Saturday, February 18, 2012

Michael the Blind

Michael Levasseur toiled for years in obscurity as a solo singer/songwriter, before breaking down and compiling 'The Els' in the Spring of 2011, with his wife, RachaEL Renee, longtime friend and misanthrope NathaniEL Lee on drums, and J ELwood Johncox, on bass. While some doubters might criticize for succumbing to market pressures, for caving, The Els add depth and dimension, weight and heft, texture and nuance.

J Elwood Johncox invited me out to see them at the Spare Room Restaraunt and Lounge, an honest to goodness working-class watering hole in NE Portland that doubles as a karaoke bar other nights of the week. The event was curated by one Sam Densmore, who also played that evening. The night was hushed, intimate; the lights all turqoise, crimson, rose, like the memory of a dream of Miami. The scarce crowd spoke in a low murmur, between sets. A feeling of Deja Vu pervaded me, as i watched the bingo numbers reflected in the picture windows.

The combination of lulling voices, low lighting levels, and the open-air acoustics of the room, it was the perfect combination to experience the music of Levasseur and Co. for the first time. The Els' music fluctuates between early 90s folk jangle, like vintage R.E.M., faded denim barnstormers, and sweet melancholy balladry. Levasseur's beautiful Les Paul hollow-body guitar was gracefully accented by Rachael's auto-harp and vocal harmonies, with J Elwood holding down the groove with vintage McCartney basslines, and NathaniEL shuffling and skiffling in, around, and between the beats; a deft touch, not too pummeling, but not too scattered.

With all the various strands, threads, and tendrils of folk-infused music, its all about the little touches. Accentuating and flourishes can make or break what has essentially been done a million times before. But when the stars align, just right, when the voices and instruments are in tune, in time, it can become gospel, a new skin for the old ceremony, and the human spirit can radiate, shine like the brief, iridescent constellation. A random Thurs., nothing special, but its not coming back. The songs live and breathe, and the Els' made for the perfect bedrock with which these sparse, honest, heartfelt tunes could lift off.

I left the gloriously gaudy tavern, with a renewed appreciation for stripped-down, acoustic music, practically frothing at the bit to write faded campfire symphonies of my own.

If you were not one of the 20 or so people who were at the Spare Room, or even if you were, Michael The Blind and the Els will be playing twice next week: Mon. at the newly christened Elixir Lab, and again on Fri. 2.24 at the ever-popular Ella Street Social Club.

If you aren't from around these parts, Michael the Blind also has a new album, out on 3.20, on Alder Street Records, available on 180 gram vinyl and for digital download.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for coming out the other night! The Spare Room is always a great deal of fun. Thanks, too for mentioning the new album! We can't wait to share it with everyone. The release date has been pushed back though and is now TBD, but it will happen some time in early Spring 2012 just the same. Hope we have the pleasure to meet you again before then. See you!