Guest Contributor: Michael Dallas Miller
There is a noise from the balcony. It is soft at first, but it gains confidence and it starts to get louder as the intermission music bounces off the bright-colored walls.
“Daaaady. Goooo daddy!”
As the concert-goers drink their beer from plastic cups, they look around for the source of the sound and see a small child, a bull-cut boy, leaning over the balcony railing, trying to get noticed by the tall man on stage who is tuning his guitar.
The music starts to fade and the squeaky voice from the balcony gets louder. Redwood Son’s biological son does not understand the subtle gesture of a finger against a mouth. Shhhhhhhh, the man tries to say.
Josh Malm, lead singer and songwriter for the Portland collaboration known as Redwood Son, stands in the center of the Aladdin Theater stage and addresses the crowd and his son at the same time. Instruments–electric organs, cellos, a funk bass, a violin, a short drum set, a glockenspiel–begin to be plugged in behind him.
“I’m going to play one song and then little guy up there needs to go bed. It is way past his bedtime.” Malm says this with a slight drawl that doesn’t appear to be native to anywhere. “It is a song about being a kid and staying up way past your bedtime. Malm plays “Good to be a Kid” with precise guitar playing, focusing on a bouncy rhythm that suits his Anglo-Soul vocals. And while little Malm is taken from the balcony and to somewhere to fall asleep, the rest in the Aladdin Theater of Northeast Portland help celebrate the release of Redwood Son’s new double-disc, The Lion’s Inside.
It is difficult to say if Josh Malm is indecisive or simply a lover of all things. It is most likely the latter. The parts that make up this show scream “folk-rock snooze fest,” but the actualization of all those instruments – that funked-up bass and the haggard young man playing it, the soulful accompaniment of the lovely ladies, the fiddle player with her denim skirt and high black boots – all combine to make something that is beyond any easy classification. Malm tries calling it country-funk, and soft-rock-abilly. But songs like “Early Bird” with its ZZ Top riff-happy grind, and “Take For Granted” which sounds like a college jam-band tune, and “To Someone Else,” a near-blues ode to doing good things for other people, move so effortlessly between genres and at the same time transcend them.
Redwood Son doesn’t just play roots music, or funk music, or Americana, or some Northwest invention that comes out of adding unnecessary instruments. More than anything else, Redwood Son plays fun music. They have fun playing it. Their fans have fun hearing it. That is the connection. And that connection, that Great Vibration, is greater than possible disruption.
For instance: after the second-to-last number by country singer and intensely sweaty Jordan Harris, a small group of thirty-something finds seats in the front two rows. There are two couples and one fifth wheel. These are people are not interested in hearing music. They make it obvious from the first time one of the high-hipped women starts yelling inane comments as loud as she can to the man right next to her. And no matter how loud these people get, no matter how many times they are warned by security to quiet down, no matter how times they all decide to dance and leave the odd man out to sit by himself, the show goes on with a special kind of groove, a particular brand of positive energy, a funky groove of countrified soul.
At the end of the show, Malm still thanks the distracting crowd of Unawares for coming out to the show. And he gives them a free copy of The Lion’s Inside.
Go, daddy. Go.