Tag Archives: Dan Deacon

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: FYF Fest 2013 – 08/24-25

By Gabriel Mathews

FYF FEST, LA State Historic Park, Los Angeles, August 24-25, 2013

If you’re not an Angeleno, or even if you are but you live west of Western, you probably don’t know about FYF. So to fill you in, it all began ten years ago when this guy named Sean Carlson evidently grabbed a bunch of bands he thought were cool, booked the Echo for a day, and had said bands play there. He called it the Fuck Yeah Fest, and it ignited a punk rock fire under the asses of the Los Angeles youth. I don’t really know what happened in the intervening few years, but by year six of the fest, it had moved to the dry, dusty pit north of Chinatown known as the LA State Historic Park and I moved to Los Angeles and became a regular attendee. Last year, it turned into a two-day event for the first time, and this year, the Fest celebrated its 10th Anniversary. Somewhere along the way, FYF ceased to be a mere festival and became one of the best across-the-board show organizers in the area, putting on excellent punk, metal, electronic, etc. shows all over town. I see Mr. Carlson and his small band of acolytes at most shows I attend, even the non-FYF ones.

This year was my fifth FYF Fest. Every year it’s gotten a little bit bigger, a little bit better, and a little bit worse. But more on that later—let’s talk about what actually went down!

DAY 1

The gates into the dusty hellhole that (normally) is the LASHP opened at two, and I was there around 2:45. There was no real line, so after collecting the free water bottle I got for riding Metro to the show and getting my drinking wristband, I wandered in and headed over to the Miranda Stage (the smallest of this years Sex and the City themed stages) to wait for Waxahatchee’s 3:20 set. Imagine my surprise when some rad power-trio I’d never heard of were tearing up the stage! The first act of the day, Buffalo’s Lemuria set the bar real high. I mentioned them briefly in my recent review of Titus Andronicus, but they deserve more attention here. Frontwoman Sheena Ozzella shrieked and wailed in a timbre reminiscent of Buke & Gase’s Arone Dyer, bassist Max Baylor was all smiles and pogos, and drummer/primary songwriter Alex Kerns tore up his skins like someone who should be much more famous than he his. The band played super tight together, and hit some epic hooks which I later learned belonged to songs like “Lipstick,” “Pants,” and “Ruby.” If you dig Rilo Kiley, but wish they were way rougher around the edges and more plugged in, check these guys out. Especially live. Or if not live, especially on their debut, Get Better.

Waxahatchee is a band with zero stage presence, but a rare ability to captivate anyway. Katie Crutchfield’s sophomore album, Cerulean Salt has been an obsession of mine all year, and she certainly didn’t disappoint in power-trio format. She even rearranged several American Weekend songs for the full band treatment. Interestingly, a lot of songs were slowed down, or even switched to waltz time. This made it sort of hard to sing along with songs like “American Weekend” and “Brother Bryan,”  but certainly helped the songs to sink their claws into my heart and freeze it. Crutchfield’s confessionals are treasures, and deserve the attention they’re getting.

From the Miranda Stage, I made a beeline for the Charlotte Stage (stopping at the Origami Vinyl tent to pick up Lemuria’s most recent album, The Distance Is So Big), where I caught METZ. This band has been receiving a lot of attention for their self-titled 2012 debut, but even more attention for their live performances, honed for something like twelve years of gigging around Toronto. Their brand of post-hardcore favors thudding low-end, screeching high-end, and endless repetition. It’s brutal, and the pit was fittingly wild. That said, I couldn’t help but feel something was missing, and I don’t think it was the sweat-drenched METZ’s fault.

I went and met some friends in the beer garden where we watched Ty Segall from a hill and were largely unimpressed. This dude gets a lot of press, but I really can’t say I get the scene he and fellow FYFer Mikal Cronin run up north in San Francisco. It strikes me as a rehash of things that have been done before and done better. I liked Ty better last year when he played with his Band.

The scene I can get is the one super young punks Joyce Manor are currently the kings of. Every single Hispanic teenager within a five mile radius seemed not only to be at this show, but screaming along with every word. In fact, it seemed they were at the fest exclusively for Joyce Manor’s blink-182-influenced emo-punk. I’ve caught this band a couple times before in random situations, and I’m always shocked by the percentage of words from their two incredibly brief albums the kids at their shows know by heart. Songs like “Beach Community,” “Leather Jacket,” and especially “Constant Headache” are disarmingly catchy, while also exhibiting the finely honed crafstmanship of a band that does little other than play together. Watch as these guys come up, it’ll be a whole lot of fun for your inner teen.

