By now, Portland being famed for it’s ‘indie cred’ is old hat – everyone knows about the smart growth initiatives, all the bike lanes, Portlandia, etc. One of the most sterling examples of this is Music Fest NW, when bands play across the city’s many venues, with big name acts and small up-and-comers, Pacific Northwest locals and acts from around the world.
So QRO headed (north)West, Tuesday to Sunday, September 3rd to 8th.
What better way to kick off one of the Northwest’s biggest festivals than with a local Portland musician? Nick Sisouphanh – better known in these parts as Gang$ign$ – tried his best at the Roseland Theater to properly kick off this year’s Music Fest NW with his indistinguishable brand of electronic music, but unfortunately it’s tough to stand out in that scene and it’s equally tough to get too excited about a guy who stands behind a computer and bobs his head for an hour while he pushes some buttons and moves some slides. It’s a seemingly unending cycle of build up and beat dropping. Lather, rinse, repeat…
However, in true Portland fashion, it was like something straight out of the ‘90s. Gang$ign$ is a short, heavy-set guy who wore a black beanie with a Stüssy shirt, of all things. And what could be more ironic than sampling the famous Oompa Loompa song from Willy Wonka?
It’$ tough to know if this guy i$ trying to be $illy or if he’$ fully being him$elf and he’$ in the be$t hometown po$$ible for that per$ona. Either way, hi$ DJ $et wa$ mildly entertaining and if you don’t live in Portland you won’t be mi$$ing much if you don’t go out of your way to $ee him when he come$ through your town.
This Seattle-based rapper sounds (and sort of looks) a lot like Lil Wayne. It’s difficult to take someone completely seriously when his or her style so closely matches that of something you’ve already heard. That being said, Nacho Picasso – who helped launch the first day of Music Fest NW at Portland’s Roseland Theater – isn’t a bad hip-hop artist, he’s just not that much of an original one.
This was a pretty standard hip-hop experience in that there were plenty of tattoos (yes, at one point he claimed he was “hot” so he could take his shirt off), crotch-grabbing, showing of boxer briefs, and exclaiming things to his DJ such as, “What’s the next joint man? I don’t give a shit!”
The three females and one male that make up Summer Cannibals also call Portland home. They helped round out night one of Music Fest NW by playing the utterly seedy venue that is Dante’s. It was a tad difficult to pay attention to the show when you had to look past many chains and stripper planks hanging from the ceiling, but this group’s brand of loose garage rock helped aid in that endeavor. Their music and playing style was so loose, in fact, that if you put them to a click track they would probably fall apart.
With Emma Stone’s doppelgänger as their drummer, this quartet couldn’t be swingier in their pursuit of the perfect crunchy guitar and pummeling drum sounds. Despite some apparent technical difficulties in the first part of their set where you couldn’t hear the bass guitar whatsoever (at first I thought this was intentional), they managed to power through and had the crowd won over just a few short songs in. Speaking of short, it got awkward at times because certain songs were so short and ended so abruptly that the audience barely knew to start clapping. All water under the bridge for the sake of good old rock and roll though, I suppose…
Doug Fir Lounge
Day Two of Music Fest NW rang in with a bang on Wednesday night at Portland’s famed Doug Fir Lounge. Featuring members from many popular acts tied to the Pacific Northwest such as The Decemberists, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Guided By Voices, and Minus 5, Eyelids are a bit of a supergroup – at least by Pacific Northwest standards.
Decemberists drummer John Moen shares vocal duties with former Guided By Voices axe man Chris Slusarenko, and together they make the perfect ‘90s throwback duo. Actually, the whole group feels like a ‘90s throwback. They exhibit a very cool, sometimes low-key, classic alternative rock vibe similar to The Breeders or Pavement. There are three guitars, which drive the whole situation into wall-of-sound/alternative melodic territory and it works quite well.
What made this particular show even cooler was the fact that, extremely randomly, Rolling Stone Senior Editor David Fricke was there just chilling and grooving right along with everyone else. He just happened to be in town for work and wasn’t even covering the festival.
