Crystal Ballroom played host to a swarm of eerie voices Saturday night. A sold-out crowd had been waiting months in anticipation of Boy Harsher’s tour date for their latest album The Runner. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, what was originally slotted for two shows at the smaller Wonder Ballroom, was postponed and ultimately condensed into one night at the historic downtown venue.
But while the date was moved back, Boy Harsher was far from absent in Portland. Back in February, the band screened their film The Runner at the Clinton Street Theatre, ratcheting up the suspense for fans as the electronic group made a jump from our phone screens to the big screen. Naturally, a band with that kind of meteoric rise is well-worth waiting for—if only because they’re getting super important shit done in their downtime!
Austin, TX’s Troller opened the night with a dark-wave set, lower on the bpm than Boy Harsher, and borrowing a page from Salem’s 2010 album King Knight. Singer Amber Star-Goers’ voice seemed to coo like the sound of church angels in a horror movie, before bending into banshee-like registers as the song ground on fissures of moody bass.
Most impressive was the band’s use of stringed instruments in lieu of cables and laptops, bringing their tracks to life. Troller’s plodding hills of electro drones and arty industrial layering—chopped with hip-hop percussion—made a stiff apéritif that hit the spot for a Harsher crowd. As a whole, Troller’s set carried an icier and bleaker pallet, one reflective of 2022’s trajectory.
When the lights finally dimmed for Boy Harsher, a moodiness befell the venue that was more than just mascara and fishnet shirts. Rather, it was the cinematic pull of “Give Me a Reason,” as Jae Matthews took us to a nocturnal art installation of lonely emotions where the dancing is minimal and the voice always sultry. Alongside her was band’s maestro Augustus Muller, who kept a steady pulse all night, straying from the beat only to lash out percussion or give an ominous rasp into the mic.
Experiencing Boy Harsher’s set was to glimpse a desired imagery the band has deliberately composed for each track. Moreover, it’s unmistakable how much Matthews and Muller live in the darkness carved out by their favorite films. Knowing that their music became the basis for their own film project has made the shadowy world of these tracks more immersive and promising. Their live shows now blur the lines between cinema and soundtrack in a way fans can’t help but thirst for.
Despite success, the duo appeared to sometimes doubt the reality of the night. “I have to be honest,” said Matthews in an appeal to the crowd. “Tonight, I thought, is anyone actually coming?” But Portland’s loyal fan base was there to confirm the tremendous exposure the band is receiving nationally.
When the band ripped into “Tower,” another song off the soundtrack to The Runner, Matthews’ echoed screams seemed almost cathartic as her yearning questions gave rise to breathy affirmations. This was contrasted by their cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” which could easily snatch the title of “best electro cover” away from TWINS’ rendition of the same song in 2019.
As fans trudged out at the encore’s end, it was a strange to think that a band intrinsically so foreboding has a future so noticeably bright. Boy Harsher now has us clamoring for tickets to see the movie that is their lives, whether it’s at a writhing music venue or the dimness of an art house cinema.