Words by Casey Jarman. Photos by Inger Klekacz.
Before the show, as a Poison Waters drag show raged in Al's Den and a couple dozen skeptical-looking indie rockers crept around the club's perimeter in wait, I heard a guy ask the bartender about the 7 pm show, which had "Pete Krebs and Jody Bleyle" billed in the opening spot.
"This isn't a full-on Hazel show, is it?"
"No," the barkeep replied. "They're too big for a place like this."
The band never introduced itself as Hazel, either. But with one notable exception—the role of bassist Brady Smith was played by legendary Portland rocker Donna Dresch—it was indeed Hazel. (Smith, who a random crowd member insisted was "in Abu Dhabi," was there in spirit, as some thoughtful friend patched him in via telephone.) The group played eight Hazel songs in total. Dresch watched Krebs fingers on songs like "Blank Florida," as if she was still learning the song. But the show had an explosive energy that Hazel's 2005 reunion at Crystal Ballroom lacked, both for the sheer size of the venue and because the group's members—who occasionally bickered onstage as they had in their heyday—didn't seem ready for a reunion.
call from abu dhabi
Tonight, though, in front of a group of friends, family and hardcore fans let in on the secret, it was a real-deal Hazel show. The group's dancer/resident performance artist Fred Nemo climbed a chair onstage, balancing a jug of water on his head, before changing into a bathing suit onstage. Krebs, whom we've grown accustomed to seeing in full-suit mode with the Stolen Sweets, stripped down to reveal a Dead Moon t-shirt and his sleeve tattoos. Bleyle beamed throughout the show, as if trying to navigate through a great dream. Hazel was happy.
Truth be told, the band sounded better on Saturday than they ever did on record. The vocals were cleaner, the drums were liver and the energy was absolutely electric. Never having seen the band in its heyday, I can only assume that this was right up there with the best Hazel shows. Removing this sound—heavy and "mossy," as I've heard Pete call it—from its '90s-era context and sticking it in the now opens doors to the past and make it all seem less cataclysmic somehow. The tension between Krebs and Bleyle was controlled and intentional as Not Hazel worked through songs like "Day Glo" and "King Twist" (the band played just eight songs in total, and the Stallion Alert blog has the set list
), and the banter was limited to Bleyle's occasional back-and-forths with the crowd and some references to physical and emotional landmarks of Old Portland. No one rolled around in sentimentality, though if you craned your neck around, past the floor-seated front row and the grey-haired seated set mouthing every word, you noticed that even the folks in the back—who may or may not have been familiar with Hazel's music—were wide-eyed and smiling.
If a classic Portland band is going to be reborn, this is the way to birth it: With no expectations and no bullshit. I am so lucky to have seen this thing. And when Hazel plays its next show—we'll keep you updated—you'll be lucky to catch that, too.
now this is happening.