It's few minutes after 17:00 in Portland, the second day of July, Thursday - the unofficial kickoff to the Independence Day weekend. Maybe it's the unseasonably relentless heat, but traffic (both auto and human) is dismal near Doug Fir Lounge. After waiting a few minutes unsuccessfully to get the bartender's attention in the nearly unpeopled bar, I decide to check downstairs where Christopher Owens and band are due to load the stage.
In the musicless and windowless venue, four musicians and a tour manager unload and set up diligently. It's their final stop of a four-week North American journey promoting Owens' third solo LP, Chrissybaby Forever, unexpectedly released a month ago. There's a subdued aura enveloping the men, probably emanating from travel, hunger, heat, and lack of sleep. As Owens unpacks his neatly arranged effects pedals, he expresses appreciation for the cleanliness and order of Doug Fir, in contrast to some places where they don't even bother to clean up spilled drinks on the floor.
The soundcheck is a meticulous process where Corey Lee Granet (guitar/keyboard), Derek James (drums), and Matt Asti (bass) help bring Owens' songs to life. At one point, the singer's cough-a-thon worries me, but no one else seems to be bothered. I'm supposed to be a fly on the wall so I refrain and remain in the shadows. Owens later tells me that it's just an end of the tour thing.
Around 19:00 with every sound in its right place, the band can finally satiate their hunger at the restaurant upstairs. As we wait for our dinner, I notice a man sitting at a booth facing us, staring at Christopher with a creepy look. Soon after, the staff escorts the guy out. Then I learn that he had given Owens a note earlier stating: "When did you know you were going to be famous! (p.s.) Please play the show. " The security comes by and asks if they should not let him into the show, and Owens expresses that that's an unnecessary precaution. In spite of telling us how he was smoking in front of the Lennon mural and maybe this fan is his Chapman.
At 20:00, the venue's door opens to the public. With couple of hours to kill, the band disperses; I commute few blocks to pick up an order donated by Portland's famed Voodoo Doughnuts. On my way, I notice a piano on the pavement in front of the venue with a sign imploring a passersby to "Play Me". But this is Portland so nothing unusual about that. No one is interested in the super-carb treats when I walk into the green room with the pink boxes; it was time to sample the local whiskey I had picked up at Edgefield instead.
The desolate atmosphere of few hours earlier is now gaining momentum as the stage time neared. With the sizzling sun finally below the horizon, Owens and band finally fulfill their ultimate objective of the day, lacing smiles to friends, lovers, fans (crazy or not) and a birthday boy who drove down from Seattle to celebrate his twenty first anniversary (venues are 21 and over). The 22-song set highlights Owens' wistful and soulful songs that is undeniably charming in its own veracity. With the bottle of Jameson scraping its bottom and the clock ticking towards another new day, the last note reverberates from the PA.
After some time for fan interactions, it's time to pack it all up. I scan the green room and grab the boxes of doughnuts that had been patiently waiting above the beer cooler. The post show appetite must have kicked in because Christopher devoured a sugar-amped fried cake. The solemn-like aura of the late afternoon is now carefree.
After midnight, the tour van is packed and locked as we exit the garage with no incident from the eerie fan. We talk of going to a bar few doors west, but somehow we end up walking into a strip club few doors east. It's a kind of a ritual I suppose, for a band to end up at Union Jacks after their show to unwind (in Portland, strip clubs are as scandalous as going to any bar). I still wanted to do a portrait shoot with sparklers; so I keep a low-key in a corner. My iPhone signals 1:30, and this early riser with alcohol fatigue realises it's too late to ask for that photo shoot. So I step into the night, illuminated by the full moon and safely arrive in my air-conditioned flat after eight and half hours with the band.