Big Freedia was everywhere, even when she wasn’t.
She was in my hangover and ringing ears as I crawled out of bed Friday afternoon. She was on the blogs, immortalized by shaky camera phone footage. She was blasting from Surfer Blood‘s van as they pulled up to play a free afternoon showcase. She was even at a hardcore show. A few songs into their set Friday night, Sacramento’s Trash Talk offered a dedication: “This one goes out to Big Freedia,” said vocalist Lee Spielman. The audience emitted a dumbfounded silence before a voice from the back shouted out, “Azz Everywhere! Azz Everywhere!”
The Trash Talk effect, however, is more like “Limbs Everywhere.” The moment their set erupted, so did a gnarly pit, pushed by pent-up boys in their teens and early 20s, testosterone in overdrive shift from Trash Talk’s chain-lightning thrash. It was fucking aggressive, and the pit’s normal bounce, circle and smash was deformed into a swarm of fully cocked arms and legs—full-on glasses smashing, tooth-busting, azzes-everywhere, knocked-out-cold kind of shit. Trash Talk’s tracks were short and ferocious, with the band sharing screaming duties with kids pressed against the stage (or the ones surfing on their shoulders). At one point Spielman handed the mic to a fan who took the job so seriously it was as difficult to tell what was catharsis and what was chaos.
My adrenal gland satiated, I jumped back on the motorcycle and sped over the Burnside Bridge towards the Tallest Man On Earth show, looking forward to subtleties, contradictions, and the taste of deep magic. There’s something so ethereal and magnetic about Kristian Matsson—he’s harnessed the rare ability to write lyrics both wildly pointed and vague, as to encompass everything and nothing at the same time. Whatever the reason(s), I can’t say with any certainty why a drunken festival crowd becomes transfixed to the point of utter revering silence on a Saturday night at 12AM. All I can tell you is that it happened.
The Saturday morning sun rose with purpose. And the festival that began slowly, under cold grey skies, was now plenty warm. When these things happen in Portland, the town becomes ebullient and especially habitable. It was ideal, and I spent the whole day limbering up for the pinnacle of the festival: DJ Beyonda and Big Freedia yet again.
Unquestionably, Beyonda is Portland’s best DJ. She spins only jams, just so long as they’re danceable—a collection of the finest, meatiest soul ever laid to wax. Tonight, in honor of the headliner, she cut a set of pure bounce, accompanied by two girls with booty and one sculpted, nearly nude Adonis perched on the subwoofers. After showing Portland’s indie crowd how bounce is done, without breaking the music, Beyonda switched the decks over to Freedia’s DJ Rusty Lazer.
The Queen Diva was coming. And as she does six nights a week back at home in New Orleans, Freedia blew the doors off. Finally now witnessing a full set (as opposed to the secret three-song video shoot at Sassy’s strip club earlier in the week, video above) a few things became clear. Outside of her most poppy, hook-laden hits like “Azz Everywhere” and “Gin In My System,” Big Freedia can also sing like a beast, twice attacking extensive flows and strong acapellas.
“It’s the last stop on my tour and I’ve been workin’ so hard,” she said. “Now we’re gonna go even harder.” As the set neared its sweaty end, she moved towards the political, singing about closeted gay boys in denial: “It’s 2010 and I ain’t takin’ no shit.”
Freedia choked up, explaining she was going through a breakup after learning she’d been cheated on. It happened right at she left on tour. But the show, Freedia said, had lifted her spirits. “You’ve made me feel at home,” she said.
Afterwards, instead of ducking into the green room, Freedia headed outside. I saw her there, standing half-way down the block, shaking hands and receiving thanks from her fans. It was her last show in Portland, the final performance of Saturday night, and there was nothing the Walkmen or the National could do Sunday to touch it.