Marathon Music Works is a mighty big room. One might surmise it’d take a mighty popular band to sell it out. But what about a basic-cable sketch comedy series based solely on inside jokes about a city most of the audience has never been to?
Making our way through the eclectic, at-capacity crowd Friday — it seemed anyone around us, from bearded, bespectacled wine-sipping college students to beer-swilling high school teachers — could be a character from IFC’s Portlandia. The show comically romanticizes Portland as a Northwest Neverland of residual Gen-X malaise where nearly everyone is either too hip to be practical or vice versa. The crowd itself proved that mass subculture is indeed not only a thing now, but so rampant that we’ve all been to Portlandia, even if we’ve never gone anywhere near Portland.
After a pre-taped introduction by actor Kyle MacLachlan, reprising his role on the show as the eccentric mayor of Portland and encouraging us all to have a good time while remaining courteous to those around us, Portlandia stars/creators Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein promptly took the stage to roaring applause and went straight into a bit regarding unequivocally affectionate text messages between the two. Later, they’d present slide shows of photos they’d found on each other's computers. If you’re not familiar with the hilariously hardwired chemistry between these two, there isn’t much we can say to make that sound any funnier on paper.
Even better was the entirely unscripted Q&A to and from the audience in which the duo’s gift for quick wits propelled the show’s momentum, even when such a brave experiment inevitably went wrong. Dear Fred and Carrie: Never underestimate a Nashville crowd’s willingness to grab a mic, even or especially when they have absolutely nothing to say.
More importantly, the two seemed to express a genuine interest in Nashville’s more Portlandic qualities. One fellow in the crowd was dragged onstage and grilled about our best coffee shop, best restaurant and best bar. According to a show of hands, Nashville is the only stop on this tour to which no one took public transportation or rode a bike. To be fair, it may also be the only one where no one was hit by a truck or spent an hour traveling 10 miles.
Between the aforementioned banter and additional video clips, there was a good deal of music. If you’ve seen the show, recognize Carrie Brownstein from veteran indie act Sleater-Kinney (or Wild Flag, currently), or caught Fred Armisen’s “complicated drumming technique” at The Basement a couple years back, you understand that these guys play. With the help of additional drums and keys, they ran through some of the show’s best-known song skits and seemed to have a pretty awesome time doing that.
While previous stops on the tour featured guest appearances from Kyle McLachlan, Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, Fiery Furnaces' Eleanor Friedberger was our only cameo, as she appeared for a handful of seemingly random and surprisingly earnest covers. Renditions of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” (a reference to Kyle MacLachlan's turn as Ray Manzarek in Oliver Stone's The Doors) and Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” would have seemed more like filler if they weren’t added to the tail end of the show. Then again, who besides Nashville should be more forgiving of a couple tunesmiths looking for an excuse to jam? In what was apparently the tour’s only encore, the band came back out for a rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” An attempt at reenacting the classic video’s pre-fame Courtney Cox cameo resulted in what looked more like a Girl Talk show after another 20 or so folks climbed onstage. Like moths to the proverbial flame, again, never underestimate a Nashville crowd’s willingness to grab some spotlight.