Fruition & Hillstomp 12.31.16

Wonder Ballroom
Portland, OR

Words By Mitch Melheim
Photos By Jason Charme Photography

Hometown heroes Fruition rang in 2017 with a three-night stand at Portland, Oregon’s Wonder Ballroom to a room full of long-time friends and fans, the line between which has been blurred by the city’s love for the band and the relationship Fruition has formed with the “Fruity Freaks” as their fans are affectionately labeled. Faced with the daunting task of competing directly against Railroad Earth’s three-night run just two miles away at the Revolution Hall, Fruition still managed to sell out the 800-person venue days in advance, a testament to Portland’s devotion to the band.

Fellow Portlanders Hillstomp opened the night with their unique brand of back porch blues that sounds like Jimi Hendrix playing with a jug band on amphetamines. Guitarist Henry Christian showed impressive ability on several different instruments throughout the short set from electric guitar and banjo to tambourine and a megaphone. John Johnson was on the buckets and also provided some washboard and electric guitar. The band’s sound can change a bit from song to song, but the high-energy foot-stomping feel remains apparent at all times.

Fruition took the stage dancing to Technotronic’s “Pump Up The Jam” through the PA and opened the first set with old school favorite “Never Again” followed by mandolinist/guitarist Mimi Naja’s “Belong To The Band.” A personal favorite “There She Was” came next and provided that rock’n’roll sound that the band has been slowly, but steadily creeping towards for a few years now. Any song that allows Jay Cobb Anderson the opportunity to show off his talent on guitar is a welcomed addition to the setlist.

The sweet and tender (as Anderson and Naja described it) “Turn Your Love” slowed the pace down to a sway as most sang along to Naja’s lyrics, particularly the refrain, “she came running down the south side of Skidmore, westbound, with a box of wine and a smile,” that is just too Portland to ignore.

“Somehow, Someway, Someday” brought the energy back up for the rare, but beloved hangover tune “I Feel Weird.” Afterwards an unexpected mid-set “Meet Me On The Mountain” was performed. A very heavy song that has since been dedicated to the memory of the “Patron Saint of Concert Tickets” Chris Chandler, friend of the band and just about everybody else in attendance. The song was beautiful and a lot to take in, as always. I will forever be grateful for any performance of this song, but the setlist placement of this one seemed odd and left many with a heavy heart once the song ended. I suppose that’s just as much of a testament to their wonderful songwriting as the curious setlist placement though.

They saved the mood with the bluesy doo-wop dance number “Oh My My” followed by the Bayou break up tune “Little Song” and rapid-fire “Boil Over,” both written by guitarist/keyboardist Kellen Asebrook, the third of Fruition’s three-headed songwriting monster. The band then invited Yak Attack drummer Nick Werth up for some additional percussion on “The Way That I Do” which included a fun drums jam and sent us into the set break ready to continue the party and excited for the upcoming covers set.

The theme for the second set was songs from 1967, or fifty years ago for those less-inclined to math. The Box Tops’ “The Letter” kicked things off followed by what has become the country’s unofficial rallying cry of 2016, Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”

Vocalist Megan Martinez joined the band for the next few songs, providing vocals and plenty of dance moves. Martinez shared lead vocals with Anderson and Naja on Jackie Wilson’s Chicago soul classic “Higher And Higher.” A funky take on Aretha Franklin’s “Baby I Love You” followed with Naja providing vocals and preceded Anderson’s tribute to Jimi Hendrix, a cover of “Wind Cries Mary.”

Afterwards, Asebrook led the countdown to midnight and the band broke into Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin” as balloons sprang amok. New Year’s Day also happens to be Naja’s birthday and after a happy birthday wish from Anderson, he dedicated the next song to her, Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” calling it “one of the best songs ever written.”

Naja’s take on Loretta Lynn’s “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’” proved to be a song tailor made for her and was a nice change up, bringing the first country song of the set. Another member of the fast-rising Portland band Yak Attack was invited to the stage, this time keyboardist Dave Dernovsek for the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend The Night Together.”

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” followed and brought the fun dance party of a sing-along that you’d expect, with Asebrook even stopping to catch his breath afterwards. Anderson’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” came next and was a touching tribute to the great Canadian songwriter that had passed just a couple of months prior.

The Velvet Underground’s addict anthem “Waiting For My Man” brought an edge to the set that I didn’t realize had been missing, but was needed. Asebrook’s drawly delivery was effectively reminiscent of Lou Reed’s vocals, but he admitted to not being nearly as high as Reed would be while singing it.

Anderson broke the harmonica out for the Naja-led cover of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Joe” before the band granted us the rare treat of a song led by drummer Tyler Thompson’s vocals, the Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends.” Afterwards another Beatles cover closed out the set, this time a fiery version of “A Day In The Life.”

Naja came out after the encore and said, “We’re going to play one more song for as long as we possibly can,” and they did just that. Yak Attack’s Dave Dernovsek was invited back on stage to play guitar rather than keys as Anderson handed off his instrument and initiated what became a complete transformation into Jim Morrison for the near fifteen-minute rendition of the Doors’ “When The Music’s Over.”

Jason's Photo Gallery

Set One: Never Again, Belong To The Band, There She Was, Turn Your Love, Somehow, Someway, Someday, I Feel Weird, Meet Me On The Mountain, Oh My My, Little Song, Boil Over, The Way That I Do *

Set Two (“50 Years Later” - 1967 Covers): The Letter, For What It’s Worth, Higher And Higher~, Baby I Love You~, Wind Cries Mary, Gimme Some Lovin’, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’, Let’s Spend The Night Together#, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Suzanne, Waiting For My Man, Ode To Billie Joe, With A Little Help From My Friends+, A Day In The Life

Encore: When The Music’s Over#

* = w/ Nick Werth (Yak Attack)
~ = w/ Megan Martinez
# = w/ Dave Dernovsek (Yak Attack)
+ = Tyler Thompson on vocals


Popular posts from this blog

Buckethead: Gimmick or Guitar God?

Livetronica Sampler 3.22.11

Billy Strings 4.18.19

Joe Russo's Almost Dead 6.1.24

PREVIEW: Yarmony Music Festival 6.28 - 6.29.24