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March 29, 1998--La Luna (Portland, Oregon)

By: Alex Steininger

Arriving forty minutes late (I was unaware of it being an early show), I caught about twenty minutes of High on Llama's set. As I walked into the club, this space-rock music filled the air. An Xylophone, a keyboard, a tambourine, an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, drums, and a bass...they used it all. After two songs, it all started to sound the same to me. I tried to get into it, but it was just background music at full volume. When they finally announced their final song I breathed a sigh of relief. It's not that they were bad, they were very talented, but the music was putting me to sleep.

Next up was Apples in Stereo. Having never heard them I started to sweat a bit. Call me sexist, because for a minute I was, but when I saw a female drummer testing out the drums, I started to think of High on Llama and thought this band was going to be similar to them in sound. Why I thought that, I don't know! I mean, some of the best rock drummers are females, but for some reason I just got really nervous and all these thoughts started to run around in my head. "Oh no...they're going to be very soft!" I thought. But once they finally hit the stage and blasted out their first number, all sexist thoughts, and doubts were erased. Here was a pop-rock band that could shovel out the hooks, blast the rock, and show the crowd a good time. But then there was the other stereotype I had to deal with. Their bassist was standing in the middle of the stage (with a mic in front of him), so automatically I presumed him to be the lead singer. But after three numbers, I finally came to realize that the lead singer was the guitar player on the right (and that they weren't going to trade off lead vocals half way through the set...which I was very happy to find out). OK, I thought, these guys have a weird set-up. Originality is nice, and it made you realize their music was unique as well. With that out of the way, I just sat back and enjoyed the music. I found my toes constantly tapping, and my body started to move to the music. As they blasted through each number, I found myself enjoying them more and more. Coming to an end, they finished their set with the only number I didn't like. It was really slow, and I was kind of disappointed, but they had already played a good fifty minutes of catchy material, so they were allowed one slip.

And next up was the band of the night! Although it seemed the crowd was getting smaller by the hour (opposed to the crowd normally growing as the headlining band nears their set), the ones that were there were eagerly awaiting Portland's powerful quartet...JR. HIGH! Sean Croghan (lead singer/guitar) took the stage, accompanied by Brendan (bass), and introduced the opening number as a "new one." With a full-length less than a month old, they're already opening shows with new material? How talented is that. This band amazed me from the beginning, and more was to come. Playing with just an electric guitar and a bass, the new song was the perfect start to the evening. Soft and poppy, it maintained a caged feeling to it. Raw and uncontrollable, it seemed to invite you in and make you feel comfortable, right before quickly turning powerful on you. After it ended, the drummer and the second guitarist walked on stage, and then the show jumped into hyper drive. The drummer struck his kit with intense passion, and the energy level shot through the roof. The guitars screamed, leaving room for pop hooks that left nobody standing still, and the bassist played killer bass grooves that danced around the music until your body was moving. Their music was soaked with energy, how could one stand still? My feet were rapidly pounding on the ground, but that was nothing compared to the energy Sean Croghan put into the music. Jumping and spinning around on stage, it looked as if he was having a seizure. As he put it, "you have to be hyper on stage when you can't play." Pure modesty, because what the crowd was hearing wasn't anything less than spectacular. I was blown away when I heard the material recorded, but when I heard it live I felt as if this was it. Nothing could get better than this. There are only a handful of bands that bring their material to life with this much energy, and Jr. High is definitely one of those bands. But what amazed me the most about these guys was when they invited Tahoe Jackson on stage to sing some soul with them. Ah...if these guys weren't already three-dimensional enough. Running through fast and slow pop numbers, they had to go and expand their portfolio with soul. What a wonderful addition live. Tahoe's voice was very pretty, stunning even. She did a great job bringing the music to life even more, and spread warmth and love throughout the crowd. Trading vocals with her was Sean, who did a great job on the soul too. Not just one of those guys who loves soul and thinks he can do it, he actually pulled it off nicely. After a few soul numbers, they gave the crowd one last chance to dance. Blasting out their final number (and with Tahoe doing some nice "oh's" on backing vocals) these guys earned a high rating for a live act in my book.

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