REVIEW: Cautious Clay simmers at Wonder Ballroom in Portland

PORTLAND, ORE. — While the impending bomb cyclone was the popular topic of conversation Tuesday in western Oregon, New York musician Cautious Clay tempered worries, at least temporarily, with a simmering set of electronic soul, rock and blues-inflected R&B.

The singer-producer-flautist-saxophonist-guitarist, who headlined the Fillmore in San Francisco the previous week, packed the 800-capacity Wonder Ballroom. The Eliot neighborhood venue, shaped a bit like a barn or school cafeteria, with a pitched roof, was attentively silent for most of the 70-minute performance; other than the bar.

Cautious Clay, whose name is Josh Karpeh, and his four-member band walked onto a stage decorated with floor lamps and nightstand lamps that would flicker along with the music, and opened with the woozy “Sidewinder.” His voice was smooth like fine sand as it drifted through the spaces created in the instrumentation of the songs.

A couple of songs later Cautious Clay showed off his brass instrument talents; first on the saxophone on “French Riviera,” which also featured a bluesy guitar solo; and then on the flute on numerous songs. The instrument was usually used to create a reprieve from harsher sounds in the form of twittering solos. The sensual “Call Me” was one such example.

The set included several more straightforward rock songs, such as “Joshua Tree,” on which Karpeh played another soulful sax solo. Other songs, like “Crowned,” hewed deeper into R&B territory. His bread and butter, however, were songs that mixed the two genres with indietronica so well that it was difficult to unwind them.”Blood Type” was one such song, as was “Something for Nothing,” which he described as his favorite song from his latest EP, Table of Context.

The back half of Cautious Clay’s set threatened to pick up the pace but throttled back each time. The defiant 2019 single “Erase” was followed by the meditative “Stolen Moments,” off 2018’s Blood Type. The tune was so simple in its instrumentation that he could likely write another song that would fit in its white spaces.

He concluded with gentle, free-flowing new single “Swim Home” and his biggest success to date, “Cold War.” Before the finale he sat down and surveyed the room as his band kicked into the latter tune and the stage was swathed in magenta hues as he sang the opening line, “Yellow tinted lenses and a pink gelato…”

Los Angeles singer-songwriter Remi Wolf opened the show with a set of funky jangle-pop and R&B. Clad in a tie dye dress and backed by a guitarist and drummer, she leisurely worked through songs like “Thick,” an unreleased samba-tinged tune with heavy bass and a rapped chorus, and the funky “Doctor,” which included some out-there dance moved with the guitarist.

Between songs, she threw in what can best be described as a stand-up routine that endeared her to the crowd, or at least it should have. She and her band also covered Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” MGMT’s “Electric Feel”—both as slower, soulful jams rather than bangers, and a small bit of Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me.”

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