Mississippi Studios

Titus Andronicus, Live at Mississippi Studios

It may have taken a few years longer than we would have liked, but Titus Andronicus finally returned to Portland as headliners on Friday night for a thrilling set in the intimate confines of Mississippi Studios.  Fresh off the heels of the release of their sprawling rock-opera The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Patrick Stickles & Co. delivered a spirited set to an energetic crowd, seamlessly weaving songs from across their four albums into a series of mini-epics.  The band left the audience so amped up by the end that a trip to one of Oregon’s brand new legal dispensaries was probably necessary, though there were probably only a few that needed such an excuse to indulge.

Classy marquee inside the venue

Classy marquee inside the venue.

After a brief explanation as to why the group made an exception to their policy of performing all-ages show, frontman Patrick Stickles began the night with a solemn version of “Upon Viewing Brueghel’s ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus'” backed by a mournful keyboard, then effortlessly segued into a spirited full-band version of the similarly-titled and locale-appropriate “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus”, setting the tone for the rest of the night.  Perhaps inspired by the format of their most recent release, the group blended songs from throughout their career into unpredictable but brilliant suites.  Stickles made sure to spotlight guitarist Adam Reich and give him kudos for his “Pearl Jam-like” ability in constructing the setlist.  For those unfamiliar with the reference, it is heady praise indeed.

The band found the right mix between professional and loose, able to knock out such difficult maneuvers as a dual tapping-solo guitar attack for “A More Perfect Union” while also avoiding any stiffness from attempting to pull off these complex tricks, and just letting mistakes slide by–as referenced by Stickles, who said he didn’t need to hear any more of his guitar in the monitors so he could ignore any flubs.  The audience ate up both the old and new material, with many singing along to songs from Tragedy, though the response to early tracks like “Albert Camus” and “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ” generated the fiercest reaction.  The recent legalization of commercial sale of marijuana also prompted a short speech on the “evils” of pot, and spurred a spirited take on “Tried to Quit Smoking”–only to pull a fast one a couple of songs later by throwing in a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35”, to which everyone sang along to the memorable chorus of “Everybody must get stoned.”

Deciding on an encore song.

Deciding on an encore song.

After a furious finish with “Dimed Out”, the crowd was able to goad the band into a quick encore, despite the show pushing well past midnight at this point.  Eventually, as a nod to both the baseball playoffs and their upcoming trip into the Great White North, the crew indulged the crowd with an enthusiastic take on Neil Young’s “Walk On”, before ending the night with “I Saw Her Standing There” from The Beatles.  Though it would be difficult to beat what we witnessed, here’s a suggestion for the guys if they need a Portland-specific cover for their next trip into town (which will hopefully be as soon as possible): you can’t go wrong with anything from the Wipers.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Live at Mississippi Studios

Things had changed a bit since the last time Clap Your Hands Say Yeah visited Portland on an official tour–the band’s lineup had changed significantly, with only frontman Alec Ounsworth and drummer Sean Greenhalgh remaining from the original version.  The show also moved to the more intimate confines of Mississippi Studios, a shift from the larger (but grimier) Hawthorne Theatre.  Despite these changes, the venue was still packed with the faithfully devoted, and the band delivered with a live performance itself that was as good as ever.

The novice fan would probably be surprised to learn that the guys helping out on bass/synth and guitars/keyboards were new to the group, because the band as a unit was as tight as it’s ever been.  The band seamlessly moved between material from throughout their catalog; when listening to their records, each release is distinct from one another, but when performed live a common thread is more readily apparent (beyond the obvious connection of Alec’s distinctive voice).  It made for a cohesive show that kept the crowd consistently engaged, even if some of the most excited reactions were reserved for the early stuff.

Just barely able to get the whole thing to fit.

Just barely able to get the whole thing to fit.

The setlist emphasized both new material from their just-released album Only Run and their much-beloved self-titled debut, whose highlights like “In This Home On Ice”, “The Skin of My Country Yellow Teeth”, and “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood” inspiring both raucous cheers from the crowd and a lot more dancing than per usual for a Portland show.  Though the band only played a couple of songs off of Some Loud Thunder and Hysterical, their inclusions in the set fit perfectly, with “Satan Said Dance” and “Ketamine + Ecstasy” causing the entire crowd to make the show a dance party.  However, the biggest surprise of the night was a totally re-worked version of “Some Loud Thunder”, which tossed out the jagged, heavily-distorted rock for the more bedroom-pop style of Only Run, with only the lyrics cluing in the audience as to what they were hearing (though considering how unclear they were in the original, it was a tough task in and of itself).  Though I’m a fan of the original, the new version was probably worth the price of admission on its own.

Keeping the Mississippi Studios crowd entertained

Keeping the Mississippi Studios crowd entertained.

The crowd was in a good mood, having enjoyed a bit of fun with the opener Adventurous Sleeping, a solo project of John Bowers from Nurses, though due to a miscommunication early in his set he was referred to as “Gron” for the rest of the evening.  We’ve been seeing a lot of solo acts relying on loops in recent years, but Gron kept it interesting with unusual melodies over spacey beats that intrigued and captivated the audience, and at the very least kept people in the room.  It was very much in line with the material from Only Run, so there was a nice connection between the opener and the main set.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s albums themselves don’t immediately stand out as “must-see” live material, but I can say with confidence after seeing multiple shows over the years that the band consistently puts on a great show.  Songs that sound sparse or twee on record get an additional heft when played in a live setting, and the sparseness actually becomes a benefit because each distinct part is easier to appreciate, and you don’t have to worry about different instruments bleeding into each other.  The group also keeps the show light with a nice touch of self-deprecating humor, and it seems that they’re still genuinely appreciative of the fans that have kept following them over the years.  Let’s hope that devoted following remains strong.