Then it was time. Time to go to the Carrie Stage to watch The Breeders play Last Splash as part of that album’s 20-year anniversary tour. Everyone was on stage—Kim and Kelly Deal apparently took a break from the bands current incarnation to invite bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim McPherson back into the fold so as to best replicate the classic album. In fact, the effort that went into making this sound like an exact plaster cast of Last Splash was pretty impressive. The inimitable Kim Deal sang the “ooOOOoohs” at the start of “Cannonball” into a microphone covered with a paper cup, Kelly plugged into a pocket amp mounted atop a stand and mic’ed for the tin-can sound of “Mad Lucas,” and, since she apparently played drums on the recording, Wiggs stole the throne from McPherson for “Roi.” The band had some great, snide-yet-loving banter going back and forth, thanking each other constantly for the smallest little things (“Thank you, Kelly. Your guitar solo on that song was beautiful.” “You’re welcome, Kim. I appreciated your singing, it was lovely.”), but aside from this, their stage presence was slightly lacking. That is, until Deerhunter‘s Bradford Cox came out to sing the “Suuuuummmmerrrr’s reaaaaaadddyyyyyy” part of “Saints,” and gave Kim a big kiss on the cheek. Finding themselves with a little time after “Roi (Reprise),” The Breeders snuck in Pod track “Oh”. While I love the song, I would’ve liked to see them just walk off stage after the feedback ending of Splash, letting it sink in just what a classic we’d just seen recreated.

After an anonymous foodtruck dinner and some time spent wandering around the vendor tents (Stories Books had an excellent setup of recommendations from various bands playing the fest. Spoiler: Everyone loves Vonnegut.), and catching a tiny bit of Dan Deacon‘s unsurprisingly tech-plagued, surprisingly dual-drummered set, I came back to the Carrie Stage for TV On The Radio. This was the fifth time I’d seen them, and I’ve gotta say they haven’t aged a bit. This band still kicks ass (though bassist Gerard Smith was sorely missed, RIP). They also know, thankfully, that their most recent album, Nine Types Of Light, was overwhelmingly mediocre, and mercifully stuck mostly to their excellent back catalog, hitting “Blues From Down Here,” “Staring At The Sun,” and “Dancing Choose”. More exciting than those classics, though, were new tracks “Million Miles” and “Mercy,” the latter of which might rank among the best songs TVOTR has ever written. I’m super stoked for their forthcoming fifth LP, to be released on guitarist/producer Dave SItek’s brand new Federal Prism label.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the night’s headliners, and I didn’t know what to expect. I knew Karen O would be a thrill to watch, and I knew that Nick Zinner and Brian Chase are sorely underestimated musicians (Zinner, in particular, is one of my favorite guitar geniuses and I think he deserves about 1,000 times more credit than he gets, simply for the tones he achieves), but this year’s Mosquito left me and apparently a lot of others pretty damn cold. The YYYs, who I’d never seen before, played with characteristic energy, and O did plenty of funny things with her costumes and her microphone, but I left after five songs because less than half of them were songs I cared about (those being “Rich” and “Phenomena”.) Also because I was really far back and it was hard to tell which pedals Zinner was hitting from where I was standing. Also because Death Grips were playing at the other end of the park.

This was Death Grips‘ first show since their now-legendary Lollapalooza no-show performance piece (which I think was utterly brilliant, fuck the haterz), and people had been fretting all day that they might not be present for their set. Having seen them this past spring, I wasn’t too concerned, but I was thrilled to find all three members on set (Andy “Flatlander” Monin, producer, had been absent at the spring show). Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett strutted and writhed with characteristic fury, looking strangely not-human, Zach Hill decimated his stripped down kit, and Flatlander looked like a hacker straight out of The Matrix in a power stance behind his table of doohickeys. This set was even more overwhelming than the one I caught at The Echoplex. Maybe it was the fact that the band was playing over pre-recorded tracks, so the sound was doubled. Maybe it was because, in addition to the constantly moving, flashing, and very red lights coating the stage, Metro trains kept streaking by behind the band. This was actually an awesome touch and I have to wonder if Sean & co. planned it this way, to heighten the sense of acceleration and mechanical intensity Death Grips deliberately foster. I ended up walking away from the stage due to sheer sensory overload when I heard the band play my favorite of their songs, Money Store closer “Hacker.” I was too far away to head back, and plodded sadly out of the park. Moral of the story about Death Grips, though, is that if you haven’t seen them, do. It’s a trance, it’s a dance, it’s a religious experience, it’s like nothing else in music right now.

I went home tired, but not as tired as I should have been. I was ready for Day 2.

DAY 2

I really, really wanted to hit up the comedy tent to catch 2/3 of Human Giant, Paul Scheer & Rob Huebel, but apparently those dudes somehow did not have the last slot of the comedy set. That honor went to Ron Funches, who told the best joke about why to have sex with John Goodman that I’ve ever heard. Check him out.

There wasn’t much I wanted to catch this early in the day, so I wandered over to the Miranda Stage, where my friends were gushing over the king of laziness, Mac DeMarco. I don’t fucking get it. Yeah, the guy is kinda funny, and yeah, his songs are kind of pleasant, but it’s really telling when the best parts of your set are a cover of “Taking Care Of Business” with ad-libbed raps in place of the verses and an amped up rendition of “Bluebird.” Both of these I heard from the neaby RevHQ.com tent (RevHQ clerk: “Are they really covering Bachmann-Turner Overdrive? Really?”), where I bought The Obits’ Moody, Standard and Poor on red vinyl, cursing myself for having not known about Hot Snakes in time for their set at last year’s Fest.

Up next on the little stage was Chelsea Wolfe, who I’d seen once before in a very strange corporate basement at USC’s annual radio station “festival”. Wolfe’s band seemed to be intentionally comprised of people who would look perfect as Chelsea Wolfe’s backing band: there was a hipster ninja drummer, a small, snazzy, mustachioed guitarist, and a Special Agent Dale Cooper-lookalike bassist/keyboardist. (Speaking of Twin Peaks, I saw a Black Flag-knock-off shirt with squiggly bars that read “Black Lodge.” Well played!) All of them wore black. Wolfe, though, perhaps as part of the image change she seems to be going for on the brand new Pain Is Beauty, was decked out in a beige gown with an elaborate train she waved around like wings at various points in her set. The imposingly tall Wolfe has serious pipes, and even if you don’t know any of her epically sad songs, you can’t help but be impressed by the way her voice could probably carry out across the park without amplification.

I migrated over to the Carrie Stage to see a few minutes of Kurt Vile, whose newest record, Walkin On A Pretty Daze I found pretty boring. Vile has a new drummer, and this is really too bad. Oh, well, onward to Samantha’s Tent, where I caught a few How To Dress Well songs. Unfortunately, Vile’s chiming guitars, characteristically Carrie-Stage-too-loud, overpowered Tom Krell’s sensitive white-boy R&B for much of the set. I headed over to the beer garden to eat and watch from the sidelines as No Age showed us just how boring they could be by playing a couple of the drumless songs from brand new album An Object. That said, classics like “Eraser” were still pretty great from where I was sitting.

Up next on the list of things I actually cared about seeing was Beach House, whose newest record, Bloom, I found by-and-large boring (are we detecting a theme here?). That said, the band pulled off a gorgeous set, being TVOTR-like in their ability to pick just the crowd-pleasers out of their mediocre new shit (“Myth,” “Wishes,” “Lazuli,” “The Hours,” aka, the only songs I like off that record), and hitting a lot of great back catalog material, including Devotion’s “Heart Of Chambers,” which, in a foreshadowing move, I think was dedicated to Colm Ó Cíosóig. Beach House’s set made for perfect lover’s rock—everyone around me was making out, and I think that’s just what I needed at this point, as a respite before heading over to The Melvins.

This is a band I clearly need to check out. I went into their set knowing none of their music, and came out wanting to know all of it. Their double-drummer setup kicked the shit out of me, the thundering low-end was awe-inspring, and when the older drummer came out from behind the kit to hula hoop and sing a song whose sole lyric was “MAKE THESE DONUTS WITH EXTRA GREASE! / THIS BATCH IS FOR THE CHIEF OF POLICE!” repeated ad infinitum, The Melvins won me over completely. Too bad I only caught their last ten minutes or so.

Next up on the Miranda Stage was the set I have to, in retrospect, call my favorite of the weekend. Les Savy Fav put on one of the most gloriously deranged and straight up fun shows I’ve ever seen. I’ve always liked LSF, but they’ve never been one of those bands where I need to hear every new album, or check out the whole back catalog. In fact, I’m pretty satisfied knowing little more of their material than fascinating singles-compilaton-project Inches. While his band acted all straight-laced behind him, playing some pretty basic dance-punk grooves, hideous frontman Tim Harrington donned a gold-lamé full-body suit, shone a flashlight out his ass, climbed a tree, fondled his bellybutton, pranced around in his underwear, covered the audience in toilet paper, and crowd surfed on a ladder he treated like a canoe. The crowd went wild for classics like “Patty Lee” and “The Sweat Descends,” and for the first time of the weekend, the pit felt right. This set embodied everything FYF should be (see below): fun, anarchic, dusty, furious, painful, glorious, communal. Well done, LSF (Fun fact: at the Stories Tent, LSF’s recommendations included a children’s book by Harrington called This Little Piggy, and deranged book of illustrations by bassist/Frenchkiss label head Syd Butler entitled Who Farted Wrong?)

