the hotel cafe tour - Wonder Ballroom

The Place: The Wonder Ballroom & Wonder Cafe
(128 NE Russell)

The Wonder Ballroom does not jump out at you. I might have not been able to find it at all, but luckily we arrived before the doors opened at 7:00 p.m. and there was a fairly decent sized line showing us where there just might be a concert. The double doors open immediately to a staircase, and a ticket-taker was at the bottom and a wrist stamper at the top. At the top of the stairs is a hallway leading to the restrooms (boys on the left, girls on the right), and across the hallway from the staircase is the entrance to the ballroom itself.

Once inside the ballroom, on the right I found a well bar with well drinks with glorious easy to see signage, unmistakable even for the partially inebriated. On the left was the souvenir table. There was an ID-checker/hand stamper between me and the bar, and they used that fancy blacklight stamp. Snaking up through the crowd toward the stage was the barrier-created hallway that separates the drinkers from the people who get drunk before the show.

In the right corner nearest the entrance is the staircase to the top shelf bar and balcony seating. The bar rests behind the balcony, and once the the concert starts the area between the balcony and the bar apparently turns into the "yappy bitch section." So, if you find yourself in another part of the ballroom and you happen to be a yappy bitch, once the show starts please have the common decency to go upstairs and let everyone else enjoy the show. The balcony appears to be the only real place to rest your ass, and seemed to be what all the people were standing in line for when we found the place. There's 2 rows of maybe 30 seats that are pretty comfortable (particularly during a 4-hour show) but the yappy bitch section is right behind you.

My stomach led me to investigate the Wonder Cafe, which, while in the same building technically, seems pretty inaccessible from inside the ballroom. Down the grand staircase, out the doors, and 2 rights later I was seating myself at the bar of the Wonder Cafe. When I glanced at the menu I had to do a double take. Mac & cheese as a main course! I couldn't believe it! Nine dollars! I couldn't believe it even more! So, I had to try it, and I ordered a root beer to wash it down with so as to complete the meal properly. To be honest, the mac & cheese was damn good. I think it was probably only seven dollars good, but they charge nine dollars and that's what you pay.

The Show: The Hotel Cafe Tour
The show was basically one artist after another doing a set of 3 or 4 songs and then fading back behind the curtain. They also did fancy special guest appearances by other people on the tour, and sometimes called the whole tour out on stage to shake their asses or sing along. It was a long breakless show, and had I loved all of the artists equally I don't know when I would have found the time to potty and such. Luckily/sadly, that was not a problem.

Willie Fitzsimmons
Yes, I am completely aware that he goes by William Fitzsimmons. I don't know, perhaps it's some strange connection I'm sensing between him and Willie Nelson...probably the beard, but I think of him as Willie and thus I shall refer to him as such. He opened the show with 4 songs and then was only seen again in guest appearances, which I thought was a relative shame as I preferred his work to the work of others that got to play two sets. I've heard his songs referred to as suicide music, and he introduced himself as writing the saddest songs in the world. Neither of those were inaccurate, but I thought it was good stuff. Plus, once we removed the slit-wrist bodies from the crowd there was a lot more maneuvering room.

I think Meiko came up second. The order got lost in the second round of sets, especially since there was drinking and whatnot. She had an adorable stage presence and I thought her songs were pretty great too. I've not actually listened to a lot of Bjork, so this may be way off base, but she reminded me of the Bjork I had heard, with not-so-much of an accent. Hers was the only album I walked out of the place with if that's any measure of how much I liked her stuff. Sadly the hotdog song apparently isn't on the album.

Jim Bianco

Best in showmanship. The guy put on a great show. He made the concert feel more like a party, and that's always a good thing. I didn't pick up his CD after the show, but I'll probably find it on iTunes or get ahold of it somehow. Definitely good stuff. It made me feel like I was in a strange strange movie, and I love being in strange strange movies.

Jesca Hoop
I had a really hard time understanding this artist, when she was talking and when she was singing. That's in no small part due to my proximity to the yappy bitch section I'm sure, but as I couldn't enjoy them, her sets were when I found the time to stretch my legs and such. For that, if nothing else, I thank her.

Cary Brothers
I had a little bit of the same problem with this guy as I did with Jesca Hoop...most of the time I couldn't make out what the words he was singing were. Most everyone else seemed to like them though, and that Blue Eyes song of his is pretty damn catchy. He's apparently also the guy who thought of the tour or something, so kudos for that.

Ingrid Michaelson

I highly suspect it was Ingrid that brought people through the door of this little shindig. I know that's why I was there, since I had fallen into complete adoration of her when I saw her at the Doug Fir in January. I can't say for certain, but she led me to believe that she did her first crowd surfing in the middle of her first set. I don't think she was even permanently injured. It might show up on youtube or on the tour's myspace or something, it seemed like there was a lady running around with a camera. When Ingrid came on stage, she said she had been looking forward to the Portland show like a warm blanket (or something). You could feel it in the Wonder Ballroom that night too, just a boatload of positive energy flowing toward the stage (at least when she was on it). I'm not even attuned to that hocus pocus and I could feel it. It was fairly awesome.

When she covered 'Creep' by Radiohead with her ukulele, and was singing that she was a weirdo and didn't belong here, I couldn't help but change the words in my head.
I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo, this is Portland, I think I belong here