During opener Bo and the Locomotive (St. Louis) and essay writer Portland's Radiation City, Typhoon's front man, Kyle Morton, slipped quietly through the crowd, listening intently and respectfully nodding his head in appreciation. At this point, he was anonymous, another fan grooving to Bo's blues and Radiation City's shivery doo-wop.
I looked at my compatriot and noted, "Morton's shorter than I thought he'd be," but then I caught myself. What had I based this notion on? Was it the breath-sailed vocals I heard on 2013's "White Lighter?" Morton's darkened timbre and lyrical turns on truth and sadness? His towering, yet stark images of mortality, infinity, life and death so carefully woven into each approximately five-minute-long cut? No, cut isn't the right word; consider them movements.
The movements utilized the multi-instrumental talents of 10 other Portland musicians. Two violin players, two drummers, which were perfectly perched front and center stage, three horn players, a looming bassist, a keyboardist and a guitarist.
The size of Typhoon makes Morton's songs delightfully overwrought, bursting with import and as many fascinating instrumental moments as lyrical ones. Every action each member of the band undertook was in service of a larger whole. Each performed a carefully laid out architecture with such skill that every detail, each subtle guitar harmonic, violin bow draw, bell shake, rim click and French horn blast found record-side on "White Lighter" was present. It was something to behold and even harder, admittedly, to render verbally on the page.
Openers Bo and the Locomotive kicked-off with a tight set of subdued indie tracks that grew in scope and size as each of the song's choruses unwound. Singer and guitarist Bo Bulawsky sang with a nasally-drawl that revealed an honest sensitivity, which informed the instrumental underpinnings of the songs.
The quick "Hey" that preceded the chorus of "My Only Concern" from "On My Way" acted as an indie signpost, reminding of the highly-verbal and broodingly playful aesthetic from which Bo's songs spiral out. Title track "On My Way" felt like early Animal Collective with full-band "woah-ohs" and dreamy "wah ah ahs." Bo remained a bit removed, but it felt right, and at the set's conclusion, he adjusted his Buddy-Holly-style black framed glasses, quitting the stage with a skewed smile.
Five-piece Radiation City took the stage shortly after. "Food," from 2013's "Animals in the Median," twinkled with '60s-era psychedelics awash in dulcet female falsetto from multi-instrumentalis and singer Elisabeth Ellison and keyboardist and singer Patti King.
"Construction," from 2011's "The Hands That Take You," employed Matt Rafferty's simple, but well-timed bass work. The middle of the song found Cameron Spies (who rocked a sick Ramones-era hair cut) plucking palm-muted strings with speed that evoked a West Coast, sun-washed-surfer vibe.
Radiation City channeled a time that no one in attendance was alive for (though certainly aware), but more so, the band peered backward in time while pushing forward, plumbing the past to create a retro-future.
While all this went down, Typhoon's instruments sat inside lined up on the patio-side of the Old Rock House, taking up an ungodly amount of space. I marveled as Morton hauled his own cab, keys and pedals on stage. The rest of the band trickled in, assembling the dual drum kits with the horns, violins, bass and keys behind. Morton stood stage left behind a keyboard with a guitar slung over his shoulder.
"Artificial Light" opened with drum clicks from drummers Alex Fitch and Pieter Hilton and the violins of Shannon Steele and Jen Hufnagel atop trumpet. A moment later, Morton began his confession, "In the beginning, there was one source of that (artificial light) it would die and come back every night as woman showing off her thighs just a little bit at a time."
"Young Fathers" started with acoustic guitar from Dave Hall that purposefully cut in and out rhythmically, splitting the track. "Morton's Fork" followed, then "Possible Deaths," "Dreams of Cannibalism," "Summer Home," "100 years" and "Hunger and Thirst."
By the evening's conclusion, Typhoon had played the majority of "White Lighter." Each song soared and drifted, spoke of distance, closeness and loss. I soon realized I was at a nexus of something great.
It dawned on me that these 11 musicians may not again gather in this place with such passion on display, with such precision and care alive inside each of them. Yes, this can be said about any band, indeed, any arrangement of people, any experience, any life, but Typhoon proved something new about that feeling, something vital and beyond description.