Portland in a storm: Storm Large looks back on leaving SF

“In the early ’90s, San Francisco was very kind to young rock musicians cutting their teeth,” recalls Storm Large (her real name), who returns to her old stomping grounds for shows at Feinstein’s early next month. Belting it out and vamping it up as the front woman of Flower SF, Storm and Her Dirty Mouth, and Storm Inc., Large was repeatedly approached with offers for recording contracts by major labels back in the day.

“Become a rock star,” she remembers. “That was the plan. Everyone on the scene thought I was supposed to be famous. I got offered deals all the time, but just for me, not my bands. I’ve never had really commercial aspirations. I just wanted to be a really good musician. So, I always said, ‘You want me, you take the boys.’ And nobody ever would, so I didn’t sign.”

“In 2000 and 2001, we were finally being seriously courted as a group by Chris Blackwell and Island Records. But then 9/11 came, and everyone’s priorities really changed. I never heard another word from them.”

At the same time, nightlife in San Francisco was under siege, “Large said. “There were live/work lofts going in on 11th Street and Willie Brown was just sanitizing the city, selling it off to the highest bidder. I looked around and decided it just wasn’t for me anymore.”

“I thought it was time I should start something new,” she says. “I always wanted to cook, and there’s a great culinary institute in Portland. I had friends up there, so I figured I would go make enough money bartending, and then enroll in cooking school.”

It took only seven months slinging booze at a club called Dante’s until the owner coaxed her into getting up on stage.

“Seven months was a looong time for me to not be performing,” she laughs, recalling the brevity of her hiatus. Her comeback was fast, furious, and phenomenally diversified. Large put together a new band, Storm and the Balls, which became a cult favorite, mixing originals with feverish covers of acts ranging from AC/DC to ABBA. Culinary school has been on the back burner ever since.

Local fame brought her to the attention of Portland-based retro-pop act Pink Martini, with whom Large has since recorded and toured the world. Ironically, she’s achieved her greatest fame with genres of music utterly different than the raucous rock of her early career.

Patrons of Large’s shows at Feinstein’s are likely to hear a saucy, sultry blend of reimagined jazz standards and American pop classics, including compositions by Cole Porter, Randy Newman, Lou Reed, and Rodgers & Hart.

“I’m glad I’ve got three whole days in town,” says Large, who is generally on the road performing 250 nights a year. “I’ll have time to get some real dim sum and hit Taqueria Cancun. Those are things I miss about the city.”

On the whole, though, she feels like she’s found a happier home up north.

“I liken San Francisco to a gorgeous, refined, classy, worldly woman. But she can be cunty. She can be the biggest bitch you’ve ever met.”

“I’ve found Portland to be like San Francisco’s younger, chubbier, lesbian, biodynamic farming little sister. Sweet, thoughtful, one hundred percent more supportive of the arts. It’s a city that still recognizes the importance of all the freaky people.”