Rocket Queen: Beastie Girls and Ladies’ Men

The adventurous spirits of Laura Gibson and Adam Bass.

"I've never actually done any beekeeping, but I've always thought it'ssomething I'll do some day when I'm old," says Laura Gibson. The Portland-based singer-songwriter's fascination with the profession sounds both fantastical and plausible, given the delicate combination of surrealist daydreams and starkly honest observations that colors her music.Gibson has only been playing music for a few years, but her work feels informed by the wisdom and technical skill of a more accomplished veteran, or at least someone who was born with music in their blood. Though she sounds like the love child of Joni Mitchell and Neutral Milk Hotel leader Jeff Mangum, she's actually the daughter of a kindergarten teacher and a forest ranger, and grew up in a tiny coastal logging town in Oregon. She first began playing music for patients at nursing homes ("Those were the first folks that it occurred to me to play music for"); it wasn't until later that she slowly gained the confidence to start playing clubs around Portland, recording a couple of records. She eventually connected with Tucker Martine (producer for equally esoteric artists such as Jesse Sykes and the Decemberists), who turned out to be an ideal cultivator for her unique hybrid of sounds. "I first met Tucker at a board-game party on New Year's Day at a mutual friend's house," she recalls. "He's this really special, unique, understanding, patient person, and I feel like he has as much to teach me about life as he does about making records."This past February, Gibson unveiled Beasts of Seasons, her second release for Hush Records and first collaboration with Martine. It's an astonishingly mature achievement for such a young artist, exhibiting a creative depth that could eventually take her to Cat Power or Joanna Newsom–like levels of acclaim. Her precisely articulated voice exudes as much strength and resolve as it does vulnerability and childlike wonder. The nine songs, divided into two sections entitled "Communion Songs" and "Funeral Songs," are most often about death, family, and hope. There's also a plethora of thoughtful instrumentation involved, including viola, bells, saw, trumpet, and clarinet. For her own contributions, Gibson prefers to play only nylon-stringed guitars. "It feels nicer on my fingers," she says. "The tone sounds softer, and matches the tones I hear in my head when I'm imagining music." Thankfully, Gibson, her imagination, and an excellent backing band (Musée Mécanique players Sean Ogilvie and Micah Rabwin) will be at the Crocodile this Friday, May 8, when she opens for Damien Jurado.I doubt local promoter Adam Bass harbors any beekeeping ambitions, but the guy has an undeniable knack for finding beauty in the margins, particularly for fans of angular, caustic punk or forward-thinking metal and hard rock. Over the past five years, he's made a name for himself in the DIY community as an independent promoter committed to bringing both local and touring bands to the attention of music fans bored with standard Pitchfork-endorsed fare. Bass got his start when his friend Colin "Sick" Bush noted that his rabid enthusiasm for the shows at the now-defunct, part-time punk venue Second Avenue Pizza was evidence that he should get into the business. The pair soon began putting on shows together. "We started at the Rendezvous, focusing on our friends' grindcore bands," he says. "It slowly evolved into Colin putting out a few records under the name Ladies' Choice Records, while I became a DIY promoter [using the Ladies' Choice moniker]."Bass now runs Ladies' Choice by himself (he and Colin split amicably a few years ago), handling the late-night bookings in the Rendezvous' JewelBox Theater, a small space with disarmingly decent acoustics. "I've always loved doing shows all around town [he's also established track records with—and much love for—the Funhouse, the Comet, the Sunset, and the Bit], but the 'Vous is probably the smallest place you can play with great sound and ambience," he says. This Sunday, that room capacity will be put to the test when he brings some of the Northwest's brainiest and brawniest acts to celebrate his 28th birthday, including our own Helms Alee and Portland's Prize Country. "With most shows I do these days, I often get propositioned by bands on tour, and I build a show around that," he explains. "One of the most beloved is Prize Country, one of Portland's hardest-working touring rock bands. They needed a show around that time, so it was destiny. Helms Alee is a natural, as [frontman] Ben [Verellen] is one of my all-time favorite songwriters in Seattle. His current band has easily joined the list of most adventurous in the city, by far."

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