Guest post by Elle Archer, Portland rock journalist and frontwoman for Shaylee.
Lo-Fives and Black Shelton played electrifying sets at Rontoms on April 2nd, to a packed house brimming with excitement. Every Sunday there’s a free show as part of Rontoms’ weekly Sunday Sessions, and let me tell you, it was a real treat to catch two of Portland’s wildest rock bands for the price of a five-finger discount.
I first encountered Lo-Fives at Anarchy Beach on June 10, 2021, a seminal show that gave rise to a new post-lock-down scene in Portland that thrives to this day. Their sound is a hard-hitting mix of post-punk, garage rock, and noise rock, bringing to mind acts like Wire, Mission of Burma, and Shellac, to name a few. The room came alive as they kicked off the night with a tight set of songs that spanned their catalog, old and new alike.
Lead vocalist/guitarist Zachery Fleming’s method of talk-singing is snide and circuslike, his lyrics often taking on a biting and political tone that cuts through a dense mix like an anarchist street preacher. He and fellow guitarist Michael Stortz’s dual-Stratocaster attack runs the sonic gamut, with their pedalboards lending a healthy dose of fuzz, overloaded echoes, and watery modulation to their already tightly knit arrangements. Bassist/backup vocalist Sara Knapp’s powerfully picked, fuzzy bass lines sync up seamlessly with Chris Freeman’s fluid and dexterous drumming, creating an infectious blend of precision and looseness that defines the band’s ability to make the crowd move with the music. And move the crowd did, as the band’s lively set had several audience members dancing and jumping around with zero inhibitions, the kind of freedom that only a good rock show can give you.
My introduction to Black Shelton was at his very first show in Portland, a mini-fest that took place at Green Anchors under the St. John’s bridge. I was blown away by his stage presence, subversive songwriting, and incredible talent both as a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who played the show solo with backing tracks he had recorded and mixed all himself. Black Shelton’s music is a multi-faceted, multi-genre experience, melding together elements of punk, soul, synthwave, slow jams, indie rock, and more, sounding like a heady mix of Ween, Isaac Hayes, The Human League, and Soul Glo to my ears.
The crowd hummed with anticipation as Black Shelton took to the stage, backed by his band the American Dream, composed of new synth/theremin player Sophie Shely and returning drummer Evan Mason-White. The set began with Shelton holding his phone up to his bass’s pickups, looping a sample of Donald Trump hilariously claiming he was the least racist person out there into a repetitive drone, a move designed to discomfit and disarm the audience all at once. As soon as the music began, all bets were off. Wielding a Danelectro bass and regularly taking breaks from his impassioned vocals to walk around the room, even into the crowd and back at one point, you could tell that Black Shelton was soaking in every bit of the sound, his band keeping their eyes locked on him for cues, implied or otherwise. Evan’s drumming was powerfully delivered and skillfully played while Sophie’s synth and theremin interjections imbued the music with a noisy, textured edge, all while Black Shelton played pummeling distorted bass lines while alternately singing and screaming his confrontational lyrics, touching on subjects like racism, the American Dream, and how tightly those two are intertwined and interdependent on one another.
To make an undeniably impressive set only better, Shelton invited Zach from Lo-Fives on stage to play guitar for the last few songs of the set, which added a depth to the sound that filled out the mix wonderfully.
Despite some technical issues with the drums that made some song transitions a bit lengthy, the set came to a fantastic conclusion, with the crowd moshing like hell and Black Shelton thanking the crowd for an incredible night. And an incredible night it was! I was thoroughly impressed by both performances from each of the bands, and absolutely recommend going out and catching Lo-Fives or Black Shelton and the American Dream, some of the best bands Portland has to offer, at any of the many venues around town you may find them playing at.