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Songs in the key of sea

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Port OBrien bids the seafaring life adieu.
  • Port OBrien bids the seafaring life adieu.

Each summer, Port O'Brien frontman Van Pierszalowski heads to Alaska to work for his father's fishing business. But this year, for the first time since eighth grade, he's abandoned the seafaring life.

That's because his Oakland-based band's sophomore effort, All We Could Do Was Sing, is causing a major stir in indie circles. Its shout-along opening track, "I Woke Up Today," is so infectious that it becomes embedded in your brain after a single listening.

Port O'Brien is now touring much of Europe and the U.S. So after a few years of clubs and the odd karaoke bar, how does it feel to join the likes of Vampire Weekend and the Dap-Kings at Red Rocks, a venue still associated with U2 at its peak?

"Yeah, I know, we're basically now at the same level as U2," the band's frontman replies drolly. "But yeah, it's a great lineup and we've obviously never played at Red Rocks, so we're totally excited."

Port O'Brien has also earned the obligatory critical comparisons to Arcade Fire a single Yahoo! search for both bands yields 65,000 Web pages although there's little similarity other than "I Woke Up Today" and Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" both containing wordless vocal intros.

"I don't think we've really written anything like it since," says Pierszalowski of the band's current signature song. "I mean, how could you? It's just two chords that are not even like real chords, over and over."

At least two videos for the song are also YouTube hits: the official band video and an unofficial version set to footage from Tommy Seebach's 1977 disco rendering of "Apache." The Danish singer/keyboardist's creepy, campy video featuring Seebach's toothy leer and a bevy of scantily attired "Apache" girls has elsewhere been paired with songs by the likes of Disturbed and Madonna, but never with such hilariously spot-on synchronization. The Seebach version, it turns out, is the handiwork of the group's friend Ryan Stively, who recently signed on as Port O'Brien bassist.

"He's like the king of YouTube videos," says Pierszalowski of his new bandmate, "and, yeah, that one's so perfect it's hard to ignore."

Other standout tracks include "Stuck on a Boat," a pretty ode to Pierszalowski's girlfriend/bandmate Cambria Goodwin (who works at the nearby cannery while he's out to sea) and the album-closing "Valdez," a protest against Exxon's fight to minimize compensation for an oil spill that, decades later, still pollutes the Alaskan coastline. Despite the album's nautical theme, Pierszalowski says he's happy to spend the summer on the road instead of at sea.

"It's a hard thing to be away after doing it your whole life, but it's also really hard work so it's kind of tough to miss it."

In fact, the only downer so far was hearing Alaska-governor-turned-VP-nominee Sarah Palin speak at the GOP convention.

"We listened to her speech on the way up to Portland on [National Public Radio]," he says. "We were all in good moods, but then afterwards we all had headaches and wanted to vomit."

bill@csindy.com


Port O'Brien at the Monolith Music Festival
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 18300 W. Alameda Pkwy., Morrison
Saturday, Sept. 13, 2 p.m.; meet-and-greet at 6 p.m.
Festival tickets: $59.50 (Saturday only), $110 (Saturday and Sunday), all ages; 303/830-TIXS (8497), ticketmaster.com; more info at monolithfestival.com.

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