Pete Kilpatrick Band: Heavy Fire

Fire away

Pete Kilpatrick keeps the home fires burning

If anyone has grown up right in front of his fans, it’s Pete Kilpatrick. On the cusp of releasing his fifth full-length album (with an EP mixed in) and finishing out his first decade of performing professionally, Kilpatrick has gone from an impossibly winsome and charming, squeaky-clean young lad to, yes, a father, with a voice and sentiment both deepening along the way.

In the nearly four years since Hope in Our Hearts [this originally ran in March, 2012], Kilpatrick’s sound has grown immeasurably, gaining an important maturity and substance that has significantly augmented his already apt talent for pop-rock songwriting. With the brand-new Heavy Fire, not only does the band sound more weighty, layering in a bedrock of foundation that Kilpatrick’s vocals rest effortlessly on top of, but there is an undercurrent of introspection and the kind of examination of what’s important that comes with an infant squalling in the next room over.

There is a steadfastness here, a comfort level, that allows for songs to take on pop airs, even to adopt some ’80s percussive techniques and dance on the edge of some light rock guitar tone from engineer/guitarist Pete Morse, without seeming inconsequential. This is helped immensely by Ed Dickhaut’s presence as resident drummer – he’s a force. An in-demand session drummer for years (he was on David Mallett’s Artist in Me, way back in 2003, I just noticed), here’s hoping he’s found a home for the foreseeable future, as his rhythms add a Paul Simon vibe to the record that are good enough to capture your attention all by themselves.

Dickhaut is complemented well, too, by vet bassist Matt Cosby, who’s subtle and easygoing and acts as the band’s center when so much can be swirling through each song. Morse and keyboardist Tyler Stanley (of Sly Chi and more) generally eschew traditional lead parts in exchange for phrases that interlock and intertwine and often make for a tightly controlled chaos of notes.

They echo the chaos of life’s unrelenting momentum forward, with which Kilpatrick seems determined to come to grips. The album is full of battle imagery, warring ideas and factions, but also at least four of his songs reference “home,” that place “where your heart is,” as we hear on the title track, or “where you left it,” or “what you make of it.” He is constantly exploring what the past has built, what the future holds, standing on the cusp of decisions that hold tremendous import.

In the excellent “Two Armies,” arranged in an orchestral manner, with Dickhaut rolling floor toms through the mix, we get a narrative of a “boy who lost his way.” What Kilpatrick has found over the course of the past few years, though, is some considerable range. I love how he reaches for the bottom in the chorus: “She said the past will set you free/ It’s just a glorified looking glass to me.” He’s added a bit of accent to his delivery, too, and improved his falsetto, now leaning toward Brit singers like Chris Martin or Keane’s Tom Chaplin.

“Hold Your Breath” opens like an Of Montreal or Yeasayer tune, with a cacophonous indie melody and a chorus of vocals, before settling down into what might actually be the most pop tune on the record, with the requisite sentiment: “All we’ll have is all we’ll ever need.” And “Martha” is the true ode, with a distorted keyboard tone contrasted with an ice-pick clean electric guitar: “Martha please don’t leave me/ I can’t afford to be alone/ This far from home.”

Funnily enough, the guitar solo of sorts in the bridge here reminds of Steely Dan’s “Reeling in the Years,” and it’s as though Kilpatrick is offering this record up as a demarcation. After this, he shall disavow all those childish things. He’s setting up shop. He’s through looking backward and has his sights set straight ahead with all of his burdens right up there on his back, a load he’s eager to carry.

He’s living, just like the track he opens the record with, the “American Dream.” He’s wise enough to intuit the answer when he asks, “Does anybody hear the words I say as I fall down?” No. You’re on your own kid. You’ve got it right when you notice later that “we’re all falling down.” And it sure is nice when we find someone who can pick us back up.

