For the rundown of Day One, click here.
On my first year at MusicFest NorthWest, I had no idea how to do things. I went to singular shows, caught all the openers, and went home. If a band I wanted to see was playing at the same time as another that I wanted to see, even if they didn’t overlap, I would see the one I enjoyed the most, and not even consider leaving. Then, once I turned 21, I realized that the area of Portland encompassing the Roseland, Backspace, Someday Lounge, the Star Theater, and Dante’s was, in a way, an all-you-can-eat buffet: You’re free to wander from one venue to the next, check out a few minutes, and move on. You may not get the firm grip on bands that you would get seeing a full set, but it’s one way to take full advantage of everything the city has to offer. This year, I made it a personal mission to do this as much as possible. And, since this fell through on day one, I had to make up for lost time during day two.
My day started at 2:30, courtesy of Seattle’s KEXP, who host several free, all-ages, afternoon performances by bands that are playing the festival. The Doug Fir Lounge is an indescribably intimate venue, so catching any band there is a treat, but the bigger the band, the more amazing it becomes. Last year’s performance by Explosions in the Sky is a lifetime highlight, considering their sound (and typical venue size). Here, my wife, son and I caught current indie-rock darlings Purity Ring, breathing extraordinary life into the songs off their already breathtaking debut, Shrines. Their sound worked perfectly in the Doug Fir, and their stage setup never ceased to mesmerize. It didn’t hurt that my son (7 months old) was transfixed by their music from the first note. Not a bad first show for a child, I would say. I tried to catch part of their full set later in the evening, only to find a line wrapped around the block, confirming that it was worth it to roll out of bed at 10am after seeing Passion Pit. Following Purity Ring was to be Starfucker, who cancelled at the last minute, to be replaced by Hello Echo. If I’m honest, Hello Echo was nothing impressive. However, as I discussed with a friend after the show, it’s refreshing to see a three-piece rock band, in an era when one-man-and-a-laptop, or twenty-people-with-a-brass-section, are increasingly prevalent.
In the gap between Hello Echo and the official start of the day, I met up with a friend and took in the lavish (by my standards) private happy hour put on by Someday Lounge (who did not throw their hat in the ring this year), featuring delicious barbecue, and twice as delicious MFNW-themed cocktails. From there, we visited the temporary museum/shrine curated by Red Bull, in honor of their new Common Thread series, showcasing the collective works of Dinosaur Jr., J. Mascis, and Sebadoh. It’s a stark space covered in lovingly hung photos of the bands (connected by color-coded guitar cords), featuring old instruments, facts about the band, a series of iPads with their collective works stored to listen as you like, and – the coup de grâce – a massive art installation, built out of television screens, the bands’ old amps and guitar pedals, and a lovingly crafted method of controlling what the screens played, and how. It’s a lavish, almost vulgar display of love for these musicians, and for a company as big as Red Bull, it’s refreshing (and truly wonderful) to see something so tastefully and lovingly put together. In the words of one of my friends, “This is advertising at its most fun.” He is by no means wrong. And, if what the Red Bull rep we spoke to about the concept holds any water, it’s going to be spectacular to see what they do with other bands.
Now, this is where things become disjointed, due to constant venue hopping. Instead of a play-by-play, this is what each venue looked like.
From there, I went to the Roseland, where I caught Reignwolf, who was performing what could only be described as auditory guitar pornography: he wailed on his Gibson, while keeping time with a singular kick drum. And then, the rest of the band joined him, and they shredded the place up. Those Darlins, likewise, restored a lot of my faith in guitar-based, straightforward rock music (a theme for the evening), taking great pains to be as excellent as possible. Old 97’s performing Too Far To Care reminded me that alt-country is a potent force in music, as well as that it’s okay to just nod your head happily to the music, instead of going nuts. (As a side note: I left Ceremony to catch Old 97’s, which may possibly be the most dad-like thing I will do all year, and this includes dancing to Purity Ring’s “Obedear” while holding an infant.) It seems that my home-block was wrapped up in a punked-out theme, because both Backspace and the Star Theater were awash with guitar shredding and dude sweat.
