LIVE REVIEW: Gustaf in Portland, ME (04.22.24)

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LIVE REVIEW: Gustaf in Portland, ME (04.22.24)

“Give me a beat, no, give me machine,” and in a way, Gustaf gave us both on a lively Monday night and the second date of their North American Tour at Portland House of Music and Events.

“I project my way to the center of the stage, I stand still at the center of the stage,” lead singer Lydia Gammill kicked off the first lines of “Statue” as the band started the unwavering and unstoppable bop that would carry throughout the evening. In a sense, a foreshadowing of the outline of what a Gustaf set entails; Gammill as the actress, crying out her narrative, soundtracked by a consistent, smooth groove, and met with spiraling interjections of commotion, absurdity, and whimsy.

Continuing with more songs from Package, Pt. 2, their second album recently released at the beginning of April, they melded into “Happiest Thought” and introduced demonic backing vocal effects from multi (quirky) instrumentalist Tarra Thiessen as the song built up and up. The piercing, “Down, downs” of “Weighing Me Down” added to the emotional weight of the guilt felt from leaving a relationship even though someone gave you an easy out, as an impassioned Gammill moved around, beating on her chest and pulling at her hair.

“Book” followed, with more strong background vocal effects, like the haunted deep voice that would make an appearance multiple times throughout, and a chipper “Ahead!” cutting through the bass and drum beat. These voices serving as multiple personalities and characters in the storyline across the entire set. Current lead single “Starting and Staring” was angular and sharp, with demands and call back lines. “The thump of the drums, pulse of your blood. The mantra, the melody, the beat,” Gammill adlibbed and flowed as she introduced drummer Melissa Lucciola (Francie Moon) and bassist Tine Hill. The way the band picked up on the cues for the “and stopping” parts demonstrated their cohesive calamity.

Donning wrist bells for “I Won,” Thiessen bounced around as an endless ball of energy, as her and Gammill called out in harmony before contrasting in the spirit of the song’s competition. Pulling out more tricks from her tabletop “instrument” armory, Thiessen played a kazoo and a coffee can hand drum for “Design. Another mantra, the, “You’ve got me stuck on repeats” of “What Does it Mean” kept the cycling machine rolling, with more call and response, and the feeling of being trapped in a dream sphere that keeps swirling around you and holding you in a shadowy daze. Adding a brief pause, they took a second to give guitarist Vram Kherlopian a chance to, “Get out of his comfort zone” as he tuned to a song that, “Might sound similar to the last one, but it’s different. I slide up to this one.” Gently teasing him, Thiessen chimed, “There’s only so many notes,” as if they know they’re taking the piss on their instrumental patterns sounding oddly alike to one another.

Said similar sounding song was the popular “Dog” which is a sort of comical tale about missing a person’s dog more than the person themself, and came complete with every band member barking and featured an array of squeaky toy instruments, including a rubber chicken and 2 bright colored pigs. Maintaining that energy for “Best Behavior,” the chanting chorus line of, “I’m good, I’m very, very good,” had everyone singing along and bobbing around. Slowing things down a smidge for “Here Hair,” the audience felt safe and warm in the almost spoken word, desert sands love ballad that only an art punk band could compose. Instantly leading into its counterpart “Hard Hair” packed a wallop as they cranked things back up for a burst of a dance floor banger.

Garnishing a bass that, “Really is just for show,” Gammill doubled the big beats for the tantalizing “Close” as she wailed and whined and demanded, “Are you close?” The cyclical “Dream” caroled, “We love you, we love you,” as Thiessen pointed around the room in an Oprah-esque manor while they questioned their subconsciousness. After re-awaking to reality, Gammill asked if anyone had had a nightmare the previous night, to which a good amount of the crowd said yes. She asked everyone to give a one word summary of what the nightmare was about to see if anyone had matching dreams, which sparked an off the cuff “Mind Meld” improv favorite when two members said “ice” and “cold.” Strangers Maddie and John Henry got the crowd participation award as they stood face to face trying to come up with the same word response for at least 5 minutes, leaving everyone laughing as Gammill proclaimed, “We’re not going anywhere until this happens, because we commit!” Somehow, someway, the word in unison was “hot dog” and brought the band back in for the rest of the set.

The grating, faux lo-fi “Mine” squawked and squeaked out with a jaunty sharpness that had elbows and knees jutting and hands clapping. Mentioning that it was sound guy Ryan’s last show at PHOME, Gammill crept back to the board to thank him for taking care of the band at their first Portland show back in 2022 and their return to the venue, before launching into a much shorter “Mind Meld” of their own. Running back up to the stage, the mixed vocal effects were back for “Package” as simple guitar licks jangled with the hi-hat. “Just give me a… hot dog!” Gammill added to bring the song full circle.

The special guest of the evening, Gammill’s dad came up, wearing a Gustaf shirt under his hoodie, and sang backing vocals on the laid back “Happy” while she interspersed singing and playing the flute. “Give me machine!!” he cried as he ended the set, and everyone hugged him as they walked off, leaving Kherlopian awkwardly behind. “Should we go home? Should I go over there? Or should we just play another one?” he mockingly asked to quell the weird waiting period before an encore.

Instantly coming back on, the band broke into “Ground” and enticed the senses, with Gammill’s riffing about watching and being an observer, touching and feeling and seeing and hearing, as she snaked and swerved. Inviting opener, comedian Edy Modica on stage, they ended the set with “Cruel” and had her crowd surf as everyone sang along. The juxtaposition of Gammill’s gloom, Thiessen’s whimsy, and the band’s constant driving rhythm made their set seem like a soundscape to a dream, a repetitive reverie filled with glimpses of chaos and mania. It was almost like they were telling a story, and the inescapable inner thoughts in her head were being shouted out for everyone to hear. They’re definitely a breed of band that’s more appreciated in a live setting, as their energy, chemistry, quirkiness, and passion are all at the forefront and you can witness the spontaneous party tricks and see instead of visualize what kind of “instruments” make what noises.

Listen to Gustaf’s new album Package, Pt. 2 – HERE.

Featured image: Erica Snyder

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