With a single day left, the lines begin to blur a little bit. Was that band yesterday, or the day before that? Even if you don’t spend your entire day seeing bands play, things can become slightly hazy. Day four of Music Fest Northwest boasted an incredible lineup of shows, and a lot of major choices: Catch all of Girl Talk, or see J Mascis? Swans, or Sebadoh? Redd Kross, or Moonface? These shows were easy enough to get into, but the problem is whether or not you’re okay with regretting missing something else.
The first person I heard speak, from any band, was Lou Barlow. “There’s a baby in front of my amplifier, holy shit!” he exclaimed, seeing my son sitting approximately a foot and a half from his Marshall stack. “I’m sorry, that was the one thing I couldn’t do, and I did it first thing!” Lou was clearly shocked to see an infant at a Dinosaur Jr. show, especially one at noon, at the Doug Fir Lounge, and so close to such powerful equipment. That didn’t stop him from being completely on it the whole time. Standing that close to a man who has made a name for himself being a personable legend is a truly moving thing to behold, and after being around for going on , you couldn’t even begin to blame them for slowing down, but they haven’t. Murph’s drum fills sounded effortless, and Mascis flooded the tiny room with his pristine, muddied-up riffs. They tore through “Forget the Swan,” and tore up “In A Jar” and “The Wagon.” It was sublime. Not bad for noon on a Saturday. After that, my wife and I decided lunch was in order, and after waiting an hour for a slice of pizza, I only caught the last song-and-a-half of Milo Greene‘s set, and though my wife isn’t their biggest supporter, I was thoroughly impressed by the young band. I hadn’t heard the band before then, but I really enjoyed what I heard, with their clear perchance for solid melodies and soaring backup vocals. Lastly, we caught The Hives, a band that has been a long-running juggernaut, but one that I never quite connected with. However, after watching the band play, I can honestly say that I feel converted. We may not have been in the thick of things, but we got the opportunity to stand next to guitarist Nicholaus Arson, who it turns out, is a goddamn beast. Throughout the show, frontman Pelle Almqvist’s stage antics and banter became, somehow, more and more infectious, meaning that their sound takes on an incredible new edge: a pretty good rock band, but an incredible live band. Arson threw a guitar pick to my son, one with a fond greeting on one side, and the other inscribed: “Pay attention, for The Hives will play this only once!” KEXP, I will miss you so very, very much.
After our run-in with Lou Barlow, my wife felt like we should really go over to the Dinosaur Jr. pop-up shop to get a few things, and say hello, so Redd Kross had to be taken off the itinerary. In doing so, I got a chance to get to ask J Mascis about the incredibly high action on his guitar (for my own amusement), blow Murph’s mind by bringing him the infant who has at their show (“Is that… that’s the baby!”), and get an answer as to whether or not I would ever get to see a Folk Implosion show, straight from Barlow’s mouth (spoiler alert: no, probably not, not likely, sorry everybody). It was wonderful to see all of Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh in the same room, smiling, and talking to fans. Seeing the bands in the shrine that has been built for them makes me feel an immense amount of hope for advertising, and pride in what was accomplished. The tribute was perfect. Fast forward a bit, and I finally got an opportunity to see what the fuss is about with Au. As it happens, they’re goddamn incredible. They sound like the long-lost child of Sun Ra or the Mothers of Invention, shredding out eye-melting, freak-out jazz that, really, sounded perfect in Pioneer Square. I am thoroughly impressed, and immediately more interested in catching them at the Doug Fir later this year, opening for Zammuto. Starfucker is a band that I haven’t seen since the end of ’08. I hadn’t gotten engaged yet, I was excited to be catching my 20th show of the year, and was thoroughly excited to see Blitzen Trapper for maybe the third time. I’ve changed a lot in the four years since I saw them, and they’ve changed, too. During that performance, the set was covered with keyboards, turntables, guitars, pedals, and anything else you could think of. Here, it was much more streamlined, but the sound and performance were four years better: they played with a giant LED screen behind them, which made the daytime dance performance even better. I don’t feel like Girl Talk really needs an introduction (for thee years now, I’ve used the title of a Feed the Animals track [“No Pause”] in my MFNW reviews), but on my third time seeing him, he’s outdone himself for the outdoor space. The multimedia extravaganza is almost over-the-top, but absolutely nobody cares. He starts with the introduction of Feed The Animals‘ “Play Your Part, Pt. I,” and the crowd immediately loses their minds. He drops “Cousins” by Vampire Weekend into the mix, up against M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes, and the vibes get bigger and bigger. The tipping point, after Gregg Gillis gets the sold-out Square hyped-up as much as he possibly can, is when M83’s “Midnight City is thrown in, and the atmosphere becomes truly electrified. There’s toilet paper and confetti everywhere, and even though this is the only time where I haven’t felt like my life was in danger by being in the crowd, it was no less exciting to be a part of. Sadly, some drunk woman tried to start a fight after being called out for spilling her beer everywhere, so I took that as my queue to get the hell away.
