THE OREGONIAN - 12/15/2000

THE OREGONIAN December 15, 2000


On any vital nightclub scene, places will come and go, leaving their mark in the memories of regulars who gathered there and in the collective cultural consciousness of a city.
But few clubs ever leave as colorful a mark as did the X-Ray Cafe, the all-ages Portland club that made West Burnside Street at Second Avenue a nexus of unpredictable fun through the first half of the 1990s.

Although part of the X-Ray's strange magic was that it hosted anything from primal scream therapy sessions to sewing circles, slumber parties to Spanish lessons, ritualized spankings to Sunday brunches, the main business was presenting music.

With the anything-goes aesthetic fostered by co-owners Ben Ellis and Tres Shannon, wild eclecticism reigned, with everything from straight-ahead punk rock to traditional country to all manner of experimental sounds finding a home there.
The club's story is well-told in Ellis' recent documentary, "X-Ray Visions." The flashes of outrageous performance footage look like a good argument for a follow-up concert film.

It's mostly the visuals that pique that interest, though; chaos is sometimes more fun for the eyes than the ears, so consider it a good thing that nearly all of the "X-Ray Visions" soundtrack is made up of studio tracks, not live recordings.

This still isn't glossy fare by any means: The opening "Walk Back" by Crackerbash not only exhibits the live-wire intensity that made the Sean Croghan-led band such a favorite, it also sounds like it was transferred from a crackling old vinyl record.

Prettified precision never was the point of the X-Ray, and what predominates here -- from the decidedly homespun, hillbilly harmonies of the Tennesseans singing the praises of "Public
Transportation" to the Kurtz Project lurching and sawing through "I Dig the Rain," their paean to Northwest weather, to the shambling blues of the Gone Orchestra -- is a spirit of raw expressive enthusiasm.

Parts of the album likely are too sloppy or strange for fans of, say, 'N Sync, but for followers of the Portland scene this is a potent blast of unsentimental nostalgia.

There are a few sterling moments: the Tony Green Orchestra's sweetly innocent "Brian's Song (721-0115)," about a runaway who flees to the X-Ray; J.R. Pella's soul-drenched vocals fronting the funk-rock band Drunk at Abi's; the easygoing flow of Pete Miser rapping with Five Fingers of Funk; Hitting Birth crashing through one of its tribal-industrial maelstroms.

But all of it adds up to the mark of the X-Ray.

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