As one might imagine, starting your day at 9am, and going relentlessly until 1am, can take a lot out of you. It also turns out that starting at 8am, after two hours sleep, will do this even more.
Few bands really feel worth it. And for many other bands, I would have slept in. But, few bands are Menomena, who I haven’t seen since MFNW ’10 (before Brent left and before I memorialized them on my right calf), so it hardly seemed like a difficult decision. Leading off the second second day of the KEXP showcase, Menomena may be down a driving creative force since then, but they haven’t lost an ounce of potency, even if they have become a five-piece (?), including the fabulous, bird-like Paul Acott (who’s face graces the cover of the newest EP by fellow PDX mainstays Parenthetical Girls). Justin Harris admitted to the new songs being shaky live, but you can’t tell for a second. They’re not back in Portland until the fall, and are opening for Beirut tonight, but it doesn’t detract from their status, in my heart at least, as Portland’s best and most creative outfit. Up next was The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, a band have loved immensely for a long time, but always missed. And, after so long, they didn’t disappoint. Their airy, John Hughes film soundtrack vibes translate wonderfully to the stage, where Kip Berman, the band’s charming frontman, whips himself into a hot mess. “To everyone listening on the radio, we’re all very attractive,” he states, midway through, “and to everyone listening on YouTube later, I’m sorry I said that.” POBPAH may be goofy, but at least they are a powerhouse. Lost Lander were a great band to see at the ’10 PDX Pop Now! (the fact that they were playing with the then newly ex-Menomenaut Brent Knopf), but in the two years between then and now, I forgot how good they were. It’s possible that their sound gelled more in the last two years, because something tells me that I wouldn’t have forgotten something that fantastic. They are a rock band, to be sure, but their flair for pop hooks feels somewhat special, and almost effortless. A major tip of the hat to that band.
After a walk and a slice at Sizzle Pie (the greatest oasis in the landscape of MusicFest), my friends and I went to Pioneer Square and saw Gardens & Villa. It may have been the heat, and it may have been the two hours of sleep, but Gardens & Villa didn’t do it for me, at all, really. As petty as it sounds, their aesthetic was too much for me to handle, or take seriously. Their frontman plays a flute liberally, which he keeps in a sleeve with Indian fringes strapped to his back, and their keyboardist was SO INTO THE MUSIC and he looked like Leisure Suit Larry, in a bad way (is there any other way?). They reached an excellent groove on their last two songs, but I can’t help but wonder how I would have felt if that had started at the beginning of the set. Menomena went up next, further demonstrating how powerful of a live act they are. They performed a few new tracks, along with a blend of old favorites (“The Strongest Man in the World” sounded extraordinary! “Five Little Rooms” sounded GIGANTIC!), and here, I see what the festival planners saw in Pioneer Square as a venue, two years prior. Menomena is a band best heard in places like the Doug Fir and the Crystal Ballroom. I was surprised by their choice for Pioneer, but it seems that here, any band can sound fantastic. Their new, super-tight lineup, so gorgeous in a basement, tears through songs with precision and grace that makes them seem like they have been together for years. It was, possibly, the best set I’ve yet to catch from them. Before seeing Beirut, I had no idea they were as big and popular as they are. Zach Condon is an incredibly talented musician, and Beirut is an incredibly talented band, but to my ears, they are a band that is best suited for concert halls, and not Portland’s living room. So, when I found myself waiting to see if the venue’s box office could release more tickets for the sold out (!) show, I found myself wondering: why? How? What? But, the band played to a rapt, ecstatic crowd, and they were those things for a good reason: their sound is infectious, wide-eyed, and full of exuberance, traits not quite found in most bands today. Hearing them in an outdoor venue felt like pure magic, and I found myself looking not at the band, but at my city around me, now accompanied by sweeping trumpets and accordion. My friends and I decided to take our leave halfway through the set and listen from outside the venue, making the experience that much better. From outside, it felt like they were less a band, and the soundtrack for our lives. I couldn’t have been more surprised.
Onward to our usual block, where I caught exactly five minutes, total, of Danny Brown and Yelawolf. Don’t get me wrong, for what I caught, the two were exactly on point. The energy was fantastic, and it was wonderful to watch Yelawolf stalk the stage, spitting with his strange, southern-esque cadence. However, Danny Brown and Yelawolf play to a specific crowd, one that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable; after the show ended, after walking back from Berbati’s to catch Crystal Antlers, I walked past a man with a bloody rag held up to his face. And it didn’t help that, when I set foot on the floor during Yelawolf, the air was so thick and hot that I couldn’t breathe for more than a minute and a half. So, there’s that.
Meanwhile, over at Star Theater, I found myself blown away. Moon Duo blasted through some of the prettiest droning beats I’ve heard in years, and throughout the rest of the week, they were who I mentioned when asked, “Who have you liked that you’ve seen?” Daughn Gibson rocked some warped, slightly Dirty Projectors-esque vibes, yowling in the best possible way into the microphone, over some truly, truly infectious bets. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, so very on it earlier today, somehow managed to become tighter as the day went on. It became evident, after a few songs, that the afternoon show was merely a warm-up, and that Kip Berman and company were just getting started. When the band began, I felt like they were the band that was going to save indie rock. That night, I realized that it might just be true, after all.
The evening saw Backspace hosting a K Records showcase, and boy, did it ever sound like a K Records showcase. The Curious Mystery felt unfocused at times, as though they were wandering in and out of the songs, only to re-grasp the thread a moment later. Tender Forever was sonically decent, but was saved by charisma and charm. “This last song was written for my last girlfriend… we’re not together anymore… she was too busy, and she was in the closet. It just didn’t work out. Let me pull up a picture of her,” she said, and began singing while slowly dragging a photo of Beyonce onto the screen behind her. Everyone laughed, and then the beat started, and people went a little crazy. This is why people love twee, and I will never quite get those who don’t.
Over at Berbati’s, I walked in to Crystal Antlers, had my face punished by a wall of beautiful, flawless distortion and feedback for approximately one minute, and the band walked off stage. That is a terrible feeling, but what I saw was beautiful. Chelsea Wolfe went up next, rocking a painfully morose, bleak sound. It felt like the end result of Liz Harris (Grouper) being given a band to work with, rather than a chair, guitar, and loop pedal. It’s a sound that’s difficult to connect with, to be sure, but it sounds lovely. Blouse headlined the venue, and though they are a frequently buzzed-about and well-enjoyed local act, I had yet to listen to them. I was, however, pleasantly surprised. Frontwoman Charlie Hilton has an angelic voice, and is constantly channeling all the best girl guitar groups of the 80s and early 90s, in a way that never beats you over the head with it. It’s Mazzy Star, or “To Here Knows When” by My Bloody Valentine, or Beach House. It’s not original, but if sonic nostalgia sounded like this all the time, I would never question it.
Finally, a few words on Fucked Up, performing David Comes to Life: my friends and I wandered over to Dante’s, to catch the band play. After 15 minutes of listening to the band from the outside, I managed to make my way inside the door, and watch Pink Eyes thrashing around shirtless (as always), only for my friend (who is from Nova Scotia) to be denied entry because of her lack of passport. So, we didn’t get to stay, but the band sounded amazing as ever, and could not have had more energy if they had tried. It’s just a shame that our evening was crushed by such excruciating irony.
BAND COUNT: 31 (with two bands seen twice)