Horse Feathers and Talkdemonic @ Mercury Lounge, 6-22-07
In a near-deserted patch of Mercury Lounge, we approached silence. At first, it was logistical, a consequence of our thinned ranks. But even as more people filled in the front rows, the stillness stretched on. As Portland’s Horse Feathers softly claimed the stage and began unspooling songs from Words Are Dead, the silence sounded like reverence. It was a basking hush; it was an awe that echoed louder than applause.
Or maybe we just really needed to strain to hear Justin Ringle sing. His voice is often wisp-light and weightless, as much as a layer of sound as Peter Broderick’s lush drags of violin or his hearty banjo-plucks. It settles over you like a wet August fog or spores on the wind. It turns even lines like “Walking and running, sucking and fucking,” into weird, unexpected prayers. In his delicacy, Ringle, who looks like a younger Will Oldham, reminded me most of later Nick Drake, another conjurer of the placid and peaceful.
Song after song, we listened and stayed quiet, lulled, entranced. I felt privy to a secret, newly remorseful that I hadn’t paid more attention to this band last year. The room was still so still that I also felt guilty just unzipping my laptop bag and rustling out my camera. And I could’ve been a downright villain when I unleashed the click-and-flash of digital photography, letting the outside world suddenly encroach on our sacred territory.
The most majestic moment of the night came during “In Our Blood,” when Ringle, Broderick and cellist Heather Broderick joined in song together. It was fragile and ascendant, it was gracious and liturgical. Even three people strong, it felt modest and fallible, a revelation best smuggled from ear to ear and transmitted across breezes. It was the essence of Horse Feathers, and for a second, before the grateful applause, we could only respond with another stunned silence.
While Horse Feathers embraced silence, Talkdemonic seized the opposite extreme. The so-called folktronic-hop duo also from Portland turned up their amps and their energies to full-blast, ear-shaking volumes. It was a surprise from a band whose two albums are made up of avant-symphonic, beat-driven instrumentals, but it showcased just how much power they could add in performance. I tried to remember if they were this aggressive when I first saw them open for the National in February 2006. I didn’t think so, but it’s also possible my memory gradually adjusted to corroborate the albums’ style. Here though, there was no missing it, with both old favorites and new material being blasted out like detonating fireworks.
With every number, with Kevin O’Connor on drums, Lisa Molinaro on violin, and an iPod providing the prerecorded beats, the band demonstrated how ferociously they could rock. Molinaro played her instrument with the verve of an electric guitar, with the confidence of an extension of her body. O’Connor bashed his way to the forefront just as naturally, assailing his drum set with every downward strike. At times, it seemed like he had eight arms and eight sticks, an arachnid by training.
The music, in this form, took on new meanings for me. It was a groundswell or a tidal wave, gigantic, sweeping, all-consuming. It was an omen for disasters or concertos for the ten plagues. It was a dance hall for violent offenders and pop songs for landmines. The whole time, I wondered how much of this would filter into Talkdemonic’s forthcoming album (tentatively titled a hundred faces in the neon forest, according to my interview with O’Connor). My guess is not much, that the recorded and the performed would keep existing as two related but largely independent entities. For a band this versatile, I think, either approach would work though. Whether they end up whispering or shouting, it should shape up to be a pretty epic conversation.
New material from Talkdemonic
* MP3: "Finch on Saturday" - Horse Feathers from Words Are Dead
* MP3: "Blood on the Snow" - Horse Feathers from Words Are Dead [Buy it]
* Band MySpace: Horse Feathers
* Band Website: Talkdemonic
* Previously: Happy Yom Kippur: Talkdemonic MP3s