On the ridiculousness spectrum, a scale of 1-10 measuring absurdity, Portland garage soul band Hong Kong Banana should score an 11. The band name alone is worth seven points. But there's a lot more to them than a goofy name and silly alter egos.
Their lead singer goes by Nigel Bubblesworth, clearly a made up name and not the only one in the band: points eight and nine. And in press photos, Bubblesworth sure does look like a contrived cross between James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and Andrew Dice Clay with perfectly messy salt and pepper hair and a cigarette dangling from his lip: point ten. He's also surrounded by obviously posed cohorts (band mates) listening to his heart with a stethoscope, taking an antique photo, and in another shot even admonishing him with an erect index finger: point 11.
But one simple fact renders that rating useless.
With unshakably rebellious guitar licks and unevenly ripped vocal laments from Bubblesworth and crew, Hong Kong Banana is in fact a blazing tribute to early Rolling Stones and Ramones, meaning these guys rock. Mick Jagger may not be dead, but his spirit—circa 1965—is getting an early start on reincarnation from HKB.
The evolution of silly names and self-promotion into aggressive lo-fi vintage rock and roll that would blow the doors off of any garage rehearsal space—which is probably why the band actually started in a basement—gets an explanation on the band's bio page for Fluff and Gravy Records. Award ridiculous points as you will for that label name: "What had originally started out as a joke, and a knee jerk reaction to musicians taking themselves far too seriously, was now growing the balls to take itself seriously."
And it's so much better for the dingy rock clubs around Portland that it did.
Fresh off the release of their debut EP, Now, But Not Now Now (that title gets the band a few extra silly-points) Hong Kong Banana's transmutation of frivolous to serious is taking the Rose City by storm. Their shows are more like one-night-stands; hook-ups where jilted lovers wake to find they've been abandoned sometime during the night—but feel satisfied nonetheless. Each fiery song gives it to audiences rough and over before anyone knows what happened.
Vocals are a big part of that; the band couples male and female with Bubblesworth (aka Michael Wills) and Amora Pooley. But there is no juxtaposition of grit and pretty here. Pooley's scorching if-Grace-Slick-sang-soul-music voice is just as stout as Bubblesworth's gravelly back-of-the-throat crooning.
So while Hong Kong Banana may have started as something a little flippant, ultimately the musicianship and undeterred rock attitudes of its members have won out and the band now is a legitimate contender for one of Portland's best rock and roll outfits.
Hong Kong Banana
6 pm. Friday, March 7
Crow's Feet Commons
875 N.W. Brooks St.