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Hype is the worst thing in the world. It can make gods out of mortal men, building false expectations that could ruin a band in a single, false step (or boring album). Similarly, too much expectation and goodwill can make what should be a fun, bouncy experience into an extraordinarily frustrating one. Case in point, my enjoyment of indie rock golden boys Surfer Blood would probably have been immensely enhanced by less coverage of SxSW and less blog exposure; as it is, my expecting them to be anything but an affable, somewhat catchy pop band left me dissatisfied and stomping out into the night.

The evening began well, though. The venue, Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge, is my favorite in the city, small enough to be intimate but with enough indie appeal to draw up and coming names between Seattle and San Francisco. You can even catch an interesting local act from time to time, like openers Dirty Mittens. A six-piece band with a sound falling somewhere between dance-ready and indie pop (but with horns!), their set was energetic and fun enough to make even this awkwardly bespectacled specimen of hipsterdom bob around in a simulacrum of dance. Diminutive lead singer Chelsea Morrissey’s voice is a girlish trill with just the hint of that indeterminate accent that singers sometimes appropriate, but her stage presence was impressive, as was the band’s clear enjoyment of their time onstage.

The bewilderingly named Turbo Fruit were so mismatched to follow that it makes me wonder what’s going through some booker’s addled head. Following the dancebeats of Dirty Mittens, they turned out to be straightforward retro-rock, with just a little bit of punk and Southern in there. Let me put it this way- on subsequent research, their MySpace page listed influences as “MotorBikes & ATVs.” While the trio were competent and the crowd seemed to welcome them gracefully enough, they were simply unremarkable; when the most memorable songs performed are covers of “Bad Moon Rising” and “Teenage Kicks,” a band might want to rethink some things.

And then headliner Surfer Blood’s time to perform came. Or it should have. Instead, after two openers and the knowledge (presumably) that they were, you know, playing a show that night, the Florida band arrived onstage and spent what felt like an agonizing amount of time sound-checking and tuning up. It seemed as though no single member of the five-piece was satisfied with what was coming back on their monitors, and so their nearly-sold out crowd waited for them to be ready. When they finally did get in shape, playing tunes from their debut Astro Coast, I must admit they were catchy. But catchy doesn’t necessarily mean exciting or deserving of the praise lavished upon them, which must be due in part to their stamina for performing. The entire band, particularly singer/guitarist John Paul Pitts, seemed happy to be playing at the Fir (at one point comparing its wood-decorated interior to cult TV show Twin Peaks, and then following up with their song “Twin Peaks”), but as the performance drew on, it became clear to me that nothing much was going to happen but some cheerful boys playing some riffs. Their single (and best song thus far), “Swim,” was played late in the set, enlivening the crowd a tad more than normal Portland stoicism, but I was already on my way out the door. I had already begun mentally checking out during the extended soundcheck, anyway.

[Photos: Trent Lesikar]

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