They weren’t exactly unknowns, but after being introduced to AU via their excellent—and critically recognized—2008 release Verbs, mention of the Portland experimental pop outfit to local music fans had been met with a disconcerting number of shrugged shoulders and furrowed brows. Still, four years later, the duo had little problem selling-out the Doug Fir for the release of their new record, Both Lights, on Saturday night.
Kicking off the show was local five-piece Grandparents. Ironically youthful looks aside, the group proved to be an impressive opener that had players swapping instruments and vocal responsibilities throughout. Sparse crowds and early show times don’t always make it easy to be first on stage, but the group’s psyche-washed beachside rock (á la Real Estate, Ducktails) had people filling the floor without hesitation. By the end of the set, approving nods and cries of “More!” rippled through the crowd.
Tu Fawning, a band known for their intense percussive instrumentation and chiaroscuro-like tones, didn’t disappoint. I had never seen them live, but the foursome’s gothic pop translated perfectly during the performance. Set highlight, “Sad Story,” began as snare-led march and soon evolved into a raucous lament, with singer Corrina Repp deftly wailing on the drum kit and inspiring a number of excellent head banging demonstrations from audience members.
The first order of business after AU’s Luke Wyland (singer/multi-instrumentalist) and Dana Valatka (drummer/percussionist) took the stage was a group vocal exercise, which culminated with everyone in the room singing the highest and loudest note they could. As oddly endearing as it was, it also proved pretty prescient of the music to follow.
Joined by vocalist and clarinet player Holland Andrews (Like a Villain, Meyercord), as well as a saxophone and trombone player, the group sped through selections from past and present. “Are Animals” and “Ida Walked Away” exhibited Wyland’s operatic vocals set to surging electric guitar, accompanying brass and Valatka’s light-speed drumming. At one point, Wyland admitted that the group had never played in front of so many people before. “You deserve it!” a voice yelled back.
The most exciting point in the evening was during the band’s performance of “Solid Gold,” the new single off of Both Lights. Like me, I imagined that many in the audience had been waiting patiently (read: impatiently) for new material since the release of Versions in 2009. “Solid Gold” was AU at their best; Wyland’s grinding synth moved through bright saxophone and trombone, simmering only before joining electric guitar and Valatka’s frenetic percussion in a final burst of beautifully organized chaos.I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t pick up a copy of Both Lights at the show before it hits stores on April 3rd. I’m pretty confident few people will shoot me a confused look when I bring up a band by the name of AU after this album is released.