PDX Pop Now! Day 1
The Weekend Begins
I woke up this morning and my house looked like it hadn't been lived in for days. I find my dog curled up asleep in a misplaced robe, my lawn out of control, my car filled with empty Vitamin Water sample sized bottles, and I've got a wicked farmer's tan. What could have caused this? Only something extremely worth neglecting one's responsibilities for: a music festival. And I've still got to get through one more day...
This weekend's PDX Pop Now!, my first full time at the festival, was a truly fantastic marathon of local music. Refuge was a very comfortable setting, that allowed plenty of room for the crowd that seemed to wander in and out over the three days. The outside stage was much larger than previous years, and the sound system was stellar. Every note echoed off the industrial neighborhood's warehouse walls, causing a cacophony of sound that preluded your approach to the venue. The festival was essentially a cross section of the local scene for anyone not sure what this amazing town has to offer music lovers of all types.
The volunteer staff was very open and supportive of all the artists, media, and fans, all of whom braved Portland's hottest (and only real) summer weekend so far this year. Read our interview with the board members here about the festival and the organization's mission.
The shade soon become prime real estate by the second day, and many often took haven at Fifty Licks Ice Cream Truck to cool down. The inclusion of the bar inside Refuge was a welcome addition, though it was blisteringly hot inside the venue during the day. However, the inside/outside sets made it easy to see a bunch of bands quickly. The stagehands and sound engineers should be given serious props for basically staying on schedule the entire weekend.
So what did I see? Well, everything... I only left the area a couple times all weekend for mere minutes. So I'm going to break this post down into 3 smaller posts, because otherwise it will get a bit too epic. So here's day one:
Jared Mees and the Grown Children
How do you start a festival like this off? With a fun band, get people moving. Jared Mees and the Grown Children filled this purpose well. The band immediately energized the crowd with its playful pop songs that often delved into subject matter much darker than the jubilant sound that seemed to shout at the crowd with a fervor.
STLS provided a different take on the idea of a drum line. The two ladies faced off with a bass drum propped up between them, hammering out rhythms and off tempo clicks and clacks with their furious sticks. Their steady beat would often draw you into a comfortable feel, until a totally uncalculated syncopation would throw the whole composition into overdrive. Drumcore indeed...
Blood Beach took me back to high school, watching B-movie slasher flicks that never seemed to go anywhere. The band somehow synthesized this feeling of cult camp and put it on the ocean. There's still that lovely sound of the theramin that you remember from some of the more high intensity scenes, but a lot less nudity. The songs seemed to flow well with this overall theme, and it wasn't odd to see an audience member swaying like they were watching a sunset.
Weinland consistently puts on awesome shows. Singer Adam Shearer can't seem to play a bad show, even if he doesn't scream as much as he did that last time you saw him. The band's quieter moments almost take the listener by surprise sometimes, making you wonder if you wandered into a revivalist meeting or a concert. If you haven't happened to see them around town yet, go now before word gets out.
Reservations had somewhat of a 60's vibe, the organ sound was thick with this band. However, there's also a distinctly lounge style of singing going on that almost pulls the rest of the sound to the background. The basslines seemed to leap around like a tweaker, but the band seemed way too nicely dressed to be associate with anyone like that.
Lovers is emotional and beat driven synth pop. It's really just that simple. So if you love a sappy, warm sound that's framed with danceable beats, you're in. The three ladies delivered consistently 1980's U.K.-inspired rhythms with a keyboard sound that was most likely stolen from the Yamaha play-along keyboard I had growing up.
The Minders was a band I wasn't familiar with its first time around. Martyn Leaper's band that he started in Colorado in the mid 90's eventually moved to Portland around the turn of the century and released a couple albums until going on a hiatus. The band just recruited ex-Shins drummer Jesse Sandoval to record a track for this year's PDX Pop Now! compilation and decided to play the fest as well. The set was very upbeat and really got the crowd moving. There was nostalgia dripping all over the stage, and the band seemed quite please to be shredding once again.
Golden Retriever were sadly misplaced in the festival's schedule. The crowd, jacked up from a set with the Minders, was not prepared for serious ambient action. The band played a single song for around twenty or so minutes, that consisted of two very different instruments - a bass clarinet and an analog synth. It wasn't bad at all, I thought it was quite fascinating actually, but it did bring the crowd's energy level way down.
The Chicharones were able to bring the crowd back up quickly, however. The band, a mix of Sublime and the Beasties Boys and some other danceable funk quickly started shaking the stage from its first note. The two MCs, Sleep and Josh Martinez, got the crowd dancing with their band's tight beats and punk-influenced opener. The DJ of the band threw on a pig mask at the beginning of the set and didn't take it off until the last note, screaming into the microphone through a small mouth hole in the rubber. It was a good thing that it was cool Friday because people would have come out of that set drenched in sweat.
And And And
And And And, the local media's favorite band closed the night out on Friday with it's alternative take on modern indie pop. The main singer sounds to me like Win Butler from Arcade Fire with a case of asthma. The band is often compared to Pavement, but with less distortion at times. But there's some serious melodical madness here when the band pulls itself up to sing in unison.
Did you go? Who did you see? Who did you like?