I know that I said I would have this up on Sunday, but I have been too wiped out to even think about posting anything. I don't know if I'll be able to post these reviews of Musicfest in consecutive days, but I'll do my best.
September 4, 2008- Thursday
No Age/Battles- Wonder Ballroom- 5:30- 7:30 p.m.
No Age has been receiving a lot of buzz on the internet lately, especially receiving accolades from the "tastemakers" at Pitchfork and blogs such as Gorilla Vs. Bear and Anacusic. I downloaded their latest record Nouns from Anacusic, and my initial feeling was that it was yet another example of the media overhyping some "next best thing" that wasn't worth the attention. To my ears, it sounded like noisy garage punk with a penchant for catchy melodies. It wasn't groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, but I couldn't help feeling curious about what they could bring into a live setting.
I arrived at the Wonder Ballroom around 3:30, expecting the line to be wrapped around the block like last year's free shows at Audio Cinema. However, I was surprised to see that there were only about twenty devoted fans standing in line to see the show. After talking to people in the line about which band they were excited to see, I started to get restless. The doors were set to open at 4:30, and it was already past that time. They ended up opening the doors a half hour past the scheduled time, which meant that my schedule for the evening would undoubtedy be thrown off.
No Age finally took the stage about thirty minutes past the scheduled time, and my dogs were already barking from standing so long. When the band finally came out on the stage, the crowd greeted them enthusiastically with an eruption of applause. This two-piece from L.A. didn't waste any time whipping the crowd into a frenzy with their special blend of fuzzed-out punk anthems. I was especially impressed with the mosh-pit that formed in the middle of the show. In fact, this is one of the few times that I can remember seeing a mosh-pit break out in Portland. Their set was a sparkling mix of adrenaline-fueled garage punk and buzzing ambient instrumentals that demonstrated a strong sense of the quiet to loud dynamics that bands like Nirvana and the Pixies employed in their music. No Age is truly a band to keep your eye on!
Battles are another one of those bands that have been receiving positive reviews across the board by everyone from Pitchfork to Rolling Stone. I was a little more skeptical of them, but willing to give them a try. In between sets, there was another long wait that made me feel restless. Finally, the bass player came out and played a complex bassline to introduce the first song of the evening. One by one, the band shuffled onto the stage and the sounds started to blend together, at last forming a song by the time the drummer started agressively pounding the skins. Certain members began playing keyboard and guitar simultaneously, while the drummer lashed out complex polyrhythms that would make any math-rock fan proud.
During the first couple songs, I was amazed at how every member was sweating so profusely during the performance that their shirts needed to be wrung out. They appeared to be giving it their all, but something was missing. Soon, it became abundantly clear to me that this band was all flash and showmanship. The songs began to veer towards electronic dance music with a four-on-the floor house beat and heavily processed vocals. While there are flashes of brilliance in the sound of Battles, they are too few and far between to make Battles anything more than a flash in the pan.
Hungry Ghost- Doug Fir Lounge- 9:00 p.m
Since the Battles show started later than expected, I decided to skip the Silver Summit show at 8:00. Instead, I went to the Doug Fir Lounge to grab a bite to eat and check out the new project from Unwound's Sara Lund. It took me a while to digest the hamburger and salad that I ordered at the Doug Fir Lounge, so when I finally headed downstairs, Hungry Ghost had already begun their set. I was mainly interested in checking these guys out because Sara was the drummer for Unwound, the amazing angular math rock group from Olympia who disbanded several years ago. Also, while visiting Hungry Ghost's Myspace page, it listed Jef Brown from Evolutionary Jass Band as a guest musician in the band.
Initially, I felt that the music was kind of boring, even though Sara and the lead singer/guitarist had a great stage presence. I would describe their sound as garage blues with driving rhythms that make you want to get up and shake your butt. Sara still hits the skins with enthusiasm, but at first I was put off by the frontman's on-stage demeanor. His intense slide guitar playing was very impressive, though, and it made me forget about my initial feelings about him. Overall, I enjoyed the performance, and I would probably check them out again.
M. Ward- Crystal Ballroom- 10:00 p.m.
Recently, M. Ward left Portland for greener pastures, and his popularity has been steadily increasing since his high profile recording project with the actress Zooey Deschanel, She and Him. It turned out that I had no problem getting into the show, and I eagerly charged up the stairs to see if I could catch the tail end of Calvin Johnson's set. Unfortunately, Calvin's set had already ended, but I was definitely excited to see M. Ward perform at the Crystal Ballroom.
