Carrie Brownstein might be the hardest working person in show business. Not only has she, within about a year, assembled one of the most explosive and critically acclaimed new bands in rock music, she is the star of the highest rated program on IFC, the sketch comedy series “Portlandia.” Now she’s managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule to piece together a Portlandia stage show, alongside her costar on the program, Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen. All of this getting done, of course, before they unleash a new season of Portlandia. And then, her band Wild Flag will be launching a big Spring tour; and then, she will probably write two or three books, make a movie, and cure cancer all before June.
To start off the night, we were treated with a far too brief warm up by Thao & Mirah. They played a quick and dirty version of “Body In Your Bed,” and then they did a stunning rendition of the bluesy burner “Squareneck.” It was a spirited, high energy set. They didn’t say much, and they were off stage seven minutes after they started. They played with full energy and enthusiasm, which made the brevity of the set even more disappointing. Thao is one of the finest stage performers I have ever seen, and, if anything, this short set had to have made a lasting impression on the packed house.
There wasn’t any sort of set change after Thao & Mirah were done, aside from removing Thao’s electric slide guitar. We had two mics, a drum kit, a keyboard, two amps each with an instrument plugged in, and a video screen. After about 10 minutes, we were then greeted with a video message from the Mayor of Portland, portrayed at its dimwitted best by Kyle McLachlan. Next, Armisen and Brownstein came out to officially begin the show.
The opening was a wonderfully silly bit about greeting cards. Each speaker read aloud a different greeting card that the other got them. They remained in the spirit of the TV show: a little bit self effacing, a little bit surreal, and a lot of mocking contemporary hipster culture. Then Armisen grabbed the coolest looking bass on earth, Brownstein strapped on her guitar, and Rebecca Cole from Wild Flag and Michael Lerner from Telekenesis jumped on keyboards and drums respectively, to perform the now classic number “The Dream Of The ’90s Is Alive (In Portland)” Most everybody knows that Brownstein is an amazing guitarist, although Armisen held his own nicely right next to her. It was as silly and cheeky as the original performance from the TV show. Next was the first video clip of the evening, which, in an odd way, was an update on the original “Dream Of The 90′s…”, a song called “The Dream Of The 1890′s Is Alive (In Portland).” Reminded me of hipster or carny.
The rest of the show continued in this format: Live bit, musical number, video clip. We were treated to a surprise musical performance by the one and only Dana Carvey, who did a pair of songs. He is a master impressionist, and he managed to truly impress with a rousing rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” in the voice of Neil Young. We were also treated to some comedy from writer Daniel Handler (best known for his Lemony Snicket books), comparing and contrasting Portland hipsters with San Francisco hipsters. He also revealed an intense hatred toward San Jose. A serious, passionate hatred of San Jose. The Q&A with the audience after this only insitigated more “anti-South Bay” feelings.
The video clips were all teasers from the next season of the show. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but Kristen Wiig’s three-sketch run is going to be tremendous, as will Isaac Brock’s guest appearance. They played the genius song that they wrote for the Mayor of Portland, and some new songs as well. The whole show ended with Thao & Mirah coming back out for an excellent rendition of Salt N Pepa’s “Push It.” It was a fun evening, a full, nearly two hour long show that was a joy to sit through.
Since this was likely an SF only thing, here’s a video I found on YouTube of the “Push It” cover: