“I just want a fucking snare.”
Midway through Grails’ homecoming show at Portland’s Mississippi Studios, drummer Emil Amos stepped out from behind his kit and donned a guitar. He was visually shaken, sweat coursing down his body from attacking his set. However, an issue with his snare, one of many technical difficulties that marked the evening, appeared to push him to the brink.
“I just want a fucking snare,” he shouted earlier in the set. Unfortunately, neither of the opening acts, Daniel Higgs or Abronia, played with a drum kit. When Amos was informed that a snare was en route from a remote location, he shook his head and settled back down to play what would be the first of two complete sets that evening.
However, Amos was still fuming when he took over on guitar, claiming that he was about to kick over his whole drum set. The other members of the band, joined by A.E. Paterra from Zombi and Majeure on synth and Ilyas Ahmed on guitar, tried to talk him down by making jokes. Jesse Bates, who had been playing pedal steel, took over behind the drums and for awhile it appeared everything was okay.
But those technical issues. Local band Abronia started the evening with its psychedelic mix that recalls both Pink Floyd at its most far out and some of Ennio Morricone’s western soundtracks. The six members of the band crowded a giant bass drum, set center stage. Things began to go awry when saxophonist/vocalist Keelin Mayer’s microphone cut out. A change of wire didn’t help and Mayer eventually resorted to singing into the sax mike.
Meanwhile, Higgs’ set was delayed for nearly 30 minutes because they couldn’t get the synth to produce any sound. As a technician raced to repair the keyboard, the former Lungfish frontman paced on the side of the stage. When he was finally able to perform, Higgs prowled and howled for a half hour, reaching some place of personal nirvana as the audience placidly watched. Something about the performance gave me anxiety and although I appreciated Higgs’ wild aesthetic, I was ready for Grails to take the stage.
Grails barely touched on new album, Chalice Hymnal, during the performance, instead concentrating mainly on songs from Doomsdayer’s Holiday and Deep Politics such as “All the Colors of the Dark.” Throughout the show, images from old horror films and of naked woman flickered on a screen behind the band. This is the type of music to get lost in, however, Amos was getting no snare sound out of his drums. Even after another member of the band played around with the little clip on the snare’s side, Amos continued to grow frustrated. Guitarist Paul Spitz tried to leaven the frustration by saying, “It feels good to be home” while Ahmed joked that they still had a second, later set to play that evening at midnight. Yet, as the set ended, Amos kicked over his drum kit and walked off the stage.
As the crowd headed for the door, a new snare drum made its way to the stage. Hopefully, Grails’ second act that evening sounded just as intense, sans the tech problems.