It was then time for the moment everyone had been waiting for: My Bloody Valentine on an American tour for the first time since the release of their first album in 22 years, the actually really awesome m b v. Before the band appeared, the stage-side screens read “PROTECT YOUR EARS! Wear Earplugs.” and various anonymous staffers walked around the crowd handing out little foamy pellets. I had been expecting this, and put in my high-tech rubberized plugs right as the band took the stage. And here’s the thing: while nothing can detract from MBV’s utter incredibleness, it wasn’t that loud. Ever since Deerhunter made it impossible for me and my dinner companion to converse 1000 feet away the day before, and Kurt Vile of all people had nearly blown my ears out, I’d been asking myself, “If this is normal, what is MBV?” Turns out, MBV was just about normal. Sure, my ears were ringing for two days at frequencies I’d never heard my ears ring at before, but I blame that on the festival as a whole. Anyway, the Irish legends put on one hell of a show, recreating their painstakingly recorded sound to perfection (Naturally, this required an anonymous third guitarist half the time). Old Loveless classics sounded great, m b v standouts like “Wonder 2” sounded great, and the feedback squall of “You Made Me Realise” was feedbacky and squally. Even through a few episodes of actually blowing out the mains, though, MBV were, through no fault of their own, a slight letdown because they didn’t make my ears bleed. That said, I went home incredibly satisfied because, Christ on a stick, I’d just seen My Bloody Valentine. And a weekend of truly great music.

FYF: LOSING IT’S EDGE?

Even so, I can’t help but have felt something about this year’s Fest was just off. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised: sometime between when it started and the first year I attended, the Fuck Yeah Fest sanded off some of its edges by re-dubbing itself the FYF Fest (Fuck Yeah Fest Fest?) in a bid to be a bit more family friendly (read: corporate). I’m not trying to be some anti-corporate stooge, but this year’s FYF was the fourth in a progression of tipping the scales a little bit more in the favor of “Yeah” over “Fuck.” This was the first year where I’d say I felt the balance was actually off. Why?

Because I was there.

I was there when we had to stand in line for two hours to even enter the park, only to hear over some loudspeakers that Dan Deacon, the main/only reason I went the first year, had cancelled due to illness.

I was there, throat burning because the lines to get water were impossibly long, skin burning because there was no shade anywhere, no misting stations, no amenities, at all really.

I was there, coming out of Death From Above 1979’s triumphant set two years ago, weathered through a complete lack of working monitors, hacking up black dust out of every crevice of my throat, removing my shirt to blow black snot into it, without a voice for a few days because you couldn’t scream along with “Pull Out” without inhaling massive amounts of dirt kicked up in the pit.

In short, I was there when FYF sort of (read: really) sucked. I was there before they brought in ubiquitous Coachella gods Goldenvoice last year to iron out some of the kinks. This year I hardly waited at all to get in, water was abundant, the heat was pretty easy to cope with due to the misting station at the Chili Beans® tent, and the Epic FYF Dust Problem was, for the first time ever, squashed at two out of three stages by massive, industrial plastic floors spread out across the park’s dead grass. And while all of these are, yes, improvements, and, yes, the festival is far more comfortable now than it was in the past, well, the festival is far more comfortable now than it was in the past. And this is kind of sad, because the difficulty inherent in FYF is what bound those of us who were there together. The hardships were what made it stand out of a crowd of similar festivals all over the country. The dust, the thirst, the sunburn, the shitty sound, the crazy lines, the dearth of Port-a-Potties—while all these things really fucking sucked, they also made FYF a unique experience that led to a lot of knowing eye-locks with strangers, a lot of feelings of general connectedness-through-pain (aka “symapthy”), and honestly, a lot of love. Though the music may have been at an all-time-high, atmosphere can be everything, and this year was the first time FYF felt to me like just another festival in a park.

FYF: It’ s time to bring the “Fuck” back.

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MFNW ’13: NO PAUSE: The Whole Bloody Affair

Dan Deacon // Photo Credit: Katie Mendez

By Hollister Dixon

For the past five years, I’ve covered my beloved Musicfest Northwest on my own. The beauty of the festival is that, by the end of things, you want to talk about it, and you want to write everything you can about it. In the last year, I’ve started a podcast (you may have heard of it) and, as such, it became quickly apparent that covering MFNW was no longer a pastime: it was a job. As such, it meant that, despite my own well-being, I had to go harder than before. Luckily, I had the MFNW team by my side, who’s coverage you will be seeing on the site in the coming days. This, however, is my story.

DAY TWO

MusicFest Northwest expanded its usual five-day run to a whopping six, which meant that I had to miss a day of the festivities – no Joey Bada$$, Antwon, Summer Cannibals, or Red Kross for me! Day two, however, was no small task. My evening started at the small get-together that was the MFNW VIP Kickoff Party, a bash attended by, from the looks of it, everyone worth knowing. This should not be viewed as bragging: this kind of crowd is somewhat lost on someone as new to “knowing” people as myself, so I spent my time with the team, and consuming fantastic cocktails and amazing food, courtesy of 24th & Meatball. The event was DJ’d by DJ Safi, who seems to be a master of wallpaper music: in my experience, it isn’t difficult to play music that makes people want to dance, but there is an immense amount of talent required to make music that people can absorb while still socializing and schmoozing. It’s a testament to this ability that, despite how full the venue was, the designated “dance floor” set up in front of her was remarkably empty: I saw maybe five people during the night standing in that area, and only briefly. This may be seen as an insult, but believe me, it is not. Hats off to her for being such a trooper.

Deerhunter // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

After this, we headed over to the Crystal Ballroom for my first show of the year: Lonnie Holley and, at long last, Deerhunter. Lonnie Holley has made his name with art installations of found objects, and it shows in his music: the music presents itself as a strange free-jazz pastiche, that somehow never feels like it has the shadows of Zappa, Beefheart, or Ra cast on it. It’s a testament to the power of the music that Holley was joined on drums for the performance by Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, and yet there was never a moment where I felt like Cox’s larger-than-life personality had stolen the performance. Here, he blended into the background. This is, however, not what he did when his own band took the stage. Deerhunter are a band that I have loved for a long time but never gotten the chance to see, and as the date approached, I found myself more and more excited to see the band, especially considering the fact that the Crystal Ballroom is, by far, the largest room they’ve played in Portland. Cox is a powerhouse, and having the opportunity to watch him do what he does is a treat. I was unable to stay for the entirety of this performance (I knew that, if I allowed myself to get sucked in, I’d miss my last train home), but what I caught was a reaffirmation of something that I’ve always know, which is that Bradford Cox is one of the greatest performers of our generation.

Day Three

!!! // Photo Credit: KEXP

In reality, MFNW is not as tiring as you’d think. Most shows don’t start until mid-evening, leaving you plenty of time to go about your day. This is, unfortunately, a false economy: as I’ve learned, the day performances hosted by KEXP at the Doug Fir Lounge are as necessary as any other show, as they give you the opportunity to 1) untangle your schedule, if a band that you’re dying to see is playing a KEXP session, and 2) see world-renowned bands in a venue roughly 1.5x the size of your mom’s basement. Starting off the day was The Baseball Project, a band which proved to be one of America’s best-kept secrets. For the uninitiated, The Baseball Project sounds like it could be anybody’s band, with a name as generic as the subject matter – on paper, anyway. But they bring two things to the table: they make absolutely fantastic songs about the greats of baseball (this included a song about Ichiro Suzuki, one of the greatest players the Mariners ever saw), and they include people like Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck (who was tragically absent that morning), Steve Wynn, and Mike Mills. Knowing names like that, I can’t find a reason for there to be maybe 100 people in that room, but I was in heaven being among that number. Following this, I got to see a band I’ve put off since I was 16: the incomparable, writhing mass that is !!!. Nic Offer is a frontman’s frontman, jumping around the stage in short shorts (covered in the artwork of Some Girls, for the record), and posing for the cameras at every turn. !!! haven’t made a name out of sheer spectacle, however; not only are they consummate performers, their songs are purely fantastic. I could go on, but I will never not want to gush about this band.

Then came the VIP party at Marmoset. Are you sick of these stories yet? I’m not. Here, I’m greeted by the solid sounds of The Family Crest, though sadly they finished playing not too terribly long after I arrived. Following this, Portland’s resident R&B kingpins Shy Girls took the stage outside, and despite how drunk everyone may have been, there wasn’t a soul in the crowd who wasn’t deeply invested in every sound that Dan Vidmar and co. put out. Earlier this year, Willamette Week named Shy Girls their “Best New Band.” I’m never going to debate this. Then the charming, blue-haired John Vanderslice took the indoor stage, somehow completing my life a tiny bit: as a keen reader might know, Vanderslice is the producer of several golden Mountain Goats records, most specifically The Sunset Tree. I first read his name in relation to that album, and have known him as a producer of beautiful, lush music ever since, but this is, plain and simple, just not fair to Mr. Vanderslice. He’s one hell of a songwriter, and just like Shy Girls, somehow managed to keep a room full of day-drunk music nerds applauding wildly after every single track. Before leaving for the afternoon, I distractedly caught sounds by The Love Language and Eric D. Johnson of The Fruit Bats, though by this time the crowds had gotten too crazy to really enjoy the music. Many apologies to these two bands.

Portland is a weird place sometimes. It’s beautiful, and the strange lens of MFNW makes it hard to not look at things in a different light. And sometimes, it throws you an unexpected curveball. On this day, for the first time in anyone’s memory, it began to rain. And not just rain, but it poured. The weather was such that, if there had been lightning strikes within two miles of Pioneer Square, that day’s headliner would be cancelled. Luckily this did not happen, and in the pouring rain, I watched Youth Lagoon fill the Square with music that somehow resonated more in the inclement weather. Trevor Powers has only a year on me, but his artistic output is breathtaking, and once I got to the show, any doubts I may have had about the size of the stage he and his band were playing on was too large had been swept away with the rain. This performance will go down as one of the most magical of the weekend, and Powers’ humble reservations that could be heard in his polite stage banter only made it better. Unfortunately, the rain drove two of us indoors, meaning that we were unable to catch Young The Giant’s headline show.

