Portland art-pop ensemble Typhoon packed Johnny Brenda’s, and some people watched the show too

Typhoon20The obvious observation about Portland art-pop ensemble Typhoon is how many musicians are in it. Seriously, you can’t help but notice. Two full drumkits. A horn section. Xylophone and strings. Standard guitar-guitar-bass. The full tally was 13 members 11 members when the Portland band headlined Johnny Brenda‘s on Tuesday night of this week, split between eight onstage and five three (the strings and auxiliary percussion) in the venue’s balcony.

For whatever Typhoon’s instrumental excesses cut down on the venue’s capacity – and, as I’ll explain in a minute, it was a bit excessive – a sold-out crowd nevertheless managed to pack Johnny Brenda’s as well, grooving along to the band’s exhuberant and wandering compositions (and taking in the R.E.M.-esque tones of local opener Geology).

As tends to be the case, and as we’ve discussed before with other artists, the drawback to making music that’s densely layered and lushly arranged, is that it’s all the more difficult to play it live. Typhoon gives it a serious go by making its lineup so massive – and moments, like the quirky start-and-stop pop of “Young Fathers” from its recent third LP White Lighter, sounded larger than life.

Other points left me questioning whether there really needed to be that many players in the house. The two full-kit drummers, for instance. It’s not like one kit provided a main beat and the other did a poly-rhythmic counter response; for the most part, they sounded like they were doubling one another (and, frustratingly, seemed to be a half-beat off as the night wore on). The strings, the xylophone glockenspiel, the horns – none were in constant use (probably a good thing), but even so things felt cluttered. And not just spatially. So is consolidating and streamlining these various parts not an option here? Given their home base, you could (if you were feeling mean) label Typhoon a Portlandia sketch come to life; an exercise in deluded self-indulgence from a boho rat pack.

But to say that would be to disregard the utter joyfulness of its music, the uplifiting vibe this baker’s dozen crew of chipper musicians cultivates in a packed room – which may be packed partly because of all their gear, sure, but because of eager fans as well – and the energy it traded with the dancing, sweating, smiling audience was a treat to take in. Typhoon might be crowded, overwhelming, excessive, ridiculous; but if you let go and went with it, it was a tremendously positive ride.