If listening to Jamie Stewart’s Xiu Xiu project has ever made you feel uncomfortable, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s some of the most honest, naked and fucked up music around. Except, on record, he’s been playing with pop structures—writing songs with choruses and hooks that fence in his vocal outbursts. Live, he abandons that for the most part, going completely unhinged while strumming a guitar, shooting a slingshot at a gong for the percussion and yelping and screaming into a microphone. It makes for a cathartic, terrifyingly honest performance. At the end, someone from the crowd yelled out “It’s okay!” maybe in an effort to comfort Stewart. But maybe Stewart is there to let people know it’s okay that it isn’t.
As Swans started to set up, just about the entire crowd put in ear plugs. Swans plays loud, long and relentlessly, and this time was no different. Michael Gira is such a commanding presence. His face looks like it’s been chiseled from an ancient rock, and his baritone rings out across a room—I’m tempted to say effortlessly, but it can’t be effortless. It’s clear that there’s a lot of blood and sweat that goes into Swans, and when they get going, it’s like nothing else.
Dinosaur Jr were playing a quick cab ride away, and after all these years, it’s amazing what kind of handle J. Mascis and co. have on some of their classics from Bug and You’re Living All Over Me. Interspersed with newer material (which has consistently sounded great), Mascis barely spoke, instead just running through song after song, sounding like he just woke up three minutes before he got onstage.
In the past couple years, I’ve seen Wild Nothing a countless number of times, but during their midnight set, the songs felt louder and faster, more rough edged. On Nocturne, their new record, each song feels like its own intricately produced world. It’s a gorgeous, dusky album, but here those songs sounded even darker and messier. It felt like watching demo version of the album.
I’m genuinely not sure where else I could see Danny Brown and Mirrorring in the same night, and everything was just spread out enough that it never felt like I was getting bombarded with a bunch of incongruous artists in close proximity to each other. There are plenty of music festivals in the world, but Portland seems uniquely situated to host something like this. The shows were diverse (If you wanted to have an entirely experimental experience, you could, if you wanted a week’s worth of dance parties, that was an option too). Basically, the only similarity between Music Fest Northwest and most other festivals, is that by the end you just want to sleep for a million years.