Category Archives: Live Reviews

Notes on Pickathon 2016

"Cause we're on our way..."

Yo La Tengo // Photo Credit: Hollister Dixon

By Hollister Dixon

Editor’s Note: Due to some unfortunate technical issues, all of the actual photos I took over the weekend were lost. I have a few decent ones I got with my cell phone, however. I apologize for this.

I’ve been hearing about Pickathon for years. Two years ago, Faces on the Radio cohost Arya Imig went for the first time, and came back with stories of immeasurable joy and brilliance. I resolved to get there as soon as I possibly could. It took a year longer than I would have liked, but I finally made it: I spent three unbelievable days at Pickathon 2016.

I’m just going to get this out of the way, before we move on: I really struggled to find things that could be better about the festival. Eventually, I realized that “There’s just too much hay for my liking” and “It’s about five degrees too hot out” weren’t valid criticisms, but minor ways for me to try and rectify the fact that I am, by and large, an incredibly positive critic. Still, Pickathon is a festival made for people like me: people with an obsessive need to geek out about music, with other people who want to do the same, in an environment that breeds that kind of behavior. Pickathon isn’t so much a festival as it is a four-day summer camp where all of your favorite bands are playing, and nobody feels like they’re there out of obligation. I had a few conversations with different performers about how they felt about the festival, and the consensus is that it’s the perfect antidote to just about every other North American festival out there. It’s clean, it’s free of gigantic sponsors, it’s eco-friendly. It does everything right.

I really, really wish I could talk about things that are wrong with it, but I haven’t got much. All I actually have is the fact that I would have liked to do and see more. There were some tough scheduling conflicts, and the smaller Lucky Barn was so consistently packed, I never actually saw a band perform there. I also never saw the Starlight Stage or a night show at Galaxy Barn, but this is a consequence of a) seeing the final act at the Woods Stage every evening, and b) not camping out, but instead going home every night. I also never made it to the fabled Pumphouse, which apparently saw a set by Dan Boeckner and Arlen Thompson’s Frankfurt Boys, the “the one-millionth Wolf Parade offshoot band” (in Dan Boeckner’s words), which was plagued with technical issues. And still, the experience I got was truly satisfying, in a way I haven’t experienced at any other festival – or, at least, haven’t come close to since the old multi-venue days of MusicFest Northwest.

It was impossibly hard for me to figure out how to break this festival down, because doing it day by day feels wrong. So, I’m going to do it in two Top Fives: The Old (bands I already knew), and The New (acts I discovered this year). All said and done, I saw 24 performances by 20 different acts (with four acts seen twice).

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LIVE: Weird Al Yankovic, Edgefield Amphitheater, Portland, OR

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By Hollister Dixon

I have a lot of love for Weird Al Yankovic. He’s a man who’s career I haven’t followed as closely as should, but my love of his music goes back – like most people – to when I was a kid. I remember hearing Seattle’s KISS 106.1 premiere “The Saga Begins”, and I remember the joy of seeing him at the Puyallup Fair on the Poodle Hat tour when I was all of 13 years old (my third concert ever). Over the last 30 years, Yankovic has built a perfect legacy as the parody artist, one with an almost superhuman ability to create fantastic pop songs within another person’s framework, as well as creating pitch-perfect pastiche pieces (Running With Scissors odyssey “Albuquerque” springs to mind immediately, which may be his best work). I haven’t seen Yankovic perform since I was a kid, so it seemed like it was time to finally watch him work his magic with adult(ish) eyes.

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Notes On Night Vale

By Hollister Dixon

Those three years I spent doing a podcast taught me a lot about myself, but one of the most important things I learned was about the love, adoration, and respect I have for anyone who is able to turn in a quality radio production with any regularity, and get people to listen. In this respect, then, getting to see a live performance of Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor’s Welcome To Night Vale – a bi-monthly podcast with a legion of fierce, loyal, and rabid fans – in the opulent Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall was like being a Little League short stop at a Red Sox game. Radio is a fickle beast, and the nature of podcasting is such that you have to fight tooth and nail, at times, to really grab people’s attention. And yet, four years on, WTNV’s fanbase is devoted enough that they were not only able to justify being at the Schnitz, but were able to sell the place out for an hour-and-a-half of music, surrealism, and ghost stories.

