December: A Month of Portland Concerts in 20 Songs

The Handsome Family, Pere Ubu, Justin Townes Earle, and more prove that Portland music hasn’t been completely taken over by sugarplum fairies, singing Christmas trees, and surly elves.

By Jason Buehrer and Rebecca Jacobson November 29, 2016

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Chile's Camila Meza is part of the musical influx to Portland this month, playing the Old Church on December 5. 

Image: Camila Meza

While some of us may have spent recent weeks wondering how to get out of here, there’s still plenty of traffic going the other way: Norway’s Sløtface, the UK’s Glass Animals, and Chile’s Camila Meza (via New York City) are all making stops in Portland this month, which may persuade you to stay put for the season. If you’re holing up locally, the good news is that a bevy of excellent musicians calls Portland home for the holidays. Here's our playlist of the best musical acts playing Portland this festive season.   

Dec 1: Cedar Teeth, “Handy Dagger”: Oregon roots rockers Cedar Teeth kick off the month as the opening act for Hot Buttered Rum. The Cotton, Oregon–based group made appearances at this year’s Whiskey Town Festival and the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Dec 2: The Handsome Family, “Gold”: If you watched True Detective, you know the Handsome Family—the husband-wife duo was responsible for the spooky, richly textured theme song for that show’s first season. The sound is gothic country, with lyrics that dip frequently into the macabre.

Dec 3: Benjamin Francis Leftwich, “Groves”: Leftwich ended a four-year hiatus brought on by a string of personal tragedies this August. His latest album, After the Rain, explores some of his recent heartbreak.

Dec 3: Geoff Berner, “Cherry Blossoms”: Promising to drag Klezmer music back into bars, Geoff Berner and his accordion have played alongside Billy Bragg, Balkan Beat Box, and the region’s own Jason Webley. The political provocateur and punk master tours through one of Portland’s newest

Dec 3–5: Oliver Messiaen, "Turangalîla”: For the second show in the Oregon Symphony's SoundSights series—featuring music alongside work of Northwest visual artists—Messiaen’s romantic composition meets the video animations of Pacific Northwest College of Art’s Rose Bond, known for site-specific installations. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Dec 4: Pere Ubu, “Irene”: The art-punk trailblazers—founded by the notoriously prickly David Thomas in Cleveland in 1975—perform tunes from two recently released box sets, which feature some of the ensemble’s earliest and most turbulent tracks.

Dec 4: Justin Townes Earle, “My Baby Drives”: This singer-songwriter has big boots to fill: he’s the son of country legend Steve Earle. His latest companion albums, Absent Fathers and Single Mothers, reflect on his celebrity-infused upbringing and his struggles with drugs and alcohol.

Dec 5: Lee Fields and the Expressions, “Special Night”: Since 1969, Fields has been hard at work making soul and funk tracks, getting his start with Kool and the Gang—remember those guys? His latest album Special Night is the most personal and honest yet.

Dec 5: Camila Meza, “Fotografia”: The Chilean-born jazz guitarist and singer left Santiago in her early 20s, and in less than a decade has become a staple in the New York City scene, known for her adroit voice and agile improvisation. The Old Church.

Dec 8: Sløtface, “Empire Records”: This Norwegian power-pop group doesn’t even have a formal album out yet, and they’re already making a name for themselves internationally with just a handful of singles and a touring live show.

Dec 7–8: Storm Large, “N.I.B.”: This marks the 10th straight year of the one-time wild child's Holiday Ordeal, with the frequent Pink Martini collaborator performing songs and unleashing stage gags, with assistance from special guests.

Dec 10: The Dandy Warhols, “Doves”: In addition to (allegedly) transforming part of their 10,000-square-foot Odditorium in Slabtown into a bar called “The Old Portland,” the local psych-power-pop institution finds time to throw down for this annual all-ages holiday show, this year titled “Land of Misfit Toys.”

Dec 10: Shook Twins “Call Me Out”: Based in Portland, the identical twin sisters make folky, haunting music that straddles the space between bouncy and bleak.

Dec 13: Robert Glasper Experiment, “I’m Leaving You”: For Grammy-winning pianist Glasper, jazz mingles easily with R&B and hip-hop—you might also have heard him play keys on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Tonight, he’ll take the stage with his multitalented band, along with several special guests.

Dec 14: Glass Animals, “Life Itself”: This four-piece UK import exploded onto the charts in 2014 and have been a presence ever since. The single Life Itself, from their latest album How to be a Human Being, climbed up to 21st place on the Billboard charts this September.

Dec 17: David Bazan, “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”: “Santa Baby” not your bag? Bazan is here for you. On his newly released collection Dark Sacred Night, the raw-voiced Seattle troubadour—former Pedro the Lion front man and defected evangelical Christian—remixes classics like “Silent Night” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” into melancholy ditties, alongside a few modern tunes and originals.

Dec 17: Oregon Symphony, “Auld Lang Syne/End Title”: Sure, you could watch Jimmy Stewart discover the true meaning of life on network TV. Or you could catch the 1946 classic on the big screen, in its original black and white, soundtracked live by an orchestra. Your call. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Dec 28: Wooden Indian Burial Ground, “Sam’s Dream”: They have been called “psychedelic rockers” with “surf guitar techniques,” garnering acclaim from the likes of NPR and the New York Times. Whatever it is, these Portland rockers are pretty damn good at what they do.

Dec 30-31: Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons, “The Fastest Horse in Town”: From Little Women in the ’80s to his current Jackmormons trio, Joseph is an OG staple of the jam-rock scene—and he was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame last fall.

Dec 31: Brandi Carlile, “Mainstream Kid”: With 2015 album The Firewatcher’s Daughter, the Seattle-based country-rock musician established a more robust sound but one that still showcases her impressive, surging voice.

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