Some of the songs featured in their set were “Abby’s Friends”, “Psych #1”, and “You Are Your Own”. Eyelids are currently recording their debut album here in Portland at Type Foundry Studios, so be on the lookout for it!
The Portland music scene continued to be extremely well represented (at least at The Doug Fir Lounge) on Wednesday night, with a set by alt-country boys Richmond Fontaine. Formed in 1994 at the Portland Meadows horse race track (of all places), these five guys have somewhat quietly released ten studio albums since then and they don’t show any signs of stopping. It seems like quite the career, indeed.
If it’s possible to successfully pull off a mixture of mellowness and high energy, Richmond Fontaine are good at it. Many of their songs featured lap steel guitar and a couple even featured a trumpet, all of it very tastefully placed.
Throughout their career, Richmond Fontaine have enjoyed equal measures of success in Europe and the United States. Lead singer Willy Vlautin is also a published author, having penned the novels The Motel Life, Northline, and Lean on Pete. The Motel Life is currently in the process of being made into a movie.
It’s a pretty impressive feat to pack out Portland’s Roseland Theater to capacity when you haven’t even released a full-length album, yet and that is exactly what CHVRCHES did late Wednesday night. They are one of those acts that when performing they are equal parts concert and visual spectacle, featuring a really extensive lights show which featured a sort of pyramid that stood behind lead singer Lauren Mayberry.
They exhibit a really foreboding yet oddly poppy brand of electronica with very piercing vocals yet beautiful vocals. Their set featured songs from this year’s Recover EP such as the title track as well as “Under the Tide” and “The Mother We Share”.
Hopefully they didn’t get too bad an impression of Portland and will come back soon because at one point Mayberry bantered with the crowd about how earlier that day she tried to go to an unnamed Portland restaurant and was refused entry because she happened to be wearing shorts and sneakers. Uncool, Unnamed Portland Restaurant, uncool indeed.
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Young the Giant
It’s a little comical that – whoever the responsible party was – would have a show in Portland, Oregon and not come adequately prepared for rain. Even if it is still technically summer, rain can come at a moment’s notice in a place like this. As such, as a result of inclement weather, Young the Giant’s Music Fest NW’s headlining slot on Thursday evening in Pioneer Courthouse Square was delayed for over twenty minutes while stagehands hurriedly scrambled to and fro to get sensitive equipment adequately covered with black plastic. And even then, there was still a myriad of cords running right through puddles of water. Hopefully no one got jolted.
But that didn’t deter the crowd from being excited when the group finally took the stage. Young the Giant have gotten lots of radio airplay here in the Rose City where they are also no strangers to playing shows. Ripping through many tracks from their debut and self-titled 2011 album such as “My Body” and “Cough Syrup”, it was a set packed with energy and the rain and city atmosphere almost made it even better.
It may sound odd, but let’s hope that Young the Giant takes some of that energy off the road and put it toward a new studio album one of these days. Young bands like them can only go so far on a successful debut album before the public wonders what’s next.
Music Fest NW continued with a bang at the Crystal Ballroom on Thursday night with a ridiculously cool opening performance by Ian Rubbish (if you don’t know who that is, YouTube it) and his backing band, which was continued and ended by Fred Armisen (with many special guests).
There were two distinct highlights of Armisen’s half music/half stand-up comedy set. The first was when none other than Bob Mould came out to perform a song with Rubbish and the backing band, after which they all left the stage so he could perform his famed Hüsker Dü (QRO spotlight on) piece, “Makes No Sense At All”. The other highlight had to be – oddly enough – when Armisen and his band played a cover of “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer and, believe it or not, lead singer Leigh Nash herself actually came on stage to sing the song. Like the song or not, that is just random and cool.
Attendees were also treated to Portlandia outtake videos as well as an impromptu Emmy Awards announcement filming where Armisen and Portlandia director Jonathan Krisel invited up four random audience members to announce the names of the four people up for Emmy Awards for the show.