Despite not being an official “festival headliner,” the Red Bull Common Thread show has been made apparent as the thing to see at MFNW, which is why one had to really think about whether or not the were going to be here, or seeing the tower of deafening destruction called Swans, over at the Hawthorne on the east side. For me, even though I’d already seen both of these bands at this point, it was never a question. I saw Sebadoh twice last year; once at their KEXP set at the Doug Fir, and later that night opening for the newly-reformed Archers of Loaf. They were fresh back to the scene, and the band looked to be having a lot of fun just goofing around both times. Here, however, the band reveals themselves to be no less the juggernaut that Lou’s “other job,” Dinosaur Jr. Here at the Roseland, this band sounds like they’re the tightest they’ve been in years. The same goes for Dinosaur Jr., who I thought to be incredibly tight earlier in the day. It was made apparent, after starting 25 minutes late (watching Murph set up his drums was like watching someone in a trance), that they were merely warming up. In the Roseland, they are able to make the morning’s set look like it was nothing. They play flawlessly, and the crowd laps up every. single. note. It is a glorious thing to get to watch.
Throughout the rest of the night, we hop around, but never quite stay long. Touche Amore is the second best thing we catch all night, who make my hardcore roots go absolutely nuts. The mood in the room is palpable, and watching the kids up front is a beautiful thing at my age (I’m only 22, but we are talking about 16- and 17-year-old kids, here), because this is the most fun they are going to have in a long, long time. They are a reminder of a time when hardcore music meant something, and seeing them a week after the reformed giants Refused makes this experience all the more perfect. To everyone who decided to catch all of Sebadoh’s performance: I don’t blame you, but I’m sorry you missed what I got to see, while chugging a bottle of Session. We tried to catch a few minutes of DIIV so that I could figure out what the fuss was about, but we got there to find a very long line. We chose to stand outside the venue instead, watching from the gyro window. Even from there, I could see what the fuss is about. They played their hearts out up there, and they (like a lot of bands I saw during this festival) seemed to be part of a grand revitalization of what rock and roll can mean for people. I felt a little bit of the same of that watching dirtclodfight, though I only caught the tail-end of their set. That band has been around since the 80s, but as a steady cynic, it’s important for me to get the chance to see people play guitar in a way that makes it seem like it’s the only thing that ever mattered. Their music didn’t quite grab me, but it was still worth it to see a band with just a guitar and a drumkit again. I saw the last half-song of Sad Baby Wolf‘s set, a band I only learned afterwards was the new project of ex-Shin Marty Crandall. I got just far enough into it to latch onto the excellent vocal hooks, and made me really, really wish I’d caught more. The same goes for Wild Nothing, who I caught another half-song of. I haven’t listened to their newest record, Nocturne, but they have clearly not changed a bit since the fantastic Gemini. This is not an insult, in any way.
Moonface went up half an hour late, meaning we only had time to catch two songs. Spencer Krug (the man who I would follow anywhere based on my incredible love of Sunset Rubdown’s Dragonslayer) takes the stage and tells the audience that he’s sorry they’re so late. “We’re just going to have to muscle through these songs, so… anywhoodles… this one is called, “Yesterday’s Fire.” It’s the most delightful thing to hear, even if it means I don’t get to catch as much as I want. I have not, at this point, heard anything from Moonface (save for the wonderful Dreamland EP: Marimbas and Shit Drums), but as said: I don’t care, as long as he’s here. They play “Quickfire, I Tried” second, a song I have had lodged in my brain since Saturday night (almost bumping “Fineshrine” by Purity Ring out of position. Almost.)
Moonface, though I saw that minute of Wild Nothing, proved to be the final real hurrah of the festival for me, and a pretty decent way to end a truly spectacular week. I did, however, catch two songs by Silversun Pickups (yawn) from outside the venue, and was pleasantly surprised by their performance: they seemed to be having a boatload of fun up there, they sounded tight, and the crowd was super into it. I almost wish I’d known it would have been like that, I would have bought a ticket.
Music Fest Northwest 2012 was the fifth MFNW that I’ve been part of, and the very best without even batting an eyelash. I spent all of my time shuttling around with friends, eating far too much pizza, and figuring out what to do next with the people I’d already known, and the new friends I made. And, really, this is all what MFNW is about. It’s about the music as much as it is about the people you experience it all with, and though I have my regrets (I wish I’d been able to see Flying Lotus and Purity Ring [a second time], and I regret not getting a picture of Lou Barlow and Murph with my son), I feel confident that, once again, Music Fest is the most fun thing I will do in any given year. Next September can’t come soon enough.
FINAL BAND COUNT: 43 (with four bands seen twice)