If I were a real writer, stealing literature riffs from Hunter S. Thompson or George Plimpton, I might make some grand thesis-esque statement for my first paragraph about Musicfest NW, something about the welcoming atmosphere of the Portland music scene for this one glorious weekend in September, maybe a little bit about myself and my love of music yet continual need to branch out, to listen to more, to find yet another band that I love. I might hearken back to my childhood, relating stories of listening to my father’s americana/country band practicing in our basement, or the time my dad walked in on me singing “Hakuna Matata” at the top of my lungs in my bedroom1.
But this is Musicfest, not the fucking Beatles, and this is a blog, not some goddamn Rolling Stones feature. So let’s get into it.
Wednesday had only one lineup of bands, all playing at Berbati’s Pan. Berbati’s can be kind of a clusterfuck sometimes: basically, it’s a bar that needs rock bands, or bands that exude a lot of energy; not quiet acts. I am reminded of last year, when we entered Berbati’s to watch I dunno who, Langhorne Slim, I bet, and Alela Diane was playing something quiet and probably beautiful but you couldn’t tell because everyone was so loud. I remember some guy shouting “SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP,” which, while I agree with that sentiment, sure didn’t do anything to sweeten Alela’s music tea, if you get my drift.
(Quick cast of characters:
We know each other primarily from the Decemberists message boards and have quickly become concert buddies, and he teaches me about cool Portland bands and gives me rides in his car and in return, I say funny things. I think that’s how it works.)
While Fences was playing we got some food (Berbati’s also serves some good Greek food). We hadn’t heard of Fences before so we weren’t thinking about them one way or another, but Paul heard a bit of their set and said they weren’t bad. But by the time we got to the stage Portland Cello Project was setting up.
PCP is a collection of cellists from Portland, obviously, somewhat spearheaded by Douglas Jenkins. At least, he seems like a bit of a figurehead, or spokesperson, for the group. It doesn’t really matter, though; the project is a collective, embracing the amoebic osmosis of Portland’s communal music scene2. PCP loves the theatre, too, which gains them a few notches in my book: when I was in “Perfection” earlier this year, PCP graciously allowed us to use their music for our preshow, and we sold CDs for every run. I won’t go into a rant about how awesome this is for art in general, and how all art forms should be collaborating like this (especially since theatre could desperately take a few notes from the raw, exuberant energy of band shows), but it was still very cool, especially because PCP has worked with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as well.
Unfortunately, Berbati’s is a crapshoot when it comes to the crowd. The venue is always sweltering, and Wednesday night was no exception. It was pretty packed for PCP, and when people drink they start talking louder, and when a band starts playing people have to talk louder than the band, because obviously their conversation about the style of shoes they’re wearing is more important than the blood, sweat and tears, the hours of rehearsal, and the intricate musical arrangements and setup these musicians have painstakingly put together for you tonight.
In other words, Portland Cello Project probably did a great job, but it was nearly impossible to hear. I’m sure if we were closer to the stage it wouldn’t have been as much of a problem, but to be closer to the stage would mean being drenched in sweat, and it was only Wednesday. Regardless, Paul and I stayed for the whole set, and I enjoyed it, and I was glad that they played their awesome cover of “Toxic,” though it wasn’t as awesome as it is on the CD. I don’t blame PCP for this.
Paul has a friend, Matt, who is in a band whose name I won’t mention because, well, I’m not sure why, really: they’re a great band and deserve recognition. I guess it’s because I value privacy? Maybe it’s because I don’t want to name drop. Yeah, that must be it. Anyway, he was playing with PCP (on drums) and so afterward we met up with him and he asked if we wanted to go see Laura Veirs at the Woods. Now, the next act at Berbati’s was Damian Jurado. I had heard a couple of his songs via Pandora, but the place was so damn hot at this point that we wanted to get into the cool air. Damian was actually starting his set when we left, and I felt sorry for the guy: the crowd was obnoxiously loud, and it was just him and his guitar. You couldn’t hear anything from where we stood.
After Damian was Will Sheff of Okkervil River. Paul and I both love Okkervil River, but we decided that we didn’t want to hear Will Sheff solo. Plus we love the Woods, and we love Laura Veirs. So yes, on our first night of MFNW, we ditched MFNW.
You should read this review of the Horse Feathers/Thao Nguyen show for my very strongly worded opinion of the Woods. In summary: it’s the best new venue in Portland, and possibly the best venue period. In stark contrast to Berbati’s, the people there were quiet, considerate, and, in a word, lovely. Just a lovely bunch of people sitting around candles listening to music that can be played a bit quieter than usual.
Laura Veirs has a new band, called the Hall of Flames, and that’s just a great band name. They played a lovely set (again, everything at the Woods is just lovely), including “Saltbreakers,” which is a lovely song. My only wish would’ve been to hear “To the Country,” but it didn’t matter, it was a good set. She played a couple of new songs from her new album (which isn’t out yet, I think. I really should just google it but I won’t) and at the end they brought up a violin player that was in the audience and who plays with Two Beers Veirs, which is Laura Veirs’s awesome happy hour cover band at Lauralthirst, and they played a song with a banjo and it was great.
Now, I refuse to make this blog into a blog about hot girls at these shows, but there was a girl at the Woods who was in a league all her own: as in, she was way out of my league, and arguably out of anyone’s league. I only mention her because we saw her again on Saturday.
And that’s as good of a cliffhanger as I’ve got. I mean, nothing interesting happened after Laura Veirs. I went home and slept, cause I had work in the morning.
Musicfest day two coming tomorrow! Stay tuned.
- I swear I’m not gay. ↩
- I should elaborate a bit: for all intents and purposes, Portland’s community, musicwise, is separated by tiers (or maybe cliques), where certain people collaborate with certain other people, but maybe not every person. Chris Funk, for example, produces a lot of albums here (Langhorne’s new album, Builders & Butchers, etc), but that doesn’t mean he’s going to produce every album. Regardless, the music scene here is very friendly, and doesn’t seem competitive at all; rather, it seems more like everyone here knows how fucking hard it is to tour, and since this is their home, they are more apt to have fun and rock/folk/jazz out rather than “give it their all” for a few more record sales. Which is nice. ↩