The Truth About Portland’s Rock Scene

New albums from Sleater-Kinney and the Decemberists got us thinking: Does the Rip City scene still matter? Has it ever mattered?
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New albums from Sleater-Kinney and the Decemberists got us thinking: Does the Rip City scene still matter? Has it ever mattered?
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Situated somewhere between Seattle and San Francisco, Portland has neither city’s rich rock & roll legacy. San Francisco gave us the Grateful Dead and Metallica (and Kreayshawn). Seattle gave us Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana (and Macklemore). But Portland? The most successful band in Portland’s history is probably Everclear. Remember Everclear? The men and women wearing unisex Sleater-Kinney shirts to today’s Decemberists listening party at city hall wish they didn’t.

In the sixties, Portland garage bands like the Kingsmen and Paul Revere and the Raiders helped define rock & roll. A half-century later, the city’s best acts aren’t even really from Portland. Sleater-Kinney are truly awesome, as is their new album, "No Cities to Love." But Sleater-Kinney is from Olympia, Washington. The Shins are great too. They’re originally from New Mexico. And don’t let the constant parade of musicians on Portlandia fool you. Jack White, Eddie Vedder, Joanna Newsom, St. Vincent and Jeff Tweedy have all made cameos, but not a one of them calls the city home.

The Decemberists actually are from Portland. And they are so Portland. They’re so Portland that they formed after Colin Meloy, Nate Query and Jenny Conley scored a silent film together. In 2000! They’re so Portland they named an album Picaresque….and recorded it in a church. They’re so Portland, the mayor declared today “Decemberists Day.” To be fair, as twee as the Decemberist are (more twee than a taxidermied fox wearing a bow-tie and bowler hat while riding a unicycle), they do have a serious knack for a catchy melody, as their latest, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World demonstrates. 

But they don’t rock, and neither does Portland’s music scene. Washington rocks.

Photos by Kyle Gustafson/Washington Post/ Getty Images