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Show Report: Grouper, McEntire & Miller

Heather McEntire and Jenks Miller have, I think, a pretty special dynamic together. At their performance at  Nightlight last night, opening for Grouper, their distinct individual styles were intact yet wholly integrated. McEntire played brooding barre chords that were clutching and stormy in stasis, elastic and sparky when they slid up and down the neck. Her strumming felt tidal, all swell and decay; the rhythm at times almost vanishing into little pools of prickly, half-muted notes. Riffs dragged across the floor like tangles of wire hangers. It strikes you that despite her beautiful voice, McEntire does just as much singing with her guitar. The words blur out; the moan prevails. Simultaneously, Jenks Miller played a very different kind of guitar. His parts were highly structural complements to McEntire’s impressionistic coils of fog. He played hypnotically repeating arpeggios and quietly flashy scale runs, and his finger-picking produced a rich, clear tone. It was classical guitar minus the virtuoso complex, feeling instead for the intuitive line of the song, like a hook trawling through miles of dark water. I am so stoned right now.

You know that feeling, when you start to describe an amazing dream you had to someone, and it dawns on you as you’re talking that nothing describable really happened? That’s what it feels like trying to describe a show by Portland’s Liz Harris, a.k.a. Grouper. She sat on a white chair, in a corridor of projected light–white reflections quivering on a black sea–holding a guitar that she touched once in awhile. Otherwise, she leaned down over her consoles and spun haunted cathedral sounds as heard through several walls out of thin air. Voices came and went; sometimes her mouth was open and sometimes it wasn’t. The music felt like it was always on the verge of remembering something. It took over everything. All the architecture of “performance” was in place, but it felt more like being something than watching something. Every vector in the space contained mysterious information. That saturated point when total presence and total absence become the same. A full-spectrum ambient takeover. No one made a sound. Someone spying through the skylight would have seen a dark room full of people slumped in chairs with their eyes closed and mouths slack, like a mass suicide. The walls breathed. The room filled up with water. When the lights came on I felt like a kid who’d just been rescued from the bottom of a swimming pool. A little brain damaged. Good morning, good night.

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