The Wipers

The Wipers Box Set
Zeno Records


Anyone seeking the headwaters of the Northwest Grunge movement of the early ‘90s; or, perhaps more importantly, looking to trace the roots of Punk/Alternative Rock music in Portland, need look no further than this stupendous compendium. With his band, the Wipers, Greg Sage was one of the founders of the Punk movement in Portland

Influenced, in part, by the DIY ethic of Fred Cole (whose band, the Rats, was another seminal Puddleville Punk band of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s), Sage, in turn, became a huge influence on those who followed after him— including Chris Newman and his band, Napalm Beach; as well as, it might be speculated, a whole generation of plaid-shirted shoe-gazers, such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, as well as other alternative bands such as Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots (all of whom have seemed to borrow crucial licks, riffs and progressions from the songs found here), and their successors, Everclear. All of these bands owe a debt to the work of Greg Sage and the Wipers.

Here, we are given a total of 51 songs— the Wipers first four releases: Is This Real?, recorded in 1980; the ‘80 EP Alien Boy;Youth In America, recorded in late 1980; and Over the Edge, recorded in 1982. Included, in addition, are various outtakes, alternate takes and demos from the period, which give a very clear representation of Sage’s incredible genius as a songwriter and singer; but, more importantly, as a truly great guitarist, of incredible passion, unique expression and ineluctable power.

Nearly every song is a winner, generally adhering to the under-three-minute, up-tempo, driving eighth-note strictures of the Punk credo of the day. However, Sage throws in enough aural curveballs: piano on “No Fair,” and “Taking Too Long” and “When It’s Over;” the finger-snapping Swing rhythm of “No Solution;” horns on “Scared Stiff” and on the classic, “Romeo;” and extended arrangements of several songs, especially on Youth Of America,, where the often experimental title track rambles on for over ten minutes; to indicate that, unlike Kurt Cobain, Sage was not going to paint himself into a musical corner with a specific style or technique.

The original band line up, which was captured on Is It Real, included Dave Koupal on bass and Sam Henry on drums. Henry, of course, later went on to greater fame as the drummer in Napalm Beach. Together they help Sage to create a thick, roiling sound which permeates most of the tracks.

On the album there are many of the requisite prototypical riff rockers, for which Sage is now famous. Check out “Return Of The Rat” and “Tragedy.” But “D-7” stands as a clear antecedent to Nirvana’s “Something In The Way” from Nevermind. And the lightning flicking lick of “Potential Suicide,” not unlike that found in the Rock classic chestnut “Shakin’ All Over” (perhaps best rendered by the Who), is an indication of a Blues sensibility that Sage was not afraid to acknowledge. What is also readily apparent is his knack for eliciting a searing, overdriven tone from his guitar. This propensity served him well in the years to come. “Window Shop For Love” features clever chord clusters in the intro and more hearty, overdriven guitar figures in the breaks.

Sage’s guitar pyrotechnics on “Born With A Curse” (previously unreleased from 1979, the first song ever recorded by the Wipers) recall Ted Nugent on the Amboy Dukes’ classic, “Journey To The Center Of Your Mind,” far exceed what one would expect from the typical Punk outfit.

The Wipers had a new rhythm section for the next album. For Youth Of America, Sage added bassist Brad Davidson and drummer Brad Naish. Subsequently, with that lineup, the Wipers began to tour the country, eventually carving a name for themselves in the world of indie Alternative Rock.

Youth Of America found Sage distancing himself even farther from a strict Punk setting. “No Fair” is built on a dark, moody foundation, over which he speaks the lyrics in a low, monotonal drone, similar in style the vocals of Graham Lewis from the band Wire, who were somewhat popular at the time. The mini-symphony that is the title track breaks all Punk rules altogether. Besides it’s 10 minute length, there are other elements that elude the genre. Sage’s extended guitar solo incorporates a fiery Hendrix-like noise variable into the equation. His use of effects in the production of the track create guitar bombers and industrial birds, which strafe a factory of lumbering locomotive pistons and pinions. Groundbreaking stuff.

The mostly instrumental (with ominous spoken vocals near the end) nocturne, “When It’s Over,” explores a challenging chord progression, with Sage’s monumental guitar riffage soaring like a rocket into the sonic stratosphere. Punk, this ain’t. The outtake, “Scared Stiff” utilizes horns in a way that was being explored at the time by the British band the Teardrop Explodes.

Sage later said of the third Wipers album: “Over The Edge was accepted very quickly on its release. Where our first two LPs took about six years to be recognized. This was mostly due to the title track and “Romeo.” The title track, “Over The Edge,” is a molten piece of Rock, clearly the instrumental predecessor to Everclear’s “Heroin Girl.” A now-familiar syncopated chord run propels the song with whiplash force.

