Friday night’s set at Beauty Bar was the underdog of the night’s Neon Reverb shows, with a string of favorites playing the Bunkhouse and the Mint 400 blocking off traffic around Fremont East for half the night. But if you weren’t there, you missed out.
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Given the circumstances, it wasn’t all that surprising to see Beauty Bar with a scattered crowd of a few dozen lingering inside and by its outside stage in anticipation of the night’s acts. By 11 p.m., they had stopped charging people at the door.
Following indoor sets from Radiation City and the Local Natives-esque Brainstorm, the show moved outside, where Pure Bathing Culture took the stage. They were the first of three bands that would perform over the increasingly loud and aggressive winds perpetually herding the crowd around the patio with gusts of garbage-stink from the back alley. This did not facilitate the Pure Bathing Culture experience. But I will say frontwoman Sarah Versprille’s voice is downright enchanting, even if the band’s music, for better or for worse, sounds like Beach House b-sides. The dreamy haze of Pure Bathing Culture’s sound makes it easy to see why Caveman picked them to be their tour openers, a perfect transition into the headliner’s soft post-punk echo.
I had seen Caveman play at the cozy Echo in L.A. in late 2011, when their much-ballyhooed debut Coco Beware had just dropped. It was a lovely set that did justice to the record, but ultimately nothing to write home about. This was different. Their set drew heavily on the first record, but there was a new confidence to the songs that was evocative of the Stone Roses: They expanded and drew out the layers of their gauzy sound, pronouncing the tom rhythms and weeping guitar lines that drive it. The wash of sound reminded me quite a bit of Moonface’s magnetic Neon Reverb performance a few months ago, a commanding push-and-pull of emotions that one-third into Caveman’s set had doubled the size of the crowd. The band even seemed to have the wind at attention, which picked up, as if on cue, during the big crescendo in “Thankful,” and died down just as the music hushed again. The closing number, a drawn-out wash of creaking guitars and warm synths from their new record (due out next month), literally left some crowd members agape, and sent many others straight to the merch booth to buy their records after.
The biggest surprise of the night, however, was Portlanders All The Apparatus, whom I first encountered when I saw a guy in a gold headband playing trumpet outside of Beauty Bar after Caveman’s set. It turns out he and the accordionist accompanying him were two of the eight band members about to take the stage—not a bad way to draw to people into your show. At 1:30 a.m. the band quite literally launched into a set of gypsy anti-folk indie madness, with the trumpet player and saxophonist leaping off the stage and into the audience, where they continued to play for much of the set. The band, which includes a trumpet, sax, ukulele, drums, bass, guitar and not one but two accordions, just about upstaged Caveman, who brooded by themselves in the bar while everyone else danced outside.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what All The Apparatus’ raucous onslaught of brass and howl-chanting sounds like: Maybe if Beirut and Arcade Fire were drunken pirates on a ship, and the Aquabats were stowaways. The interactive element of their show, with half the band down in the crowd, didn’t just make for a good party but was an ideal way to project what might be an otherwise bloated sound. My friend described them as the “FGCU of bands” for the show-stealing set, and I couldn’t agree more.