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SHOW REVIEW: Braille Stars/Papillon/J. Hell
Portland, Oregon - December 20, 1999 (Lola's @ The Crystal Ballroom)

By: Alex Steininger

The Crystal Ballroom's main dance floor, a huge room that houses big national touring acts and larger drawing local and regional artists, has recently opened a smaller, more local band friendly room called Lola's. Lola's can be found on the second floor of The Crystal. It's small room, restaurant look (with booths on the right and a shiny new bar in the back) and cozy confines make it a classy club to see some of the hottest local bands when the upstairs isn't being used.

As part of their "Something Cool at the Crystal" partnership with modern rock station KNRK, the monthly local band showcase felt more at home in Lola's relaxed, intimate settings. On the bill were three splendid acts, all of which have been making a name for themselves around town. First up was local record store and label owner Janel Hell and her band, J. Hell. Consisting of Janel's twelve-string acoustic, an electric guitar, and a drummer, J. Hell consumes you with slightly folk indie rock. Janel can sing and play, and is a powerful frontwoman, quickly grabbing your attention with her voice and style, both of which drive the band and catch you off guard. At first glance they look like they might be just another folk act off the street that thinks they can play. But, once they rip into their rock 'n' roll sound, they knock you down to the floor with sweet, viciously deceiving indie rock that is equal parts pop and energy.

Next up was the French pop quintet Papillon. Using the romantic language of the French and sweet pop melodies, the band's sensuous sound swims around your head while the male-female voices of the two singers in the band meld together in perfect unison to further the enchanting vibes of the evening. During this pre-Christmas celebration of music, love was in the air, and Papillion was behind it.

Ending the night was the powerful Portland duo the Braille Stars, fronted by the amazing Gilly Ann Hanner, the Northwest model for anyone who wants to be sweet, kick ass, and rock, as Gilly can do it all. The other half of the band is the equally amazing Stef Darensbourg. The duo has worked together previously, sharing the songwriting for another Portland prize, Semi-Sweet. Back in action, these two females once again put their music minds together and come up with some of the best rock music you're likely to hear. Fusing quirky pop, great two-part harmonies, and lush, swirling rock arrangements, the Braille Stars are that rare band that, just like its members, can be sweet and gentle, while still managing to kick ass and leave you in awe.

All three bands played a splendid set, though each felt short (especially J. Hell's and the Braille Stars). Maybe it was a testament to the power of the music; it's so good and mind consuming, it flies by because you're enjoying yourself too much. Though, whatever it was, anyone that was in attendance for this show (did I mention it was free?) got an early Christmas present. I know I did.

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