Erik Anarchy Saturday, Jan. 6
Erik's anarchy gets to the point...and sometimes leaves it behind.
[DIRECT PUNK] Immediately after pretty much every song he plays, 18-year-old Erik Stephen Griffiths, a.k.a. Erik Anarchy, gives a hearty "Thanks!" before anyone applauds or cheers. He has what he calls "ridiculously mild" autism, and when I met with the Beaverton resident at Pioneer Square to discuss his punk-rock solo act, he told me the two main symptoms of his autism are that he's "really bad at math" and, socially, "very direct with people."
When I asked Griffiths if that's why he writes songs that are very much to the point, like "Fuck the OLCC" and "I Wanna Piss on the White House," he said, "I wouldn't rule it out." In fact, Griffiths' answers to almost all my questions were as clear and brief as his song titles. His music reflects a moderate libertarian political alignment, but Griffiths says that, to him, "words are cheap," and that the guitar ought to be the focus of his—and all—punk music.
Though most of Griffiths' songs are rooted in Ramones-style punk, they could also be compared to those of his favorite local band, Autistic Youth (seriously). And the solo at the end of the title (and last) track on his self-released sophomore LP, Living in Hell (which is available for free at his shows), exhibits a sense of desperation and sonic destruction similar to Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner." Griffiths also experiments with more structurally complex tracks like "War Is Hell," in which the chorus doubles in speed with each refrain, becoming apathetic quick-talking at the end. It's almost cacophonous and pretty unlistenable, but the way the song's form captures classic punk-rock impatience is fascinating.
And, as a show last September at Rock 'n' Roll Pizza confirmed, Griffiths works best alone. Standing 6 feet 2 inches, clad in shades and spikes like a Sex Pistol—and singing in a British accent (which he inherited from his father and intentionally exaggerates) to match—Griffiths was joined by his friend and bass player Adam Henry for a few songs during the set; because Henry couldn't follow the intricacies and eccentricities of Griffiths' songs, the collaboration proved disastrous. But Griffiths always has a good time performing: "I'm grateful to play anywhere," he says. And though this Saturday's show isn't "pay to play" (a common practice at low-turnout all-ages shows where the artist is required to guarantee a minimum attendance through pre-show ticket sales), Griffiths has agreed to sell tickets voluntarily. He also writes me every couple of weeks to see if he can set up a show in my basement.
. Erik Anarchy plays with Cry Baby on Saturday, Jan. 6, as Satyricon. 6:30 pm. $8. All ages.
Eluvium Sunday, Jan. 7
Matthew Cooper plays hide and seek with listeners, and with music itself.
[CLASSICAL AMBIENCE] Matthew Cooper, a.k.a. Eluvium, played his first show since returning to Portland after a three-year stint in Seattle at the Waypost, a nondescript, half-hidden cafe in North Portland owned by an old friend. The timid 27-year-old played a simple piano accompaniment to another friend's DIY animation—an appropriately low-key performance for an artist who prefers to remain half-hidden himself, despite an upcoming world tour with Explosions in the Sky.
Cooper's inclinations toward the "half-hidden" manifest themselves musically in Eluvium's unassuming sound, in a wordless, slow-building fog of ambient waves and nearly submerged melodies. It feels like music that's pushing itself at you through a sea-blue membrane. And that barrier goes beyond a simple lack of immediacy, for there's nearly always something tangible submersed within the work on Cooper's four (soon to be five) releases, whether it's a muffled cannon shot—placed so perfectly it doesn't disrupt the track's fragile, glacially shifting soundscape—a classical piano melody, or a funereal horn progression. That barrier may be Cooper himself, remaining half-hidden in his songs, surfacing just long enough to dispense tiny bits of emotional charge.
In an odd way, the subtlety and reserve of Cooper's music makes perfect sense: Over beers last week during the first in-person interview he's ever agreed to, he confessed an inability to listen to most music, save for compulsive listens to German composer Max Richter (and other classical piano music). He cites an inability to get beyond the safety of his own music—which he began writing for nothing other than his own pleasure—and an open-wound susceptibility to being overwhelmed by the music of others. Almost mournfully, he spoke of & Yet & Yet, an emotionally charged Do Make Say Think record of instrumental climactic builds that, in its strength and immediacy, is too much for him.
If Eluvium is Matthew Cooper's safety, it's nothing of the sort for us. Within these closely woven soundscapes and pastoral piano compositions are as many narratives as you can bear to listen to, which is what makes this style of music so aesthetically wonderful: It remains an open signifier. Appropriately, Cooper is currently working on a number of film scores—including one for a western—but his naked albums, in all their ambiguous beauty, could already score an infinite number of films.
. Eluvium plays with Ethan Rose and Strategy on Sunday, Jan. 7, at Towne Lounge. 9:30 pm. $6. 21+.
