Category: Road Visions

Road Visions: Record Stores of Portland, Maine

Electric Buddhas gets trippy in naming their genre sections. (D. Hixon)

Electric Buddhas give a psychedelic twist to the naming of their genres. (Photo – D. Hixon)

While vacationing on Lake Ossipee, NH my Wife and I took a day trip to Portland to explore Maine’s largest city. It’s by no means a “big” city – but it resolves this with a strong dose of personality & charm – which is most evident while visiting the record shops.

Moody Lords records and vintage clothing made it a standout.

Moody Lords records & vintage clothing should be on your radar.

My first stop was Bull Moose – which unfortunately has more CD’s & DVD’s than vinyl, with the majority of records being new releases. That’s no problem if you live in Portland – but if you’re a n0n-Mainer it’s a bummer as there’s nothing unique to the selection. While I stayed away from most everything – I found some insanely affordable records in their bargin bin which made the shop worth peeping, but I’d make it later in your crawl.

Next was Moody Lords – which ended up being my favorite shop in Portland. I was greeted at the door by a quizzical babe in diapers, and once I got past the buddha I was exposed to a shop layered with tasteful vintage garb and a well manicured landscape of vinyl. Cultivation was as equally easy as it was dangerous due to the quality of fruit to pick from – and the laid back vibe, friendly service, and sloppy garage bouncing off the walls made me fall a little in love with everything. A must stop if on the hunt in Portland.

Just a few doors down I visited Strange Maine which was my most anticipated shop to visit – but in general, I was disappointed. This could be because my taste isn’t particularly metal/hard rock aligned, but I found the majority of records to be in shoddy condition and displayed in a cramped and forced way. I’ve been to a lot of dusty record stores – not my cup of tea, but could see why a collector of a certain disposition would dig this place.

Last up was Electric Buddhas which was hands down the most joy riddled shop in Portland. It’s a garden salad mix of retro video games, rare vinyl, and audiophile quality stereo equipment. While Moody Lords was manned by vixen like sirens who bleed cool and breathed hip – the Buddhas tag team of lovable (and I think admitted) dorks gave everything in the shop extra credibility, love, and care. I picked up a copy of The Freak Scene’s Psychedelic Psoul which I never thought I’d see in person – and that was one of many adjacently priced gems they had stuffed between N64 games and unopened packs of Saved by the Bell cards. Like I said, joy, as was the rest of Portland, a worthy stop for the record obsessed fiend lost in Northern New England.


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Road Visions: Late Nights in Florence – Hanging Out Backstage

Backstage - Florence, Italy

The crowd at Backstage in Florence, Italy was electric. (.GIF – D.Hixon)

Hot Spot
Backstage, Florence Italy, 05/18/13

My wife and I were stumbling back to our rented loft after a too good meal in Florence. It was maybe midnight, and as we walked in the shadows of the Duomo a second wind stirred within us. The night prior I spotted what looked to be an interesting little club on Via Fiesolana, just around the corner from where we were staying at the J & J Hotel. So in the interest of obtaining a nightcap and some adventure we dove head first into the Firenze nightlife.

Hot Spot's Setlist.

Hot Spot’s Setlist for the night.

The club, Backstage, was very small – maybe half as large as the Lizard Lounge, and it was loud, sweaty, and packed with beautiful Tuscan 20 and 30 somethings. I felt like Hemingway’s Jack Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, living the expatriate life far away from home, getting lost in an exotic night.

Hot Spot was the band on “stage” – and I say “stage” because there was no stage. The band was on the level with the crowd that was dancing emphatically around them, spilling just a little on their amps, as a large overflow drank and partied outside on the street of Via Fiesolana. The revelers were smoking too many cigarettes, speaking loud and passionate Italian – the most gorgeous and trilly of languages – while the house band, Hot Spot, urged them to continue, playing a mix of English and Italian Jazz Standards. The night was sweaty, neon hazed, and fun as all hell. Hot Spot’s guitarist was particularity adept, sitting as he played, seemingly oblivious to the madness he controlled. I thanked him multiple times in the worst Italian he’s probably ever heard, but he smiled back and shook my hand.

We got back to our loft sometime between 3:30-4:00am with a noticeable lean, and slept in maybe a little too late – but it was worth it, and I’m glad we dove in for a quick Firenze dip.

Un milione di grazie.

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Road Visions: Record Stores of Florence, Italy

Rock Bottom Records - Florence, Italy

Rock Bottom Records in Florence, Italy was my favorite shop in the city. (Photo – D. Hixon)

I’m traveling around Italy for the next week and a half and thus far this beautiful country exceeds all reputation. The food is exquisite, the architecture breathtaking, and the art’s priceless. My first stop was Florence, and while I went places that were expected like the Duomo and Michelangelo’s sculpture of David, I had to peep what Italian Record Stores had to offer.

Marquee Moon is a nice shop if local, but not yet a destination.

Marquee Moon is a nice shop if a local.

My first stop was Marquee Moon, a shop that resides in the shadow of the Duomo. The shop was quaint, but the prices, like all shops I visited, were not for the light of wallet. My biggest disappointment here was that 95% of all vinyl was brand new – and a lot of the releases were from the US. I browsed quickly, picked up Les Sins 12″ from last year (Toro y Moi side-project), and moved on. A great shop if you live in Italy, but not if you’re visiting looking for gems you can’t get back home. I’d equate it to a smaller Newbury Comics stateside.

Data 93 Records - Florence, Italy

Data 93 Records – Florence, Italy

Next up was Data 93 Records, a shop located near the Arno River, which was much more along the lines of what I was looking for. From the outside the shop looked like it would be as small or smaller as Marquee Moon, but the room really opened up as you snaked into the back. They wasted some prime space with CD’s up front – but the store was a treasure trove of used records, and virtually everything I picked up was an “import” or foreign non-US pressing. I got some great albums here (Soft Boys, Alex Chilton, Brothers Johnson, & More) and the staff, whom I believe were Father and Son, were incredibly helpful. The store was funky with a psychedelic ceiling and posters, and organization was decent, but heavy digging was still required to unearth good. Apparently in Europe college radio rock or alternative is universally called “New Wave” – That’s weird.

Rock Bottom's selection is as deep as the ocean.

Rock Bottom’s selection is as deep as the ocean.

The last shop I visited in Florence was Rock Bottom, and I certainly saved the best for last. The shop had a super crisp and clean feel about it, and the store was 100% dedicated to vinyl. What also blew my mind here was the intense organization of everything. There were no lazy listing just by the letter of the alphabet, each band had it’s own unique dedicated section. On top of this, each record was labeled with the Vinyl and Sleeve condition, and there was also a description of the pressing and record in each sleeve, which meant I didn’t have to “waste” my time checking to see if a record was a US pressing or not. They had a large variety of records, specializing in rock and indie, and their hyper organization made it easy (and dangerous) for me to find records. I got some killer first pressing from Germany, Holland, and the UK which you’d just never see in the states – such as: Daydream Nation, Goo, Forbidden Places, and Computer World. If you can only go to one shop in Florence, this is hands down the place to go.

Overall the shops were all great, but there’s no real “bargains” in any of these places. You have to be ready to pay close to Discogs retail for what you’re buying, but it’s worth it, especially given you’re not paying for shipping and the rarity of what you’re seeing given what’s back in the States. Overall an excellent job done by Florence.

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