A Wild Weekend at Portland’s Music Fest NW
Check out photos and reviews of sets from heavyweights like Built to Spill and Les Savy Fav, plus many up-and-comers from the around-the-clock festival.
Built to Spill (The Wonder Ballroom)
Portland has a special affection for Built to Spill (and vice versa), so it’s no surprise the group’s performance drew a crowd that extended down the block. Playing their jammy 1997 classic Perfect From Now On in its entirely, the beefed-up Boise-based outfit featured six members, twice the lineup from a decade ago when the album was recorded. Captained by ringleader Doug Martsch, this crack team played spot-on, nostalgia-inducing renditions of their most emotionally moving songs. And the enthusiastic audience repeatedly serenaded their heroes with extended ovations almost as long as some of Martsch’s epic guitar solos. The band rewarded the crowd for its devotion with a stellar encore, including older gems like “Car,” off 1995’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, and “You Were Right,” from 1999’s Keep It a Like Secret .
The Black Whales (Rotture)
Our first unexpected discovery. The Seattle natives feature former members of the Catheters and Tallbirds; the quartet rolled out an energized glam-punk and power-pop composite executed with an unspoken confidence. On CD, the band’s songs are scrubbed free of the occasional blemish; In concert, though, their sound was louder and more raw, delivering a collective sense of urgency.
Crooked Fingers (Doug Fir)
90’s bands of the indie persuasion have been reforming with increasing frequency in recent years, but one act to resist the temptation thus far has been Chapel Hill’s the Archers of Loaf. Head Loafer, Eric Bachmann, has never been one to rest on his laurels or revisit past glories, so many in the audience were flat-out stunned when his current outfit, Crooked Fingers, encored with a punched-up cover of the most famed AOL anthem, “Web in Front.” The mighty cut provided an ample punctuation point to an already solid set that showcased a wide range of sounds, textures, and emotions. What this means, Loaf fanatics, for the future is hard to say — apparently, though Bachmann is a bit more self-reflective than first thought.
Saturday, September 6, 2008:
Ratatat (Wonder Ballroom)
Detractors have argued that Ratatat’s electro-riffing hybrid is too shapeless and repetitive, and essentially a blank slate. But the duo laid to rest any notions that their music lacks a human heart during a triumphant 60-minute set that saw the group mix inspired renditions of tracks from their new album, LP3, with a sprinkling of choice cuts (“Gettysburg,” “Wildcat,” “Seventeen Years”) from previous recordings. Supplement that with a series of arty videos and a fog machine and the end result was a highly polished live show brimming with excitement and energy.
Les Savy Fav (Wonder B)
Some people — especially those with a microphone — will say anything to get attention. That explains, at least to some degree, the behavior of Tim Harrington(“What’s the difference between me and a pit-bull? I have human intelligence.”), leader of Brooklyn’s Les Savy Fav. With his arm in a cast (explained as the by-product of a car crash, but later revealed to be a stage prop) and sporting board shorts and a tie-dyed tee, Harrington led his stellar punk band through tight, tuneful versions of fan faves from across the group’s discography. Tossing barbed kiss-offs in a casual, matter-of-fact style that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush (“I’m really into black hippie poetry right now”), Harrington had much of the audience laughing at his wild antics (eating his own pubic hair with a fork found in front of the stage). At one point, he urged the crowd to hold a ladder steady as he climbed to the top. His fall was all but inevitable, but ever the showman, Harrington brushed it off and finished the song from the floor surrounded by adoring fans eager to sing along.
We’re From Japan (Backspace)
Some bands play louder than others. Case in point: Portland’s own We’re From Japan, which traffics the same sounds responsible for making Explosions in the Sky a household name in some quarters. Audible on the surrounding streets from as far as two blocks away, We’re From Japan inaugurated their set with “Sing,” a track from their under-the-radar debut album 48 Minutes, 7 Seconds Then The Open Air. That segued into “Extraneous Zoo Animal,” as good a summation of the band’s overall approach as any — alternately pretty and earsplitting, atmospheric and moving. Offstage, the are typically laid-back locals, but onstage, they’re joined in rhythmic lockstep, crafting epic songs that rise and fall, build and destroy.
Past Lives (Satyricon)
Seemingly fueled by a manic, restless state of mind, Seattle’s Past Lives (ex-Blood Brothers) played to a small but rapt and enthusiastic audience. Banging out rapid-fire bursts of raw, loud, and arty post-hardcore and paced by the melodic screaming of lead singer Jordan Billie, the quartet recalled stop-and-go emo greats like Quicksand and At The Drive In. Throughout the set the crowd grew, and by its end, it had nearly doubled in size — always the sign of a band to be reckoned with.
Fleet Foxes & Menomena (Crystal Ballroom)
Featuring an assortment of highly esteemed indie acts with local ties, this showcase proved to be one of the hottest tickets. Outside the venue, a queue stretched for blocks and was rumored to be backed up more than two hours. And Fleet Foxes’ somewhat refined and mature sound (especially with regards to their age) and their strong showing did nothing to dispel the band’s burgeoning buzz. Following a short break, Menomena took the stage to a huge roar from the hometown crowd and proceeded to work through older material that recalled everything from Morphine to Modest Mouse.
Caves (Someday Lounge)
According to event organizers, approximately 50% of all acts performing at this year’s festival hail from Portland. One of the best of the bunch, Caves, closed the curtain on this year’s event with a 1:00 A.M. set at the stylish Someday Lounge. Blending jerky, ska-inspired guitar riffs and a sneaky, serpentine rhythm section with a casual but oh-so-cool sense of fashion, the band had various attendees dancing their way into a sweaty mess. Some have compared Caves’ moody pop to acts like the Police or the Jam, or contemporary bands like Bloc Party and Interpol, but none of these labels really stick. Caves’ peculiar sound is a testament to just how awesome they truly are.