Friday, September 16

MFNW - Day Four

Typhoon in Pioneer Square
Explosions in the Sky
The Antlers

Portland's Living Room was the perfect setting to experience the instrumental post-rock of Explosions in the Sky and the big-picture ambient droning of Eluvium.  Pioneer Courthouse Square is a brick covered park in downtown Portland that is surrounded by skyscrapers and constant city life.  

If you bought a wristband to MusicFest NW you were able to go to every club show and one of the big three shows (Iron & Wine, Band of Horses and Explosions).  Having seen Band of Horses before (excellent) and being not so enthused about I&W's newest release I opted to see Explosions in the Sky again given the urban setting.  The fact that you had to put some thought into going to this show meant that everyone there really did want to see one of these bands.  You could tell this type of crowd could get into emotionally charged power chords and maybe even a Friday Night Lights episode or two.
Can you count how many people are wearing feathers in their caps?
I have been a big fan of Matthew Cooper's ambient releases as Eluvium for a long time.  Ambient music requires a certain setting and the listener to be in certain mood in order for it not to sound like overhyped nonsense.  Don't click on these links and expect to immediately "get it".  Don't even try to listen.  Instead I encourage you to listen to something like Indoor Swimming at the Space Station  as you go to sleep tonight.  Eluvium excels at transferring emotion and atmosphere into long pieces that truly transport the listener to a different level of consciousness.  Time seems to slow down and reality is observed rather than experienced.  I believe they call it "an out of body experience."
   Going to an ambient concert is bizarre in that nothing much happens in the way of visuals but yet there is an incredible layering of sound for your brain to process.  Eluvium's Matthew Cooper (Portland via Kentucky) came on stage in a humble manner, picked up his guitar and slowly hypnotized everyone in attendance.  It didn't make sense at first, but once he had looped a few guitar lines without you noticing, the streetcar that could be seen over the venue wall slowed down and the sun on the skyscrapers turned a little more orange as their shadows shifted to the right.  By the time Cooper finished Underwater It Glowed I had to shake my head to remember where I was.  He played a few gentle piano pieces like Radio Ballet that didn't quite hit home for me like they do on the album.  He ended by looping a dark, sustained piano tone to the point where it absorbed every other sound. 
  And then it stopped.
Typhoon huddle up before the show.
Oregon native Typhoon was next up.  Kyle Morton could put on an interesting singer-songwriter show all by himself but he takes it to the next level by inviting 12 or 13 ragtag musicians to bounce through his serious harmonies with him.  I was getting hints of Arcade Fire.  Two synchronized drummers made the live show pretty fun to watch and the band has a clear chemistry on stage as if they're delighted to be together let alone playing to a big audience.
   The Antlers play some version of post-rock that I never care to listen to again.  Too many bad hairdos and I'm sure there's some street performing drummer that could have done a better job in the percussion department.  Although there was a cool moment when a fire truck drove by with its siren blaring and surprisingly, instead of ruining the music it went perfectly with the sparse, distorted guitars and moody keys.  
Explosions in the Sky playing that one song where the running back beats that one tackle only to turn around and see his girlfriend necking with the new kid in the bleachers.
The guys in Explosions have clearly been seeing some success.  They know which songs people have played on repeat late at night while they waited for sunrise or walked by that one swing set.  First Breath After Coma and Your Hand In Mine definitely steal the show.  They also have somewhat of a light show that adds to the "epic" effect.  

Seeing them again reminds me why they were so cool to begin with.  They play conventional rock instruments in a different manner entirely.  Instead of simply picking a rock beat, drummer Chris Hrasky will do a build up on the cymbals to set the scene and then fire off machine gun snares.  Basic song structures are nowhere to be found and stories are told through quiet periods (there were literally a few moments of complete silence) and suspenseful, quick passages.  Long before Friday Night Lights hit the small screen EITS evoked the stark desolation of small Texas towns (its home state).  Yet despite this bleak setting their is a sense that change can occur, that there are bigger players at work here....that there is hope.
Musicfest Northwest wraps up under a harvest moon.

Images: Noel

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