It’s going to sound clichéd to say so, but you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Tony Smiley play music. Also known as The Loop Ninja, Smiley is a one-man band who singlehandedly puts most multiple-member bands in their places. Using loop technology, which stacks musical segments on top of one another, Smiley builds an entire, totally rocking musical world, live on stage weekly in Oregon and around the Pacific Northwest.
Smiley grew up in Hood River, and his approach to music is very “Oregon”—independent, open-minded, spirited and personal. The lifelong musician and former member of many bands endured the break-up of several groups before deciding to just do his own thing—lucky for all of us. I saw him for the first time a year ago and was instantly hooked.
It works like this. Smiley gets on stage, surrounded by a mess of instruments and wires, a couple of microphones, and a Boss Loop Pedal, which looks simply like a few levers at his feet but is actually the portal to Smiley’s unique brand of musical magic. He starts to lay down some rhythms, one instrument at a time, eventually looping them all on top of each other. Totally adept at guitar, bass, keys, drums, and beatbox, Smiley masterfully builds a song before your eyes. Smiley plays a fun mix of rock, world fusion dance, old school 80s/90s and new wave, as well as songs he writes himself. Half of the fun is trying to guess the track before the loops are all in place. Before he even begins to sing, the audience is a sea of bobbing bodies, tapping feet and happy smiles.
Then Smiley throws in the vocals.
His awesome deep growly voice rocks any house he plays, and he plays many. Smiley tours around the Pacific Northwest weekly, regularly appearing at Portland, Oregon, locales Buffalo Gap, Doug Fir, The Woods and The Bagdad, as well as around the state at Astro Lounge in Bend, San Dune Pub in Manzanita, and McMenamins pubs all over. Wherever he goes, a dance party ensues.
I last saw Smiley play a few weeks ago at McMenamins Old St. Francis School in Bend. He’d played two incredible sets and had easily paid his dues to the venue, but the audience was far from finished with that awesome Smiley vibe. Leaving his many instruments and mics behind, he leapt from the state directly into the crowd, launching into a utterly fantastic sing-along rendition of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” supported only by his un-amplified acoustic guitar and his own voice. The totally blissed-out looks on the faces of the audience made me think I’d better see as much as Smiley as possible while he’s still touring the Pacific Northwest, because I believe this man is bound for bigger and better things.
See www.theloopninja.com for tour dates, to buy music and for more information.