MusicfestNW 2011 In Review

This last week/weekend found most of downtown Portland and beyond dominated by the massive musical festival that is the annual MFNW. Set over 5 hot and muggy summer days and dozens of venues around the city, it featured an outdoor stage in Pioneer Court House Square and acts ranging from the local to international. Here’s a smattering of what I caught, a fraction of the action to be sure.

Sebadoh by Daniel Cronin

My first show of the fest was one of the biggest. A headlining set by the recently reunited Archers of Loaf and a supporting set by Sebadoh, with local duo Viva Voce opening. Set in the sweltering Crystal Ballroom, the show was a shot of nostalgia with both “The Doh and The Loaf,” as Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow put it, sharing the bill at a venue show for the first time in, well, ever. Sebadoh’s set was marked by Barlow and compatriot Jason Lowenstein switching off from sludgy, slanted indie pop, to straight up punk thrashing. The trio perfectly set the stage for Archers of Loaf, and the influential 90’s rockers shot through a catalogue crossing set featuring a band that is a little older, and a little easier on the gear, but no less exciting. The wide eyed grins coming from generations of fans after the show spoke of that.

Friday was a younger version of Thursdays events, starting at the Star Theater with Seattle troublemakers BOAT cruising through a set of catchy, hooky indie rock with a Pavement-esque appeal and a deadpanned passion that had audiences signing along and throwing confetti like some kind of  house party. To contrast to that, Dirty Beaches played a set over at Dante’s with a minimal and anti-pop approach. Songwriter Alex  Zhung Hai utilizes prerecorded beats and a dissonant guitar to accompany his growling vocals in what could be a primordial soup of rock and roll. A very surreal set of music. Following that, back at the Star Theater, San Francisco psyche rockabilly band Thee Oh Sees absolutely tore the place apart with their hyperactive roots and punk rock.

Thee Oh Sees by Andy Wright

For all the frenzy and excitement of the first two days, the weekend was downright pleasant, though no less scorching. Saturday saw an outdoor show at Pionner Court House Square that featured some local and not-so-local acts. Opening up was ambient producer Eluvium, aka Portland’s Matthew Cooper, who makes wonderful music to watch shadows dance across buildings to. Next up, beloved Portland ensemble Typhoon played an appropriately rousing and spirited set. After that followed sets by Brooklyn scenesters The Antlers and Austin’s instrumental post rockers Explosions In The Sky. From there, Avi Buffalo and Blind Pilot played at the Crystal Ballroom. While the young and eager Avi Buffalo suffered from both equipment and banter failures, not to mention a sloppy set, Portland’s Blind Pilot saved the day by putting forth a solid set of both folky harmonic tunes and and their newer, more rock leaning soon-to-be-hits. This show was their official album release for We Are The Tide, and by the reaction they got at the Crystal Ballroom, bet on Blind Pilot to really take off this year.

OK, enough puns, down to the last day. With festival fatigue setting in, it was nice that Sunday was the shortest day of the week, with only the outdoor show downtown happening. Cass McCombs delivered a sublime set of music, most of it off his recently released album Wit’s End, and all of it stunning in it’s melodic simplicity. An artist who can do very much with a minimal effort, it would be nice to see him again live, maybe in a more intimate setting and one with less distracting circumstances. Headliners Band of Horses were the main attraction of the show,  and they played a fun and lively set to be sure. Thankfully, a few cuts off their superior debut album made it on the set list, as well as a few new as yet still untitled tracks that could have been worse. All in all, a fitting end to the long week.

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