Andy Combs and The Moth The Robot in the Clouds (Tingle Finger)
Combs traverses a world of genres, but remains firmly planted in the clouds.
[MIXED-BAG FOLK] The credits inside The Robot in the Clouds, local solo artist Andy Combs' second release, read as follows: "Combs—vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, bass, drums, percussion, violin, viola, cello, banjo, harmonica, mandolin, programming, humanatone, keyboards, cover art, layout, engineering, mixing, production, kazoo, pots and pans."
And that abundance of instruments accounts for Combs' thoroughly eclectic sound: Robot's nine tracks vary from melodic pop to freak folk to even metal. And every time an interval of tracks consistent enough to be categorized turns up, the album immediately changes into something else—making Combs' sound impossible to pigeonhole.
On the eerie opening track, "The Bloodship," Combs wryly sings, "I pocketed my hands when the bitter frost began its bite/ It gnawed away my poor thumb so I haven't a full five/ Now I can do equations if they have to do with nine," with a Danny Elfman-like whimsy and Tom Waits-ish creepiness. But despite the fact that Combs' quasi-demonic delivery sometimes emulates Waits', the delicate tone of his voice is more evocative of Sexton Blake's Josh Hodges.
Standout track "Service Station" (which is awfully reminiscent of Isaac Brock's work as Ugly Casanova) momentarily takes the album's dark mood into more humble and happy territory via a classic ragtime/country sound. And that feeling carries over onto the next track, "The Ghost of James Datson," on which Combs momentarily puts the electric guitar to rest in exchange for a banjo and harmonica. But, a few songs later, Robot changes pace again when Combs unleashes "Bee Boy Banishment," the album's heaviest track: Its intense drum beat and helium-morphed vocals result in a Ween-meets-Queens of the Stone Age mix that's as intriguing as it is unexpected.
The fact that Robot skips across so many genres while still remaining coherent is enough to convince you that Combs is a bona fide mad genius. His cornucopian creativity and impressive use of plethoric instruments place Combs—like contemporaries Anton Newcombe (Brian Jonestown Massacre) and Beck—in that elite class of musicians who continually surprise listeners by not only taking risks, but pulling them off.
. Andy Combs plays with Nick Jaina on Tuesday, Jan. 9, at the Waypost. 8 pm. Free. All ages.
Oldominion Dec. 30 At Berbati's
Sleep steals a relatively empty show while Portland preps for NYE.
[HIP-HOP] There are about a dozen people at Berbati's Pan at 10 pm on a Saturday, laughing loudly as they watch Jackass 2 on a projection screen to the left of the venue's stage. DJ ATM drops his crates of vinyl behind the hanging turntable bench and scans the empty dance floor. It'll be two and a half hours worth of his echo-chamber mixes and a casual set from opener Al-One and Only One before Oldominion, the fabled Northwest super-crew, takes the stage.
Turns out, Oldominion is much smaller in person than I remember from its website, which profiles nearly 30 card-carrying members. Tonight there are six MCs: JFK, Onry Ozzborne, Pale Soul, Sleep, Smoke and a new addition to the crew, XP.
XP begins with a street-life-themed bruiser of a track, to which the rest of the crew mostly listens and nods, still learning the new guy's hooks. The rest of the set is a veritable hit-parade for those tuned in with Oldominion's various projects. JFK and Onry drop Grayskul's "Prom Quiz," and Smoke bounces around to an energetic version of "Sinners and Saints" (a crowd favorite) before making a half-serious, disenchanted declaration to the few dozen in the crowd that "hip-hop fucking sucks." Pale Soul keeps his crew mesmerized with a couple of working-class coming-of-age stories. It's Portland's Sleep, though, who steals the show.
In his long, black jacket and flat cap, Sleep looks like an old-school New York City cabbie. He slides across the stage, laughing and exchanging cupped-ear quips with JFK. Next to Smoke (who has both the build and wide smile of a small-town quarterback), Sleep looks slight, but on the microphone he's gigantic. The small crowd knows this, rushing the front of the stage as he takes the lead. He sets a breathless pace with the introductory song from his 2005 album, Christopher, taking quick, sharp breaths between the breakneck verses: Sleep is regarded as one of the fastest tongues in the West, and his live performance proves that it's not a gimmick he hangs his hat on. His next track is "Say Goodbye," a naturally paced battle cry with a grandiose, dancehall-inspired chorus. The Oldominion crew joins in, and—despite the sadly low turnout— I notice more than a few kids in the crowd mouthing the MC's words.
After the Oldominion set, ATM takes the stage again. "I'm from the Southwest, where everybody dances and mingles after the show," he says before dropping a beat. But his encouragement is lost on the crowd: Tomorrow is New Year's Eve, and most of those who bothered to show have already quietly slid out the door.