On TV, it’s easy to tell when Fred Armisen is joking. He pretty much always is. But what if you saw him in person? Would you still know?
Fans grappled with that very dilemma when the Portlandia star stopped by Streetlight Records with his electric guitar on Friday for a free 30-minute show announced just a couple days prior.
One of his first tunes was a Jackson Browne-inspired driving song.
“And then, when we were writing it, I couldn’t come up with many lyrics, and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s fine. All you need’s a little bit,” Armisen explained before launching into his sincere-sounding country song about the open road:
“Freeway, riding along. Freeeeway, riding along. Freeeeewaay …”
Hanging onto every word, it took the adoring crowd only a minute to realize the song was going in circles, and Armisen got people to chime in with harmonies. He followed with a London-punk-style song about police resistance. It’s a song we can only imagine is called “Hey Policeman, My Boot Goes in Your Face,” which followed a similar lyrical format as his first.
Some of Armisen’s songs were taken from The Blue Jean Committee, a “fake band” he started with fellow Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader. (For lack of a better comparison, let’s call them a spoof of Loggins and Messina.)
Armisen also played covers like the Clash’s “Train in Vain,” only after inquisitively asking Streetlight staff what section the ’70s British rockers would be in.
“Punk!” everyone told him.
He asked that same question before launching into songs by the Damned, the Stranglers and Hüsker Dü—making the whole occasion feel like a bizarrely easy pop quiz: Punk, punk and punk!
He encouraged people to shout out questions whenever. “How long is your tour?” one girl yelled.
“Oh, this isn’t a tour at all,” Armisen responded, pointing into the crowd while clutching his Arrowhead water bottle.
“What is this?”
Armisen explained that he was on his way from Los Angeles to the northern Bay Area for a wedding. “I like playing in record stores. It’s one of my favorite things ever.”