timbertimbreFor most of the band’s existence, Timber Timbre has been cloaked in an air of mystery. A live performance from the Canadian swamp-folk group, led by the smoky croon of frontman Taylor Kirk, is still a rare pleasure in much of the US. Now that their low profile has inched upwards, they’ve embarked on an expansive international tour in support of sheet-soaking Hot Dreams. Last Saturday, they played Mississippi Studios, one of Portland’s smaller venues, but fans from all over were crawling out of the woodwork. One guy behind me even chatted up two California girls about how he drove all the way from Utah because it was the closest to him the band would play.

For an act that’s still lurking under most radars, Timber Timbre had one of the most aggressive no-photography policies I’ve seen. Reminders from the guy at the door, the girl at the ticket counter and prominent signage seemed to do the trick and kept virtually all smartphones at waist-level for the duration of the band’s 90-plus minute set. While at first blush it would seem the no-photos policy was primarily for vanity reasons, a smartphone-free performance aided in giving the show a vintage feel that paired well with both the band’s timeless, brooding atmospherics and the rustic vibe of Mississippi Studios.

After fellow Canadians and twin-sister duo Tasseomancy warmed the stage for the packed venue, the set break appropriately featured edgy and eerie house music by the likes of Dirty Beaches. By the time the clock struck 10, the pink neon Hot Dreams sign from the band’s album cover was switched on and the stage was set before an audience clearly buzzing in more ways than one. As the band took their places, it was apparent that Kirk doesn’t follow the typical leadman approach and plant himself front and center—instead, he performed from the right of the stage, giving his bandmates equal visibility—even though that skilled larynx of his is one of the most crucial ingredients in Timber Timbre’s dark magic.

After the band eased to a start with the bird’s eye view imagery of “Grand Canyon,” the crowd stirred to life on the billowing menace of “Beat the Drum Slowly,” the leadoff track from Hot Dreams. Naturally, the band focused on the newer stuff early. “Bring Me Simple Men” crept along before the first older track, Creep On Creepin’ On’s “Lonesome Hunter,” pounded out some epic keys as Kirk crooned about trash birds, zombies, terror and spells.

Timber Timbre occasionally dipped into music from their 2009 self-titled album that established their trademark sound, and “Until the Night Is Over” did the trick with grimy organ and almost Middle Eastern interludes. Kirk seemed to warm up as the show went on. He began yelping and hooting at times and often stretched fingers out toward the crowd as though he was pulling his lyric imagery from the ether by hand. His first banter with the audience came mid-set, when he simply said of the cramped stage front, “Looks pretty awful out there.”

At times, favorite older songs appeared to have gone through a vocal reworking. “Black Water” got a huge cheer as it began, but Kirk didn’t impossibly stretch out the “All I need” line like he does on the album, instead breaking it up into two or three choppier lines. “Bad Ritual” also sounded a bit odd, as though the band was trying to fit that lush Creep On Creepin’ On tune into the sparser Hot Dreams aesthetic.

At times, red torch lights hung from mic stands for particular songs, adding an even sultrier atmosphere to the room. The crowd grew a bit rowdy, with shouting from the balcony between songs and one guy demanding the band take off their shirts. The crowd roared as a guest saxophonist joined the band during a well-received “Hot Dreams” and, later, the bass line thundered down on set-closing “Woman.”

To begin the protracted encore, Kirk emerged solo and played the acoustic “Demon Host” before engaging in a distracting back and forth with someone in the balcony, again with a mention of nudity. From there the band rejoined him to play out a few more, though the long awaited “Creep On Creepin’ On” was unfortunately aborted midway through and had to be restarted. That wasn’t enough to kill the strange energy that pervaded the venue that night; it may have even added to it as the Saturday night crowd grew saucy. It was fitting, then, that upon leaving the venue, we all got an eyeful of actual nudity from the participants in Portland’s annual Naked Bike Ride trickling in from downtown. Naked drunk people strutting down the neon sign-laden street seemed a fitting conclusion to the surreality conjured by the strange and sinister Timber Timbre.

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