Last Thursday, Big Freedia sat back in the green room at Sassy’s, a strip club in Southeast Portland, Oregon. Getting a massage from one of her dancers and occasionally puffing a cigarette, she looked as relaxed as possible, miles away from the frantic sex bomb she was about to drop. In trademark fashion, she was playing shows all over town for Musicfest Northwest, Portland’s annual music festival, but the strip club show was a secret, put on by local video team Into The Woods (intothewoods.tv should have the footage up on Tuesday).
Sassy’s started bustling around midnight. “It’s not usually like this,” the bartender told me. Around 1AM the NOLA bounce star eased her way out of the green room, down the stairs and into the girls’ changing room. Her DJ cued up an intro, and she burst out to the stage, film crew in tow, and introduced the call and response to “Gin in My System.” She came with her own dancer, but quickly the girls at the club discovered Freedia’s energy and joined her in the grind. People who don’t dance, started dancing. By the second song, “Azz Everywhere,” Freedia was making it rain.
In a flash it was over. Three songs and out. Party started, detonated, and vanished into thin air, quickly as it came.
Freedia’s show at Sassy’s was a microcosm of her show earlier that night, at the Roseland, one of Portland’s larger venues. Freedia opened for Major Lazer, and told me later she was amazed by that crowd. Where there were maybe 75 people at the Sassy’s show, there were 1700 at Roseland, and they were fucking crazy—1700 young white kids going absolutely berserk for Major Lazer’s madcap house party.
Major Lazer led the massive, writhing sea of sweaty teen flesh as if they were struck by some wonderful sex drug, controlled in a tight 4/4 stomp. The kids were ecstatic, one after another fighting through to stage dive, only to be set on by security like a pack of hungry bears. Some took their punishment. Others resisted, fighting their extraction like ’60s protestors, going full-on dead weight, and occasionally even kicking back. At one point Lazer’s female dancer was stopped in her tracks, her mouth agape while witnessing a particularly nasty fan removal, but her outrage didn’t last. The crowd was too good to let it.
During almost the entire show, which included forays into dancehall and even Ace Of Bass’s “All That She Wants,” hypeman Skerrit Bwoy bounced around with a bug-eyed smile, as if to say, “Can you believe this shit?” As the show pressed on, Skerrit and his female counterpart upped their typical sexual provocation game, starting with light daggering and ending with their signature move: climbing a ladder, stripping a bit and landing on their splayed out partner below. For the pent-up teens in the audience, the girls dancing in their bras and the boys leering over them, the sexual energy was palpable. One couple, pupils wide like pancakes, geeked to the gills on what must’ve been ecstasy, shared a moment towards the end. The girl, to her boyfriend, mimed with two hands the extraction and removal of her heart. She handed it to him. But standing there, drenched in sweat, brain aflutter, he had no idea what she was doing. He was light years beyond high.
Earlier that evening a different set of kids—the indie kids—set up shop for the Thermals. The trio’s been touring and just released a new record, Personal Life, hence frontman Hutch Harris declared it their record release party. By now we all know what this band does well—straight power pop—and Thursday’s set stuck to the model. They played new ones, old ones, and even a cover of Weezer’s “My Name Is Jonas,” of which a decent video copy has been floating around the web in recent days. The kids up front were popping around, nothing like the sweat orgy at Major Lazer down the street, but exponentially wilder than those of Panda Bear’s set that opened the festival a day before.
As far as kick-offs go, Panda Bear isn’t necessarily ideal. He’s a great get for this growing festival, which the line around the block attested to. But to an audience hoping to blast off four or five days of musical overload, he doesn’t bring enough gun powder. The set began somewhat (purposefully) disjointed, with Panda Bear tweaking tempos at strange intervals. Midway through, he let it rip into some steadier vibes, but most of the material was gathered from what I assume is the upcoming release, and it might’ve been better if the audience were more familiar. A back-to-back couplet of “Comfy in Nautica” and the new single “Slow Motion” easily became the highlight. One thing is clear, though: Noah Lennox is determined to do exactly what he wants. Surely he could blast out a set of crowdpleasers, but that’s just not him, and the show was somewhat anti-social. Lennox never spoke until it was over, and was only lit from behind. There were no breaks for applause. Near its conclusion a security guard walked over to his coworkers and, knowing the answer, joked, “is this awkward or what?” There were atmospheric moments, though, and it would’ve been perfect to hear while lying spread out, stoned on the carpet at home. But if I’m sitting here, only able to plow through the morning’s hangover with load of coffee, an early set taped for Seattle radio (KEXP) by the Tallest Man On Earth, and a bloody mary with loads of Tabasco, things seem to be on track.
Friday and Saturday reports coming Tuesday, September 13.