At Backspace, Lee Corey Oswald drilled holes into my eardrums with a slithering mass of guitar fury. Ceremony, a band I’ve heard a great lot of buzz about so far this fest, took that effect and tripled it: they knew exactly how to blast through songs, with the grace of a much older band. Plus, their breakdowns were gorgeous.
Over at the Star Theater, Mean Jeans brought the same noise, NoFX style, but in the way they would if they were a good band. They roared through everything with a passion that just makes you want to scream “Oi!” as loud as you possibly can, and most importantly, clearly enjoyed it the whole time. I complimented the bassist on his clearly vintage Pageninetynine shirt (this means he’s legit; I have the same, but it’s a reprinting), to which he gleefully responded, “Thanks! We’re actually from Virginia!” “Good old Virginia boys!” their guitarist chimed in. The Men, a band I regret almost missing, were the other half of the aforementioned restoration of faith, who did the same thing as Ceremony, only better: they performed incredibly loud, and fairly fast, but they did so in a way that made it look truly elegant, and absolutely beautiful. Punk rock, and the revitalization of grunge style, aren’t pretty things, but don’t tell The Men that. To them, you can still inject as much prettiness into deafening guitar-wanking as you want.
I wandered over to the Wonder Ballroom to catch Flying Lotus, but I didn’t stay. What I was met with was the same den of excess that I waded through during this year’s Weeknd show, only now, filled with so-called hipsters and bros, the latter of which clearly contributed nearly half of this year’s revenue generated by baseball caps. It was an immense shame to miss Flying Lotus (and Nosaj Thing, though I have seen him before), but it was not a show my soul could not take. However, before I left, I caught Jacques Greene, who’s immensely beautiful lighting setup, combined with his extra club ready beatsmanship, almost made me consider my decision to re-cross the Willamette River, back to the safety of my venues. It seemed like he was having fun up there, so who can complain?
I hit Dante’s, though I never hovered there long. I first went over and saw The Pynnacles, who brought a heavy load of slightly circus-like theatrics. The frontman looked a lot like an even sweatier MC Frontalot. I’m not sure if this is a compliment. Apache played next. As of this writing, I can scarcely remember what they sound like, but I remember not being thrilled by their yawn-inducing sound. This was, of course, redeemed by the always-fantastic King Khan & The Shrines, and they did not disappoint. By now, Dante’s was hot enough that its name became increasingly fitting, but it was really hard to care, as King Khan stalked the stage, looking sharp in his gigantic feather head-dress. King Khan & The Shrines is where theatrics meets function, as their wild, unpredictable schtick is infectious and fun enough that it never wears out its welcome, and it remains perfectly harmless. This is a hard line to toe, but there is never a point where it feels like anything but complete sincerity. They were an incredible way to end an incredible day, simple as that.
But, then… between Apache and King Khan, I decided to make a quick pit-stop. I’ll just come out and be honest with you, dear reader: of all of the hyped or beloved musicians out there, it’s entirely possible that, since last year, John Maus has been my absolute least favorite. I tried. I have a couple friends who are hopelessly in love with his music, and I had hoped – wished, in fact – that seeing him perform would shed new light on what I was listening to. If you’ve never seen him perform, this is how it works: he starts up the music he’ll be singing to on a sampling pad. Singing, of course, is used liberally here. Maus then thrashes about, screaming atonally into a microphone (filtered through heavy voice modulation), while jumping around, tearing at his clothes, and punching himself in the head. To me, it felt, for the 15 minutes that I could stand it, that the Doug Fir had left a sampling pad and microphone unattended, and a bipolar autistic man had wandered on stage and before anybody could stop him, he proceeded to use this as an outlet for his madness-addled screams. To all of my friends who read this, and love Maus: I am sorry. I do not, and possibly cannot, understand this. It’s maddening.
Missteps like seeing John Maus perform are the kinds of things that make MFNW such a great time. It’s easy to forget, and then easy to remember, that sometimes, when you eat food at an all-you-can-eat buffet, you contract vile, gut-punishing food poisoning. But, tomorrow will be another day!
BAND COUNT :16