I spent a good chunk of last night watching headliner AgesandAges trying to figure out what they sounded like. And after polling most people around me, I had no luck. New Pornographers? Not for this song. Allen Stone? I mean sure, a little. But one thought kept penetrating my consciousness to the point that it must be the answer: AgesandAges sounds ... normal.
I write “normal” not as in normal for Neon Reverb, or normal for a Portland band. I mean “normal” as its own genre. Like think of the most nonabrasive, unoffensive, grandparents-like-it-as-much-as-the-grandchildren-do indie folk, with choral vocals and plenty of tambourine with perpetual rally-capped buildups. It’s so normal and easy to get along with that one of the first “Related Artists” that pops up in Spotify is “Obama for America,” with an image of headphones above the number 2012 as its bio picture. That’s how normal and unobtrusive this music is. Even the band — not dressed particularly rockstarish, frontman Tim Perry epitomizing some down-to-earth next-door neighbor in his stage banter — could’ve all been cashiers at a really folksy grocery store. It was almost chilling, how good the music was without having any real namable qualities. They were like salt: You appreciate it, but if it's done right, you don't have much to say about it.
Especially given the non-vanilla notions of the bands that played previous, and the one that played after (though we had to get to the office too early this morning to catch Dry River Yacht Club, who we previewed earlier this year). Starting with Same Sex Mary, the Boulder City quintet with a boyfriend/girlfriend shouting section dominating the vocal space just a layer above honky blues rock, and bass lines that felt like a good fit in a Cohen brothers movie. Jason Aragon would be my pick to score a shoestring-budgeted The Big Lebowski soundtrack.
Then: Dreaming of Lions, Chris Leland standing as his own Andrew Lloyd Webber composition, telling the story of a break-up that put him in a hole out of which he'd climb for the next 30 to 45 minutes.
Outside, Dusty Sunshine took up arms as the band everyone was really there to see, showing off music from an upcoming album release and kicking the crap out of it. The thing you really need to appreciate about Dusty Sunshine is how their music reflects their time together. As the years pass, and they’ve started to figure out how they want to sound, the writing gets more complicated and technical (thanks, Music Education), the harmonies get tighter and farther-spanning, and the stage presence becomes more of something to reckon with than their very early image of “just a girl band.”
Even Fuzz Solow (Black Camaro's James Berg) had real flavor, looking like the musician brother of Kenny Powers, sitting with an electric guitar, a custom cigarbox guitar, a bass drum, a hi-hat, and enough pedals and effects for two bands, hooting and hollering like a one-man version of Ram Jam, not ever too far a cry from playing his own version of “Black Betty.”
I saw AgesandAges as the wind-down band. The band you watch and enjoy, but don't necessarily think about while it does those grouped harmonies that evoke picnics and how you should register to vote. It's perfect music to put in a movie about kids banding together and overcoming obstacles. And last night, they didn't need to be more than that.