The unfortunate thing about Welcome To Night Vale’s live shows is that, to get the full effect of everything, you need to actually hear it. As the show’s credits-reader/proverb-deliverer Meg Bashwiner highlighted in her pre-show delivery of the show’s rules noted, the story of this particular tour will be released as a live recording after the tour is complete, so even giving major details about the plot are hard to justify. In lieu of a traditional review – which is hard to truly do for something like WTNV – I’ve compiled a series of observations about the show as a whole. Please enjoy.

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LIVE: The Twilight Sad, Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR

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By Hollister Dixon

A little over a year ago, a strange thing happened: The Cure, the unbeatable godfathers of poppy goth brilliance, covered “There’s a Girl in the Corner,” the opening track for The Twilight Sad‘s 2014 album Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave. While The Cure didn’t break apart the song in a way that transformed the song into something wholly unlike the original, their cover of “Girl” was a weird moment of game respecting game. For nearly a decade, The Twilight Sad have built an identity around loud, breathtaking, masterfully-done sadness rock, operating as the missing link between the songwriting chops of Arab Strap and the near-deafening sonicscapes of Mogwai. They’re an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” band, where every release serves only to tighten their core aesthetic, rather than radically alter it. As such, despite their debut album Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters being their most complete sounding record, they’ve done nothing but get better as songwriters and musicians since then.

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Sasquatch! Music Festival 2016: The Zack Perry Report

 

 

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The Gorge Amphitheater at Dusk // Credit: Zack Perry

By Zack Perry // All Photos by Zack Perry

Author’s Note: While this began as an outline for a piece that was going to be much more conventional and formal, I realized that this outline encapsulated the energy of Sasquatch better than any conventional write-up. Sasquatch is a festival of such incredible magnitude that the magic all blurs together – everything that winds up standing out is just a moment in time. Sasquatch is just this 5 day stretch of time threaded together by one incredible moment after another, there really is no conventional way to capture it. I don’t claim or pretend to believe that the way I recount my experience is the “proper” way to do it, I just believe it’s the one that best suits me. So, please, enjoy.

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LIVE: Aimee Mann & Ted Leo,R

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By Hollister Dixon

Two summers ago, I saw The Both – comprised of Aimee Mann and Ted Leo – at Project Pabst here in Portland. Aside from being phenomenal musicians and songwriters on their own, their combined forces may not be totally groundbreaking, but feel warm, comfortable, and an absolute treat to listen to. But, this is only half of what makes the duo work: anyone who has had the opportunity to see Leo and Mann perform knows that they’re masters at witty stage banter, effortlessly filling the downtime between songs with jovial chatter – with each other, with the crowd, with anyone. During that particular show, during a long-winded (but still thoroughly enjoyable) rant wherein Leo revealed himself as a massive Tolkien nerd, I found myself thinking that, if these two ever wanted to just put down their instruments and put on a solid hour of crowd-work based comedy, I’d gleefully be there with bells on.

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LIVE: Napalm Death, Melvins, Melt-Banana – Roseland

Melvins // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Melvins // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Words and photos by Yousef Hatlani.

How many bands have been born of the Melvins’ northwestern sonic toil? Likewise, how many groups have formed as a direct result of Napalm Death’s genre-founding 1987 album Scum? The lineage of these two bands is among the strongest in all of heavy music; nary an influential group in the spectrum of alternative rock to extreme metal –from Nirvana to Tool to Boris to Carcass to Sunn 0))) to Soilent Green—doesn’t owe a debt to them. And though the two collectives share a history of rotating members, the integrity of their output has remained distinct for over three decades.

2016, then, is shaping up to be another fruitful year for both bands: Napalm are touring on the back of their 2015 release, Apex Predator – Easy Meat—lauded as one of the group’s best in their sixteen album-strong discography. Melvins are putting out not one, but two records: a collaborative album titled Three Men and a Baby—recorded with godheadSilo bassist Mike Kunka in 1999 and finally seeing the light of day last month—and Basses Loaded, a full-length featuring all of the group’s current roster of bass players (as well as a guest spot by Krist Novoselic.) In addition to offering new songs, the album compiles an EP and a split release with Le Butcherretes that the band put out last year (Beer Hippy and Chaos as Usual, respectively,) as well as another EP from January of this year, called War Pussy. Teaming up with Japanese noiseniks Melt-Banana, the trio embarked on the appropriately titled ‘Savage Imperial Death March’ tour in late March—stopping by Portland’s Roseland Theater on Tuesday.