Ian Rubbish // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

We fled the rain by heading up the street to wander in on Fred Armisen‘s somewhat confusing show at the Crystal Ballroom. Leading up to the show, nobody was sure what was going to happen: not even Willamette Week’s Matt Singer, who did an interview with Armisen in the persona of Ian Rubbish. Rubbish opened for Armisen (confusing, right?), ripping through a few of his tracks, including “It’s a Lovely Day,” the song Armisen played as a final performance on Saturday Night Live. That performance was joined by a group of indie rock royalty, and though Carrie Brownstein didn’t join this performance, he was joined by someone playing up the street that evening: Bob Mould. “I used to be in a band… actually, I was in a few bands,” Mould said after the band had left the stage. “That band was called Husker Du, and I think I’ll play one of their songs.” He launched into a haunting solo performance of “Makes No Sense at All,” and I nearly called the whole festival quits right then and there, knowing that the hardcore obsessed 15-year-old that still sits dormant in my heart wouldn’t ever believe that the long weekend could ever get better from there.

On top of this, I performed the typical Dixon Shuffle between the Star Theater and the Roseland. At the former, I caught Diana, who managed to somehow channel the aesthetic of Chromatics, and performed it for everyone who wouldn’t be able to see that band play during the fest. Then came Austra, a band that managed to channel the aesthetic of The Knife, and performed it for everyone who wouldn’t get to see that band play because they aren’t playing the Northwest. It should be noted that none of this is meant to be taken as a negative; Diana’s M83-esque tribute to the 80s was a welcome addition to the evening, and the stunning, trance-inducing performance of Austra made me wish that I had caught the band at the Doug Fir earlier that afternoon.

Thursday was a day of covers, and the highlight of On and On‘s wonderful set at Roseland caught me off guard. While burying my phone in my phone, writing a tweet, a stray line drifted across my ears: “Helplessly helping all the rules.” I promply lost my mind, suddenly ready to sing along with “And I Was A Boy From School,” the classic track from Hot Chip’s The Warning. The set ended not long after this, probably because nothing in there would be able to top that moment. And then… The Joy Formidable. It has been two years since I reported on The Joy Formidable, who performed MFNW opening for Brand New. That performance was a solid moment, cementing the band as one to watch. At the Roseland, however, they proved that being watched was the best possible thing to do here: over the course of the weekend, I’d hear a lot of bands shred, but none of them did it quite as effortlessly as Joy Formidable did. There’s no question: Ritzy Bryan can fucking shred. This is a band that has flirted with one-hit-wonder status, but the way they play, you’d never guess it. I forced myself to leave this venue, knowing that – just like the Deerhunter set – I’d be missing a last train if I didn’t. If you learn nothing from this breakdown, at least learn that The Joy Formidable are not a band to ignore.

Day Four

Day four is when the lines start to blur a little bit. By this point in time, sleep madness has sunk in for a lot of us, and the burdens of not getting any sleep are beginning to be troubling. This does nothing to sully the morning performances, however. Washed Out is a one-man project that begs for a live band, and luckily, Ernest Greene has managed to scrape one together for the touring arm of his chillwave project. What plays beautifully on record is a burst of bright color in the swanky basement of the Doug Fir, and despite the early hour, everyone in the room is more than a little into the groove. After this performance, while waiting to see the next band up, we run into the legendary Cody ChesnuTT, who we chat with for a few minutes, about everything from his history with Portland crowds (“My last tour, Portland was in the top three cities,” he tells us) to a long-forgotten compilation track I fell in love with in my teens (the song is “Boils” from the 4AD-curated Plague Songs compilation, and my adoration was met with a surprised stare, the information that I was “the second person in 8 years” to tell him that song ruled, and some info on why the song sounds like it does). What could top that? Not much, but a fantastic set by Beat Connection threatened to try. The Seattle trio’s songs are great on their own, but they’ve been touring with a small horn section, which makes an old favorite like “Silver Screens” (used all the way back in episode four) stop being great, and start being spectacular.

Dan Deacon @ Musicfest NorthwestDan Deacon // Photo Credit: Colin McLaughlin

After taking a long break from the festivities, we headed over to Pioneer Square, for the second day at Pioneer Square. We missed Haerts, but we were able to catch Dan Deacon, at long last. Like the aforementioned !!!, I’ve been waiting years to see Dan Deacon, but every opportunity has been lost on me. Dan Deacon runs his live shows a little like a cult leader, instructing his crowds to do absolutely ridiculous things (dance competitions, counting down while skipping the number 7 [“Let’s not dwell on why,” he said when giving this particular instruction], direct physical contact with the people around you), but in the end, it’s all tremendously good fun. His performance also included Spiderman of the Rings track “The Crystal Cat” (which made this reviewer lose his goddamn mind) and a complete performance of the “USA” suite. This performance all included me, in the middle of Pioneer Square, leading half of the crowd in interpretive dance. I wasn’t very good at it, but it was a rad experience.

