The first time I saw Storm Large was at Music Fest Northwest in the Roseland Theater (2003, I think). She’d been playing every Wednesday night at Dante’s and would keep that gig until she got on TV a few years later. Portland turned out for her in bars across town, watching her perform and compete on Rock Star: Supernova. She was our champion, her star was rising and we loved her. But I’m getting ahead…
That first performance, I wandered into a busy but not full hall of curious people, all of whom had their chins on the floor. Dressed in a slinky black dress and full length red gloves, Storm didn’t so much command the stage as claim it as her property. She was charming, she was provocative, with a wicked sense of humor and equally wicked voice. She was bloody great is what she was, and the whole room stood astonished at this combination of elegance and racy burlesque.
It was that thought of “red and black” that came to mind when I selected a bottle of Boedecker Cellars 2004 Athena Pinot Noir. I’d recently refitted my beloved 1976 Linn Sondek with a Macassar ebony plinth and now the grain in the wood makes me pause a moment, just before dropping the needle. But this time there was a heady feeling of extravagant indulgence: I’d picked up Storm’s latest release, Le Bon Heure*, on limited edition red vinyl—with black streaks, (“Really quite sexy,” said Jai, as she shot the pictures. “Like smoke from burning love letters.”) I’d bought it months ago, right before harvest and hadn’t had time to play it. Well, this column is about perfect moments, after all, and new Storm Large album is an event. A less refined wine simply wouldn’t do, and a 2004 Athena is as rare as an honest politician these days.
Athena Pappas likes black fruit flavors in her signature cuvée, but 2004 was very much a “red” year. In fact, 2004 had a unique ruby red that upon release, stood out from other wines and other vintages and I wondered how it might match the record visually. The muscular structure I usually associate with Athena’s style had mellowed over eleven years, and red fruit had stepped up in front of the black. But there were still plenty of fresh fruit flavors—lots of ripe black cherry and raspberry—still a little spice on the nose, and a dreamy, lingering finish. It’s peaked, but it’s far from decline and sure enough, the color alone was quite the match to what was on my turntable.
Le Bon Heure is a gorgeous recording, starting with a slightly irreverent rendition of Cole Porter’s “Under My Skin—” irreverent because as Storm has often done, a cutesy love song is performed from a stalker’s perspective. (Consider the implications of, “Don’t you know, little fool/You never can win.”) After that is a typically ambitious collection of metal turned torch, silly ditties elevated to rock anthems, a Black Sabbath song turned into a samba, and a Randy Newman tune sounds like it belongs in a church. (Seriously, what’s more Portland than “I Think it’s Going to Rain Today?”) It’s all part of Storm Large’s clever, campy mystique.
A heartfelt version of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” has all the warm sense of loss—and naughtiness—of the original. But there’s a fond celebration of life that wasn’t in the original, a reason for us pause to smell the wine, and savor our time. And what better time spent than with two formidable women, Storm Large and Athena Pappas. It was a delicious adventure into the red and the black.
*To my knowledge, Storm Large is never one to overlook a double entendre.