The Joy Formidable
Plain and simple, few live bands exhibit as much energy and charisma as The Joy Formidable. Despite that their set helped mark only the halfway point of Music Fest NW, it would have been and extremely fitting one to end the entire festival with their performance.
Comprised of only three members, Ritzy Bryan, Rhydian Davies (QRO interview), and Matthew Thomas, The Joy Formidable sound like they could easily be a six-piece group. It’s hard to believe that such and awesome and huge guitar sound can come out of such a small lady as Bryan, and let’s not forget the absolute powerhouse drummer that is Thomas.
The trio played an amazing set including songs from both of their albums (The Big Roar – QRO review – and Wolf’s Law – QRO review) such as “Austere”, “I Don’t Want To See You Like This”, “This Ladder Is Ours”, “Maw Maw Song” and, of course, the set-ending rendition of “Whirring”, which, when performed in its entire non-radio-edit version is nothing short of breathtaking.
Lucky for us Portlanders, Bryan actually stated at one point that the group will be staying on in our fair city for about the next week while they write their next album.
The Joy Formidable will be doing some dates opening for Passion Pit (QRO live review) next month so if they come to a city near you then do yourself a favor and go see the show.
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Animal Collective are an odd outfit. Thus, they fit right into the Portland vibe. They brought their quirky indie tunes to Pioneer Courthouse Square to help close out Friday night at Music Fest NW. The stage had big blown up teeth on either side so apparently they wanted it to seem like they were performing inside a giant mouth? It’s hard to know. Needless to say, the crowd was highly entertained and excited.
These guys have released a lot of albums in the relatively short time they have been a band, so it’s always tough in a festival setting to have to narrow it down to an hour’s worth, and they clearly gave preference to last year’s Centipede Hz (QRO review) in that their set opened with its closing track “Amanita” and was followed by the likes of “Father Time”, “New Town Burnout”, and “Monkey Riches“ as well as previous albums’ songs such as “My Girls” and the set-closing “The Purple Bottle” from their 2005 album Feels.
Pioneer Courthouse Square
The Head and the Heart
The Head and the Heart make touching music. Their songs are full of emotion and as cheesy as it might sound, it’s clear that the band’s members truly love what they do. They are also one of those groups you have to marvel at because of the size of the following they’ve attained in the short time they have existed. For having released only one album thus far, they sure drew a rather large crowd at Pioneer Courthouse Square as part of Saturday’s lineup for Music Fest NW.
They played many songs from their 2011 self-titled album such as “Rivers and Roads” and “Winter Song”, as well as “Shake” from their upcoming sophomore effort, Let’s Be Still. The band encouraged the crowd to sing along at many points because as lead singer Josiah Johnson put it, “The louder you sing, the closer you feel to us.” Sure, things like that might seem overused and cliché, but there’s an endearing quality to The Head and the Heart that’s hard to come by these days and they put on an enjoyable show.
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Being from Spokane, Washington, Neko Case has played in Portland enough times to know that a lot of the people who make up our fair city engage in a rivalry with our friendly city to the north, Seattle. She at least knows this enough to have prefaced one of her slower songs by saying, “This is a song about your favorite city, Seattle,” to which maybe twenty people in the crowd issues loud boos.
Helping to close things down for this year’s Music Fest NW, oddly but enjoyable enough, Case’s set was almost as much comedy as it was good music. Sure, there may have been more energetic ways to close down a festival until next year, but her brand of mellow country/folk rock fit the bill just fine. At one point her voice sort of gave out, and rather than making it into an embarrassing issue, after the song ended she just politely said, “I’m sorry, I had a balloon of cocaine in my throat,” to which the crowd roared with laughter.
There were a couple things that made her Pioneer Courthouse square performance more special than normal, the first was the fact that Sunday happened to be her 43rd birthday, and the second was that her newest album The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You just came out this past Tuesday and it made up a lot of the songs in her set. In light of the latter, hopefully she and her and will be back again for a full tour very soon.