Every town with a strong musical tradition has legendary or long-standing venues that provide space for bands to play and to grow. Portland, Oregon has had many such venues and the Black Water Bar is the latest. For the last 7 years Black Water Bar has been the only consistent all-ages venue in Portland for DIY music. Because of the Covid-19 Pandemic, Portland’s window to the DIY world had been closed. Tonight, the Black Water is throwing that window wide-open with its first live show in 19 months. They are throwing a Halloween Party with three of the best local bands Rigorous Institution, Frenzy, and Hellshock.
Rigorous Institution remains one of the most frightening live bands in Portland. Self-described as peasant punk and synth crust, their songs combine rhythmic drumming, distorted bass, grinding guitar, and moody synth parts with vocals that range from a menacing croak to an alarming bellow. Their live shows reveal that Rigorous Institution understand that what you see is as important as what you hear. They set a mood for their set with lighting, fogs machines, and banners. From the first note, Rigorous Institution had the audience and they kept them enrapt with a set of songs comprising material from their upcoming album as well as their three singles. When Rigorous Institution were finished the crowd wanted more and Frenzy would give it to them.
Rigorous Institution gallery (click on photo to enlarge)
In their tenth year as a band, Frenzy still remain a crowd favorite. Where Rigorous Institution envelop an audience with their heavy vibe, Frenzy drive right through their audience with a ferocious wall of sound. Existing musically somewhere between UK82 style bands at their noisiest and 80’s Japanese HC legends of yore, Frenzy’s songs are as bombastic as they are blistering. This night’s set balanced old favorites from their ep’s with new (?), yet to be released, scorchers. Not having seen their local heroes for nearly two years, the crowd enjoyed Frenzy mightily from start to finish. Sing-a-longs were sung, bodies clashed, drinks were spilled, and smiles abounded. Having survived the dirge of Rigorous Institution and the visceral assault of Frenzy, the crowd were now in for the heavy metallic sounds of Hellshock.
Frenzy gallery (click to enlarge)
Giving the crowd only time enough for a smoke or to hydrate at the bar, Hellshock took the stage and in workman like fashion pummeled the sold out bar relentlessly. It appeared that Hellshock debuted a new lineup this night and even with a new guitarist (?), their two-guitar attack remained as potent as ever. Hellshock ripped through a set of fan favorites proving they remain a precise, well-rehearsed, and crushing live band. Despite having every ounce of energy wrung out of it by all three bands, the exuberant, sweaty, and weary crowd chanted for more. Sadly, there was nothing left to give.
Hellshock gallery (click to enlarge)
Heading back to my car sweaty and still buzzing from all three sets by Rigorous Institution, Frenzy, and Hellshock, my mind when to a conversation I had with one of the owners of the Black Water during the summer. They spoke of their tentative plans to resume live shows at some point during the fall. They also spoke of the concerns and trepidations their staff had around crowds, the pandemic, and what it meant for their health and safety. I hope the worst thing to emerge from this night is a depleted bank account or a belligerent hangover. It I am right then we should consider the first show at the Black Water in nineteen months a success! Thanks to the Black Water Bar, the bands, and all those that showed up Saturday night. Let us hope that this window to the world can remain open.