It was a cold and rainy night in Portland… It was a typical night in Portland, as staff writer Gally and I scarfed down some slices of pizza at Sizzle Pie before walking up to the Doug Fir Lounge on Burnside. Gally had prepared me for what he called “the best venue in Portland,” but seriously, this place was amazingly cool. Even before we hit the stage area downstairs I could tell I wanted to see many more shows there. Upstairs there is a very hip, yet laid back bar, and for our particularly drunk friends there are even hotel rooms – the kind that look like they might have once been covered in orange shag and rented by the hour, but have now been made to look like they were straight off the boards of Pinterest. Very Cool.
As we made our way downstairs, This Patch of Sky was already playing to the 50 or so people gathered around the stage. They were an instrumental band comprised of six members centered around a beautiful Rhodes Piano. I love the way the Rhodes sounds, so they already had a leg up on most opening acts, and they easily won me over as I sipped my whiskey and Coke. Their music went through multiple crescendos and decrescendos, ebbing and flowing in precisely the way that modern instrumental rock should. There are two categories of instrumental rock in my mind, the kind that riffs hard and keeps it interesting by changing at a frantic pace, and the type that creates a mood, making you nod your head as you are swept away by its beauty. This Patch of Sky played the latter style, and they played it very well. Their last song was their best, but I don’t know the name of it. It ended with a solo on the Rhodes, and I was convincingly sold.
The crowd began to thicken as Native, who was on the whole tour with Caspian, took the stage. I didn’t know what to expect of this band, as they don’t give off much of a vibe with their style – they are unassuming to say the least. Based on the billing for the night, I assumed they were going to launch into some more instrumental beauty when they unexpectedly unleashed a barrage of riffs and screams that sounded closer to the melodic side and spirit of Botch. That being said, they didn’t stand out like sore thumbs, as the crowd seemed to really dig the heady rock riffage, myself included. They tapped, they danced (but alas, they did not tap-dance), and they riffed their way through their brooding avant garde style, while giving the spotlight to some of the best drumming I’ve heard in a long while. I’ve since got a chance to give more of their stuff a spin on Spotify, and I highly recommend checking out their LP Wrestling Moves from Sargent House Records. Good stuff for sure.
Having been so thoroughly impressed by Native, I thought that they might end up stealing the show. I mean, I like post-rock, but I’m by no means an expert. But I calmed myself down, remembering that I had been assured by a friend that seeing Caspian was “like an out-of-body experience,” and got myself ready for what was sure to be a good time. The crowd was now thick with both people and expectation as the Boston, MA quintet took the stage. Without much of a sound check, Caspian launched into the opening and title track from their most recent release, Waking Season, out on Triple Crown Records. From the first minute, I knew I was going to be in for something special, and it was emphatically confirmed when they chose to do the xylophone part live rather than through a sample. I love when bands can replicate their sound perfectly live without over-relying on pre-recorded electronics, and Caspian delivered in remarkably unexpected ways.
They followed up with ‘Procellous,’ and showed that they can rock as hard as any band – pre, post, or present. Guitarist Phillip Jaimeson then took a brief moment to introduce the band and let the crowd know that they aren’t much for words (I guess the instrumental gene runs deep), but in spite of this lack of vocal crowd interaction, the band truly did feel connected to the crowd through their music, and the two symbiotic creatures fed off each other all evening. I’ll admit that I have only gotten into Caspian since Waking Season and I wasn’t terribly familiar with much of their previous work, but even the stuff I didn’t recognize was every bit as good as anything I’ve ever heard from them. I do know that they went all the way through the epic ten-minute masterpiece ‘Gone in Bloom and Bough,’ which aside from the closer was the highlight of the night.
Immensely impressive, was that at one point Jaimeson broke a string, and without losing a beat, bent down to change it. No guitar techs, no break to chat to the audience while he finished, the band just played on. Luckily the change happened right as they were going into ‘Halls of Summer,’ and Jaimeson continued to hit samples all throughout the change. The band was so incredibly tight, I never would have guessed anything was up. I realized then that Caspian has been around the block many more times than I had thought; they are pros, and they have practised what they do until it has been honed to perfection. I know breaking a string may not seem like much, but I have never seen someone change it on stage that fast without help, and without throwing off the rest of the band. Truly impressive.
They finished their set and hung out on stage for a bit, rather than going backstage for the faux encore. After a quick, ‘Uhhh, we got time for one more,’ a couple of thanks to the other bands, and some comments on how truly unique the venue was, they launched into the slow opening guitar lines from ‘Sycamore’ off their older album Tertia. The show ended in a fittingly powerful manner, with the band looping their instruments, putting them down, and picking up some drumsticks to join the drummer in hitting both the kit on stage as well as some other toms they had hidden behind amps. A full blown drum circle ended the night as the bassist walked around turning off the other looped instruments, leaving only a pounding beat in everyone’s ears. And with that, they left the stage, leaving us all wanting just a bit more.
To end the night, Gally and I geeked out a bit looking at their deserted set-ups. I had made a bet with myself that between the guitar players (four of them) they had 39 pedals on stage. There were 42. With that, we both bought a shirt to show some support and walked off into the cool Portland air. It was a fantastic show. I will see Caspian (and Native for that matter) any time I have the chance. If either are touring anywhere near you, check them out, it really is an out-of-body experience.
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