On an unseasonably warm February night last Friday, Portland was treated to an evening that featured two of music’s brightest up and coming acts: songstress Zella Day and “cinematic pop” group Milo Greene. Both compelling acts came into the sold out show at the Doug Fir Lounge with a considerable amount of hype behind them, and neither disappointed.
Zella Day’s folky-pop seems very informed by her life and travels thus far. Born and raised in the small town of Pinetop, Arizona, Day grew up on the likes of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, and wrote folk songs in a similar vein. Once Day made the move to Los Angeles to begin her career, she was paired with some crack studio players to further flesh out her music and to form a live band. The resulting sound is a unique one, in that Day has managed to retain some of her early folk music influences into a new, broader pop sound.
Zella Day’s voice and the confident ease with which she performs recall Lana Del Rey, but both her delivery and lyrical content are far less despondent than Rey’s. Day has a performance style and vibe all her own and seems poised for big things as she both looks and dresses like she just stepped off of a magazine cover, and does so while remaining relatable and taking obvious joy in performing. Watching the stylish and captivating Day hypnotically sway to the music, bathed in stage lights and resembling some sort of Southwestern desert angel you might encounter at 3am in Joshua Tree, it’s hard not to see a bright future ahead of the young performer.
Headliner Milo Greene was up next, and I was intrigued to see how their dark and sensuous “cinematic pop” would translate in a live setting. In a departure from the folkier leanings of their self-titled debut, the band’s recently released Control features a much more percussive and beat-driven sound that recalls a darker version of Chormeo and/or a more upbeat version of The XX (not only in sound, but in their outfits which mainly consisted of black and leather).
Robbie Arnett, Graham Fink, Andrew Heringer and Marlana Sheetz are all accomplished singers, writers and musicians in their own right, and it’s always interesting to see how a young, ambitious band handles sharing the spotlight. The deft way the foursome (who are joined on percussion by Curtis Marrero when playing live) interact onstage with both each other and the audience is a testament to their skill and is something they’ve obviously worked on. It was apparent the band was really trying to get a read on how the audience was reacting to the new music live, and most of the packed room was grooving with a partner throughout the set.
Much like opener Zella Day, while watching Milo Greene perform you can’t help but feel like you’re watching a band that is on the brink of breaking nationally in a big way. The band features enough unique talent to be alluring and original, while still remaining accessible enough for a larger pop audience. Even the only “hiccup” of the night (if you could even call it that) was an intriguing one. As their set wound down it was Sheetz turn to address the audience, and when she was interrupted by her band mates, she quickly voiced her displeasure at the intrusion via a couple of F-bombs directed across the stage.
While this certainly perked everyone’s ears up and elicited a few whispers in the audience, I thought it was great. If Fleetwood Mac has taught us anything, it’s that a little tension in a band filled with talented songwriters of the opposite sex can be a good thing, and as the only female in the group, I’m sure it’s not the first time Sheetz has had to ask the boys to politely shut the fuck up for a moment while she’s talking. This wasn’t the first time in during the set I’d noticed the slightest bit of tension emanating from the stage, but again: it wasn’t off putting as much as it was exciting. To me it only added some intrigue to an already impressive performance. If Milo Greene’s biggest problem is having too many quality songs and too little set time, then this talented band should be just fine. After-all, this is a rock show, not a board meeting.
It’s rare that the Doug Fir (or Portland in general for that matter) is a showcase for the Next Big Thing in pop music, but that’s exactly what it felt like last Friday, and I’d wager it’s the last time we see either band in a room of that size. The often barren landscape of creative, stimulating popular music has two rising stars on it’s map.
Photos – Caitlin Webb
Words – Donovan Farley