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Aural Report

Using our brains as we rock
Gravity and Henry bring the leaves down
by Kurt Dahlke

Portland's spasmodic autumn convulsions – from chilling, driving rain and leaden clouds to toasty golden glory – settle on the latter today. It's a good day to be outside. It won't be the last, but the supply grows short.

Portland State University cradles the South Park blocks and sometimes – but only on days like today – cool things happen. On warm, sunny Wednesdays and Fridays the looming, swaying trees and the late-'60s cement-modern architecture, host some fine music. The PSU Popular Music Board's noontime concerts in the park in front of Smith Memorial Center (or downstairs in the dining lounge if the weather's bad) are free and open to all.

You can find out who's playing beforehand. I prefer to take my chances and let the leaves fall where they may.

Gravity and Henry.

Sun-shot yellow leaves float rhythmically down while Gravity and Henry shake things up.

A drums-and-guitar duo, Gravity and Henry are Jarhid and Matthew, respectively. Through rhythmic and electronic trickery they make more noise than two instruments together should be allowed. Acoustic art-rock thrashings with shifting time signatures and psychedelic freak-outs are the order.

Gravity and Henry accomplish the dreaded make-you-groove-and-think-at-the-same-time axiom with stealth and style. They rock, but beg the question: How?

Jarhid's funky poly-rhythmic drumming trades heaviness with chitter-chatter as the songs demand, creating the illusion that he has four arms and four legs. Not surprisingly, ex-Soundgarden (and semi-local Tone Dogs) drummer Matt Cameron crops up as a Jarhid influence.

"Matt Chamberlain, Matt Cameron, local Portland guys – Mark Blanding (Greater Than Five), Jim Maddox (All Star Fidelity)," Jarhid opines. "There are just too many."

Matthew cites Don Caballero, Ian Mac Kaye, local artist Jon Self, "and, of course, George Bryson from back home" as his influences.

Thick strumming and dewy, double-tracked guitar loops create deep rhythmic instrumental breaks between verses, between songs, too, as Matthew's Eastern leanings and rock-star wah-wah fill up the rest of the spaces.

"Since we first made the decision to go as a duo, I've been trying to fill up our live sound," Matthew explains. "All the experimenting I've done in terms of effects and looping has been done since then. I love layers of sound. It's the only way I could think of to make them all happen live."

The effect is compelling – the hair on my arms stands up not a few times, but I am a geek. I ask if Portland audiences respond okay to quality (dare I say it?) art rock.

"It depends," says Matthew. "Usually they do, but I don't think they always know what to think. People always clap, at least. Audiences in Portland act very differently than in other cities. It seems like they are afraid to be warm and chewy."

Adds Jarhid: "I just think it's neat when people stay and listen."

The pair made the move from Juneau, Alaska, to Portland awhile back.

"Juneau is a small town with beautiful scenery," they both explain. "We left to play music in an area that gave us more chance of exposure and influence. Portland wasn't too big of a city. Seeing as how we were small-town people and afraid of big cities and the buildings, it was perfect."

From grand gigs at the Paradox in Seattle to getting bumped from a Coliseum-sized Ralph Nader rally and ending up playing to 10 at a cheap hotel conference room, Gravity and Henry take it in stride.

If their time isn't here now, it will be soon. As autumn turns to winter, so music-heads must turn to the music of Gravity and Henry. As leaves fall to the ground, so must we all, at least once in a while, use our brains while we rock.

Catch Gravity and Henry:
• Nov. 10: Medicine Hat, Portland
• Nov. 30: Tonic Lounge, Portland
• On tour in November: California, Nevada and Eugene, Ore. (check local listings)

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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