“Doom Town” displays a Televison-like feel, with Sage’s melancholy, pointillistic guitar phrasings dominating the mix. “So Young” picks up on similar Edge-like, two string riffs of the preceding song to carry the momentum. But with the latter track, the anthemic quality of Sage’s desperate vocal carries the song.

The most familiar of all Wipers songs, “Romeo,” is built upon an incendiary slide-guitar riff— which has been used as trailer music for innumerable radio sports shows, as well as in countless television and film soundtracks. The smoldering, bluesy intro gives way to a breakneck Rockabilly rhythm, over which Sage intones a droll, dead pan spoken vocal . “Oh Romeo. Rome Romeo. Romeo rome….” He says it all. It really doesn’t get any better than that. A classic!

“The Lonely One” begins as a lush, Hendrixian ballad, slowly gaining velocity through the course of the number; eventually evolving into a scorching guitar solo. “No Generation Gap” rides upon a symphonically heroic chord progression, Sage’s harmonizing two-string riffs, cutting through like two dancing cellos. A truly powerful performance.

Greg Sage’s place in the history of Portland music is secure. He stands with Fred Cole and Chris Newman as the triumvirate of founders of the local Alternative sound. Sage’s influence could have been even more strong, locally, but he moved to Phoenix in the late ‘80s, discontinuing his Oregon connection. But this magnificent 3-disc anthology firmly places Greg Sage and the Wipers, along with only a few others as one of the seminal bands of the Northwest, one of the true founders of “Grunge,” and all that came after.



Dreams Of The Sun And Sky
Domingo Records


Fernando Viciconte has graced local stages for the past five years, delivering well-wrought Folk/Rock songs, with impassioned vocals and capable musicianship. His last album, 1998’s Pacoima, produced by Luther Russell, was a rollicking tribute to Viciconte’s Latin roots; an album sung entirely in Spanish. Thoughout it all, Fernando has demonstrated a propensity for crafting heartfelt songs, which contain a clarity of essence.

However, as great as his career and possibilities have been, up to this point, nothing could prepare one for the sensational recording Viciconte has forged here— with the invaluable assistance of co-producer Mike Coykendall. Coykendall’s uncanny ability to select just the right complement of backing instruments for each song. Without over-doing anything, Coykendall lends every number, just the right touch. Over Fernando’s acoustic and occasional electric rhythm guitar, Dan Eccles’ lead guitar, John Amadon’s bass and Sean Oldham’s drums.

As an arranger and producer, Coykendall judiciously employs, for several tracks, the services of keyboardist Ralph Huntley (Tony Starlight) on piano and organ. In addition, the ubiquitous Paul Brainard, makes appearances on two tracks, playing pedal steel guitar; lending trumpet to one of them (“The Jackal”), as well as to a third number.

Coykendall, himself, adds guitar to a few tracks, harmonica to one, harmonium to another, an autoharp to yet another track. Even his wife, Jill Coykendall, contributes splendid clarinet parts to two songs. In all cases, the additional instrumentation is used to augment and enhance Viciconte’s vivid songs and evocative vocal performances. Every track is a complete success, on every level.

Over his solitary acoustic guitar, and Huntley’s mournful organ accompaniment, Fernando recounts a bleak tale on “The Jackal,” where “failure was our aim all along.” Brainard’s rueful pedal steel calls in the distance as Oldham kicks in a somber beat. At the chorus Fernando sounds as haggard and world-weary as Jerry Jeff Walker or John Prine. “Climb” unwinds gently, with layers of guitars buffeting Viciconte’s drowsy vocal. Haunting and sad.

he gorgeous interplay between Coykendall’s autoharp and Huntley’s organ (as well as Eccles’ lap steel guitar) gives “Away” a ‘60s, R&B/Phil Spectorish quality; as Fernando layers a Lennonesque vocal, intimate and immediate, upon that foundation. Transcendent. Jill Coykendall’s clarinet accents an Eastern flavor in “White Light.” A bluesy acoustic guitar lick plays against guest Scott McPherson’s syncopated percussion and Mike Coykendall’s sustained guitar tones.

McPherson contributes a propulsive beat to “Blue Room,” a forlorn ditty with a memorable chorus. “The Fly” is another piece that is reminiscent of Lennon. Huntley’s perfect piquant piano strokes and flourishes dance elegantly against Fernando’s dejected vocals. Brainard’s moody trumpet on the Jazzy ballad “Only One For Me” plays nicely against Huntley’s smoky, cocktail piano. Fernando’s slightly gruff vocal texture furthers the plaintive atmosphere.

With a nod to Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson,” “Greenfield,” introspectively investigates interpersonal motivations. Bela Balogh’s resonant violin and Huntley’s reedy accordion phrasings impart a slight European flavor to “Killer Waits,” another song reminiscent of Paul Simon or Townes Van Zandt, perhaps. Fernando captures Lennon’s melismatic vocal quality on the Beatlesque “Hold On.” The finale, “Fade Out” focuses on Fernando’s evocative voice with a sparse arrangement, decorated by a lonesome harmonica, a churchly organ and chant-like background vocals. Lovely.

