Wintersleep, Elliott Brood @ Doug Fir Lounge, Portland OR (November 16, 2012)
Just hours before the proverbial rain of Portland returned, people enjoyed their last dry night out for the unforseeable future. On this Friday night, Doug Fir brimmed with warm bodies - some came for the bar scene, but many came for the co-headling showcase of Wintersleep and Elliott Brood. The Canadian acts seemed to be right at home at the timber-decked venue, igniting zest from the infamously humdrum Stumptown crowd.
Alt-country comes in many shapes, and Elliott Brood's corybantic version cultivates foot-stomps, head-shakes, and torso-contortions. The Tornoto trio packed the basement lounge, sustaining the energy on and off stage for over an hour. Between the two vocalists, Mark Sasso and Casey Laforet, almost a dozen instruments passed through their hands, including kazoo, ukelele, and bass pedals. Churning out tunes from a decade of their existence, Elliott Brood's "death country" would go well with a bottle of bourbon - around a fire pit - in the forest. But on this occassion, it felt one song too many when there was still another band to go.
Perhaps the audience drained their vigor during the frantic set of Elliott Brood, or maybe they forgot to return from their drink break, but the room became half empty by the time Wintersleep came on stage. Or perhaps the quintet made us wait too long, pushing this journalist's bedtime to the uncomfortable hours (having recently returned from Iceland, I was getting up before 5 AM). With five albums, one Juno award, and having been an opening act for Paul McCartney, the Halifx, Nova Scotia band seemed very down to earth. That is not to say, Wintersleep played in a sensible manner.
Whether the east cost Canadians were trying to keep up the energy Elliott Brood had unleashed, or they simply enjoyed playing loud, the result was not as appealing as their recordings. Opening with "Hum", the first track from their latest LP, Hello Hum, and following with the single, "In Came The Flood", the set started off auspiciously. Not being too keen on alt-country, the indie rock of Wintersleep better suited my aural prefernce. But the ear-ringing performance lost much of the nuamnces that can be heard on the recorings. Paul Murphy's vocals sounded more acetic live, which only added to the mayhem of the approaching white noise. To be fair, this assessment is a result of a one sleepy observer who had to wait in one spot for too long. Over the dozen songs, the group genuinely seemed to take pleasure on stage and expressed much affection for Portland. Few audience members danced and cheered them on with fervor, which is a rare sight around in this neck of the woods.
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