On Sunday, Dec. 3, the Rusty Nail Co-op, colloquially referred to as the Coop, hosted a concert with KPH Radio and Campus Activities Board (CAB).
The Coop was festooned with streamers, balloons and string lights, a colorful and eclectic sanctuary for students to gather in. At the back of the room, coordinators sold Coop merch, silk-printed that morning, and merch from the artists.
The opening act was the student band What’s Her Face, who won the Coop’s Battle of the Bands on Nov. 16. Their indie rock style and tasteful harmonica created a lively atmosphere, with students bopping along contentedly. The band’s songs were tonally rich, incorporating elements of shoegaze to build a unique and exciting sound.
The band also brought a high degree of charisma to their performance, clearly comfortable in the presence of their peers. Their stage presence flowed into the room, and they maintained a magnetic connection with the audience even during slower songs. Even for a new listener such as myself, the band established a familiarity only achievable among fellow college students who know our unspoken language of shared experiences.
The next act was Mo Troper, a Portland power pop singer-songwriter. Although he followed the sonically robust ensemble What’s Her Face, the solo artist proved capable of capturing the audience equally.
Troper’s songs drew from heartbreak and alienation but were miraculously balanced; just when a song threatened to become morose, Troper would dip into a high-pitched warble.
“Now I’m not afraid to die / Now I wanna stay alive / I’m so happy, I could cry / When I fall into her arms,” he sang in “I Fall Into Her Arms.”
The crowd swayed along, with one student quipping to Troper, “It’s a big night for secular Jewish musicians!”
Though Troper’s music draws from artists like beloved Portland musician Elliott Smith, his character shines through in his equally earnest and endearing performance.
“Sorry, I just can’t banter,” he remarked at one point between songs.
Troper’s endearing personality and evident love for music made for a charming introduction to Portland’s local music scene. I am excited to call myself a new fan and look forward to the next time I see him live.
The show’s headliner, Jeffrey Lewis, was the only artist of the night with whom I was familiar. Although I had never met anyone who had heard of him, his role as a facet of the New York ’90s anti-folk scene had always impressed me.
Anti-folk emerged in the 1980s in response to the perceived self-importance of the 1960s folk scene. Lewis was an early proponent of the musical movement alongside artists such as Kimya Dawson and Beck.
Lewis immediately proved at home in the presence of an audience. His relaxed posture and banter suggested that he had done this many times before.
Lewis’s lyrics are the highlight of his music. Driven by humor and thoughtfulness, his songs approach life from a refreshingly equable perspective. His witty lyrics and incisive storytelling struck a chord with the audience, who laughed after each brilliant verse.
Lewis also showed three self-produced comic book “low-budget films” dispersed throughout the set. These featured hand-drawn illustrations while Lewis sang a humorous song to tell the story.
The first of these films, “As I Wandered Across the Land (The Red Hand)” followed a man who discovers a red hand and is thrown into a wild adventure to decide what to do with it.
The second film discussed the fall of the Soviet Union and the reforms former President Mikhail Gorbachev instituted as a means of democratization.
The third film covered the history of Chile. The mention of recently deceased former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger incited cheers of disapproval at the politician’s complicity in international human rights abuses.
When not presenting on the fascinating history of Latin America or Eurasia, Lewis sang candidly about all the beauty and pain that life has to offer. His lyrical craft drew the audience in and held them close. Though all his songs offered insight, “Back When I Was 4” stood out as a poignant life lesson, weaving nostalgia and introspection into a piece that resonated with listeners, inviting them to consider who and how they loved at each stage of their lives.
“And back when I was 22, I left the best thing that I knew / And I gave it up for fortune and for fame,” he sang. “I played like I didn’t know how / I shocked the world, I wowed the crowd / But I deserved more than what they gave.”
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