Animal Collective // Photo Credit: Cory Butcher

Furthering the weirdness of the afternoon was Animal Collective, and while watching the performance, I realized something: 2013 is the 4th round of Pioneer Square shows, and so far, it’s hard to truly argue with any of the acts. Iron & Wine? The National? Silversun Pickups? Sonically, these acts are for just about anybody. Leading up to this show, I had in mind the largess of some of their tracks: “Fireworks”, “My Girls”, “Brothersport”, all songs with a massive sound well-suited for the environment, but what about any of the seven songs played from last year’s Centipede Hz? And what of the fact that they skipped or altered the most populist-friendly tracks on the album (conspicuously absent were “Today’s Supernatural,” and the brilliant opener “Moonjock”)? It wasn’t until three songs in that I realized what a coup this was: here was a band that has made a career out of neo-tribal insanity, and here they were playing a stage that had Young the Giant on it the day before, and would have The Head & The Heart after. I couldn’t help but feel like, just this once, the weirdos had won, and were taking a victory lap by doing things like stretching out “Brothersport” to around 12-minutes. I may not have gotten a single song from my beloved Strawberry Jam, but this was one hell of a performance just the same.

The rest of Friday was relatively peaceful. Up at the Crystal Ballroom, indie rock royalty Superchunk were putting on a giant show, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with every single song, including new cuts like “FOH” and “Me and You and Jackie Mittoo”. Speaking of frenzy, just down the street, we watched from the side as FIDLAR proved why Backspace is the best venue for punk bands during MFNW, at a show that was at-capacity enough that the Fire Marshall was decidedly miffed. Just half a block away, Surfer Blood were proving that they’ve been taking the same drugs The Joy Formidable have been; I haven’t seen Surfer Blood since MFNW ’10, but in the interim they’ve amped up their game in a way that proved to be awe-inspiring. This is a band that deserves way more praise than they get, and it’s clear that last year’s domestic assault allegations haven’t sullied the output of the band – or John Paul Pitts’ appetite. Closing the evening, we watched approximately three minutes (or 18 songs) by Ty Segall from the outside of the venue. The crowd outside Dante’s was larger than any line there I’ve ever seen, and from the looks of it, it was about equal to the capacity of the venue itself. However, Segall sounded fantastic.

Day Five

The last day of KEXP at the Doug Fir is a bittersweet one. We arrive to a minimal line, and I notice Patrick Stickles, frontman of Titus Andronicus, walk past us. I approached him, and true to form, was treated to a short, stressed-out rant about the kind of morning he’d been having, before snatching my cigarettes and taking one with an assured “gimme one of those.” Stickles has a reputation for being something of an asshole to some people (note: I thought he ruled, but I’ve heard some things), but the worst thing about this is that he’s basically a genius. Down in the Doug Fir, Titus Andronicus ripped through an all-killer-no-filler set, which was fast enough to have seven minutes to kill at the end (which was filled with – what else? – “A More Perfect Union [We cannot confirm nor deny that Hollister lost his mind to this song more than any other during the festival — Ed.]), but still managed to squeeze a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “I’ve Lost My Mind,” as well as a 45-second track from the band’s upcoming 30-song rock opera. Cooling things down a bit, the goof-rockers in Dodos tore through a breezy section of their back catalog, giving the morning crowd a taste of what their Star Theater headline set might look like. The Thermals delivered one of the tightest sets I’ve seen from them yet, ripping through 10 songs in the allotted 30 minutes, somehow made every grumpy MFNW vet in the room feel like a 17-year-old with all the The Body The Blood The Machine tracks they shook the dust off of. Closing KEXP’s Doug Fir coverage for the year was Sonny & the Sunsets. This year’s Antenna to the Afterworld was an excellent listen, but this close to the finish line, sitting down for their set was not what I needed. Regardless, Sonny Smith and his band delivered.

Your Rival // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

One more day party for the road? Just a block away, Burnside Brewing Co. was hosting a folktastic showcase of bands, and we managed to catch Hook & Anchor and their Decemberists-lite song-stylings, and Alialujah Choir‘s vocal opulence, plus a few minutes of a Shy Girls DJ set. I caught this same thing at the MFNW lineup announcement show, and I’m more than happy to see it again – especially because I feel less bored this rime around. We then caught friend-of-the-show Mo Troper’s band You Rival in the week’s best venue: Floating World Comix. There’s nothing sillier than walking into a comic shop and seeing guitars and a drumkit set up. Troper and co. are fantastic at working with the spaces given to them, and despite the fact that I watched their set from behind a book case, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in any other sweaty club I’d been to this week.

Over at the square, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down proved to be exactly what we needed: middle-of-the-road indie pop in the warm afternoon, perfectly soundtracking a few moments of calm on the last insane day of the long weekend. After a little gelato – and a conversation about a shitty event that occurred at the previous night’s FIDLAR show – I was perfectly ready for The Head & The Heart. I first saw the band opening for Iron & Wine in May of ’11, and when they were announced as a headliner, I found myself somewhat baffled. However, in the early evening air, with a massive crowd, The Head & The Heart proved that they were exactly the kind of headliner MFNW needed. Josiah Johnson charmed the pants off that crowd, and though they’re not a band I’d consider myself a fan of, for a brief period, I felt converted.

