*This post was published in the Portland Press Herald, Maine’s primary newspaper*

Opinion: Portland and percussion prove a perfect pair

Portland and percussion prove a perfect pair

Sometimes things just work out. And abetted by the peculiar, positive vibes of Portland, Maine, they seem to work out more often. A recent long-awaited chance to see drummer extraordinaire Louis Cole at sold-out Portland House of Music provided both the incredible musician and the auspicious spirit of the city a chance to strut.

Cole was appearing fronting his longtime project Knower, principally an electronic duo with heavenly vocalist Genevieve Artadi, but on this night also including a spectacular backing band: Sam Wilkes ripping syncopated basslines which were only surpassed by the earnest intensity of his bass-face in executing them; Iridescent Tones and Chiquita Magic (yes, you read those names right) adding surreal whimsy on adjoining keyboards; and Thom Gill contributing ingenious Walter Becker-esque solo breaks on guitar.

But my drummer son Max and I were there to see the casual dynamo Louis Cole play insane drums. Hard stop. And for Max, that doesn’t mean hanging somewhere in the middle of the venue, it means being at the drum kit. Literally. Which, only through some happy happenstance we were able to accomplish.

The pre-concert plan had begun with several down notes. Shut out by longish waits at successive Exchange Street hot spots Crispy GaiHighroller Lobster Co., and Papi, we were forced to abandon dinner plans and instead grab a quick hazy IPA at Portland standby Thirsty Pig (home of the always awesome hashtag #sausagebythesea). Fortunately, we were not really even hungry anyway after spending a highly nourishing afternoon at Definitive Brewing Company for their inaugural Chowderfest, where alongside craft-brewed lager we sampled the eclectic offerings of ten local purveyors competing for the esteemed title of Portland’s Best Chowder. (At our pop-in to Highroller the hostess, who was recognized from ladling their Lobster & Crab Chowder at the contest, informed us that they had been crowned the winner; for me they’d been a strong second best behind a truly outstanding Crab Rangoon Chowder from Ironclad Eats).

So rather than just pushing away plates and considering dessert options, we were lined-up and ready to enter the club at “doors” rather than showtime. And when we did, Max made a beeline to stakeout space at the furthest right edge of the stage. You see we’d also performed a quick reconnaissance pass by the club earlier, caught a bit of the band’s sound check, and were able to file away the highly unusual placement of Louis Cole’s extremely spartan set-up: not rear center, as is the case with nearly all drummers, but front corner. Our station for the evening would be close enough to snatch the drumsticks off Cole’s snare drum and read along with the setlist at his feet.

And finally, about that drumming. The unadorned aesthetic of Louis Cole’s equipment is an apt match to the effortless manner in which he thrillingly makes it work. Cole sits stoically upright on his stool, and unlike many classic drummers that come to mind – say, Keith Moon or Taylor Hawkins, for a couple standout examples from other eras – he has no long, whipping arm swings. Or severe wrist bends. His magic, in generating hyper-quick beats and a scary amount of ghost notes, lies in his fingers. Many times he seems to be barely even gripping his dominant (left hand) stick, instead creating manic and logic-defying manipulations with only loosely-contacted digits. Max tells me the technique is known as the “Moeller method.” I’d just call it amazing, and one of the most unforgettable displays of unpretentious drumming virtuosity I’ve witnessed.

A couple drummers: Louis and Max

At show’s end we didn’t have far to go to share a moment with the talent. Max and Louis giggled excitedly like a couple of fellow drum geeks, I offered Genevieve a couple local dining ideas, and we floated out into the historic Old Port district on the high that only a fabulous live music experience can engender. Max and I enjoyed a sweet nightcap at decadent Gross Confection Bar and then headed onto Middle Street for the short walk home when we noticed six familiar-looking figures in the distance coming down the cobblestone. Maine’s “big” city of Portland has a population of under 70,000 people, and sometimes (especially for a “from away” transplanted New Yorker) it feels even smaller. There were Louis, Genevieve and crew walking right towards us on their way to a late-night dinner at another of Portland’s fashionable foodie favorites, Eventide Oyster Co. (a slight step up in class, I’ll admit, to my recommendation of underrated bar grub at Tomaso’s Canteen across the street).

After another quick greeting we parted ways again with extreme gratitude for the ultra-talented (and it turns out, charming) musicians of Knower whose one-night pass through karmic Portland had been the centerpiece attraction for a long-planned and now forever-memorable father/son get-together for Max and I. In the happening, vibey town known traditionally as The Forest City, it’s still important to recognize the forest for the trees.

(Note: there’s no zoom on this video; that’s how close we were. And the audio mix captured, at about 95% drums/5% band, would not exactly be a sound engineer’s dream. But, as you would now have gathered, that’s what we were there to see…and hear)


Portland, ME. Glossary: