Bob Dylan Announces Tour, Will Play Keller Auditorium October 21st

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By Hollister Dixon

When I sat down to write this post, I tried to imagine a way to talk about Bob Dylan in a way that somehow conveys his importance without sounding sycophantic. But you know what? That idea is preposterous. It’s almost impossible to talk about Dylan from a neutral perspective. So let’s cut it out and be frank here, shall we?

Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, MN, is the world’s greatest living songwriter, and one of the best of all time. There will never be anybody better than Dylan, only people on the same level as him. He wrote “Like a Rolling Stone”, and “The Times They Are a-Changing”, and “Tangled Up in Blue”, and “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, and hundreds more. He made Blood on the Tracks and Highway 61 Revisited. He’s often credited as being the guy who turned The Beatles onto marijuana, and look how that turned out for their music. Do I really need to say anything else to convince you? Probably not. So I’m going to save my breath. And if you’re unconvinced… I don’t know what there is left to do.

So, we’re on the same page now, right? Good. Here’s the thing about Bob Dylan that you probably know: he never stops touring. He’s a dynamo that should be harnessed to power cities, and while a lot of people are on the fence about his abilities as a showman this late in his life, he’s still Bob effing Dylan, and he deserves to do what he wants. And what he wants is to embark on a 31-date tour, simply because he can (he hasn’t released an album since 2012’s Tempest). The last handful of times Mr. Dylan stopped by Portland, he (rightfully) played the Rose Garden, but… that’s a little bit much, don’t you think? Why not something more warm and inviting, like, say, the Keller Auditorium? Well, you’re in a lot of luck, dear friend. Amidst all of the three-night engagements, he’ll be taking October 21st to play an almost certainly magnificent show at our very own Keller Auditorium, with its beautiful architecture and almost unbeatable acoustics. Is that heaven? Absolutely it is.

Keep an eye out right here for more information on buying tickets, and continue below for the rest of his tour dates around the country.

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LIVE: The Blood Brothers, Showbox, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

Having been hungover all day, the red glow emanating from the ceiling of The Showbox felt incredibly appropriate: I am now inside my head. When a girl in the front row passed out two minutes before the show started, that felt about right, too (She was fine, don’t worry). We were, after all, here to see the reunion of hometown heroes The Blood Brothers, who have a the fanbase of an evil Jesus.

But first, Naomi Punk. I have so much to say. I had only listened to a couple of songs before the show, so I kind of knew what I was getting into, but I didn’t know. When three self-consciously weird-looking young dudes stepped onstage, looking like they hadn’t emerged from the Olympia basement where they wrote these songs pretty much ever, they immediately had me stunned. It’s been ages since I’ve seen the guitar-as-instrument made so compelling. Frontman Travis Coster played a low-strung guitar, detuned for maximum weighty impact, while his foil, Neil Gregerson, in all his bowl-cutted glory, worked a regular six-string. The guitars were creatively amped, again for max heaviness. The moment these two started playing, along with brutalist drummer Nicolas Luempert, my jaw fell slightly open and I couldn’t quite move from where I stood.

I’m not really sure how to describe Naomi Punk. They use rock and punk tools and signifiers without making a single ordinary punk/rock move. The guitars move in obtuse patterns, chord progressions don’t make sense, musical phrases seem to last as long as they feel like lasting, without being constrained by meter. Song structure does not exist. Luempert’s approch to drumming doesn’t once really involve a “beat,” per se, he more just makes sure to be hitting something on each eighth note, and every once in a while, somewhere in between. This means most every note involves all three members attacking their instruments at once, in a way that actually sort of physically assaults you. Coster’s approach to singing is mostly intensely a-melodic, so that when he actually does something pretty and tuneful you really feel it.

The melodies are worked by the guitars, where certain motifs seem to pop up across the songs—lines are drawn easily from “Firehose Face” to “Linoleum Tryst #19” to “Television Man.” The same three-note ascending riff, the same rhythmic pattern floats up frequently, as if these are just elements of music Coster’s mind never stops circling.

Because Naomi Punk is from the Northwest, critics clamoring for some comparison to make immediately land on grunge. As far as I can tell, the only real through-line is that these guys tend to favor the low end of their guitar necks, and that the music is pretty heavy as a result. (I suppose they do thank “Kurdt” in their liner notes, but come on, this is not grunge music.) Honestly, the only influence I can point to directly is their use of looped noise tracks during tuning sessions, a hallmark of early Sonic Youth shows, before they could afford multiple guitars. If there’s any regional connection, it’s to Tumwater/Olympia band Unwound, who took a rather different approach to a similarly jaundiced, sour tone.

Naomi Punk are intensely DIY—they have pretty much zero online presence, their records are distributed by Captured Tracks, but as far as I can tell they pretty much do everything else themselves. As a result, listening to this stuff on record, as I’ve now been doing pretty much since I got home, is a slightly less intense affair. The weight of their live sound doesn’t come across to quite the same extent on this year’s Television Man or 2012’s The Feeling, due simply to production value. So please, for the love of god, go see them live. This band’s highest-profile champions are Parquet Courts, with whom they played the Vera Project a couple weeks ago (I went to Diarrhea Planet instead). I find it interesting that Parquet Courts, the band currently riding the “Guitar-Rock Saviors” wave of hype harder than anyone else by virtue of doing pretty much nothing original (though, yes, they are a lot of fun), are promoting Naomi Punk, who are nothing if not original, and who, in my personal opinion, are vastly more deserving of this praise. If anyone is making guitar music relevant today, it’s these guys. Just listen to “Rodeo Trash Pit” for proof.

After the show, Coster let me short-change him by a buck for a copy of Television Man, because that was all the cash I had. The back of the sleeve bears two directives: “RECLAIM YOUR LIFE” and “PLEASE BLAST THE RECORD.” After last night, I am fully inspired to do both.

Okay. There. I think that’s everything I wanted to say about Naomi Punk. So, The Blood Brothers.

A bit of history: The Blood Brothers formed in high school, and put out their first record, 2000’s This Adultery Is Ripe when they were 19. By 2006, they had released four more willfully erratic, difficult, theatrical post-hardcore full-lengths and a couple EPs, and they broke up in 2007, at the age of 26. Co-frontman Jordan Blilie, bassist Morgan Henderson and drummer Mark Gajadhar formed the alright Past Lives with founding Blood Bro Devin Welch, while other frontman Johnny Whitney and guitarist Cody Votolato teamed up with Jay Clark (ex-Pretty Girls Make Graves) for the pretty bad Jaguar Love. Blilie and Welch also started an apparently pretty good Rolling Stones cover band called, of course, The Rolling Stones, Henderson worked with Fleet Foxes and Hamilton Leithauser, Gajadhar became a beatmaker for hip-hop act Champagne Champagne, Whitney and his wife formed a clothing line, and Votolato played with Telekinesis and Cold Cave. Somewhere in there, Epitaph decided to do vinyl reissues of the band’s four main records. Then, seven years post-breakup, somewhere around age 33, they decided to reunite. (No one really looks like they’ve aged much, either, except maybe Votolato, whose hair was intricately styled to mask his growing forehead.)

I say all this just to emphasize their youth—how many people “get the band back together” at 33? How many have built up a legacy like the Blood Brothers by 26? Almost as many records bear the stamps of these five men as there are records by the actual Rolling Stones. They are important.

As a massive banner bearing the cover of their assumed swan song, 2006’s Young Machetes, went up, the crowd went apeshit. The moshing started before the band even took the stage, and it didn’t ever let up. These fans are devoted: I’m rarely able to decipher Blood Brothers lyrics, but everyone here seemed to know every single one.

I have to confess that I’m only super familiar with their 2004 record Crimes, and having now heard the other three (no one counts Adultery), I feel justified in considering it their best. 2002’s March On Electric Children and 2003’s breakout Burn, Piano Island, Burn are so incredibly dense, winding, and intricately composed that it’s hard to find a place to sink one’s teeth into—the songs blur together into one maelstrom that’s obstinately hard to listen to. Young Machetes’ returns to this pattern, with the focus on start-stop tempos, endlessly morphing song structure, and overzealous production from Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto. Crimes, however, is where Votolato learned to play one string at a time, Blilie was given the opportunity to actually sing for the first time, and the band as a whole figured out how to write songs with hooks. The album had them realizing that their rhythm section could really swing when given the chance to slow down, and that they could do some interesting stuff at lower tempos and lower volumes. It’s also where they let their taste for the theatrical run wild—the whole thing should probably be named after a different one of its songs, “Live At The Apocalypse Cabaret.”

So, point being, I was a little disappointed by how little they played off of Crimes. The title track sounded great, “Trash Flavored Trash” was an excellent opener, “Peacock Skeleton With Crooked Feathers” was a blast, and naturally, they killed it on their biggest hit “Love Rhymes With Hideous Car Wreck,” which found Whitney shrieking “LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE” into one of the overhead drum mics as his mic cut out. But where was “Apocalypse Cabaret?” “Rats And Rats And Rats For Candy?” And “Devastator?” Come on, guys, everybody needs a little devastation… (That said, of all the records I saw people clutching, Crimes seemed to be most popular, especially amongst the female contingent, of whom there were shockingly many for a show like this.)

The other surprise in the setlist was how heavy it was on Young Machetes, a record I foolishly assumed people didn’t really like. But songs like “Set Fire To The Face On Fire,” “Camouflage, Camouflage” and “Vital Beach” got at least as many cheers as every other song, if not more.

The sound was so blown out, and Votolato’s guitar so deliberately tinny, that there was a general piercing hiss over everything, making many songs hard to distinguish (then again, I have the same problem with Piano Island and Electric Children material on record). But I can testify to this band’s showmanship. Where pretty much any other band of their ilk would have doubled down on guitars, The Blood Brothers go for two vocalists, a technique which serves them very well. The dialogue between Blilie’s sultry baritone and Whitney’s androgynous shriek makes tracks like “Peacock Skeleton” really stand out, and when they scream in unison on pretty much every other song, it’s really that much more powerful. Blilie tended to stalk the stage predatorily, while Whitney, always the showboat, gesticulated and writhed. Votolato did his part, too, screaming along, jumping into the crowd, a giant medallion hanging from his neck.

After an impassioned speech from Blilie about how much he loves these other guys, during which Whitney placed his hand on his heart and looked like he would cry, and an announcement that it was Henderson’s birthday, the band launched into the organ-driven main-set closer, “Cecilia And The Silhouette Saloon,” which I’d never really noticed on Piano Island, but which killed live. They returned for an encore of “Set Fire,” a few songs from Adultery for the die-hards, and the only song they could conceivably close with, Piano Island closer “The Shame.” While I was hoping they’d imitate the recorded version’s cold ending, it was good enough chanting along with “Everything is going to be just awful when we’re around” until the final chord struck. It’s nice and awful to have you back, Bros.

PS: To the guy in the fairy unitard and tutu, wandering around waving a paper fan: Thank you. That was an amazing act of charity.

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Slowdive To Play Crystal Ballroom November 5th, With Support by Low

slowdive

By Hollister Dixon

When people think of shoegaze, they often think of My Bloody Valentine, and for good reason: they’re possibly the finest example of the genre there is. But, when they aren’t thinking of MBV, they’re likely thinking of the band’s Creation Records labelmates Slowdive. The Reading band were the dreamlike, ambient, almost poppy answer to MBV’s sometimes brutal soundscapes, existing for a very short, very pristine six-year span in the late 80s/early 90s, just long enough to release three records – 1991’s Just For A Day, 1993’s Souvlaki (the band’s masterwork), and 1995’s Pygmalion – before stepping down from the stage one day, never to return. But, in early 2014, that changed. The band had gotten back together, ready to perform to rabid, almost religiously devoted fans all over the place, who have been hanging on every syllable that Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell produced 20 years ago.

Slowdive are currently in the middle of a delightfully long tour across North America and Europe, and this autumn sees the band stopping by the Crystal Ballroom on November 5th, with support by Duluth, MN slowcore giants Low, one of the few bands that manages to capture the same essence that Slowdive did all those years ago. If you’re a fan of rolling sonic landscapes, dreamy vocals, and the feeling of heavy eyelids, this is without a doubt the best way to help you prepare for winter in the Northwest.

You can click right here to head over to the Crystal Ballroom page to read more about the show and buy tickets. You can also continue below to have a look at the rest of the band’s upcoming tour dates.

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Conor Oberst Comes to Crystal Ballroom October 1st

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By Hollister Dixon

Conor Oberst, once (and possibly still?) frontman of seminal Omaha band Bright Eyes/less-seminal-but-still-wonderful Desaparecidos/not-seminal-but-still-very-fun Monsters of Folk, isn’t saying much about the future of his day job (The People’s Key, the band’s fantastic 2011 record, was rumored to be the band’s final album), but he’s keeping himself busy. He’s about to start a nice little month-long jaunt through the heart of America, promoting his newest solo effort, Upside Down Mountain (out now on Nonesuch), and will be dropping by the Crystal Ballroom at the tail end of things, on October 1st, with support by his friend/producer Jonathan Wilson.

This will be Oberst’s first show in Portland since Bright Eyes stopped by the same venue to put on a stellar, hilariously rowdy show in support of the last (and maybe final?) Bright Eyes record, the aforementioned The People’s Key, though to be honest, it’s hard to not envy those attending the last show on the tour, co-headlined by none other than John Prine. Jealousy aside, Oberst is one hell of a performer, and this one shouldn’t be missed.

Click right here to get tickets to this performance and find out more, and click the jump to have a look at Oberst’s upcoming tour dates as well.

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The New Pornographers to Play Crystal Ballroom October 8th

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By Hollister Dixon

In 2007, I set myself down to accomplish some incredibly mundane task. What was that task? I’m not sure. Point is: to keep me company, I decided the best way to spend this time was to put on the internet stream of KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, then and now one of the most untouchable music programs in the world. As I was cleaning my keyboard (or whatever it was that I was doing), I found myself transfixed by the sounds and voice coming from my speakers. I scrambled to figure out who I was listening to, and discovered the track was “Myriad Harbour” from Challengers by Vancouver, BC’s (arguably) most fun musical export, The New Pornographers. To this day, I can’t listen to that track taking immense joy from the wonderful call-and-response Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer) puts on with himself and a multitracked version of himself, and the line “Do you think the girls here ever wonder how they got so pretty?”, and that’s a joy that permeates a lot of the band’s music.

The New Pornographers – made up of talents like Neko Case, AC Newman, and the aforementioned Dan Bejar – have been pretty quiet in recent years, following the release of 2010’s Together. This week sees the release of their new album, Brill Bruisers (out on Matador), an album as light and breezy as its goofy title suggests. And to support the new record, the band has decided to go on a pretty big ol’ North American tour.

On October 8th, New Pornos will be dropping into the Crystal Ballroom for the first time since their tour supporting Together, and they’ll have all three of the big names (Case, Newman, Bejar) with them. But that’s not all: to support them/help get the crowd in the mood for awesome pop songs, New York noise poppers The Pains of Being Pure at Heart will be opening for a whole bunch of dates. If you’re looking for a good excuse to get out and dance, this is one of the best opportunities you have this autumn, so check it out!

For more info, click here to head over to the Crystal Ballroom’s page, and hit the jump to check out all of the band’s upcoming dates, as well as the video for Brill Bruisers track “War on the East Coast”.

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Swans To Play Roseland September 6th

By Hollister Dixon

To me, there’s always been something incredibly perfect about the name Swans. The bird is one known for being incredibly elegant, but is also known (though to a lesser degree) for being aggressive to an almost laughable degree, especially when threatened. I’m not quite sure if Michael Gira had this in mind when he formed and named his band Swans, but it’s so fitting because they are a band that manages to do build a brutal, aggressive, in-your-face exterior, and while it may appear to be an inelegant mess, every single note is exactly where it should be, thanks to the talents of Michael Gira, the frontman and sole consistent member.

Swans broke up in 1997, only to roar back to life in 2010 with My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, followed by the monolithic The Seer (2012) and this year’s equally massive To Be Kind. Since then, they’ve done their best to prove themselves (again) as one of the most unwavering, intense live acts around – intense enough to make people in the crowd physically sick at times. The band last played here in Portland in 2012 (at the Hawthorne Theater, as part of MusicFest Northwest), and put on a performance incredible enough to make seeing Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh seem like the wrong decision entirely.

Lucky for us, Swans are a beast that don’t seem capable of slowing down. Since reforming, they’ve started an interesting cycle: go on tour (while also working on new material), release a live album documenting that tour, use that money to fund a new album, repeat. And now, on September 6th, the band will be returning to Portland to blow the roof off of the Roseland Theater. The band’s most recent album, To Be Kind, is as close to perfection as one band can get, which says a lot, considering the same was said for the blistering tower that The Seer was. Can the band top these albums? Can they continue to make flawlessly executed songs? Will Michael Gira ever stop being the world’s most intense showman? See the band live and find out! Click right here to buy tickets to this show, or – if you’re outside of Portland – check out the dates below.

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Episode 95: Always True

Thanks to Mo Troper for joining us this week! You can listen to the episode above, and download it right here!

Topic:

  • Elvis Costello!
  • Our introductions to his music
  • The importance of his work, and the impact he’s had on rock music
  • The versatility of Costello as an artist

Songs:

  • Saturday Night Live theme
  • Elvis Costello – “Radio, Radio”
  • Elvis Costello – “Uncomplicated”
  • Slint – “Breadcrumb Trail”
  • The Replacements – “Unsatisfied”

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MFNW ’14: The Jacob Gellman Report

By Jacob Gellman

It was a year of ends and beginnings for MusicFestNW. The festival was a capstone for Trevor Solomon, MFNW Executive Director since 2006, who moves to Boston in September to take over booking for the Boston Calling festival. Following a climactic double encore from headliner Spoon, VIP-section chants of “Trevor! … Trevor! … Trevor!” were audible over the noise of the exiting crowd.

It was also a trail blazing year, a transition from America’s third largest indoor music festival to a two-day, two-stage, outdoor waterfront festival. A far cry from 2010’s 200 band roster, this year’s lineup featured just 18 daytime performers, with nine nighttime shows scattered across Portland. The change in format disappointed some, but I went into the weekend with an open mind and an open heart. This is a new beast. So, how was the experience of the condensed festival?

Fucking awesome! Here’s why:

  • Easier transit. The old format truly required a car if you hoped to schlep around town with any sort of efficiency. This year, all the music was in one central location (save for the nighttime shows), so herds of festival goers had but a few hundred feet separating them from one performance and the next. Each intermission saw a mass exodus of the crowd from one end of the park to the other, a dusty stampede of sunglasses, paisley bro tanks, and high waisted jean shorts. “Just follow the mob.”
  • No more Sophie’s Choice. MFNWers have always romanticized the act of creating a personal schedule, but I honestly used to hate missing one band to see another, or leaving shows early to try to catch the next one.
  • Your friends are always in the same place as you. This is no exaggeration: about 80% of the times I texted Arya Imig to find out where he was, I looked up from my phone to see him straight ahead of me. In years past he might have been across town, or dead, or drunk and stranded in North Portland.
  • No more lines. Once you’re in you’re in, and all of your needs are met for the day (food, water, toilets, beer). Remember getting turned away from shows because you didn’t show up early enough to wait in line?
  • The mixing and sound quality was consistent. Levels were almost always right for every instrument, and noticeable adjustments were made by the soundboard operators during performances. One example: Wild Ones guitarist Nick Vicario’s vocals were inaudible at the start of their performance, but by the end his mic was on roughly equal levels with lead vocalist Danielle Sullivan. After years of enduring the inconsistency between venues (like the Wonder Ballroom’s sometimes-terrible mixing), it was a relief to hear all of the instruments in every band.
  • I consider the “corporate” aspect of festivals to be a necessary evil, but the food carts and sponsor tents did create a nice village-like atmosphere, with great perks to boot. The Kind Bar distributed free Kind bars and lemon-infused water, with a silent disco in the shade; the American Apparel bazar was hocking $2 bro tanks. Chevrolet offered free sunglasses to anyone that sold out their identity and personal information in a short survey. I gladly complied, entering my full name (“Andrew Wiggins”) and email (“qwcjf@f.com”) in exchange for some sweet eye-shielding shades. Two experiences I avoided: beer for $6 per 12 oz. cup, and the Camel tent, which sported a “Nicotine users welcome!” sign and appeared to be a desert cave made to entrap youngsters in a smoke-filled psychedelic haze of Camel brand products. But did I mention the food carts? Bunk Sandwiches, Grilled Cheese Grill, Bro Dogs, and Stumptown cold brews were my personal food and drink highlights.

But all of that aside, the music is why we go in the first place! This year’s lineup was heavily composed of returning bands: Spoon, Girl Talk, Phantogram, Future Islands, Man Man, Fucked Up, and The Antlers have all been here before. And the move makes sense – in a new format with unforeseeable variables, these were acts that MFNW organizers could trust. Many have also not been to Portland in years. Between songs Spoon singer Britt Daniel lamented that the band had not played in the Rose City since a Crystal Ballroom show at MFNW 2009, skipping Portland during their Transference tour despite the fact that he “was living here at the time.” More than anything, the lineup was timely: all of this year’s bands are touring new (and critically acclaimed) material from 2013 and 2014.

So without further ado, here is a review of some of the key performances from Saturday (as Faces On The Radio writer Jacob Heiteen has already reviewed Sunday’s acts):

Thundercat
Los Angeles-based Stephen Bruner is a veteran of the scene, most noted for his work with Suicidal Tendencies and
Flying Lotus. As Thundercat, he takes the stage at MFNW to promote his 2013 solo album Apocalypse, along with an organist and a drummer as supporting cast. While Bruner is more than capable as a vocalist, the focus is clearly his virtuosic technical ability on the bass.

Thundercat // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Thundercat is truly a genre-defying act and should not be put into a box, but I will do so anyway. I would classify the sound thusly: the keys and drums follow pretty standard jazz structures, the singing R&B, and the bass percussive funk. As with any jazz fusion act, there is a heavy emphasis on instrumental interludes – Bruner solos high on the neck of his six-string electric bass, and attains tastefully diverse sounds using various pedals. The organ and drums feel unfortunately monochromatic.

The best moments of Thundercat, for me, are the singing, because of the melody. Bruner’s singing has a clean sound, and the lyrics are pure psychedelic brilliance: “Open your ears and your mind / You’d be surprised what you find / We’re only human.” But the melodic strengths are lost in minutes-long jazz breakdowns that don’t go anywhere. Jazz is supposed to display talent, but Thundercat felt lost between two worlds.

Gardens & Villa
I came to the festival knowing nothing about Gardens & Villa except that they were in good company on record label Secretly Canadian, home to Animal Collective, Major Lazer, The War On Drugs, Suuns, Yeasayer, et al. Even recognizing their gargantuan peers, I had zero expectations.

That said, I am thoroughly impressed by their tight and well-rehearsed performance. The music is packed with 80s-inspired synth dance hooks, led by a fantastic tenor vocalist and guitarist in Chris Lynch. Bass player Shane McKillop explores a wide range of roles, generally snaking around dancey embellishments and sometimes driving the melody. His slap bass on the final song is perfectly delivered. Live, Adam Rasmussen’s progressive synths fill out the bulk of the sonic space and distinguish one song from the next more than any other instrument.

The sign of great pop writers, each song truly stands on its own, with recognizable choruses and hooks, especially the flute lines by Lynch. When he first reveals the flute my kneejerk reaction is to roll my eyes and dismiss it as a gimmick, but his melodies fit perfectly into a genre that already uses flute-like noises in synth form. Whatever reverb or delay they apply to that flute, it blends perfectly with their cosmic sound.

And those outfits though. Lynch’s beret and Lennon-esque circular shades are certainly eccentric, but are outshone by Rasmussen’s bizarre trench coat, which he eventually disrobes to reveal a button-up shirt with the sleeves cut off. Lynch displays great crowd banter, frequently hailing “The Mighty Willamette!” and dedicating one song to “the declining salmon population.” Having recorded two albums with Richard Swift in Oregon, this Californian band clearly understands its audience and seems elated to be here. I, for one, was happy to have them.

Man Man
As MFNW costumes go, I would rate Man Man’s black shirts and blue and yellow tie dyed pants as second only to tUnE-yArDs’ neon make-up and wigs. Like Faces On The Radio writer Jacob Heiteen, I can appreciate a great costume! Man Man’s stage presence complements their theatrical and sometimes over-the-top music. Seeing their energetic performance, it is clear to me why singer Honus Honus paired so nicely with Nick Thorburn of Islands for their supergroup project Mister Heavenly.

The stage setup immediately jumped out at me, as drummer Pow Pow was displayed prominently in the front alongside Honus on keys. How I wish I could be a fly on the wall of Pow’s thoughts; his brain must be that of a chess player plotting twenty moves ahead, every DUGGA DUGGA of the drum crisp and perfectly timed. He was by far the most talented drummer at the festival, achieving unfathomably complex beats and fills.

Man Man // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

But while Man Man all have skill, talent, technique, and even stage presence, I just can’t get past the music’s lack of dynamics. Every song goes from loud, to louder, to loudest, to – well, you get the idea. It doesn’t matter if they add a trumpet or a shaker or a marimba here and there to be quirky, because every song felt unfortunately the same.

Future Islands
No Future Islands review is complete without a nod to the band’s viral performance on The Late Show with David Letterman in March, which was widely circulated in the blogosphere and has now garnered over 2 million views on YouTube. The appearance undoubtedly broadened their audience and showed the world what longtime Future Islands fans already knew: they are an absolutely sensational live performance. Given their newfound popularity, their presence at MFNW seemed like great timing, but few might realize that Executive Director Trevor Solomon actually booked the group before the Letterman appearance.

One of the things I love about Future Islands is the simple setup: one synth, one bass, one drum kit, and one singer filling the stage with his energy. Save for his long golden hair flowing in the breeze, bassist William Cashion barely moves from his place, and keyboard player Gerrit Welmers scarcely looks up at the crowd. Their presence is a constant, a true backing band for a true frontman in Samuel Herring – he is the unpredictable variable. His rubber legs bend and sway and shimmy across the stage, an unbelievable display of dancing not seen in any indie band of this generation. His vocals are also unpredictable; while the instrumentals sound flawlessly true to the studio albums, Herring is prone to deep screams, growls, and hums where they might not have been present in the recorded tracks.

One exception to the instrumentalists’ precise sound is in “Balance” from 2011’s On the Water, which actually sounds better in concert. Welmers has cranked the attack on his synth for this song, adding vigor to what was a melancholy track on the album. The live version feels like an all-out dance hit, whereas it never met its potential in the original recording.

For a band that prides itself on connecting to its audience, Future Islands stay true to their mission. Herring introduces the whole band several times, deferring to Cashion as “the funniest” of the band. There’s a humanizing quality when he speaks to the audience in his normal voice before slipping into that devastating growl, or that baritone swoon. He announces the title of every song before playing and describes the meaning, unlocking the secrets of the music for the audience. “We have to find darkness to find the light,” he explains as the band begins “Seasons (Waiting On You).” “If you know someone in a dark place, you can help them,” he pleads before “Light House.”

Perhaps the best moment of the performance is during “Walking Through That Door,” during which Herring withdraws an imaginary pen from his pocket to write in the air, thrashes around stage, and, tormented and expressive, kneels before the audience to clasp hands with the front row. It is an unbelievable and chilling performance from one of the hardest working bands at this year’s festival.

Setlist:

  1. “Back in the Tall Grass”
  2. “Sun in the Morning”
  3. “Walking Through That Door”
  4. “Balance”
  5. “Before the Bridge”
  6. “A Dream of You and Me”
  7. “The Fountain”
  8. “A Song for Our Grandfathers”
  9. “Light House”
  10. “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
  11. “Spirit”

Run the Jewels
I can never forget the timing of Run the Jewels’ eponymous 2013 debut, perfectly sandwiched between records by Kanye West and Jay-Z in a three week span. Killer Mike had a great shot at both of them in that album: “Your idols all are my rivals / I rival all of your idols.” He’s right.

El-P and Killer Mike perform their entire debut album in order, a short 32 minutes of material elongated by hilarious crowd interaction between songs. I love that they open with the first track from the album, also called Run the Jewels, because it’s their introductory song, an opener with style and swagger. Seeing the two spit lines on stage makes it clear just how talented these rappers are, on a level their studio album can’t convey on its own. Every line is perfect.

Run The Jewels // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Disappointingly, their performance is sparsely attended compared to other acts. I wish more could bear witness to Killer Mike and El-P’s hysterical interaction with the crowd and with each other. “Mike’s mom put him on a diet,” El-P reveals. Their commentary usually relates to the upcoming songs – in advance of “36” Chain,” El-P advises the crowd to save money, go to the thrift store, and by an invisible 36” chain “so people can’t fuck with you.” Killer Mike introduces the DJ as their “Clyde Drexler DJ,” a nod to the Portland Trail Blazers’ 1990s Hall of Famer. “We are really, really, really really stoned,” admits El-P. Whatever they’re smoking, it either enhances their rap ability, or they’re so talented that nothing would hold them back anyway.

Setlist:

  1. “Run the Jewels”
  2. “Banana Clipper”
  3. “36” Chain”
  4. “DDFH”
  5. “Sea Legs”
  6. “Job Well Done”
  7. “No Come Down”
  8. “Get It”
  9. “Twin Hype Back”
  10. “A Christmas Fucking Miracle”

Phantogram
Phantogram receive an enthusiastic reception when they take the stage. “Hello Portland… we’re so content to be back, it’s always so nice,” begins vocalist Sarah Barthel. She’s dressed in tight leather pants, a gold chain, and a black shirt with the words “I’m a fucking nightmare” in tall, skinny white letters. “We like the new format [of MFNW]… you only get a few months of summer here so you always enjoy it,” she explains.

The band definitely has the most “festival-appropriate” sound of any of the day’s acts, but it might just be because the reverb on everything is cranked so high, and I don’t just mean the guitars – the vocals and drums both have that watery, washed out quality. It makes for a full and atmospheric sound, dreamlike. Unfortunately, the reverb is not enough to cover up guitarist Josh Carter’s average vocals.

“Mouthful of Diamonds” earns the biggest cheers from the audience, but it is actually an underwhelming rendition, as if the band is going through the motions. Maybe their greatest hit, Phantogram get it out of the way within the first four songs, which must be intentional. “When I’m Small,” the other single from their debut album Eyelid Movies, feels much more emotional.

But the band is here promoting its newest album, Voices, which peaked at #3 on Billboard’s Alternative chart. Unfortunately, I just can’t get into their newer material, and I’ve listened to it a lot. The live performance does nothing to rectify my indifference toward the new album. Phantogram may always be a band whose sound is promising, but whose songwriting rarely meets its potential.

Girl Talk
“WHAT’S UP POOOORTLAND!!!” Girl Talk is an incredibly popular act for some reason, and a great headliner. People love him. This is my third time witnessing his live performance, and I guess that I “get it.” He played twice at my university and invited students to come dance on stage; similarly, at MFNW, the stage is filled with people vibing to his mashups, though this time I don’t manage to catch where they come from – I’m leaving early to decompress before Com Truise.

But I do stay for a few songs, and I must admit to the awesomeness of his performances. The stage has two giant inflatable sneakers, just… just because. Toilet paper rolls attached to leaf blowers spray the crowd and are reloaded. Girl Talk’s mashups really are genius, though it saddens me to see him merely dance in front of a laptop. I can never help but wonder what he’s doing on there – is he just pressing play? He couldn’t be doing much live, because he spends most of his time dancing. Maybe I don’t “get it,” but he seems to have universal appeal to indie and Top 40 crowds. Whatever it is, people love it.

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MFNW ’14: The Jacob Heiteen Report

By Jacob Heiteen

SIDE NOTE: Unfortunately life and my job got in the way of me seeing as much of MusicFestNW as I’d like. I only was able to catch 70% of the Sunday lineup. I could mope about missing Future Islands or Girl Talk, but I would say that the bands I saw more than made up for their absence. Here is what I thought of the sets I saw:

WILD ONES:
The last time I got to see Portland-based synth-poppers was in a cramped basement of a house show, in the end of fall 2013. Since then they seem to be everywhere. This is obviously a band in the beginnings of a pivotal chapter of their career. Thankfully they made the house show to festival stage transition seem effortless. The crowed was eating out of their hands, dancing throughout the set, and cheering when the band pulled out their “From Portland” credentials.  The best part about seeing bands at this stage of their career is that they usually play with a tone of confidence, and Wild Ones was no exception. Can’t wait to see them play on an even bigger stage next time.

