Live Review: Young Elk, Fort Union, and Elly Swope @ Turn! Turn! Turn! 5/12

Young Elk

Words: Robert Otero
Photos: Robert Otero 

While it doesn’t boast the showbiz glam of a Doug Fir Lounge or a Crystal Ballroom,Turn! Turn! Turn! serves as a quirky venue and has been reliably booking interesting, off-beat, and exciting line-ups for several years. The roster on May 12th included Young Elk, Fort Union, and Elly Swope (former Focus! Focus! front woman) who lit up an otherwise dreary corner of North Portland that Friday evening.

Leading off the show was Elly Swope. Since her days in Focus! Focus! she has shed members and instruments, leaning out her sound with a more minimalist yet wildly energetic result. The self-described “fuzz folk” trio manages to celebrate psych/garage freak-outs while simultaneously weaving Swope’s subtle songwriting chops into the music. The dry, gritty tonal attack of the guitar, aided by a smattering of pedals, recall the likes of 60’s and 70’s surf/punk but Swope’s vocals remain unrestrained by the magnitude of the rock trio. Elly Swope performs on the strength of her recent single “Concrete” which was previously featured as Next Northwest’s SOTW.

Middling out the line-up was Fort Union. The song-writing project of front man Jace Krause. Fort Union is a compelling mix of alt-rock grooves, alt-country warmth, and psychedelic musings. The feel was decidedly more dulcet and bouncy than the opener as Jace Krause and company showcased tasteful lead vocal and harmonies. The dynamic instrumentals range from jangly, to bellicose, to experimental as they explore a rather wide variety of rock stylings in their repertoire. Fort Union performs with two full-length albums under their belt: their 2012 self -titled first release and 2016’s id.

Young Elk manages to achieve no easy feat in their determinedly dark performance: choosing to explore the more shadowy aspects of human nature and the realities of society’s more sinister constructs both lyrically and sonically. Frontman Ezekiel Rudick weaves poeticism into subject matter, which could easily fall into conspicuous and overly literal territory. The strength of their performance is not in how loud their amps are or how hard the drums hit (and loud and hard they are) but in the meticulous tone selections and restrained build-ups crafted to invoke an eerie yet powerful reaction in the listener. It is music, which does not immediately demand the unbridled attention of the listener, Young Elkbut yields rewards beneath its carefully devised musicality and phrasing upon deeper discernment. Young Elk boasts two full-length albums and an EP. Rudick mentions there is more material in the coffers and a new release is likely soon.

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