So it’s the Olympics this year – who knew? And I feel strangely compelled to begin this review by drawing comparison between the world’s foremost athletes, Portland’s AU, and my pre-pubescent self playing Daley Thompson’s Decathlon on a Commodore 64 computer. Admittedly, it’s a tad indulgent and more than a little tenuous, but here goes anyway.
In order to compete in Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, it was necessary to waggle a joystick furiously from left to right. I would do this with such intense focus that I was entirely consumed by the action: my fingers, wrist, arm, and brain working in a spastic frenzy at the outer limits of their tolerance.
I imagine too that non-pixelated athletes feel the same way when they compete, the sense that their bodies are performing to their maximum potential with every synapse firing, every finely-honed muscle pumping. AU’s Luke Wyland and Dana Valatka play tonight’s show in this same spirit of total physical commitment. On stage, there is a constant blur of movement as the duo release every last drop of colour from their kaleidoscopic arrangements.
The energy present might have something to do with the fact that AU have just released one of the best albums of the year. Both Lights is a riotous collection of grooves and textures forced into imaginative, occasionally bonkers, pop songs. As a result, tonight’s set chunders along in an endlessly inventive series of builds, drops, euphoric outbursts, and moments of utter kinetic chaos. There are calypso motifs, grunty Battles-style riffery, and pulses of techno flowing forth from these two unassuming men. Tracks like OJ and Why I Must even go as far as inspiring wild Thom Yorke-style dancing on a drizzly Monday night – quite some feat.
Wyland is a shape-shifter, in one moment a resurrected Jerry Lee Lewis pounding seven shades of mutant rock ‘n’ roll out of the keys, the next he allows his fledgling folk warbles to flutter, float then soar amongst swirling sampler thermals. Valatka’s drumming (and bell-ringing) is a primal, expressive, soul-shaking delight and the perfect partner to Wyland.
When listening to AU on record, it is all too tempting to de-construct each track, trying to quantify each element and identify the array of influences. You can hear nods to the rousing folk of Beirut, the neo-classical stylings of Tony Conrad and Steve Reich, the textured evocations of Grizzly Bear and even the barmy eclecticism of Animal Collective but all these comparisons do is offer something familiar in what is a complex and fascinatingly unique sound. And live it becomes irrelevant, each new song is entirely captivating as is the spectacle of the frantic virtuoso playing.
The aptly named Epic and Solid Gold are mind-blowing, sounding deliriously over-the-top in the Louisiana’s cosy contours. It’s a joy to see the human effort behind the complex multi-layered studio recording, especially when it’s ushered in with a welcome amount of looseness and theatricality.
I was planning to make notes throughout the show, to scribble furiously about the nuances of the performance. I didn’t. If I had, the intro to this review might have been some pithy summary of AU’s brilliance and not some musings about Daley Thompson’s Decathlon. Yet I took no notes and didn’t care. I danced or at least allowed my body to twitch and convulse to the array of rhythms. I whooped and brayed for more. Tonight was about totality and AU were totally awesome.
Words: Tom Spooner
Photography: Laura Morgans