Saturday, December 29, 2012
SONGS FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARD
I'm early to Holocene, a bit of a ridiculous stratagem, I realize, but when it's a band like The Soft Moon I'm seeing, a show I've been anticipating with not a modest amount of drooling eagerness since it was announced a few months ago, I just can't sit at home waiting, I get too antsy, too twitchy. Gotta go to the club, pant pant.
No more than three dozen attendees at this point as Portland band We Are Like The Spider gear up and plug in. Simple trio set-up, guitarist (Gozu Lamonde), synth (Lucia Luna, also, as it will soon turn out, the main vocalist) and bass (Kait Autonomy). Immediately it's programmed beats, a deliciously distorted guitar and chilled hypnotic vox that on first (and lasting) impression strikes a kind of Siouxsie/Lene Lovich/EMA chord on my inner ear which my inner ear likes very much. Sound-wise overall WALTS are delivering a disturbed post-punk throb, insistent hypnotic textures like a glowing static blanket simultaneously laying over us and unraveling, however that works. Not for the first time the stumbling over of a local support band has excited the antenna with enough electricity that I immediately want them for my show. Odd, detached black and white film montages projected on the fabric folds behind them enhance the dark and powerful shadows living in their sound and can't help but suggest, to me, some strobing, tucked-away club in North London in 1981. In case you haven't been able to tell, I'm sold.
Fourth song of the set is a new one and it's a stomper, sung this time by Gozu and it carries a hooky progression not a long way from a dance floor. A hit, I tell ya, a hit, bass-propelled, rousing, and jumpy. As it turns out this is Kait's first ever gig with the band and not to over-flatter but you'd never know it, her playing melting into the mix with a percussive ease, a perfect fit.
Though many splinters of influence and inference were spiking around inside my head while they played, one of the most intriguing was the way We Are Like The Spider somehow manage to inject that somewhat deliberate (some would say plodding) automotive synth drone of Gary Numan with a renewed verve and, ahem, drive, with a kind of razor-sharp metallic sass. Not an update, mind, but an improvement. I can't wait to see them again (see the SFUTF facebook page for news of coming shows) but as much as that I can't wait to have them on the show, which, at this writing, will be either January or February. What a great night and it's only begun.
Group Rhoda is, in fact, one person, a young woman from San Francisco that I'm going to be bold and guess (probably incorrectly) is named Rhoda, and she's, well, singularly impressive. It's just her and a modest synth cluster with a Medusa-like tangle of cables snaking out behind and beneath it, and though it's all technology, computers and programs and pre-set patterning, it feels organic, looming and lingering echoic rhythms wafting about in warm harmonic (dark)waves and it's no surprise that there's a sort of macrame-ish tassley thing hanging off the back of her keyboard. The sound overall is bassy and spacey and inventive, something along the lines of Elisabeth Esselink fronting Kraftwerk. She's certainly busy, knob-twiddling at a furious rate yet thoroughly relaxed doing so. In fact, as a one-woman band she's positively sanguine, with an almost jazz player's demeanor. The vocals veer from plainly declarative to mildly angelic and the last song has this pulsing plaintiveness to it, a yearning mixed with resignation, mashed together in a sorrowful dancefloor beat and there's the essence, I'd say, to Group Rhoda, wringing emotion out of a bank of synths and ancillary programming.
The Soft Moon is Luis Vasquez is The Soft Moon and, like me, he also comes from San Francisco, a place I still find magical despite its dot.com boom makeover and where, yes, a significant portion of my heart still resides. But I swear on a stack of Joy Division singles that this isn't the reason I like them so much (oh, OK, it's a bonus factor). No, the overwhelming reason to like The Soft Moon is sound baby, sound, sheets and rolls and runs of it, a truly glorious noise I'm going to go ahead and dub 'epic sonic' and in fact let's just coin a neologism right here and make it one word ('epicsonic,' you heard it hear first) Not epic in the swath-y Big Country/Waterboys way but epic in the sheer rising power of the thing. When you're listening to The Soft Moon's albums you don't just get chords and drumbeats and tunnels of bass runs, you get vistas wrapped in thought, you get thrall, you get your central nervous system handed to you in a shuddering suite of sound. Yes, it evokes that sound from those times but there is nothing remotely tribute-like or nostalgic in it, or if there is it's of the most disorienting type: nostalgia for the current moment. Think of it as the quintessential idea of post-punk made manifest in the soon-to-be christened twenty teens. Or, just think of it as excitement, unvarnished yet exquisitely varnished excitement. Plus, if I may just say this: I love the smell of dry ice in the night time. The fog appears from behind the wires and pedals, modest mists of it that whisper 'It's time' and we're off.
Playing a gaffer-taped Fender Jaguar, Vasquez from the start spins out some intensely minimal guitar textures and it takes approximately 17 seconds to find myself in some sort of time-lost post-punk heaven, and in fact I must confess that I'm too wildly wrapped up in it to do much reporting. I should be writing down what tracks when, I know that, but the sound is far too mesmerizing and, for me, too transportive to the very heart of a time when Siouxsies and Curtises and Magazines first roamed the earth for me to stop and take note. I do know that "Total Decay," from the, umm, 'Total Decay' EP,carries a thunderous, distinctive rhythm along with synth tones set to 'hypnotically ominous' and that it amounts perhaps to the soundtrack to the end of the world (still days away at this point) but I gotta say, if it sounds like this, bring it on. Vasquez is singing in an almost lilting falsetto, though it's wrapped in such lovely doomsday dynamics it's rather buried. Then comes the keyboard bit, equal parts world-falling-apart and, paradoxically, sustained hope, before the song is ushered out on what sounds like an interplanetary wind blowing over a lonely empty lot. We react in what becomes a not atypical manner throughout their set, with a half-second of stunned silence then a roar of approval.
All three band members are dressed in black but what's being produced on stage never feels gothful, there isn't a single smear of eyeliner. If nothing else (and it's so much else) The Soft Moon sound is one that throws sharp, echo-layered shapes that are both stabbing and mellifluous, deeply textured but not in the least overworked. When I check my scrawled notes later I find the phrase "suitably gauzy and lustrous, heart-stopping and bliss-inducing" and I'll stand by that, except to say they're a band that invites an avalanche of superlative adjectives of this kind. Like me, I'd bet that most everyone here tonight keeps thinking to themselves 'This is The Soft Moon in an intimate little club in Southeast Portland on a cold Tuesday night. How lucky can we be?'
For the final two songs - the set-ender and the encore - Vasquez eschews guitar altogether for tom-toms, and though he attacks them with the same vigor and commitment we've seen all night, still, it's just a set of drums, no guitar, yet the effect is no less powerful which by any calculus shouldn't really work but does. And how exactly does it work? Well, in truth, I dunno, it's a mystery, but of course it doesn't matter. The sound delivers, and as I swirl trance-like back out onto Morrison and walk back to my car in the late-night midweek silence, I am buoyant, I feel as ageless as the music I've just heard, it's been another absolutely splendid night out in Portland and the sound I carry with me drowns out the quiet, drives away the cold and blots out any and all concerns about getting up in five hours to go to work. If what we ask of live music is to make this moment timeless, tonight's show has succeeded fabulously. Thanks to all three bands, thank you Holocene, and thank you Portland.
Posted by Dave Cantrell at 8:49 AM