It took forever and a day for M. Ward to come out, and I was surprised to see that he had a complete five-piece band backing him up. I figured that I wouldn't need earplugs for this show, but it was so loud during the first four songs of the set that I decided to be break out the earplugs after all. Ironically enough, the song ended as soon as I put my earplugs in, and Ward started to play a mesmerizing solo acoustic set. With a voice that is equal parts whiskey and honey, M. Ward performed mellow songs about the unrequited love, despair and hopelessness that populates his characters' lives. His voice and gentle guitar strumming started to make me feel sleepy, but I stuck around in hopes that he would play his rendition of David Bowie's "Let's Dance" from Transfiguration of Vincent. I waited for a couple more songs, but I wanted to make sure that I caught some of Del the Funky Homosapien's set, so I left before Ward's set was over.
Del the Funky Homosapien- Roseland-11:00 p.m.
Most hip-hop acts play at the Roseland for some reason. I can't really figure it out for the life of me, but that's the way it is. Del was set to come on at 11:00, and I got there just in time to get through the Roseland's invasive metal detectors and race upstairs to catch the beginning of the performance. When I got upstairs, the venue was packed and the smell of ganja was in the air. Someone was onstage with a bright red Barack Obama shirt, but I didn't thnik that it was Del. I never remembered Del having dreadlocks, and this cat had dreadlocks. He was a member of the Hieroglyphics crew that was supporting Del this evening, and he was pretty much there to get the crowd pumped up for Del's performance.
Del came out a few minutes later, sporting an army fatigue hat and shades, ready to rock this capacity crowd. To my knowledge he played a bunch of material off his new record with a couple joints from his Deltron 3030 record and a couple old-school jams from the I Wish My Brother George Was Here album. For a hip-hop show, it sounded great and he had an engaging personality that was able to work the crowd. While the usual call and response refrains were in full effect and the rapping was dope, it wasn't amazing enough to make me stick around for the entire show. I was off to catch Deerhunter at the Holocene at 12:00. With it being 11:45 already, I really needed to get rolling.
Deerhunter- Holocene- 12:00 p.m.
Last year, I missed the first twenty minutes of Deerhunter's performance at Audio Cinema due to heavy traffic. This year I was determined to get there in time. However, since the Holocene's capacity is roughly 400 people, it was at capacity by the time I reached the venue. I ran into a friend of mine who works at the Willamette Week, and he had special passes that allowed him to walk right in without waiting. After waiting for about twenty minutes, I was allowed entry into the venue. It was so jam-packed that people were watching from another room, right in front of the doors to the concert room. I eventually made my way through as people who were tired of being packed in like sardines began to leave. I wanted to get a decent vantage point of the stage, so I aggresively moved through the crowd. One thing I noticed is that they seem to have added a new female guitarist into the fold. She pretty much kept to herself with little stage presence, but definitely added to Deerhunter's wall of sound dynamics.
It seemed to me that the band previewed a lot of new material from their yet to be released album Microcastles, but I did recognize a few songs from Cryptograms such as "Strange Lights" and "Spring Hall Convert". The sound was vibrating and shaking the foundation of the Holocene as torrential waves of sound washed over the audience. It was probably what it would sound like if you were at a My Bloody Valentine show. Unfortunately, I have yet to find out what that experience feels like for myself. Seeing a Deerhunter show is undoubtedly a close second to that experience. The more I listened, the more I was enraptured by the sound. I wanted to catch a little bit of Steel Pole Bath Tub's set, but I didn't want to leave until the final notes of feedback-saturated guitars turned to complete silence.
It was one of the most mind-blowing shows I've ever seen, and their aren't too many current bands that deserve this kind of praise. Since the show, I have been obsessed with listening to everything they have released so far, as well as Bradford Cox's other project Atlas Sound. Also for those of you who are into Deerhunter, make sure you check out the band's blog. It features mix-tapes that the band members compiled themself, unreleased demos, live stuff, virtual 7"s, etc. It's a treasure trove of information and music about the band.
Steel Pole Bath Tub-Doug Fir Lounge- 1:00 a.m.
I reached the Doug Fir after the Deerhunter set ended at 1:30 a.m., so I caught the tail end of Steel Pole Bath Tub's set. Since they were pre-grunge arbiters of angular distorted rock, I felt like I at least needed to check them out for a bit. They sounded a little more metal than I was expecting and the lead singer had a vocal affectation for Ozzy Osbourne that was hard to shake. Besides the metal influences, I heard a mix of industrial, sludge and experimental noise in the remaining songs from their set. Overall, I would say that I wasn't really into Steel Pole Bath Tub, but I'm glad that I at least gave them a chance. I stayed through the first song of the encore, but I knew it had to be getting late and my legs felt tired and numb. So, I ventured home, feeling a mix of excitement and exhaustion that comes from experiencing a full night of music at Musicfest 2008. I will be back with the reports on the next two days of Musicfest soon.