So… Hi, everybody. My plan was to discuss every day after it was over, which I started to do on the second day. However, after not sleeping between days one and two, I found myself starting to say excellent things, but forgetting what they were mid-sentence. After that, everything just got too busy, and I took the down-time to relax. So, here’s the rundown of the second day of the festival, with the rest to follow. Coming soon will be a short essay on what the festival means for Portland. Stay tuned, and enjoy.
Days one and two may as well be the same day, because I have always believed that days are only separate if you sleep in between. Knowing Wednesday night that I would sleep through every needed alarm for my day, I opted to stay awake. I went into town, went to pick up a pass for my wife to see Brand New with me, and got my day started right… with a verbally abusive tweaker, with a flimsy excuse for trying to steal someone’s cell phone. I believe that no music festival has really started until you witness a crazy bum fight tied into that festival. What, is that just me?
I was invited to see Little Dragon at the Doug Fir, but the plan was for me to be asleep when that show occurred. However, I found myself in the Doug Fir, watching as a small Asian woman did her best to prove to Miho Hattori and Satomi Matsuzaki that you can kick ass, and not have to resort to being cutesy. (Full disclosure: my description to my friend was as follows: “It’s like if Miho Hattori and Satomi Matsuzaki had a hipster baby, and that baby grew up, stumbled on an acid house rehearsal, and said, “YEEEAH!””).
An hour and a half later, I got my chance to see what the fuss about Unknown Mortal Orchestra is, only to discover… they’re pretty great, but slightly overhyped. Don’t get me wrong; UMO are good. My problem is, at the moment, they seem to the victim of a hype monster that may not let it out of its jaws any time soon. Do they deserve the hype? Who can tell? That said, Unknown Mortal Orchestra are taking exactly what is great about the revival of lo-fi sound and fuzzed-out, distorted guitars, and making it sound like they’re gonna win something by doing it. Even if they don’t deserve the hype, what they’re doing is, more or less, being the best of their class, and if they keep on the same path, they’re going to be remembered for being the band of their class.
Hey, speaking of hype bands, and clunky transitions, up next was Sebadoh, for the first time of the day! Surprisingly, Lou Barlow’s trio of power-slackers translates fairly well to the posh atmosphere of the Doug Fir. To analyze Sebadoh after so many years almost seems pointless: they are the musical equivalent of a junk drawer, with small bits and fragments taking shape and being perfected, but keeping up with whatever length that scrap was to begin with. It comes across like two comedians going through their notebooks and airing old jokes, only instead of comedians, you get Lou Barlow and friends bantering back and forth. The end result is staggeringly funny to watch, and captivating to watch two rock dorks making “fucking around” into a profession.
We then crossed the city and caught another very-much-hyped band, The Joy Formidable. The thing about The Joy Formidable is, they have a sound a lot like a lot of hype bands: wall of sound, poppy vocals, angular guitars and stomping choruses. I would try and convince you that they were different from the rest, but to be honest, I don’t think I can. A small amount of what sets the Wales trio apart from everybody else is the intensely sweet persona of frontwoman Ritzy Bryan (who I heard described as “Mary Poppins”) who takes breaks from being soft-spoken and kind to create towering walls of feedback and gorgeous fuzz that could make Kevin Shields throw up, if done correctly. They’re one of the more uplifting noise-pop bands going right now, and it’s wonderful to see them get notoriety.
The Joy Formidable was followed by Brand New. As far as I’m concerned, I could leave my review at that last sentence, and it would sum their performance up perfectly. However, I’ll try. The band played two songs from The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Of Me (Brand New’s “mature” album), followed by four from their most “recent” album, Daisy (Brand New’s “shitty” and “worthless” album). Near the end of the fourth, I decided that I would leave if they kept playing the newer songs exclusively. But then, they played “Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t,” followed by “I Will Play My Game Underneath The Spin Light.” And another classic, and another, and another. I had resigned myself to leaving half an hour before they were done so that I could go and catch Sebadoh and Archers of Loaf across town, but as Jeffrey Tambor so eloquently put it in The Hangover, “He’s on the heater, you never leave when you’re on the heater.” So I stayed through 9 classic, seminal tracks from the band’s first three albums, until, partway through Devil And God highlight “Degausser,” I realized that if I didn’t leave then, I never would. Brand New is a band that I’ve loved since I was young, so having them pull a Modest Mouse and play my adolescence front-to-back was almost too much to bear. I had to get out. (Full disclosure: looking at the setlist online, they didn’t top what they’d played, but they did save two more classics for the encore.)
After an even longer Sebadoh set, where the band played what felt like 30 songs (“We started ten minutes early, just so we could play everything we wanted to play,” Barlow informed us halfway through), Archers of Loaf took the stage to play for the believers. Archers of Loaf were never as famous as Pavement, or as well-received as Guided By Voices, but they were the most quietly brilliant of the slacker-band movement that made the 90s very special. They are merely another band of that era to rise from the dead and play again (this list includes Sebadoh, of course), but theirs was easily the most well-deserved; when their reemergence was announced, it didn’t smack of a cash-grab by a few has-been musicians, but a strong desire for Eric Bachmann to get his friends back together for a well-earned victory lap. And, for what it’s worth, it’s hard to imagine the band sounding tighter after their hibernation. Their set was jam-packed with now-classic tracks from all of their albums, and the band seemed to truly be enjoying themselves as they ripped through their old songs. The part that made this show so breathtaking is that they clearly enjoyed themselves: whereas other bands, the ones doing it as a cash grab, might exude an aura of being above the joy of the evening, Archers of Loaf owned that joy, and greeted the grinning faces of their die-hard fans with equally massive grins. They even got wise enough to save (arguably) their most well-loved song, “Web In Front,” for the very end of their set. It was the perfect ending to their close to perfect set, and the only thing I regret is that I’m a new fan of the band, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as the rest of the crowd did. Though, that’s relative, because I was still captivated by how joyous their performance was.