R. Stevie Moore @ Doug Fir Lounge 2/17/2014 (with The Memories)

R. Stevie Moore returned to Oregon Monday night– in a city full of music geeks, he couldn’t be more welcome. I am not necessarily a diehard RSM fan, but what I can say for sure is that if you like pop music, you can’t dislike R. Stevie Moore—I mean, you can, but you shouldn’t. And even if you don’t really like pop music, I’m not so sure that it makes sense to dislike him in that case either. I’ll explain what I mean by this in a second.
Like Kimono My House and John Maus’s We Must Become the Pitiless Sensors of Ourselves, Phonography is an album with a special place in the pop-music legacy: it’s pop but it’s not really pop, it’s an outlier of some sort. It’s one of rare records with at least five insanely catchy songs that seems to be somewhat self-consciously reflecting upon pop music itself. RSM isn’t particularly well-known, but I think that, in a way, he is getting a lot more recognition these days, perhaps in part because, with Maus, Geneva Jacuzzi, and Ariel Pink attaining a moderate degree of success, we are seeing a revival of this esoteric weirdo-pop. It’s a bit like what happened when Beck gave a respectful nod to Gary Wilson on “Where It’s At” (the line “shave your face with mace in the dark” from “Loser” reminds me a little of Gary Wilson too, actually)—the arch-intellectual weirdness gets filtered down from someone else, and then more and more people get into it through second-hand exposure. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mac Demarco has taken a page or two from Moore—if you make “lo-fi” music, chances are RSM deserves your respect as a pioneer. And what a god-damned industrious pioneer he has been, with thousands upon thousands of songs that cover a pretty broad gamut of styles.

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Portland’s own The Memories opened for RSM. It’s funny, I mentioned The Memories in the post before this. I find this band to be pretty damn puzzling, but every time I’ve seen them, I’ve liked them. Their songs are exclusively about crushes, smoking pot, and getting naked. The vocalist, Erik Gage, often soundchecks with cheesy girly moaning noises and thrusts his pelvis a lot for some of their racier tunes. I will say also that he spoke about R. Stevie Moore in a tone of reverence, that opening for RSM was basically a dream come true. The Memories are a pretty good comedy band, and there is an almost touching sincerity to songs like “Higher”.

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RSM came onstage wearing Homer Simpson pajama pants, and I think that the first word out of his mouth was “Swag”. “Swag”, “Let me google that for you”, and “I’m Miley Cyrus” were continually bookended by “Shall we pray?” and “May I be excused?”. If he said a single word the entire night that wasn’t couched in cryptic irony, I didn’t catch it. Of course, there is a sincerity underlying using that much irony, I think. There’s candor to just getting up on stage and talking about the stuff that we are all thinking about anyway, the stuff that we are to some extent trying to get away from with a night of rock. RSM just aired it out and made it a part of the obtuse poetry that he both recited for the “intermission” and seemed to be improvising out of his on-stage “banter”. At 61 years old, he’s pretty damn sharp.

The show was divided into three parts: a couple songs with the band; an intermission in which RSM recited poetry, played drums, and goofed around on the keyboard; and then a few more songs with the band. The show ended with RSM dumping his squealing guitar at his feet and walking off after saying a brief thank you. There was no encore, but no one was complaining.

Very few people can boast to having a grip on the whole craft of making catchy four-minute songs that’s as nonchalantly sophisticated as Moore’s. Because, in spite of all the goofball posturing, true fans of RSM know why we’ve looked into his music and admired him: we were looking for something more sincere and fun than what’s considered to be conventionally cool and in RSM we found it. The version of “Play Myself Some Music” in particular was impressive—the band was polished and clean-sounding. I’ll have to dive deeper in Moore’s vast discography in the future. This old guy is awesome, and it’s clear that he’s still a kid at heart.

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Photos taken on a point-and-shoot by me (I didn’t have time to enlist the help of a photographer).

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