the script goes, following all the bands' performances the house is destroyed. In this case it was donated to and then burned by the local fire department. The closing shots of the growing, raging inferno are impressive images and prove a talented camera crew. There are beautiful images of the roof contracting into waves licked by the flames, and then later the lone structure of the brick fireplace surrounded by rubble, the moon and a mountain painted against the landscape.

Burn to Shine 3: Portland OR is without question the most lackluster of the three volumes released thus far. After watching it I went online to research what other groups from the area could have more aptly been used. Of those that I knew, any of the following from this short list would have been more fitting: 31Knots, Helio Sequence, Kind of Like Spitting, The Dandy Warhols, M. Ward.

SEE ALSO: www.trixiedvd.com

--
Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other articles by Josh Zanger.

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