May 26, 2009

CONCERT REVIEW: Windy & Carl w/ Benoit Pioulard, White Rainbow, etc (Holocene, Portland OR 5/24/09)

I drove up to Portland this weekend for a chance to see a showcase of Kranky artists, headlined by the ambient shoe-gazing guitar duo Windy & Carl. The show took place in a funky little warehouse venue called Holocene, which features a big bar, sunken dance floor area, and smaller secondary stage with bench seating around the perimeter, which was where the bands played that night. I say bands, but besides Windy & Carl all the acts were actually solo artists, and the general sonic theme was fuzzed-out, tonal ambient textures. Unfortunately I can't remember the opening act's name, I think someone in the crowd told me it was "Tom Bullet", but I can't find any reference online. His set was really good, basically one long evolving texture with elements of guitar and electronic synthesis. Alongside him was a video artist on his laptop, producing extremely trippy psychedelic video feedback textures, pulsing on-and-off negative and positive colors, overlaid over footage of what looked like ocean waves and aerial shots of volcanoes and islands in fog, intense! Next up was Benoit Pioulard, which sounds to me like someone's name, but I think it is actually the project of a guy named Tom, who sat behind a monitor speaker on the side of the stage surrounded by instruments and pedals. His set had a very deep emotional tone, with added heaviness provided by vintage footage of a molten metal foundry and then a surreal warehouse fire and the aftermath. This set was more song-based, with distinct pieces including obscured vocals, played on different instruments; first guitar, then harmonium, then something else. I really enjoyed his "Temper/Precis" 2xLP from '08, and I think I recognized a couple of the songs from it, although I don't know them by name. As the set finished, footage of firemen drinking from tin mugs after loading bodies into trucks was playing, and the vibe was very dreamlike and intense. I also picked up his "House Of Owls" 7" featuring two amazing covers of old dreamy pop songs done in a sort of retro shoe-gaze drone style, excellent! The third set was White Rainbow, a Portland local that seemed to have a strong following in the crowd. I haven't heard his album yet, so I'm not sure if the whole set was improvised or following a track(s) from his CD, but the set had an amazing organic wall-of-sound feel, composed of many layers of looping sound. Using little shaker eggs and metal objects for percussion, and bumping the mic on the stage for a kick drum, a rhythm was created and over-dubbed into a complex loop, over which he would then add synthesizer and guiter textures, while messing with a whole row of pedals and boxes at his feet. It was definitely the most rhythm-oriented set of the evening, and had many people in the crowd bobbing their heads. The only thing missing was a visual element, following the first two acts. It seemed like the music was calling for even a very simple abstract geometric light show, but it was interesting to watch the artist manipulate his gear and hear changes in the texture of the sound. At one point, the entire rhythm track shut off and a whole different array of tonal sounds became audible underneath, and the crowd cheered. Finally, around I think 11PMish, Windy and Carl took the stage, armed with guitars and a small bank of pedals to either side. This time the visuals were back in effect, a looping sequence of what looked like arctic sea creatures; schools of fish, spiky things, lobsters, seals, manatees, orcas, creating a vibe both playful and mysterious. The set itself was absolutely top-notch, with many recognizable tracks from Windy & Carl albums from the past decade, along with some new tracks from the recent "Songs For The Broken-Hearted" album featuring Windy on vocals. Their performance of "My Love" was especially heavy, sad and beautiful sounding, and the long drawn out piece that followed which I am thinking was the first track from "Antarctica" but actually it may have been "Balance (Trembling)" from "Consciousness", anyway it was trance-inducing and really amazing. The set lasted a solid hour and each song flowed into the next smoothly and beautifully. For the tour, an edition of 500 LPs were pressed with alternative mixes and out-takes from the album, featuring hand-painted covers by Windy. I realize I should have picked up a CD version of Windy's "I Hate People", as I had previously gotten the LP version by mail-order a few months ago, but read that the mixes on each version are different! Oh boy! Anyway the whole show was a great show-case of modern shoe-gazing ambient music, and hopefully not Windy & Carl's farewell tour! In any case, I will be looking for new material from all of these artists in the future! The tour is still continuing through June, so check out Windy's myspace page for dates and info!