I honestly didn't know what to expect heading into this Bradford Cox show the other night. His releases under the Atlas Sound title have ranged from epic, shoegaze drone-outs to gentle, melodic drifters, so anything could be expected. Fortunately for all in attendance, Mr. Cox performed a 2-hour set of instinctual motions of his heart and it was frigging amazing. Perhaps the show could be best summed up by Cox himself from mid-set: "Hey, it's Portland. When I come here, it's my night off."
Surprisingly, there was a band -- two incredibly anonymous guys in trench-coats and aviator glasses on bass and drums. They essentially held down the general structure of some of the songs, but more frequently were just there to add back-end to Bradford's sudden and instant electric-attack/drone-outs. After one beautifully chaotic ending he noted, "We didn't practice for this… exactly." The thing is, the spontaneous nature of the set is what made it so amazing. Any rehearsal would have completely dampened what he had planned (or not planned) to do on a Monday night in the PDX.
The evening began with a reading from A Lover's Cock, a book Cox had bought that afternoon at Powell's and which was totally comprised of graphic, homosexual poetry. A passionate boner soliloquy grew into an enormous droning vocal-loop before landing in "Recent Bedroom" from 2008's Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, which itself than melted into another space-drone accompanied by a sonnet about the beauty of a man's ass. The thing is, as crazy as all this sounds, what he is doing with an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, and a loop machine is honestly magical. He's able to take half-second snips of harmonica or vocal notes and turn them into elegant drones -- not just the sweet loops you and your buddy make in your garage after too many bong-hits, but instant moments of sonic art by a true master of his craft. More than just a genius of echo patterns though, Bradford is a master of formulating himself and his whole persona into the main instrument. There's this twisted innocence inside him that is the heart of his sound. You could put him up there with a wooden spoon and a stack of dirty laundry, and he would somehow be able to tweak some harmonies out of them.
The rest of the set contained probably 4 or 5 actual songs, while the gist of what happened focused on him just being loose, rocking out, having fun, and manipulating the moment. At one point he told the other guys they could leave the stage, then before launching into a beautifully mutated folk-song he said, "I just wrote this one, or… I'm about to." It was impossible to not be charmed by his complete comfort with the Portland crowd, and by the end of the show it felt like you were in his living room. Or at least, I did. Some of the more cynical folks in the room seemed to be waiting for a recognizable track off last year's Parallax, but this wasn't an evening to expect the familiar. I don't see how you can't be happy with multi-tiers of improvisational polyrhythms, but we all see music for different reasons. At one point he called folks out -- "People in Portland never laugh at jokes. It's cuz you don't have sales tax. You don't even have heroin in this town anymore. Um, go Blazers."
By the time curfew had been reached, his bandmates definitely didn't know any other songs to play which led to Cox picking up the bass and playing name that tune. After playing half the bass lines off of The Talking Heads' More Songs About Buildings and Food, he assembled an impromptu band to cover Television's "Marquee Moon" -- the guitarist from the opening band Carnivores, some other cat from backstage on drums, and some kid from the front row to read a dick-poem in French over the top of it. It stretched and stretched into a total free form jam that definitely got a little too out there for half of the room. I personally felt like I was experiencing improvisational art in its truest and most desirable form. I was thrilled, and awed; especially as it rumbled to a close with Cox shouting "I dedicate this song to the pagan, ripped t-shirt attitude. I dedicate this song to trust-fund squalor. I'd like to dedicate this song to mediocrity and its effect on testicles."