Earth // Photo Credit: Colin McLaughlin

Let’s start by saying that we did not see Shuggie Otis or Charles Bradley. Leaving the Roseland to try and catch this show, we discovered a massive line waiting for us, one that we weren’t prepared to deal with. But, at the Roseland, we did manage to see Earth, and from the first note, I felt like I was in heaven. I’ve waited a long time to see Earth, and I felt like I was truly in the presence of greatness. This is drone at its greatest, and watching them play is a true sight to behold. Their drummer appears to be playing in slow motion, with every beat exactly in its place. It was truly captivating. One of the few bands that is capable of following a band like that is Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a band that should never, ever be missed. The band went on after 10 minutes of prerecorded drones, and the crowd ate up ever single second of it. I left to catch a couple other bands during this set, but I came back for the last 20 minutes of their set, in which I got a chance to really appreciate a few things about the band, the most impressive being their projectionist, who made the band’s signature visuals a true art form. As the band slowly leaves the stage, I notice that one of the drummers, Aidan Girt, is walking past me. Because I’ve never been able to imagine I’d have the ability to thank a member of GY!BE for their music, I give him a tap and let him know that he was fantastic. After running to the bathroom, he comes back briefly, and I gush a little more. You could definitely tell that he’s not used to people wanting to speak with him, because it’s the very first time I’ve ever seen a musician at a loss for words. It seems apt.

Elsewhere, I caught a few minutes of the wonderfully named Bleeding Rainbow, which beautifully set the stage for Dodos, who managed to bring an even better, tighter set than they had earlier that afternoon. Over at Backspace, Team Dresch performed for another at-capacity room, who were happy as could be. “You’re better than The Breeders!” someone yelled out. “I dunno about that,” Donna Dresch said, bashfully. “The Breeders are really good.” Closing out the last full night of MFNW, we popped over to a somehow forgotten Dante’s, and manage about five minutes of the blistering fury of The Bronx. Matt Caughtran is possibly one of the only hardcore frontmen living who can match the intensity of Fucked Up kingpin Pink Eyes, but he stalks the stage with a swagger that does nothing to betray the band’s alter-ego Mariachi El Bronx. The Bronx are goddamn serious, and you’re going to pay attention.

Day Six

This is the first day in nearly a week that my body has woken me up organically. I awake at 1:30pm, and it turns out that I’d had a gracious, understanding body: In my lack of sleep, I’d never had the opportunity to truly rest, but now that I had, my body was more than happy to throw four days of aches at me. Did anyone get the plate of the truck that hit me?

Because of the nature of Pioneer Square as a venue, there’s no true point in arriving early. I showed up just a few minutes after the first band took the stage, The Moondoggies and Pickwick. The overwhelming problem with the oddly designated “folk” stage is that, for whatever reason, they never manage to bring together artists with any pizzazz. This year is no different: my plan here was to simply talk about the bands, but I find myself wholly unable, because they proved to be somewhat forgettable.

Neko Case // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

You know what’s not forgettable, though? Neko Case. I’ve been excited for this performance since the MFNW announcement, and now that the moment is finally here, I can’t help but be thrilled. Let’s just get the important thing outta the way first: Neko Case can sing. She’s got pipes like almost nobody in the business, and this, combined with her impeccable songwriting, makes her one of the must underrated performers of the last 10 years. She and her band brought their A-game for that Square. But then there’s the chemistry between Case and her guitarist, Kelly Hogan, was hard to ignore. It’s entirely possible that they could have played an additional five or six songs if they had managed to tone it down, but why would you want that? Example: at one point in a song, Case coughed. After the end, she let everyone know that she was sorry, she had a balloon of cocaine caught in her throat. “I think that’s the wrong end,” Hogan replied. “I just thought I would bring some nice artisenal bespoke cocaine, from our friends in Columbia. You know, for the kids!” It went on like this more than once. They were filthy and rambling, and I can’t imagine a single person leaving that Square without a newfound adoration for the woman. Neko Case is so magnetic that even I didn’t truly care that Archers Of Loaf/Crooked Fingers frontman Eric Bachmann was playing with her.

And that was it! There was another show that evening (Big Gigantic was up at the Crystal Ballroom), but there was too much work to be done at FOTR HQ for that. In any case, there’s no beating that performance for a festival closer. Looking back on the week, there are ways I could have seen more bands than I did, but the one thing you always need to make peace with, before ever snapping your wristband, is that you just can’t see every band. I’m not going to complain, though. See you next year, everyone!

Final Tally: 41-43* Artists Seen. 40-42* Unique Artists Seen

*This tally is a little difficult because of Fred Armisen’s performance. The higher number is dependent on counting Ian Rubbish as a separate artist, and counting Bob Mould’s solo performance as its own entry. For the sake of excellence, I include both separate from Armisen.

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