Kino Proby: Live at the Big Easy

Let’s get Russian

A live album for a dead rock singer from Kino Proby

The quick back-story on Kino Proby: Three Mainers take a liking to the Russian band Kino, and its legendary lead singer Viktor Tsoi, who died in a car wreck in 1990 after becoming maybe the single most famous Russian rock star (which isn’t saying a whole lot, admittedly, but the guy could definitely rock out and dying early generally helps your rock fame). They put together a tribute band (Kino Proby is Russian for something like “a sampling of Kino,” and Kino, itself, means “film/movies/cinema”) and not only acquired a considerable following playing gigs in the Old Port, but eventually even played in Tsoi’s hometown of St. Petersburg.

Now, they’re scattered about and only get together for a show or two each year. This Friday [January, 2011] they play the Port City Music Hall, in fact, and at the same time release an album called Live at the Big Easy.

Yes, they sing all of their songs in Russian. It’s the first rock/indie rock record released in Portland sung all in a foreign language that I can remember since Jose Ayerve’s Cinco Pesos, released in 2002. Perhaps more impressive, a solid portion of the crowd on the live disc can be heard to sing along in Russian.

And the songs do lend themselves to singalongs. While there may be a perception (perhaps lent by the stateside success of Gorky Park and their hair metal hit “Bang”) that Russian rock is mostly ’80s glam, Kino Proby do great justice to Tsoi’s talents as a songwriter, on the live album churning out some fun pop rock. “Cuckoo” (and please keep in mind that I’m translating Russian titles using my college Russian minor and a dictionary) wouldn’t be out of place in a Phantom Buffalo set, opening with a set of “la-la-la” and featuring a languid downtempo chorus. “Trolley Bus” is classic white-man’s reggae, more Clash than Police, with a throaty and insistent chorus. “Blood Type,” the title song from Kino’s 1988 album, the first to gain international traction, features an homage to Duran Duran’s guitar tone, like, say, what Andy Taylor was rocking on Seven and the Ragged Tiger.

“A Star Called the Sun” gets the best crowd reaction, with a noticeable perk in attention when Jarlath McGuckin (Viktor I) gets to the Russian word for “sun,” “solntsa.” Moving from an opening verse with just bare guitar chords and a bit of high hat, the song fills out into a pop jam, like a quickened waltz with a catchy repeating riff. And when they finish, they transition smoothly into “Cuckoo,” as they do a number of times during the set, borrowing some jam band live tendencies, as they do again when they stretch their encore out past 12 minutes.

Considering they’ve only got three pieces going, that’s tough work. Really, they do the three-piece thing at least as well locally as Loverless, whom they thank during one song break, Paranoid Social Club, or Sidecar Radio. Adam Kurtz (Viktor II), who’s shown before he can shred with imaginary bands, does yeoman’s work holding the melodies together, while Jess Greer (Viktor III – apparently the rest of Kino’s band members don’t do much for Kino Proby – it’s all about Viktor) keeps them tight and focused. 

In fact, you get quite familiar with Greer’s drums and McGuckin’s bass as the mix on the album is pretty heavy on the rhythm section. It sounds as though the recording is taken from the crowd and not through the mixing board, so the vocals can be muted and hard to catch at times. And, yes, I understand that none of you will be able to understand the lyrics. Plus, the crowd can be a bit much — not quite big enough sounding to be impressive, just enough over-exuberant at times to make you wonder if there’s a heavy concentration of girlfriends and school buddies.

Most of the time, though, the performance is good enough to get you past any sonic foibles. “Aluminum Cucumbers” (it’s hard to say that translation is solid – I may be missing a word in my dictionary) has a great cowpunk vibe, old-time rock like Chuck Berry, and as sunshiney as anything the Leftovers do. “Me and You” is vampy and dark, with swaggering strut in the bassline, completed by the guitar, something like the clipped keyboard sounds you heard so much of in the ’80s. “Close the Door Behind Me, I’m Leaving” opens with huge guitar riffage, upbeat and forceful without getting metal, and moves into a raging jam that still manages to convey a world-weariness.

Maybe the worst thing about this album is that it makes me feel like a dink for not being way more into this band when they were playing out more regularly five years ago or so [now 13 years ago or so; I still feel this way]. Their schtick never gets old during a long set, they execute the songs very well, and the band they’re paying tribute to still has something to offer the contemporary listener.

Overall, as they say in Russian, it’s ocheen horosho.