Songs in the Key of Glee

Kelly Stoltz and UFO spring to life.

My three favorite pop songs of all time are "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns 'n' Roses, "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes, and "Everybody Wants You" by Billy Squier. Those three awkward facts haven't changed in years, but my affection for and bafflement by the crucial ingredients that the perfect pop song comprises has never subsided. As much as I despise Fergie, her lovely lady lumps, and her supposedly "Glamorous Life," I was quickly seduced by Beyonce and Jay-Z finding themselves "Crazy in Love," and Britney Spears embracing the (cough) "Toxic" elements of young adulthood. The populist, perfect execution of those singles still mesmerizes me. Embarrassing as that may be, there's a reason those trite refrains lodged in my head. Thank god Kelly Stoltz is here now to scratch that itch with integrity. Chock-full of brash wit and buoyant optimism, and instrumentally echoing everything that made George Harrison's post-Beatles opus All Things Must Pass such a graceful triumph, Stoltz has carefully crafted his way out of his San Francisco–based studio without choking on his adoration for late-'60s psychedelia. Stoltz's sweetly simple melodies and joyous approach to plunking the upright piano make him my favorite artist currently signed to Sub Pop, and his show this Sunday, May 4 (with Vetiver and H Is for Hellgate), at the High Dive is a can't-miss event for anyone who takes their Brian Wilson straight up with a chaser of Harry Nilsson. Quality, enduring pop music is about reflecting emotions that transcend class and the pesky trappings of time—even if that means burning up the fret boards. In the late '80s, UFO fit the bill for ambitious musicians who were enamored with England's steely offerings of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, but wanted more. For many, the 1979 live album Strangers in the Night captured the English hard rock group in its prime. "I loved that band," enthuses Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready. "They were part of the new wave of British heavy metal, but they were melodic. I was in this fucking band with spandex and hairspray," he laughs, referring to his early band Shadow. "But we really loved the live UFO record." Truth be told, the work of Michael Schenker also fits this bill for many. UFO, in particular, is a legit touchstone for anyone who loves early metal but can't suffer the fluff that sold Poison records, and who appreciates precisely calibrated riffage that holds Van Halen and Iron Maiden in the same embrace. Golden-throated Paul Passereli is but one of many logical comrades in Flight to Mars, McCready's UFO tribute band named after the now-defunct Seattle Center amusement park ride. "Most of what we play is from that record," says McCready, audibly enthusiastic. Hitting satisfying musical sweet spots may be the goal this Saturday, May 3, when he brings Flight to Mars to the Showbox, but a personal social cause is the impetus. Colitis is a brutally painful, debilitating disease that McCready has been struggling with for years. The specific goal of the benefit is to raise funds for the Northwest chapter of the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, as well as for an auxiliary legal organization that advocates for patients' rights and for a camp for young people dealing with Crohn's and colitis. Tribal indie rockers Feral Children and singer/songwriter Kristen Ward smartly round out the bill, and a certain Guns 'n' Roses alumnus with strong local ties will be joining McCready and Shadow co-founders Rick and Chris Friel for a Jimi Hendrix–fueled climax. Benefit shows are definitely best when the players are just enjoying each other and their material, and that's clearly at the heart of Saturday's agenda. "I've known these guys for years, and we love playing these songs—that's the vibe," affirms McCready. A similar, if slightly more agitated, vibe of nostalgic energy will no doubt be in surplus when caustic noise-rock band Steel Pole Bathtub reunite to play Portland's Musicfest NW this fall. Black Elk front man Tom Glose let me know that his band has been tapped to open for the cult heroes at the Doug Fir on Thursday, September 4.

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