Upon learning Portland’s Typhoon would be playing a show Nov. 2 at the Shakedown, my first thought had to do with a question of logistics. Specifically, just how the heck is a band that regularly tours with anywhere from 12-17 members going to fit itself onto the Shakedown’s stage? While not tiny, the stage at the Shakedown is not exactly expansive either. A band with four or five people fills it quite nicely. A dozen people, however, could be a claustrophobic proposition.
Such issues, however, are not mine to deal with. I leave the logistics up to the capable crew at the Shakedown.
Of course, the sheer number of personnel involved in the musical experiment that is Typhoon is the band’s primary attention-getter—when you roll that deep, people tend to take notice. But more amazing than the fact that this many people can work together to achieve a creative end, and have been doing so for some time, is the way in which this band puts all its many parts together.
While a band comprised of so many people might bring to mind other expansive musical collectives, Typhoon is its own beast entirely. In other words, Broken Social Scene—with its loose membership and even looser artistic ethos—this ain’t. Typhoon’s songs are comprised of parts that seem simple enough—a hint of horns here, judicious use of a cello there, some delicate percussion elsewhere—but the arrangements are tight and complex and suggest the band either benefits from strong leadership or a unification of vision that’s breathtaking to behold.
Evidence would suggest it’s a mixture of both those things, the leadership coming from Typhoon frontman Kyle Morton and the unified vision a result of the fact that many of the band’s members grew up together and still live within walking distance of one another in Portland.
This familiarity among its members is evident when watching the way the band builds a song. A true ensemble, in which each person plays a defined, self-contained role, this is the definition of an entity in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When a song is stripped down to its barest essence, just Morton, his voice and his acoustic guitar, the rest of the band remains still and calm, waiting without fidgeting, for the time when their voices and instruments will be called into action. And then they are, building line by line, instrument by instrument until the full force of Typhoon is unleashed, voices lifted in song, instruments melding and mixing and overlapping until what you hear is a cacophony of joyous noise.
Of course, we’ve all heard this kind of infectious sing-along music before—bands such as the Head and the Heart and the Lumineers also hew closely to a similar sing-along, feel-good model, the kind of music that is so unabashedly earnest that audiences respond to it without thinking because it makes them feel like they’re part of something genuine and special, if only for a little while. Typhoon does these things too—they just happen to do it bigger, and some would argue, better, than most other bands. And they do it, in large part, by knowing when to say when.
It’s strange to think of a band so orchestral in size and scope as being a model of musical restraint, but that’s exactly what Typhoon embodies. Indeed, more than the puzzle-like way the arrangements fit together, or the sheer amount of music taking place at any given moment, what sets this band of indie folksters apart is what they don’t do, and the music they’re not making. With so many people, so many instruments and—let’s face it—so many egos on one stage, it would be easy for any band to lose itself a little and err on the side of being overly self-indulgent. But Typhoon knows how to control itself, knows when to strip down a song to get at its essence and when to open everything up to create a musical payoff that much more gratifying for allowing everything to occupy its own space and happen in its own time.
So, to sum up, while it may be difficult to envision just how so many people will manage to occupy the limited square footage of the Shakedown’s state at the same time, it’s pretty easy to surmise that Typhoon will know exactly what to do when they get there.
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