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Alex's celebrates its 21st with The Dimes

Alex's is turning old enough to drink! Long a pet nightspot on the Ashland plaza, the restaurant and bar will celebrate its 21st birthday on Monday, May 5, with a show by The Dimes, a Portland-based indie-pop group that is turning heads up and down the West Coast.

The Dimes joined the ranks of Northwest bands such as The Decemberists, The Shins and Death Cab for Cutie by playing gigs at bars and clubs around the Portland area while keeping a sharp eye on its own career. The group rode a wave of successful EPs and set its sights on venues that showcase new music, such as colleges, indie and internet radio.

Now, with its first full-length album, "The Silent Generation," under its belt, The Dimes embarked on April 29 on a college tour that includes shows from Seattle to San Francisco.

"It's a busy time for The Dimes' family," says Ryan Wines, The Dimes' manager. "The band is touring like crazy. We're sticking to the West Coast, mainly so that we can increase our frequency in each market.

"We're also working on our frequency of recordings. While the latest record is still new, the guys have got a lot of new material written. We hope to release another full album after the first of the year."

"The Silent Generation" has received favorable reviews from SPIN Magazine, NPR, USA Today and others, Wines says.

The four original members of The Dimes, Johnny Clay (vocals, keyboards and guitar), Pierre Kaiser (lead guitar), Ryan Johnston (bass) and Jake Rahner (drums), have been joined by a new member, Ehren Ebbage.

Ebbage, who spent three years touring and recording with Justin King and recently released an indie six-song EP titled "Bottlerocket," adds lap steel, acoustic guitar and amazing harmonies to the band's sound, says Wines.

The Dimes started its tour in Salem, then drove all night for a 7 a.m. radio show the next day in Sacramento, Calif.

"The first day out on the tour, and it is packed," says Kaiser. "We've got a concert at noon and another one tonight at UC Davis."

But The Dimes' transition from club band to show band is not going unnoticed.

"What's cool is that it's a lot more doable than it used to be," Kaiser says. "We used to spend the time that we weren't performing to focus on getting by without day jobs. Now we feel entirely focused on the music. We're writing the best music we've ever had, and we're out here doin' it. It's awesome."

Charles Tobey, who owns Alex's Restaurant along with his wife Quinn, couldn't agree more.

"That band has it all going for them," Tobey says. "They stopped in for an acoustic set at Alex's a few weeks ago and blew me away. They've got great songs, along with great vocals, harmonies and that Big Country kind of guitar sound."

Tobey says he enjoys booking new bands who are getting big enough to work the circuit.

"This is one of the fun parts of running a club," he says. "I like finding these groups. They're pushing their albums and performing 40- to 50-minute sets. They're getting big enough that we don't know if we'll get them back."

There are limited venues for live music in the area, Tobey says. He regularly books great local bands, along with Michael Tracey from Eugene, The Moon Mountain Ramblers from Bend, Naomi and the Curious Rude Boys from Santa Cruz and others.

Tobey has owned Alex's since 2004, when he bought it from Alex Reid. Reid created the restaurant on the second floor of the historic Perrine Building on the plaza in 1987.

The Dimes' show at Alex's will start at 8:30 p.m. with an acoustic set by Ebbage followed by an electric show with the full band. Cover for the birthday celebration is free. Call 482-8818.

Alex's celebrates its 21st with The Dimes