the steep and thorny way to heaven

‘Grey Gold’ review: Myrrh’s myth

Tightly performed premiere of Portland composer/singer/guitarist Larsen's rock opera takes audiences to another world.

by MARIA CHOBAN

Do you like the thrill of venturing somewhere seemingly dangerous? Then The Steep And Thorny Way To Heaven (TS&TW2H), tucked under the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland’s inner east side, is the venue for you. Portland singer/composer/guitarist Myrrh Larsen’s rock opera Grey Gold premiered there last weekend and concludes its recently extended run January 29.

My winter heart traipsed through dimly lit intersections, under overpasses, ebullient that we were escaping the iron lung of a concert hall or a church. Once inside, there is enough seating for ten. I am not kidding. There is standing room enough for maybe 50 if you crush. TS&TW2H has its priorities straight: Good sized stage and a bar. Y’all in the audience can puppy pile on each other. And with enough booze, you will.

appear on and offstage in Myrrh Larsen's rock opera 'Grey Gold.' Photo: Jack Wells.

The two costumed actors playing Hades (Lauren Mitchell) and Persephone (Caitlynn Didlick) appear on and offstage in Myrrh Larsen’s rock opera ‘Grey Gold.’ Photo: Jack Wells.

Do you like dadrock? Pitchfork doesn’t, so while it’d give this show a 1.7, favoring the obnoxiously obtuse lyrics and somnambulistic music from the Decemberists and Radiohead, I give this much more mainstream sonic experience a solid 6.6. The David Bowie influence is evident in Larsen’s mascara and hair. Other music heroes include the 1966 Rolling Stones (not the 1971 Sticky Fingers Rolling Stones or the 1972 Exile on Main Street Stones), the Mars Volta, Afghan Whigs, and some of the more usual suspects: Sonic Youth, Elvis Costello, Muse.

I heard the rock steady 4/4 meter of Foreigner infiltrated with NIN’s rhythmic noise. The song “Persephone” in particular opens this concept album-esque show with stop action, using bombastic silences as a hook. Very Trent Reznor.

Also very Reznor is Larsen’s tight control, evident in the crisp ensemble. Because I’m so used to attending under-practiced and under-rehearsed professional classical music concerts, I carry a vigilance and anxiety I wasn’t aware of until somewhere in the middle of “Persephone,” when I noticed I had totally surrendered myself to this control freak. In fact, by the third cut, “Love Has a Time Machine,” In a tender moment of awwwwwwwww, I time traveled, feeling as naive and unfettered as the youngest there, thinking fondly about my partner several rows back where I abandoned him for a front row position. Grey Gold took nine months to put on stage with a sneak peek performance on November 21. That’s six weeks before the first show on January 8! The show was so tight, even Larsen tuning his guitar then taking a swig of water (or Everclear) was efficiently choreographed, one eliding into the other in under eight seconds. I counted.

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