Pop goes Panther

Pub date March 7, 2007
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

Prince may have his devoted popites canonizing those purple-clad jewels once again after his recent Super Bowl halftime performance, but in Portland, Ore., there’s an equally crude one-man dance-aster who could soon take the crown from His Royal Badass. This beat blaster and master, however, comes in the form of a scrawny gyrator whose elasticlike body rapidly contorts, recoils, and slams against walls during his pop-flushed freak-outs.

Since 2002, Panther, a.k.a. Charlie Salas-Humara, has administered a hip-spasming dose of what his press literature describes as "damaged soul," fusing pulsating drum machines and bassy hooks with disheveled synths and glass-cracking falsettos. MTV2 has even taken a liking to the 32-year-old, nominating "You Don’t Want Your Nails Done," the single from his debut, Secret Lawns (Fryk Beat), for Video of the Year. During the video a brown-suited Salas-Humara rocks the microphone in a room cluttered with cardboard furniture, cell phones, and iPods. The fidgety performer busts into the Robot like a Tourette’s-afflicted Michael Jackson and beatboxes, "When you’re making these fists / You don’t want your hair / When you’re making these fists / You don’t want your nails done." Watching the video makes you want to grab the sweat-drenched vocalist by his shoulders and yell, "Go, white boy, go!"

But according to Salas-Humara, Panther’s intoxicating bite hasn’t taken that much effort. "It’s a great project because I don’t have to think about it, and there’s no concept besides whatever shit I pull together in my basement," he says on the phone from Portland. "It’s just me, and I don’t have to be a Gang of Four cover band or try and be some pop thing."

And Salas-Humara doesn’t always sound like he’s in pursuit of pop. Songs such as "Rely on Scent" and "Take Us Out" evoke a free jazz and R&B artiness and rely heavily on organ to keep them afloat. Others, such as "How Does It Feel?" and "Tennis Lesson," recall the mechanized keyboard bluster of early-’80s Herbie Hancock and the Art of Noise while integrating densely arranged hip-hop beats as their driving force.

Born in Florida but raised in Chicago’s suburbs, Salas-Humara moved to Portland in 1995 with his band, the Planet The. The trio stuck it out for 11 years, though Panther had already sprung to life before the group’s demise.

"I started doing Panther because somebody asked me to do one of those solo performance nights where people from different bands get together and play acoustic songs," he says with a laugh. "I thought it would be funny to terrorize it with prerecorded drum machines."

Salas-Humara claims that he thought he would never perform as Panther again, but he continued producing new music because his friends kept egging him on.

"It was really fun to try and fill up a lot of space on a stage with one person, so I started experimenting with dancing and doing different things with the stuff I would choreograph," Salas-Humara explains. "Basically, I just get weird."

In addition to the MTV2 nomination, 2006 saw Panther embark on tours with the Gossip and Ratatat, and Fryk Beat released the lauded 12-inch Yourself.

Gearing up for his first national tour, Salas-Humara confirms he’s a bit nervous about the jaunt.

"You never really know where your fans are," he says. "I’m sure it’ll be pretty awesome in some places and dismal in others. I guess that’s the way that it goes." (Chris Sabbath)


With Yip Yip, Lemonade, and Like Nurse

Thurs/8, 9:30 p.m., $7

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923