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LIVE: Sloan, Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR

By Hollister Dixon

Before watching Sloan perform, I spoke with Music Millennium owner Terry Currier about popularity disparity of Canadian bands like Sloan or the Tragically Hip, and how it seems like there’s “an invisible barrier between the US and Canada”. He told me about the last time he saw Tragically Hip perform in Portland, at the Roseland, and the show was full of people who had come down from Vancouver for the chance to see the band in such a small space. The invent of the internet should have completely evaporated these barriers, but it seems bands like Sloan are just old enough to still be affected by this invisible wall.

It’s our gain, though. Sloan have been around for 25 years, and getting to see the band in a small space is a treat. The faithful were treated to two brilliant sets by the band: one comprising the entirety of their landmark 1996 album One Chord to Another, and a second spanning the band’s entire career. I’ll be completely honest: despite enjoying Sloan from afar for a long time, the band’s allure has never quite clicked with me. Despite this, watching the band perform at such a brilliant, breakneck pace was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Sloan are the most unassuming rockstars you’ll ever see. They perform like they’re the Rolling Stones, and look like they’re all members of different bands, from the lost brother of R. Stevie Moore and J Mascis (Patrick Pentland), to the Canadian cousin of Thurston Moore (Chris Murphy) to a drummer who looks like he’s been plucked from a Damn Yankees tribute act (Andrew Scott). Yet, as a unit, all of these people work in brilliant lockstep, roaring through every song like it should be the biggest hit on the planet. They ripped through One Chord to Another as though it was made of sonic butter, and returned shortly after to give the same treatment to the rest of their catalog; When Chris Murphy’s comment on how the song from their 2003 record Action Pact would likely be the only one from the album they’d play was met with a couple loud grumbles from the crowd, he responded by jovially reminding the crowd that there was just no way they could play everything people wanted to hear.

Still, after watching the band’s onslaught of jangly indie pop, I found myself wanting to be one of the faithful in the subterranean space. This was a performance for the megafans and the die-hards. Seeing them perform left me wanting to go home and listen to every last record they had, but it disappointed me that I’d have to wait until their next time around to get to belt out all of those songs with the same upright zeal as everyone else in the room.

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LIVE: Frightened Rabbit, Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR

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By Hollister Dixon

“What the hell is in the water in Scotland?”

That was Frightened Rabbit fangirl Kelly Dixon, in a recent conversation about the newest Frightened Rabbit album, Painting of a Panic Attack. That isn’t exactly an unfair question, and it’s something I’ve wondered for quite some time now. Should we be putting Zoloft in the drinking water of Glasgow? Between Arab Strap, Mogwai (their sorrow transcends the need for actual lyrics almost always), The Twilight Sad, Belle & Sebastian (though they maintain a poppy veneer), and Frightened Rabbit, I have to wonder what the hell is making every Scottish musician so glum.

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Live: Soul’d Out 2016

Sharon Jones at Keller Auditorium // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Sharon Jones at Keller Auditorium // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Words and photos by Yousef Hatlani

Among the many music festivals Portland offers every year, from Pickathon to Project Pabst to PDX Pop Now!, Soul’d Out has been perhaps the most consistent since its inception. Founded in 2009, there has nary been a year when its list of headliners did not spring off the page with inimitable options: both Buddy Guy and the late Gil-Scott Heron played during the festival’s inaugural year. In 2011, it boasted sets by Ms. Lauryn Hill, Mos Def and Ice Cube. The following year featured Esperanza Spalding, Justice and a special show with Wanda Jackson and Sallie Ford. The year after that had Lee “Scratch” Perry, Booker T. Jones and Prince. Slick Rick, Ural Thomas, Charles Bradley and Robert Glasper are also some of the names of those who’ve played Soul’d Out in recent years. Clearly, this festival is curated with a lot of love for its craft—as much as those who are booked to play it.

2016’s lineup proved no different, ranging from George Clinton to SZA on one night, to Hieroglyphics and Thomas Jack the next, and Bilal playing across the street from Bunny Wailer on another. Faces on the Radio was able to catch three such shows on three different nights of the festival: First, Gary Clark Jr at the Roseland, followed by Sharon Jones at the Keller Auditorium, and finally returning to the Roseland for Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals.

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