Portland celebrated MusicFestNW this past weekend, and it looked a little different than it had in past years. Instead of a colder, wetter version of SXSW (with a city more equipped to handle the traffic), we got a Northwest version of the current incarnation of Lollapalooza and other similar festivals. We didn’t have to buy tickets to multiple venues and plan across a whole week, but instead had a two-day festival in a specific part of the gorgeous Waterfront Park, soaking in that last bit of summer before the inevitable gloomy fall.
We decided to skip the first day since there were no acts that seemed worthy of shelling out the extra money for another day of tickets (with all apologies to Run the Jewels, for whom it would probably be worth to pay a full-day’s admission to see on their own). I’m going to avoid the opportunity to talk smack about bands for whom I don’t particularly care, because we here at Rust Is Just Right try to set ourselves apart by not indulging in condescending snark and instead promote what we enjoy. But in private, let’s just say there were a lot of good burns that were shared.
Our plan on Sunday was to catch the lineup starting from The Antlers until the end, but thanks to several accidents on I-5 our ETA was delayed by about an hour. Luckily, we still caught the last few songs of The Antlers’ set, a circumstance which mimicked my previous limited encounter with their live show when they only performed a short showcase at SXSW. One would think that their delicate and fragile songs would not be ideal for a live show, especially in a large festival setting, but once again I came away extremely impressed with their performance. We were caught wandering around the backside of the cordoned-off grounds for “I Don’t Want Love” (mistaking beliving that there would be entrances on the bridge side), but we were still able to hear the devastating power of the song even filtered through the backstage equipment.
Once we finally settled in to the proper area, we heard a couple of songs from their latest album Familiars. I haven’t yet internalized the nuances of those songs, but I can assure you that they come off very well in a live setting. Perhaps the biggest surprise was their last song, “Putting The Dog To Sleep”. It’s a great closer on Burst Apart, but given the specific nature of the song, it wouldn’t appear to be the most natural way to end a set. The song was as cathartic as expected, but the band added an additional musical twist: first they began the natural breakdown of the song, taking pains to stretch out the chord progression while keeping the resolution slightly out of reach, but then building the song back up with an extended instrumental section that dazzled the crowd.
We then made our way to the other end of the park, where Fucked Up was set to perform next–a transition that ranks among the most jarring ever scheduled at a music festival. Here is a great opportunity for praising the new setup of the festival, as this allowed minimal time wasted between different acts as they had the necessary amount of time to setup without holding the crowd hostage, and the distance between the two sets was both short enough for the walk to not be burdensome while long enough so that there was not any bleedthrough between the two stages. Someone deserves some extra kudos for that solid planning.
We’ve shown our love before with our glowing review of Glass Boys, but even we were taken aback at just how awesome Fucked Up’s set was at MusicFest. I’m willing to claim that their hour-long set alone was worth the price of admission for the full day’s lineup. There’s really nothing quite like seeing the giant hulking mass of positive energy that is Damian Abraham working his way through the crowd, giving hugs to folks passing by, climbing on top of the fence to sing out to the people on the river, and high-fiving a baby as the band ferociously kept up and played in lockstep. Seriously, Pink Eyes high-fived a baby–that immediately became an all-time top-five concert moment for me personally.
I believe most of the set was from Glass Boys and David Comes To Life, though I will admit that sometimes it can be difficult to tell certain songs apart. At least none of my personal favorites from The Chemistry of Common Life came up, though the rarity “I Hate Summer” made a welcome appearance, with a thoughtful introduction from Abraham on how one shouldn’t listen to personal attacks from others who are merely trying to shame people for no good reason. He also at other times mentioned the healthful benefits of weed and the terrible events occurring in Ferguson, MO, with each speech receiving thunderous applause. The band was tight, as I mentioned, but also could have benefited from an extra volume boost to help compete with Abraham’s sharp bellow, and also to help distinguish between the various components of their three-guitar attack. Unfortunately, it seemed that the raucous set eventually drove the crowd away, as it seemed after their initial welcome that many people grew tired of listening to an hour of hardcore, and eventually made their way back to the other end of the park. Then again, perhaps it was the heat finally getting to a few people, and the need to stock up on food. I hope it was the latter, because Fucked Up deserved a new wave of fans after that performance.
We had previously seen tUnE-yArDs when they opened up for The National only a few months ago, and in between it seems the set morphed from less a capella and looped percussion to more synths and live percussion. That’s not to say that the music was any more conventional–there is still a dominant left-of-center sensibility. For those who are unfamiiliar, the music of tUnE-yArDs is filled with complicated rhythms and tribal influences with world music type lyrics. In other words, at many points through the set I thought I was living through a real-life Portlandia sketch. Despite this vague feeling of uneasiness, I still really enjoyed the tUnE-yArDs set, as did the hundreds of other people that packed the listening area.
We ate dinner during HAIM. Mine was delicious.
Spoon closed out the festival with a fantastic headlining performance, with a setlist that went deep into their catalog. You may have noticed that we here at this site love the band quite a bit, and let’s just say that we loved every minute of their show. Britt Daniel, former Portland resident (who gave a shoutout to SE during “Black Like Me”), remarked that it had been a long time since their last show in the city, back when they performed at the Crystal Ballroom in 2009; as an attendee of that concert, I could only shout out “too long!”
In their live show, Spoon manages to perfectly balance between precision and spontaneity, as the band can maintain both a perfect verisimilitude of their albums and allow for individual players to freak out and revel in the moment. The band mixed in a healthy amount of their stellar new album They Want My Soul, and even some of the more experimental tracks like “Outlier” and “Inside Out” sounded perfectly at home within the set. The crowd roared when they heard old favorites like “Small Stakes” and “I Turn My Camera On”, but saved their most appreciative response for the hits from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga like “Don’t You Evah” and “The Underdog”. Personally, I was glad to finally hear some of Transference live, including an extremely passionate performance of “Got Nuffin'”, and to witness at least one Girls Can Tell song, the sublime “Anything You Want”. The only odd part was that besides Britt there seemed to be several band members that wanted to get out of the show in a hurry–the band ended up doing two encores, which seemed to be partly the result of some poor time budgeting. It may have been the result of getting used to one-hour slots on various festivals and not properly adjusting to a headlining 90-minute slot, but from a distance I could see the look on some of the faces of the band members that they were hoping to cut things shot. Despite this, Spoon more than justified taking the top spot on the bill; I’m just hoping for a proper show at some point from these guys in the near future.