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Ages and Ages just wish you'd dance all ready

Optimism and melancholy

Portland's masters of folk-chorale uplift, Ages and Ages, perform in Olympia, June 5. Press photo

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In one of the final shots of Stop Making Sense - a movie that notably eliminated shots of the crowd in favor of lovingly photographed views of the Talking Heads - we finally get a glimpse of the audience, and they are going fucking bonkers. Whenever I see those shots, I despair, just a little, for the current, crossed-arms culture of audiences. It's no secret that there's a certain degree of standoffish energy that permeates the large majority of indie shows, these days. Every time a band has to encourage the audience to get closer to the stage, I die a little.

Enter Ages and Ages. This Portland band, without getting all touchy-feely, has eschewed apathy in favor of forthright optimism. Like the Arcade Fire did a decade ago, Ages and Ages recruit their entire band to sing at once, less for the sensation of catharsis, and more for the feeling of togetherness. Isn't it still sort of remarkable that all of these people have gathered together for a united experience of musical revelry? This magic seems to have gotten left behind, long ago, and now we all sit in cynical judgment of an art form that chiefly means to enrich.

"We had this idea that music should be a celebratory and inclusive experience," says frontman Tim Perry. "The idea that a culture that we're surrounded by - the vibe of a lot of what was going on, and is going on, is one of shoulder-shrugging and very cool apathy. The notion of just fully and unabashedly embracing something is considered to be unattractive, I think, in our culture today. We wanted to explore a way of not doing that."

What Ages and Ages have hit on is this ebullient mixture of optimism and melancholy acknowledgment of reality. Comparisons to the Polyphonic Spree are far from unwarranted, but Perry and company are not moon-eyed, naïve troubadours. While their debut album was mostly an explosion of joyous noise, delivered by tippy-toed singers, their latest release, Divisionary, is more pragmatic about the struggles that face those concerned with living a life full of wonder.

"A lot of music is an extension of one's personal experience," says Perry. "Obviously, I'm also grappling with these things. For me, it's not so much thinking about what I'm not, but thinking about what I aspire to be. Within this struggle, and within this culture, I look towards finding a way to honestly grapple with these issues, and my own personal issues, or just the issues in the world today. And I wanted to do this without allowing the negativity of these things to define me or identify me. There is a difference between experiencing these things without actually identifying with them."

Musically, Ages and Ages are all about the big sound, of communal singing and overblown instrumentation. There's an element of overwhelming force that lurks through the output of Ages and Ages. When they're not singing in unison, Perry takes the lead with a vocal that recalls Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes in his more poppy moments. While everything is mostly stompy and jubilant, there's wobbly bits of psychedelic pop drifting in and about. In all, Ages and Ages come across as a more sincere version of the prevalent trend of neo-hippy pablum.

If you've read this far and still plan to see Ages and Ages at a show, slowly swaying side to side with arms gingerly crossed, I'd like to pluck you from your Wes Anderson screening and plant you firmly in the middle of a particularly unsupervised mosh pit, where you'll be forced to fight for survival. Maybe consider dancing, next time.

AGES AND AGES, w/ Stephen Steinbrink and French Quarter, Oh Rose!, 8 p.m., Thursday, June 5, Northern, 414 ½ Legion Way, Olympia, $6

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