By Gabriel Mathews
I’d been having a pretty rough day. One could describe it as “an emotional rollercoaster,” but that probably wouldn’t be accurate. It was more like an emotional ice luge, with a slight upwards bump at the very end to sort of make me think everything was alright. There was no doubt in my mind, though, that going to see Typhoon would essentially airlift me back to the top of the mountain.
Why was I so convinced? Because I’ve been seeing Typhoon since way back in 2007, when they’d open every show with “So Passes Away The Glory Of The World” into “Rolling Credits,” when they’d play “Shallows” pretty much all the time, when there were maybe seven of them at one show, maybe thirteen at the next. I saw them open for The Builders & The Butchers and Man Man at the Hawthorne Theatre, I saw them play that basement room in PSU that was then dubbed The Modern Age. Every single time I saw them, I felt like I was witnessing something wholly transcendent. Typhoon are masters of the dynamic build, and this has only become more true over time. The most recent time I saw them was when they played on the quad at lunchtime at Occidental College, where I was working for the radio station that brought them out. I helped them set up, and then they pretty much blew everyone away with a set culled largely from their just-released second LP Hunger & Thirst. Songs like “CPR/Claws Pt. 2” and “Belly Of The Cavern” came off like glorified versions of their recorded selves, shinier and more intricate. Being able to see the way the band’s twelve-or-so members (at that point) interacted, the way they were all coordinated so perfectly with each other made the songs pop that much more. The Occidental lunchtime crowd was thoroughly impressed.
Three years later, here I am, writing for this blog and getting sent to review Typhoon’s set at The Satellite. I’d never been to this venue before, shockingly, and I’ve got to say, it was pretty darn great. Real small and intimate, the Satellite (fka Spaceland) felt like a place I could find in some inner-SE warehouse in Portland. The first couple hours of the evening (most of which I missed) were apparently occupied by a “Typhoon DJ set,” during which the crowd and the band mingled fluidly. I found frontman Kyle Morton, introduced myself, and told him how incredibly stoked I was to see them suddenly getting some seriously overdue national attention (NPR, WSJ, check it!) He seemed genuinely happy to have me barging in on his conversation, which is always a nice feature in a performer.
Anyway, the music. Wild Ones were up first. I’m not sure (though I’m guessing most of my readers are) if frontwoman (and Lincoln High alum!) Danielle Sullivan and Morton are still together, but I’d assume they are. This made it pretty interesting, standing a few feet behind Morton and watching as Sullivan sang Wild Ones’ electro-pop love songs in his general direction. That was cute. Musically, though, I can’t say I was super moved by this act. There are at least three fantastic musicians in Wild Ones—their drummer, their guitarist, and, of course, Sullivan, whose clarion-like voice seems impossibly large for her tiny body and has the range of three Mariah Careys. But throughout their set, I couldn’t help but feel like these folks should have been putting their talents to use in bands that make more compelling, original choices than Wild Ones. On the rare moments that the guitarist got to let loose and solo, I really felt like this was a rock band gussied up in electro clothing, but nothing ever came close to the joy I felt seeing Sullivan’s old band, Eskimo & Sons, back in ’08 at Rotture for PDX Pop Now! That said, their cover of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” was pretty spot on and timely.
Doing a bit of pre-show research, I discovered that Typhoon have recorded a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinking About You.” The Frank Ocean/Drake contrast is a pretty apt one here. Typhoon are doing something a bit less direct, a bit less blatant than WIld Ones, and it makes them vastly more interesting. (I can’t really stand either Ocean or Drake, but at least Ocean pals around with Tyler, The Creator.) There’s more menace to Typhoon, more intrigue. That said, there’s almost no point in comparing the two bands. One is a five-piece electro-pop act, while the other features eleven members, most of whom are multi-instrumentalists, and could maybe be described as post-folk chamber-rock, if you had to put a label on it. But what Typhoon do, in my mind, hardly has anything to do with the music they make. It’s all about the feelings they evoke.
The press around Typhoon’s new record, White Lighter, which made up pretty much all of their set, is largely based around Morton’s childhood battle with Lyme disease, which is certainly a tragedy and which definitely informs a lot of his lyrics. But watching the band tear through rousing opener “Kitchen Tile” followed by the too-intricate-to-be-true “Artificial Light,” the pretext falls away, and all you have is two guitarists, two drummers, three trumpeters, two string players, a bassist, a ukulele player, and something like nine singers tearing you out of the place you stand and throwing you somewhere else entirely. Typhoon are truly masters of dynamics, and they know exactly how long to hold those pregnant pauses before launching into torrents of sound only eleven people on stage could make. Drummers Alex Fitch and Pieter Hilton sat as close to the front of the stage as possible and played at times in perfect lockstep, at others by contrasting Fitch’s restraint with Hilton’s bombast. At all times, they held down the floor for the swirling melodies brought on by trumpeters Eric Stipe, Ryan McAlpin and Tyler Ferrin, the violn/viola combo of Jennifer Hilfragel and Shannon Rose Steele, and the masteful guitar playing of Morton and David Hall, who I realized for the first time at this show is sort of a genius. The arrangements on display are perfect— every moment is planned out so the songs come together like architectural works. Every member got their chance to shine, as when Steele took a solo vocal turn on “Hunger & Thirst,” or when fan favorite Toby Tanabe kicked up the dust with his fuzz bass on “The Lake.”
The fans at this show… I’m just so incredibly happy to see Typhoon play in front of a room in Los Angeles jam-packed with people who adore their music, who shout them out by name, who call for requests (“Requests will only be processed by telepathy, thank you,” said Morton at one point), who scream along with the scream-along moments and who are devastatingly quiet during the hushed ones. (One audience member/band friend got “Happy Birthday” sung to her once by each band, and the crowd joined in both times. Happy birthday, Angela!) Aside from a few douchebags Hall had to shut up eventually (and who later left—Typhoon 1, Douchebags 0), this was a truly adoring crowd, and you could tell Morton was proud of himself and his band for finally having gotten to this place. During utterly incredible, sectionate “Hunger & Thirst” Morton shouts “I could’ve been a POP singer!” Dude— you’re there.
While I was slightly disappointed that the band played not a single song older than A New Kind Of House, and that the set was a little short on the whole, encore “The Honest Truth” was certainly the best way to close the show— the rousing shout-along (lifted from H&T‘s “Mouth Of The Cave”) was a perfect end to the evening. I felt like I was home.
PS: Shouts out to the DJ, who played most of Menomena’s unbeatable Friend And Foe between sets. You rule, man.
PPS: The dude I see at every show in LA who I think is in the band Whoa Hunx was there. Whoa Hunx dude, if you read this, who are you? Have you cloned yourself? How are you friends with every band? I don’t understand your existence.