Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley and Brad Kopplin
The first one-eighth of what you need to know about Portland's 31 Knots can be discerned from something lead singer Joe Haege said between songs - a banter, if you will - at a performance here in Rock Island, Ill., last month. He didn't mince words. He told the handsomely sized Tuesday night crowd that while bassist Jay Winebrenner nursed his allergies in Chicago the following day, he was going to be "knocking boots" with his girlfriend in his parents' house. Maybe later they'd go see a matinee or something. This is provided as interesting because that was not Haege talking. It was the man he becomes when he performs and that character carries the burden of more sin than a roll called at the state pen. He'd blush to say those things in standard conversation, one would believe.
He's more of a latter day saint when he's off the stage and a crazied evangelist of something other than religion, much stronger, in fact, than religion, when he's up there conjuring the hellfires, wishing for them to erupt right out of his mouth and bathe the crowd. He makes you feel like you're convalescing when you'd been under no impression that things weren't right. There's a purging that you'll go through that might take you through a substantial number of dark valleys -- the ones you don't talk about at parties -- but popping out of the other side of that train tunnel is exhilerating.
He makes you feel like blood - the actual life fluid and the picture of it, as powerful in speech, sight or function. He rails against the vapidity that is popular culture. He must know a lot of fuck-ups, or he's just very good at using his own imagination to create the teasers that he writes about. His own characters - and perhaps the one he portrays with menacing conviction and unabashed completeness - are the embodiments of Dr. Jekyll, just with much more rationale. It's Dr. Jekyll, had he been right and thinking straight, but still doing his damage. It's a complete experience anytime 31 Knots is involved. They're a five-course meal full of accusations, the flipping of the table and all its dirty place settings (likely done by crafty drummer Jay Pellicci), broken dishes, possible bodily harm, great conversation and lip-smacking stimulation.
Haege, as this other man, is a roadhouse fight that comes from a good place. When it's over, he probably shakes his head and thinks, "Where the hell am I?" still seeing stars and birds. The last seven-eighths of what you need to know about 31 Knots is that they can deliver twice that number of knots, ratting out the phonies with blistered poetry. They have collected all of the ire for all of this ranting and raving over years and each tirade -- each poignant, glass cutting tirade -- has been better than the last. They are one of the best-kept secrets in all of America. When will we stop letting Europe make us look dumb?