(Photo: K. Nauber)

Polaris Hall, Portland, OR

There is a certain magic in seeing a show in an unfamiliar venue. For frequent concertgoers who know a room well, a routine settles in. You know when to show up if you want to get close to the stage, whether the door person is an asshole or not, what kind beer is on tap, and most importantly, exactly where to stand for the optimal experience. That sort of insider knowledge was off the table at Polaris Hall, a new venue is North Portland that has slowly begun announcing shows. Walking blind into a new space felt like a fitting precursor to seeing Devon Welsh perform.

Following the 2016 dissolution of Majical Cloudz, Welsh’s electronic art-pop outfit, fans have been waiting for the Montreal-based musician’s next act. The group’s two heavily expressive records, Impersonator (2013) and Are You Alone? (2015), were both much-beloved in indie circles but following an acrimonious break-up, it was unclear if Welsh would continue making music. This year saw the release of his first solo record, Dream Songs, a collection of new music that features more traditional instrumentation but sounds a lot like Majical Cloudz.

Although only about 25 people turned out for the concert, Welsh put on an impassioned, emotional performance that felt perfect for the unintentionally intimate setting. Welsh has never looked at ease while performing, even back in his Majical Cloudz days, yet his awkward charm drew the audience in and had us sitting on the rug at the lip of the stage with legs crossed, looking up in rapt amazement.

Beginning with “Comedian,” Welsh played a set comprised entirely of post-Majical Cloudz music. Backed by opener T. Gowdy on guitar and a keyboardist, Welsh’s concert played like the most intensely emotive karaoke session of all time. The singer got lost in his songs, belting out his melodies in complete abandon before retreating back to his gawky interstitial banter.

Welsh took time to discuss some of his songs, such as “Summer’s End,” which was written about his father. And while “This Is Magic” wouldn’t have felt out of place nestled between songs on the setlist, it makes sense that Welsh would want to leave the past behind. If anything, focusing on new material made the set feel too short, clocking in at about 45 minutes.

But what an amazing 45 minutes! “Dreams Have Pushed You Around” was absolutely beautiful and “I’ll Be Your Ladder” made the woman behind me weep. The arrangements of the songs matched those on the LP, however the inclusion of live strings rather than sounds on a synthesizer would have added to the evening.

After the show, Welsh hung around and chatted with the audience as he sold records. He seemed open and not in a rush to retreat to the bus, hugging people and signing LPs. Meeting a musician is often special, but nothing can match the memory of watching him perform, seated on the floor of that new venue, looking up and dreaming.

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