Fernando Viciconte’s contemplative songs give witness to intelligence and a strong sense of pathos. Abandonment and desolation are his constant companions. But his steely observations on life and love contain a weary wisdom that is worthy of contemplation at times when the soul is downcast. A splendid production from start to finish.



Poison Blanket
Elemental Records


Comprised of former members of such illustrious bands as San Francisco’s Grotus, as well as our own beloved Sweaty Nipples and the lesser known Thresher, TV: 616 has been around for nearly two years, forging a sound that has been characterized as a “Rock-meets-Rave experience.”

Drummer Brian Lehfeldt’s tribulations with the Texas constabulary, regarding a garter pulling incident, in which he was involved while drumming for Everclear, has been well documented in these pages. Now the object of a civil suit over his unlawful act of being a heckled Oregon musician trying to play upon a Texas stage (he has already been made to shovel dogshit for the humane society as a community service sentence he received for the civil complaint), with TV: 616, Brian is probably able to vent a great deal of spleen.

Light-hearted, this stuff ain’t. Vocalist Scott Watkins often sounds as if he’s hawking up a lung when he sings, but there is never any doubt as to his commitment to the task. Guitarist Keith Brown adds plenty of well-executed lightning fast licks. Bassist Kong holds down the low end. Lehfeldt’s drumwork is heavy, but never plods. Dave Merrick distributes an array of samples and drumloops into the mix.

The title track leads off the album. Merrick’s drum loops and samples collide with Lehfeldt’s hard-hitting drums and Brown’s burly guitar, to set a mood into which White Zombie might quite comfortably slip. Tight and ugly. Brown’s stacatto guitar riff drives “Deep Cut,” as Watkins gives the song a Trent Reznor/Marilyn Manson treatment: despondently bitter. “Dig” pays similar homage. “Sickness” moves in a slightly different direction, with Black Sabbath lurking underneath the bluster. Subtle keyboard inflections add extra zest. “One Pig” is like Black Sabbath and Trent Reznor getting together for a rant. Ominously ethereal keyboard layers’ darken the sonic atmosphere.

An angular synth line is nicely matched by Brown’s muscular guitar on “Now Your Gone,” NIN-like keyboard figures in the breaks provide depth and bulk, while an actual, epic chorus make of this track a standout. “They Let Go” follows a similar trajectory, as does “Home.”

Eerie synth strings and other keyboard sounds produce a haunting foundation for “Control,” another superior number. “Listen” probably most successfully integrates the bands numerous strengths, creating an unique and original sound, based on Brown’s flexile guitar machinations, off-kilter keyboard parts and Watkins’ highly stylized vocals. Good stuff. Brown’s scorching guitar propels “Spangle” as Watkins delivers one of his best vocal readings.

TV:616 are no walk in the park, they are a tough, well-trained tactical unit. With this band, it’s possible the US would need no other weapons in its war on terrorism. Merely broadcast this music at very high volumes in the direction of our enemies and they will be sure to come quickly running from their caves, screaming for mercy. This stuff would surely scare the living hell out of them.


Morgan Grace

Morgan Grace cassette demo
Lady Lush Records

Here’s a young woman with nascent talent as a singer and songwriter, but with a bigger problem with which to be concerned. In a soft, girlish voice, Grace sings confessional tales of love and loss. Her abilities as a lyricist are quite strong. She has the capacity to draw one into her lyrics. Her voice is not particularly awe-inspiring, but pleasant. Her song melodies are mostly predictable, with occasional interesting curveball changes. But she sings her songs way too fast!

Like Tracy Chapman at double speed, she tears through very sensitive lyrics at a breakneck pace— devoiding her well-chosen words of their power. It’s almost as if Grace is afraid to confront what she has written. What she writes is that she is an alcoholic, or well on the way to becoming one. Each of the four songs presented here makes some overt reference to booze, or drinking, or booze drinking, or drinking booze. On a lyrical plane, it would be interesting if she were to explore in more depth the underlying reasons behind her drinking (she touches upon those reasons in the love lost number ”Goin’ Down To The Carnival,” “Walkin round goin through the games and rides/Little kids screamin, lights blinking wild/I caught sight of my honey being googled by a gaggle of girls;”and even more so on the deeply moving “Hello Daddy.”

But on a deeper level, if Morgan were to slow these songs down drastically and really dig into what she has actually written— from some intrinsic part of her being, she would have something of real force and gravity. However, her future would seem not much brighter than that of her father, if she continues to use alcohol as a crutch. Alcohol did not make William Faulkner, Eugene O’Neill or Charles Bukowski a great writer. If anything it impeded them as artists, especially over the long term.

Morgan Grace would be foolish to squander her abilities in such a way. But that choice is truly hers and hers alone.

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