YACHT at Branx
By the time the sun was going down for Band of Horses Sunday evening set in Pioneer Square, I had travelled 346 miles by car and 35 miles by bike to see 46 bands play on 16 stages in just 8 days atBumbershoot and MusicfestNW. The two fests shared a lot of talent, and while there is something to be said for the laid-back vibe of a centrally located outdoor festival, there’s something magical about maniacally club-hopping around Portland on bike during the hottest week of the year.
For reviews, recaps and photo galleries check out everything we posted for MFNW 2011 and Bumbershoot 2011.
Thursday, September 8th
The award for most brutal dance act (and most extensive use of a fog machine) goes to Breakfast Mountain, who gave Branx what was probably the meanest grinding electro show at this year’s MFNW. Shrouded in a wall of fog, Zack Osterlund–the menace behind Breakfast Mountain andJerome Kersey–played a devastating set of body-shaking bass. Heavy, distorted synth and jagged beats kept the early-arriving crowd moving.
Suuns, who played after, were equally jarring. The Canadian band blurs the lines between new wave, electronica and noise. It is like hearing Frank Black singing for a punk band that’s playing a DJ set. They have the dark, disenfranchised anomie of grunge music, mixed with danceable keyboard beats and fits of distorted cacophony.
10-11:40pm Hawthorne Theatre
Branx was swampy in the midst of Portland’s hottest week of the year. But the packed Hawthorne Theatre was a nearly hallucinogenic sweat lodge, with condensation dripping from the ceiling’s barely functioning AC. And to that glorious, perspiring mass of writhing bodies, Unknown Mortal Orchestradelivered an amazing set of lo-fi pop.
The band lives up to the hype. For music that sounds so loose, they play so tight. What started out as Ruban Nielson’s solo project really takes shape as a live act. His unique, distinct playing and guitar tones set the band apart. The stripped down energy of the three-piece gave it a timeless quality, like these songs could have been unearthed tapes from any era of rock ‘n’ roll. Soul, garage, punk and psychedelia all find their way into UMO’s music, and even though they’re fairly polished, there’s a little rawness there to keep you bobbing to.
Undoubtedly, though, Little Dragon ruled the Hawthorne Theatre, and you can read our in-depth review of the whole night. We caught them at Bumbershoot last week, and what was great on the outdoor stage was incredible in the packed Hawthorne Theatre. Everything seemed bigger, bolder–you couldn’t not dance. They practically blew the roof off.
12-12:40am Bunk Bar
One more exhausted bike trip, downhill to Bunk Bar and then the final climb home, to catch a mellow, introspective comedown with Damien Jurado. Jurado’s subtle folk was competing for the attention of a late night, liquored-up crowd in the back. Sometimes it won, sometimes it didn’t. But his performance was always commanding, the stage banter witty, and lines like “I never feel magic unless I’m with you,” from “Arkansas,” as heart-pulling as ever.
Friday, September 9th
Watching Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives is like seeing Henry Rollins fronting the The Kinks. The Pastors’ Wives have the latter band’s rootsy rock feel, but the warbling Grow sings with so much power you’d think he was going to have an aneurysm. The instruments–acoustic guitar, tambourine, upright bass–may look folky, but they are played with a dirty, punk intensity. In honor of the hottest week of the year, he said he was “gonna play a song about the dead of winter.” Maybe the material was dark, but there was too much passion to feel any chill.
9-10:40pm Doug Fir
Pickwick wins the most likely to be on the radio in six months award for MFNW. Their blue-eyed, neo-soul is going to make the 25-35-year-old female demographic swoon when they start playing Pickwick tracks like “The Round” on KINK.
These guys are good. The band is tight and talented–you can see how closely they watch each other–but they still feel a little underdeveloped. Lead singer Galen Disston has a powerful voice, but it feels like he is holding something back. When he went all Otis Redding near the end, and really unleashed some raw, confident showmanship, you could see how much potential this band has.
We cannot wait for the new Lost Lander album DRRT, and you can watch songwriter Matt Sheehytalk about the new record. LL plays emotive, pretty indie pop. While at times they may have been better headphone music than a live act, the band was great when they kept you on your toes, switching nimbly from delicate acoustic singer/songwriter to full-out rock.
Purple & Green forewarned the crowd at Branx that “you better tuck your weave in, because it’s about to get wet.” And, as frontman Justin Leon Johnson said later on Twitter:
The duo, Johnson and Adam Forkner (White Rainbow), are perfect complements. Johnson is all energy; a groovy Prince-like sensuality that unfolds as he gradually loses clothing throughout the set. As the DJ, Forkner may be content to stand to the side, but his intricate, funky, carefully crafted beats still stand up to Johnson’s antics.
After P&G got the crowd worked up, Glass Candy was completely off the hook. In a weekend full of great electronic acts, they threw the most blown-out dance party. The balloons came out, the jamz started bumping and people started losing their shit. The mood was loose but tense, the beats unforgiving in their insistence. You could feel the entire crowd pulsing in time with the Italo-disco of singer Ida No and producer Johnny Jewel. Towards the end everyone came unhinged. The audience joining Glass Candy on stage, filling it with squirming partiers. It should be illegal to expend so much energy and still have to bike home.
Saturday, September 10th
At some point Branx became the go to venue for this festival, or at least the easiest to absolutely lose yourself in. With a bit of hopping around on the schedule, Saturday started with high expectations for some killer dance sets and a little rock music to round out the night. The fatigue of six days of shows in a single week couldn’t have helped, but a couple of highly anticipated acts disappointed.
