I witnessed my first unforeseen consequence of living in a thriving Mecca of American musical wonder while at this show -- sometimes mass over-saturation causes unfathomable wonder to seep through the proverbial cracks. In other words‚ there's so much amazing music happening on a nightly basis in Portland‚ that sometimes incredible gigs are absurdly unattended. At its peak‚ there were probably 25 people at Mississippi Studios this night. When I walked in fashionably late to Sister Crayon's opening set‚ the Sacramento band seemed noticeably bummed on stage. They were still killing it and putting on a great show‚ but you could sense the nervous twitter under their shoe-gazed eyelids. Yet‚ despite the shy thank-yous between songs‚ young front-woman Terra Lopez was still able to project her entity-status when the band got moving. Singing with a charming fury akin to a mid-90's Riot Grrl obsessed with The Mamas and The Papas‚ she rides perfectly atop the psychedelic crusade of her bandmates. Their sound definitely would have been completely obscure 10 years ago‚ but now they seem more like a refreshing filter of the obscure highlights of the modern myriad of musical genres that exist. I'm not even sure what you'd call Sister Crayon -- tripped out‚ folk-attack music? Who even knows anymore -- and that's the beauty of it all.
When Emil Svanängen walked on stage for his set as Loney Dear however‚ the room took on a profoundly magical aura. No it wasn't purple‚ but Emil projected a Nordic bliss that enraptured the room before he even started playing. Not one of those sets where people were afraid to talk‚ but rather one where you became pleasantly engulfed in silent rapture. Using a network of loop machines and echo pedals in a fashion I could only mildly comprehend‚ Svanängen crafted unfathomable‚ textured landscapes of sound mostly from just his voice and an acoustic guitar. The last murmurs of a fading chord would suddenly catch themselves in a driving pulse‚ a chakra-quivering bass line would arise from a foot-controlled keyboard‚ the driving guitar line would perpetually awaken on top‚ an eerie melody would arise from his vox-corder altered falsetto‚ and then you'd realize your mind was in a place where you couldn't remember your own name. I've never had music create such a monumentally direct loss of self upon my head‚ while equally imposing the notion that everything was exactly how it should be. To put it more directly‚ there was an overwhelmingly ethereal and totally angelic nature to his performance.
There's no doubt in my mind that Loney Dear's U.S. debut on Sub Pop in 2007 was a driving force in Justin Vernon founding Bon Iver that same year. Not only is the combination of electronic and acoustic instrumentation the same‚ but the underlying tone and timbre is near identical. That being said‚ Svanängen is taking his music to a whole other atmosphere‚ and quite frankly I've never been as overwhelmed by a live performance from an artist that I'm familiar with as I was this Thursday night. The blissful rhythms of his studio cuts were gently triumphant in the live setting‚ and gave off a sense of imposing optimism that is so dearly lacked in most music today. And as much as I adored the ability to be standing 2 inches from the stage‚ far more people should have been experiencing this performance. After 5 months of living in the PDX‚ this was the first time the scene had let me down. Then again‚ perhaps the serenity of the set would have been lost in a larger crowd. Why should I gamble on the joys I've gained with the prospective wonder of even more? What right do I have as a lowly music critic to contemplate the alternate destiny of my musical experiences? These are the questions that arise within me when I contemplate the ambiguous divinity of Loney Dear's set. Perhaps the Swede described it best himself when he got lost in his English: "This next song is like an epitaph…no‚ an adjective…no‚ neither of those…I don't know."