Tuesday, April 6, 2010


The great thing about seeing bands at the tiny 'Sco is that you couldn't be more than a hundred feet from the stage if you tried. Also, subsidized by the institution, shows are nineties prices. And also, the students sometimes really cut loose and shake it, a refreshing switch from the rigor mortis of Portland audiences, where nodding is a dance move. The crappy things about seeing bands at the 'Sco: the mounting smell of poor hygiene cooked to the surface, plus students yammering at high volume through the whole thing, only pausing to raise the plastic beer cups in their red-stamped fists and holler whoo before turning their attention back to the more pressing matter of Where Is Harper I Thought She Was Coming With James. (Actual conversation overheard at length.) Unless you squeeze into the enthusiastic first few rows (caveat: see hygiene), you're stuck with the live Banality Remix version of the song and trying to suppress some intense Mad Librarian impulses.

What one really needs in this situation is something so loud no one can holler over it, something that immobilizes people in their tracks and drives away the tourists. Thank you, Talk Normal.

When Talk Normal kicked in to their thing, the first thing I scrawled in the dark on the back of a student's manuscript (it was all I had on hand) was SCARY. I meant that in a good way. This was super-loud, heavy, distorted, reverbed, squalling noise. You wouldn't guess it, looking at them. Talk Normal are two smallish youngish women. The guitarist has a Thurston-like vibe of effortless slouch and overgrown bangs. The drummer hits heavy on the tom and bass. Sometimes she flips her drumsticks around and hits with the blunt end and it sounds huge and stern, ferocious and focused on her small kit. Sometimes she rests a guitar on the drumkit and does cacophanous things to it while she pounds and sings.

I rarely listen to noise at home. I only like to hear it live, or through headphones while I'm walking. I think it's music you either listen to upright or flat on your back. It is not sedentary. It has to be all or nothing. I like how noise makes me feel what it feels and at the same time sounds like how I feel. Does that make sense? It's more about feeling than listening, for me. The same way that poetry can feel truer to raw thought—fragmentary, splintered, spliced—noise is like deep feeling, disordered and surging.

All of which is to say Talk Normal kind of made my night.

I've had Tune-Yards' Bird-Brains for a while and I like it a lot, despite my knee-jerk loathing of toggle-case, which reeks of whimsy. (I refuse to reproduce it here.) But seeing her live, I flipped to love. The lo-fi production on the record (all done with a digital voice recorder) makes the music sound odd, clipped and flattened, and that works in a way, but live the songs become big and radiant and and warm. Not discomfiting little curiosities but exuberant feel-good dance songs, expanding to fill all the space around around her ukulele, elemental drum and vocal loops (the girl sure knows her T1).

During the last song the girl next to me started swinging her very long hair and after a few mane-lashings I escaped and watched from the doorway. I didn't stick around for Xiu Xiu--I don't care enough, and I have a one-and-a-half band attention span, and Talk Normal and Tune-Yards got it all. Gladly.

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