The cater waiters were
wearing grunge-style checkered button-downs and handing out truffle-covered
goat cheese lollipops as a ’90s soundtrack blared through The Edison Ballroom.
Beside me, Jason Sudeikis was decked out in head-to-toe denim and grinning from
ear to ear. Tables lined the center of the room, each with light-up plastic
bridge centerpieces, ostensibly representing Portland, Ore.’s Freemont Bridge.
Couches around the perimeter of the room were covered in silken pillows and a
large stage in the front of the room had a Northwestern farm-style backdrop
with a faux rickety wooden sign hanging up above that said “Portlandia.”
When the lights dimmed, a
screen slowly dropped down and the room fell silent. We were about to catch a first
glimpse of the new series, created by and starring SNL standout Fred Armisen and indie rock superhero
Carrie Brownstein. A comedy that ragged on both Portland and the ’90s, created
by Armisen and Brownstein and produced by Lorne Michaels, seemed beyond belief
but here it was. How did all of this come to fruition? What did we do to
deserve this? Was this what all those dead birds were about?
“I was a big Sleater-Kinney
fan,” said Fred Armisen. “My band was supposed to play with Heavens to Betsy
once but they canceled because it wasn’t all ages.”
Armisen spent years as
drummer in the band Trenchmouth before deciding to take a shot at comedy. “I
don’t think I wanted to grow old playing in bands. I was like, I’ll do it in my
twenties and maybe my thirties, then I’ll just do it at home, but I don’t want
to be old having to lift equipment at shows.” Armisen, who most recently played
drums for a few tracks on Les Savy Fav’s Lets Stay Friends, told me that he
would like to record with Marnie Stern.
The crowd stayed hushed as
everyone watched the first episode of Portlandia, laughing uproariously throughout. When the lights
went up, the crowd resumed drinking gratis Rogue Dead Guy Ale, and snatching
mini sliders and salmon biscuits from passing trays.
When I finally spotted
Brownstein, standing near the door in a shimmering black dress, I approached
her nervously and had to consciously try to stop from humming the Excuse 17
song I had been listening to the whole ride uptown. I introduced myself then
blurted, “Are they going to be any other indie rock superstars on Portlandia?” I felt mortified as the word superstar left my
lips and a lady standing beside us laughed.
“Yeah,” she replied. ”A lot
of them. There’s people from The Decemberists, The Shins and Broken Bells, then
people like Aimee Mann and Sarah McLaughlin—it runs a whole gamut.” Then, after
promising me that her new band Wild Flag would soon be announcing a show in
Brooklyn, Brownstein explained the crux of Portlandia.
“Whether it’s Williamsburg
or Silverlake, there’s this mindset that really permeates a lot of the U.S.
right now. Portland is no longer this strange Northwest outpost, people really
feel a kinship with it because it’s sort of what everyone is trying to do right
And even in Midtown, she
didn’t seem wrong. Indeed, on the way outside—after a set by The Thermals—I was
handed my own complimentary 22-ounce bottle of special Rogue Portlandia Brew
beer. Following behind me was a graphic artist who introduced herself as Ava
“That was great,” she said.
“And I just realized I’ve got some leftover granola in my pocket! Sweet!”