Wearing a faded red V-neck shirt, Kyle Morton sat against a brick penitentiary wall. At 7:30 p.m. on a mid-July evening, the sun was on its way toward the horizon but was still baking the pale dirt where he rested.
"Great show! I really enjoyed it," said a man as he walked up to Morton carrying a copy of Typhoon's Hunger and Thirst CD and a permanent marker. Several signatures were already splayed across the plastic jewel case.
"Thanks," Morton said earnestly. "I really enjoyed playing. This is a nice place."
An hour earlier, Morton, the singer/songwriter for Portland, Ore.-based band Typhoon, was hunched over his guitar onstage surrounded by his bandmates as they opened for The Decemberists at Idaho Botanical Garden. That July show was the second in a tour that has included dates in Montreal, New York, the Newport Folk Festival, Lollapalooza and The Late Show with David Letterman. Typhoon will come nearly full circle by making Boise the last stop of their tour on Friday, Aug. 12, with an in-store appearance at Record Exchange and a performance at Visual Arts Collective.
"I grew up thinking Boise was one of the Northwest's places to play at because of Built to Spill," said multi-instrumentalist Devin Gallagher.
Portland is known for cranking out buzz-worthy bands, and Typhoon has become one of them--in 2010 they were No. 2 on Willamette Week's list of the 10 best new Portland bands. But Typhoon is more like an orchestra, playing layered songs that build and swell to booming climaxes with brass, string and percussion instruments tiptoeing in one after another.
The words "full" and "expansive" come to mind, which is not surprising: Typhoon has 11-13 members (although as many as 17 have contributed to a recording). However, Typhoon is anything but messy. When the band performs, each musician bounces and sways in what looks like part choreography and part natural reaction to the music and they all appear to have an acute sensitivity to one another during performances. The interplay among instruments is calculated and never seems overwrought. At times, it's easy to hear fingerpicking from a single guitar. Other times, the music is an eruption of horns, strings, multiple drums and myriad other instruments. But above all of it is a sense of balance.
"We certainly operate on the principle of accumulation," Morton said.
Most of the members of Typhoon are in their mid-20s, but many of them have a longer musical history than their youth suggests. Morton has played alongside bassist Toby Tanabe since the late '90s. They grew up in Salem, Ore., and both were founding members of a high-school band that shed several names before settling on The Mopps. Tyler Ferrin,Typhoon's brass instrumentalist, initially joined The Mopps as a guitarist. In 2005, those members of The Mopps became Typhoon and released their debut album the same year.
Typhoon now has more than three times as many musicians as The Mopps did. To Morton, the only nagging challenge of having such a large band is not in conflicting schedules or musical interplay but in the frequency of bathroom stops on the road.
"There are [many] bladders all trying to be empty," Morton said.
Typhoon and Boise's Finn Riggins are both on the Portland, Ore.-based record label Tender Loving Empire, and Finn Riggins will join Typhoon on the bill for the Aug. 12 show at VAC.
When Typhoon arrived in Boise on the day of the Idaho Botanical Garden show, Finn Riggins' Eric Gilbert suggested that Typhoon play a midnight acoustic set at the downtown Pie Hole that night. The show was not advertised per se, but Twitter and word of mouth were enough to get roughly 50 people to the downtown patio. They huddled around the band members who were folded into the cramped area with their instruments. It was a cluster of pleasure and people, many of whom were singing along.
At the outset of a tour that would be full of big venues, festival performances and an appearance on Late Show With David Letterman this was an intimate contrast. The band had brought only the most essential equipment so it was economical, and fans stood on even ground, some only a few inches away from a band whose music they adore.
For Gallagher, the high point in what has already been a steadily growing career for Typhoon was not a festival performance, an album release or any other specific event.
"I'm just really proud that we stuck together," he said. When he graduated from high school, Gallagher's decision to stay committed to the band sparked resistance from pretty much everyone he knew. He said that people who cared about him supported his decisions, but they also feared that his friends from high school wouldn't last and that a band with so many members and so many divergent lives would surely fall apart.
"The fact that we've done eight tours in six years and we're still together--that, to me, is what the high point is."