When asked what venue best represents the Portland punk music scene your first thought probably isn’t Black Water bar, but if you want to find the heart of punk music, Black Water is the place to be. That was especially true on May 23rd with Vexx, Chemos and The Cigarette Burns.
The Cigarette Burns started the show in a frenzy, each of their songs louder than the last, proof of entropy in action. That being said their set wasn’t gimmicky, which is a true display of how much they’ve grown in the year they’ve been together. Their sound has become more refined, growing more authentic, powerful, and driven with each show. Erik’s stage performance is feral and absolutely hypnotizing, drawing the crowd in, reminding everyone what it’s like to be young, and since The Cigarette Burns inception each member has only gotten better, growing steadily more technical and confident.
Building on the same chaotic energy of The Cigarette Burns, Chemos took the stage, showing off an array of simple and fast-paced songs that the crowded audience at Black Water seemed into. Chemos is fresh to the Portland music scene and despite being able to get the crowd moving, hopefully they can further define their sound as they continue playing together. Punk music isn’t known for its carefulness of craft, for refinement, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a uniqueness or clarity of voice.
That being said, Chemos ended their set by trashing their drum kit, turning the stage to rubble, so maybe that kind of don’t-care attitude is all they need to keep pulling in crowds.
Vexx however, is completely set apart from their peers because their music stands alone without any showmanship added to it. Their intentionality in songwriting permeates every part of their music. This is especially true in songs like “Stress” or “Clairvoyant” where rhythms build out of chaos and melodic guitar hooks snake themselves out of the tumult. Singer Maryjane Duphne, who is nothing if not unpredictable, personifies all of this. Sure, a singer can pitch themselves into the crowd, drop to their knees or writhe right off the stage, and everyone in the audience will be totally into it, but when Maryjane sings she wanders into an otherworld and she invites you to follow her, trance-like into the hysteria.
You can check out Vexx’s new release, “Give and Take” here: