Spotlight on Portland: The Lower 48

The Lower 48 - Photo by Colin Hudson
The Lower 48 – Photo by Colin Hudson

You’re more likely to first notice the fancy suits and slick haircuts, but the real tale of The Lower 48 is the sound that they’ve developed as their own since moving from Minnesota to the Northwest. It’s a simplistic approach to songwriting that is oftentimes lost in today’s rock, it’s an effortless attention to detail that separates them, and a real connection to their songwriting and their audience that makes them worth checking out.

Recently, I had the chance to see a casual set (no suits!) and wasn’t surprised to find out they can deliver a killer show on a calm, Sunday night. Rontoms is a slightly hip neighborhood trend spot located on the near Eastside of Portland. Every Sunday, they showcase two or three local acts and when the weather’s nice like it was when The Lower 48 played, the show takes place on the covered patio for an intimate setting. View more photos HERE.

The Lower 48 - Photo by Colin Hudson
The Lower 48 – Photo by Colin Hudson

The foundation the band built out of folk rock shined through as they played a number of songs from 2013’s self-titled album. These tunes also bring in a hint of vintage pop with sweet vocal harmonies and hard hitting riffs on a fuzzy Gibson. They also played a slew of recent material that adds in a grunge overtone and fits them right in with this part of the country.

About five years ago, The Lower 48 was formulated in Minneapolis before moving to Portland. They currently operate as the three piece of Ben, Sarah and Nick. The vocal duties are traded between Sarah and Ben while they also switch between guitar and bass. Nick chimes in on the singing as well while holding it down on the drum set. He has even been known to add in some trumpet a time or two.

The most striking factor that The Lower 48 can claim is a clear growth of their music. Their first EP, ‘Where All Maps End’ is primarily based on acoustic folk songwriting that stays consistently mellow. With each passing show however, they’ve become increasingly more electric and experimental. Their transitions and instrumental arrangements are always the highlight of their live show. You can expect to see Nick using a maraca and jumping off of his drum seat before ringing in a drawn out rest with a bass kick. It’s not uncommon for Ben or Sarah to start fading out chords by playing with the feedback from their amp (all these actions were witnessed at Rontoms).

The Lower 48 has taken all these fixings and cooked together a sound that they can label as their own. 2015 is set to be landmark year for them as they have a second album in the works. And with a live show that develops each time around, there’s no telling where they’ll end up.

Colin Hudson

Colin has been reviewing and writing about music in the Pacific Northwest for three years. His background lies heavily within funk and blues, but has explored new depths since moving away from his hometown in Indiana. Now, Colin is up to just about any genre and has contributed for a number of local, regional, and national publications including The Deli Portland, Oregon Music News, SSG Music, InTheMix, and The Untz. In his spare time Colin enjoys wearing sunglasses all the time and pondering about the awesome mustache he used to have.

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