Onuinu was spectacular at this year’s PDX Pop Now!, with Dorian Duval playing a set of emotional, danceable electro. But tonight felt flat, a little sloppy and more like a warm-up. We’ll chalk it up to the small crowd, and what appeared to be some confusion involving the schedule.
Bobby Birdman, also performing later that night in YACHT’s backup band, The Straight Gaze, brought his own tongue-in-cheek take on electronica. With someone doing balloon art on stage, and throwing said balloon creations into the crowd, there was certainly a campy element here. But Bobby Birdman grows on you. What started out as mildly, offhandedly entertaining ended as a fun and engaging performance.
YACHT at Branx by Anthony Pidgeon
Of the three opening acts,Jeffrey Jerusalem had the club most dialed up. He is an entertaining performer and producer, and even if his disco-house beats are not the most original, he gave the packed Saturday night party crowd exactly what they needed to get going.
YACHT gave an amazing performance at Bumbershoot last week, and it was hard to resist the temptation to see them again. Later reports gave tell of another amazing performance, but…
11-11:40pm Ash St. Saloon
It was time to scoot across the river just in time to catch Sleepy Sun.
Unfortunately, the band has changed since seeing them last year. Gone is vocalist Rachel Fannan, who apparently left the band last September. Without the depth of her voice, the current lineup suffers.
They no longer have the same dreaminess and space that made them such an amazing live act. Before, the fuzzed out, loud walls of distortion seemed purposeful in contrast to their spacier sections. Now, it is like they’re rushing through quite moments to get back to the hard blues that now dominates their set. They’re evolving in more of a Cream, Black Sabbath direction, which is fine. But they’ve lost a lot of their sensitivity.
12-12:40am Someday Lounge
At 12am, downtown was an absolute shit-show of concert-goers, bar-hoppers and dolled up suburbanite clubbers. The newly renovated Voodoo Doughnuts still has the outrageous line, but it also has a slick storefront where Berbati’s venue lobby once was. It is a far cry from the grungy days when it was nearly impossible to tell the difference between the street punks spanging out front and the tattooed counter people slinging doughnuts inside. Gratefully, Dante’s across the street still has a minimal line, and the biggest, cheapest pizza in the entire world (fact).
Near delirious from the late hour and the turmoil outside,Ravishers were a relief. It was a sleepy crowd, but they delivered a solid set of hooky power pop. The band, helmed by frontman/songwriter Dominic Castillo and guitarist Jonathan Barker, shows amazing restraint in their finely crafted pop songs. Like The Strokes or Elvis Costello, their music is catchy and focused–complex in its simplicity.
Any hopes of seeing the booty-shaking Big Freedia were dashed by the daunting line in front of the at-capacity-Dante’s. Guess we’ll just have to remember last year and her after-show field trip to Sassy’s:
NOT SAFE FOR WORK
Sunday, September 11th
6-9pm Pioneer Square
Rolling into Pioneer Square with the last strains of Morning Teleportation echoing in the background, the final outdoor set of MFNW felt more like an epilogue than a conclusion. The crowd seemed subdued in the waning afternoon heat. With the sun dipping behind the tall buildings downtown, Cass McCombs took the stage for the penultimate set.
Band of Horses may have been the bigger name, but after falling in love with Cass McCombs’ gorgeous 2011 release, Wit’s End, there was far more personal excitement for this set than the headliner.
McCombs was easy like a Sunday afternoon, but perhaps too easy for the biggest stage of Portland’s biggest annual festival. The songwriter’s intimate songs lacked immediacy in the impersonal outdoor setting.
Which is unfortunate, because McCombs’ songs generate such naturalistic imagery. It feels like spending a dazed afternoon in the park, or taking a pleasant walk through a picturesque forest, knowing that something sinister stalks you at every turn. The band plays it loose and jammy. But there’s a sense that if you step to far off the softly psychedelic path you will end up in dark territory.
You hear hints of Loud Reed’s detached urban shuffle in McCombs’ music and vulnerable voice. But that voice–penetrating on record–failed to translate well in a crowd that seemed emotionally distant. When the band was at its best, they left you stunned like a deer in the headlights. But what’s perfect for a lonely, introspective autumn evening doesn’t necessarily work in the warm light of one of summer’s last days.
As the sky faded from pink to periwinkle to purple, Band of Horses played a stirring and impassioned set that closed MFNW 2011 perfectly.It may not be the band I came excited for, but it was the band I left excited about. Band of Horses has an undeniable charm–probing melancholy explorations with rootsy Southern rock simplicity. There certainly is an emotional weight in Band of Horses’ music. But what you saw in the montage of tour photos occasionally projected behind them was a group of musicians having fun
Part of what is so disarming about this band is their sense of authenticity. You feel like the relationship between artist and audience is honest and easy. They play rock ‘n’ roll with few frills, music that is willing to both enjoy itself and wear its heart on its sleeve. And they do it well. While nothing may be game changing, every single element is absolutely spot-on.
Ben Bridwell apologized for his “shredded wheat voice,” and while it did sound a little worn, his voice was no less powerful or distinctive. He confessed that four years ago “I found out I was having a daughter that day,” September 11th, 2007, when the band was in Portland to play the Crystal Ballroom. We’re glad to share that with you. Please keep coming back to visit us.
Published at Oregon Music News