It is not often that you see a cello ensemble — much less ones with a drug-referencing acronym — but the Portland Cello Project is determined to destroy that notion. With an extremely talented and composed group of professional cellists, they are out to prove that classical and popular music are more directly related than we might have thought.
“Our goal is to tour the nation’s bars and not get things thrown at us,” said one Portland Cello Project member at the beginning of Friday’s show at the Echo.
PCP is out on tour promoting its newest album, The Thao and Justin Power Sessions.
Headlining the tour are friends Thao with The Get Down Stay Down — an outlet for the music of Thao Nguyen, an explosive and extremely talented indie musician.
But Friday night’s lineup at the Echo is not the first time we have seen indie-rock music intertwine with its classical roots. Over the years, many artists in many genres have combined these two styles in interesting ways. Recently, acts like M-83 and Beck performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at traditionally classical venues, like the Walt Disney Concert Hall or the Hollywood Bowl.
In the beginning of its performance, PCP had technical problems that left a large segment of the crowd uninterested. One of the Cellos had very low signal, and just resonated when the low notes sounded — creating an annoying echo that overpowered the other three instruments.
The ensemble figured out its difficulties, however, and continued with the show. The remaining crowd was attentive to every note of this somber and virtuous ensemble while the back of the room appeared completely uninterested, submerged in the bar and talking loudly enough to disturb those who wanted to listen to PCP.
As the performance progressed, PCP went through its entire repertoire. The song list included both original compositions and covers of popular songs. Although interesting in novelty, it felt like the ensemble was showing off its ability to cross over, never committing to a specific style and, in the end, leaving listeners with a good impression, but nothing truly transcendental.
PCP played a variety of pieces, including a fun song composed by one of its members featuring a medley of familiar popular music styles and a purely classical number that bored the audience, but proved the members’ talent as musicians. Then, even though they might strike anyone as complete opposites, PCP covered Pantera’s “Mouth For War” which was reminiscent to what Apocalyptica did in its redoings of Metallica songs.
Once its had the crowd’s complete attention, PCP played two very fun covers — Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and Outkast’s “Hey Ya” — which ultimately won over the crowd.
Nothing truly awe-inspiring happened on stage, however, with the talented four-piece ensemble. The Portland Cello Project proved that it was able to keep its composure, even when the crowd’s disinterest was palpable. The group was creative yet cautious, carefully choosing its playlist for the night, but failing to produce anything that had not yet been done by a classical ensemble in today’s music industry.
PCP did what people expected it to do, and at the show’s end, it spiced things up with two mainstream covers.
PCP proved to be a conversation starter for Thao with The Get Down Stay Down.
Although Thao and her band put on an electrifying performance, PCP showed that even though classical is not as “hip” as rock music, all art is about true emotion.