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Two Men, Two Guitars: Shane de Leon and Scott Arbogast in Olympia

Miss Massive Snowflake and Rainstick Cowbell are light and dark

See Shane de Leon of Miss Massive Snowflake (middle) up close and personal Feb. 27 at tiny Le Voyeur. Press photo

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A quick word about band names. As a music columnist, I'm constantly on the search for bands to fill these pages every week. Aside from certain signifiers (what type of music the venue typically plays, other bands with whom I'm familiar that are also on the bill, etc.), all I have to go on at first blush are the names of the bands - an assembly of words that can say everything or nothing. I don't mind saying that I will always first be drawn to bands with outlandish names, though my expectations never quite match what I end up hearing.

What does your mind go to when you hear the names Miss Massive Snowflake and Rainstick Cowbell (two bands currently nearing the end of month-long west coast tour)? If you're picturing a pair of twee indie bands or cutesy folk-rock, you'd be wrong. Miss Massive Snowflake and Rainstick Cowbell are Shane de Leon and Scott Arbogast, respectively - two fiercely idiosyncratic Portland performers that manage to find common ground together.

"I was in a band called Rollerball for about a decade," says de Leon. "I started Miss Massive Snowflake as a recording project, just to learn how to record better. A lot of times, I recorded with my daughter, my nephew and my mother-in-law. And then, it slowly turned into a band. It started in 2005, I think, and it's been everywhere from me solo to a five-person band. Now, it's mainly a three-person band: bass, drums and guitar."

For the purposes of the tour, de Leon will be performing solo, once again. A lot of the Miss Massive Snowflake music smacks of a desire for experimentation. Songs vacillate between a sort of '50s romantic vibe and a playful prog-pop, finding unexpected twists and turns along the way. His tour mate, Rainstick Cowbell, is exclusively a solo performer - a fiery singer-songwriter with a strikingly androgynous voice and a penchant for disarmingly honest storytelling.

"When my band broke up, I had always wanted to play solo," says Arbogast. "I was always a fan of Billy Bragg, and I just think it's an incredible thing to be able to do, but I was never good enough to be able to pull it off. But then I thought I should just do it. It's the hardest thing I've ever done, to play solo. It's really difficult. I've been doing it since 2010, and I've been trying to up my chops. Always getting better. ... It's pretty brutal. You can't really hang on a power chord when you're solo."

Though he's a guy and an acoustic guitar, Arbogast eschews the folk label.

"I shunned the folk thing because folk is a very definite definition of something that's completely not what I do," says Arbogast. "If you show up to Rainstick Cowbell expecting a folk show, it's so not a folk show that it really pisses people off. ... I played a show in Latina, Italy, with these two classical violinists, and they played this great show. Then, I got up there, and had I played folk, I think it would've totally worked, but I got up there and people were like, ‘What the fuck is this?' They just left."

Though there's a considerable amount of daylight between de Leon and Arbogast as writers and performers, de Leon says that they complement each other well.

"It's been really fun to tour together," says de Leon, "because he comes out and he's really intense, doesn't really talk much, and keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. Then I come out, we do a couple songs together, and I kind of lighten the mood. I guess that's what we do for each other. ... I've loved watching him every night. It's been a guitar lesson and a poetry lesson."

A Miss Massive Snowflake and Rainstick Cowbell show is an exercise in light and dark, working in tandem.

MISS MASSIVE SNOWFLAKE, RAINSTICK COWBELL, w/Dionvox, 10 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 27, Le Voyeur, 404 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia, no cover, 360.943.5710

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