MusicfestNW – 9/5-9/9
Show Reviews & Photos by Abby Williamson
This year was my third MusicfestNW in a row, but my first time covering it for Back Beat Seattle. It’s an interesting festival, without food vendors, temporary stages and tents – well there are a few of those, but the majority of the festival takes place at all the venues we already love around Portland. And I love Portland, so what’s not to love about MFNW?
My MFNW started on Thursday, at Branx for a band called Stay Calm. At first, I wasn’t into it, but for the latter half of their set, the little trio sold it for me with their simple riffs and rock girl attitude.
I quickly headed over to the Hawthorne Theater, one of a few theaters completely out of the way in Portland. If I could show you a map of the venues throughout the city, it would look like a cluster of a bunch of little dots, which would be Burnside, and a bunch of scattered freckles. First at the Hawthorne was Quasi, which I enjoyed from the upstairs bar – but they definitely brought the energy for the crowd of sweaty moshers. But it got even sweatier for Lightning Bolt, which is a band difficult to put into words. I’ll just say that even I felt the need for some earplugs, and I listen to my music real loud.
While my ears were ringing, I made my way over to Holocene for Tanlines, which would be the end of my evening. I love Tanlines so much, and was excited to see them again – but Holocene is one of the worst venues I’ve ever been to. It was way too small for Tanlines, the lighting was terrible, and its main floor is enclosed on all sides by walls with small doorways, making it impossible for anyone not within the immediate stage area to see the band. I didn’t go back to Holocene. Tanlines were great though!
Friday got even better – beginning at Pioneer Courthouse Square in the sticky 91-degree weather. Menomena started off the set, as weird of a sight it was to see the band without Brent Knopf, it was a still a good one. It was two years ago when I saw Menomena for the first time at MFNW 2010. It was certainly bittersweet to see them again at MFNW, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Danny Seim and Justin Harris still got it, and Paul Alcott brought great energy on the keys. After Menomena, Beirut took the stage as the sun set and it was beautiful. It was just beautiful.
Once Beirut finished, I followed my nose over to Voodoo Doughnuts – no – actually Ted’s at Berbati’s, which shares the building with Voodoo. How great is that? A club that will forever smell like doughnuts. My only complaint is how many times that place has changed their name and actual location, because it got confusing. I was there for Craft Spells, who was the most pleasant surprise of the festival, with their ’80s shoegazey pop and simple melodies.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart was the last band of the night, over at the Star Theater. The Star is the newest venue in town, I believe, and it was a perfect location for the adorable pop rock that is The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
Saturday was the day that I almost died like twice. Okay not really, but it was pretty crazy.
First, over at Pioneer Courthouse Square was AU, then Starfucker, both of which were good, but not the highlight of the day. AU was surprisingly good, and in my opinion outshone Starfucker. It was my second time seeing Starfucker and I still don’t get the appeal of their live show. It’s just not that great, and I assumed that since they were in their hometown it would be amazing, but it wasn’t. Girl Talk was when it got cray cray.
The guy started twenty minutes late, with a huge crowd of hipsters and bros waiting on him and cheering Girl Talk! Girl Talk! When he and his arsenal of dancers finally took the stage, it was like the whole place exploded with sound and dancing and neon lights and toilet paper. To tell you the truth, I didn’t stay much past the first three songs because of how late we were and how one of the photographers almost got punched by one of Girl Talk’s toilet paper minions. It was a disaster on our end, but the crowd loved it. But I needed to get to the Wonder Ballroom for The Hives. THE HIVES.
I’ve heard a lot of critics say that the Hives are one of the best live bands on the planet – and I can attest to that, because they are. Pelle Almqvist is an amazing frontman with more charm than a damn wizard. The Hives were so good that I was willing to risk my gear to get in that crowd up front and get the good shots. It was definitely worth it, I have to say.
Now, I would have been completely satisfied with my weekend at that point, but I had one short day left at Pioneer Courthouse Square with School of Seven Bells and Silversun Pickups.
SOSB surprised me with their 80s-tinged dance rock, and it’s hard to believe that they’ve been around for over four years and haven’t made it bigger. I was very pleased (way more pleased with the Pioneer Courthouse Square shows than the day before), and it was perfect lead-up to Silversun Pickups. This was my second time seeing SSPU, and they were just as adorable and charming as I remember. This time Nikki Monninger was considerably more pregnant, but they band still had all the energy to wow the crowded square in the middle of Portland. They may have not been my favourite band at the whole festival, but they were the most gracious and sincere. It’s almost hard to imagine bands that big being so humble anymore, but the Silversun Pickups are just that – humble.
At the end of their set, I drove the 2.5 hours back up home, entirely satisfied and exhausted. But hey, this was the first time I didn’t do a doubleheader (being Bumbershoot and Musicfest) so I wasn’t that exhausted.