THE ANTLERS:
Look, I understand why The Antlers are so beloved. Sad bastard music will never stop being necessary, but for some reason I just can’t get on board the Antlers train. I had such a hard time standing in the heat, listening to drone-y song with horns and a crescendo, after drone-y song with horns and a crescendo. The set had its moments, like when they played some of their more forward moving songs, but it overall made me really bored. It just felt really out of place being sandwiched between the perky Wild Ones and the in-your-face-ness of Fucked Up (more on that later). Maybe I would have liked them more in a more intimate setting, but I feel like they just aren’t for me.

FUCKED UP:
Oh man did Fucked Up come in charging like a horde of rhinos! One drummer, one bass, three guitars, and one Leonidas-like frontman (Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham) were all that was needed to amply pump things up. Pretty sure the only mosh pit of the fest was during Fucked Up and thank god I was right in their getting completely covered in dust. The band was super on point and somehow kept things together despite all the chaos Abraham was bringing out of people. I’m sure that this was the first hardcore show for some members of the audience and I’m glad it was this one, since it gave you a sense of what the genre is at its best. It felt like the band was there for us to let our anger out, which they returned with an attitude that made it seem like they wanted be there for us. Damian Abraham’s stage antics and banter (which ranged from the personal to the political) almost made me forget I was at a festival. I felt like I was in a small venue with the band ten feet away, which is what makes Fucked Up so special. There is no separation between us and Fucked Up, when they play we are all Fucked Up.

tUnE-yArDs:
I don’t get why all bands don’t come to show in costume? It adds so much, and even if they suck at least they are fun to look at. Thankfully tUnE-yArDs did not suck, not in the least. Their jittery brand of indie-pop went over so well with the MFNW and probably had more people dancing than any other band that day. They weren’t there to play a set, they were there to put on a show. Aside from colorful costumes, there were background singers and fucking choreography (a total weakness for me). And lets not forget the jams (of which there more than plenty), from new cuts like “Sink-O” to classics like “Bizness”. I’m pretty sure that Merrill Garbus, the band’s mastermind, is the only person who can take out a ukulele and not make me groan because it mean “Powa” is up next. After the set all I could think was how much tUnE-yArDs needed to have their own super ambitious, Sufjan Stevens-like stage show.

HAIM:
The way to describe Haim is “likeable”. Their music is likeable, their offstage personas are likeable, and their set was likeable, which was kind of the problem. They didn’t really bring out any side of themselves that I didn’t get from listening to their record, which I very much liked. While they totally had the right energy and jams the whole set just felt like standard festival fare. I guess what I’m getting at is that I had a much more fun time listening to Haim than I did seeing them live.

SPOON:
So, someone please tell me why Spoon is not as big as indie bands like Arcade Fire or The National? I’d be way more OK with Spoon having that status than either of the aforementioned. They have the better songs, they have better albums, and they have the better vibe. Spoon is the real deal and need to be recognized as such. I forgot how much I loved Spoon, a band that has been with me since freshman year of high school, and I’m very glad to be reminded of why I love them. Needless to say they put on an absolutely killer set, complete with two encores. They played everything, including my personal favorite “Black Like Me.” Spoon was a perfect choice for closing things out. I feel kind of lame saying that the finale headliner was my favorite set, but fuck it they were just so good. Total gold standard of their genre.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
I was very skeptical of the changes to MFNW. The smaller lineup and the new enclosed space made me nervous. However, I found myself really enjoying the fest this year. Yes, it has become more like all the other festivals in the country but it still stood out in a lot of ways. The fact that it was so small was refreshing and made the dreadful walk from stage to stage less of an ordeal, the non-overlapping set scheduling allowed for people to see every act on the roster if they so choose, and the nice view of the city skyline reminded everyone that, despite the changes, this is still a festival done Portland style.

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Episode 94: Magazines

Thanks to David Harris and Matthew Sweeney for joining us this week! You can listen to this episode above, or download it right here.

Topic:

  • Music magazines (and the future of music journalism)
  • Who are some of the biggest names in this field?
  • Are music magazines still relevant?
  • Is digital media the way of the future? Or is a physical item still better?
  • What is the role of the music critic today?
  • Do music writers still have the same power they used to?

Songs:

  • A tribute to Robin Williams: clips from Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society
  • Dr. Hook – “Cover of the Rolling Stone”
  • Bob Dylan – “My Back Pages”
  • Robin Williams in Aladdin – “A Friend Like Me”

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