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Music » Sound Stories & Interviews

The Darkness Within

Portland's Rainstick Cowbell exposes worldly ills with prophetic, acoustic punk rock

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Like rolling tremors preceding a molten eruption, the agitated rock of Portland's Scott Arbogast—who records as Rainstick Cowbell—is replete with hellish warnings of impending doom.

Aptly, Arbogast will share those cautionary tales—mostly about greed and human mismanagement of things—Jan. 26 at Bend's Volcanic Theatre Pub.

On his latest album, 2013's Damage Control Damage, Arbogast is especially observant and honest about the more disparaging aspects of life. On that record, unsteady rock songs like "The Tyranny of Poverty" and "All of You Will Betray Me Tonight" request that listeners delve into the oft-ignored darkness that surrounds them; amorous items like corrupt capitalism and personal deceptions about self-image. And though Arbogast does include some tracks designed to be less serious—see the self-deprecating phallic song, "Tuna Can Dick," for example—the gothic yet plucky acoustic guitar still crawls across the musical canvas like a jittery tarantula.

With a jagged vibrato, Arbogast creates an invitation into his psyche where skepticism and vulnerability have set up camp, and yet with a tenderness that clings to hope. Further proving that premise, Arbogast appears lonely and naked in a tub for press photos, conjuring up the idea he is one breakdown away from an emotional suicide, but not quite convinced that's the only option. Cleary, his aim is to provide a discomforting platform from which to watch the world burn; at times, even screaming for people to recognize just how messed up everything is but also wondering if it can be saved.

From peeling away the seedy layers of Portland like it's a rancid onion with the 2008 track, "Meth Dealers on the Light Rail Corridor," to the rigid acoustic punk rant on "DAMAGE CONTROL 666," Arbogast is as raw as songwriters come. He's also dead serious about coloring outside the neat and tidy lines of safety and happiness, making his shows an in-your-face look at the lies we tell ourselves and how to fix them.

Rainstick Cowbell

8:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26

Volcanic Theatre Pub

70 S.W. Century Dr.

About The Author

Ethan Maffey

Both a writer and a fan of vinyl records since age 5, it wasn't until nearly three decades later that Oregon Native Ethan Maffey derived a plan to marry the two passions by writing about music. From blogging on MySpace in 2007 and then Blogspot, to launching his own website, 83Music, and eventually freelancing...

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