Sorta Live from Portland’s Musicfest Northwest

September 08, 2008

FADER executive editor Julianne Escobedo Shepherd reports from Musicfest Northwest, Portland's answer to the Olympics. This installment: Fuck Buttons, No Age, Starfucker, Deerhunter, The Fix, Paintallica.

Portland is by far one of the calmest cities I've ever been to (or lived in! shout to 1999), so it's interesting to see Musicfest, basically the west coast answer to CMJ or SXSW sans the industry element, take over. Every club is crazy packed, there is a preponderance of unkempt dudes, all your fave bands are in attendance and coffee-bonging Stumptown. Concurrently, there is a phenomenal performance art festival called the Time Based Art Fest in which "happenings" (yes, those kind) are juxtaposed with dance, film, visual art and Antony & the Johnsons performing with the Portland Philharmonic. Portland is more into "events" than major television networks, which may explain why I have had like eight conversations here about how the new 90210 is SO BEST even though it is offensive that Michael from the Wire has to be the adopted kid.

I digress. Musicfest kicked off last Wednesday with a Fuck Buttons performance that was inexplicably truncated to fifteen minutes. I cannot really say anything about it because it was so short. They were opening for Mogwai, but I left before they played because I have a strict "don't see bands I listened to in 1999" policy. I make exceptions for rappers, so expect a full report on Sir Mix-a-lot tomorrow. Oh stop, you know you're pumped.

Thursday night was the for real-for-real jumpoff. It began somewhat hard-to-toppishly with a packed all ages No Age show, wherein Dean Spunt's arms looked like cartoony Road Runner legs on the skins, and I, for the first time in my life, woot-wooted at a drum solo. Obviously these dudes are the most amiable of live performers: play to the crowd, make noise that is not too noise, and pop that has no resemblance to cornflakes, and obviously they are FADER faves, but I'm just gonna say it again: No Age is Rad. Kinetic, lovely, know how to make short songs function properly. It was my first time seeing them at an all ages show, which made it that much better (let's face it, enthusiastic fourteen-year-old moshers make everything better). Dean also took a poll of the crowd to see where they should eat after their show, to which a deep-voiced man replied "My pussy!" Witty banter ensued. I think they ended up going to the Ethiopian joint down the block.

Battles played after No Age, but there was some long-ass line and I was tempted by a dance party next door, where my old fam Shines DJ'd Mary J. Blige into Amerie and Pal Joey's "Hot Music." Sorry Battles, "Hot Music" is my kryptonite. Stay tuned for the upcoming project from Shines and Chris Funk of the Decemberists.

Starfucker is a Portland band of three dudes who apparently have the city's hearts on lock; I MySpaced them and felt they were slightly "anemic Postal Service vs. Ratatat's twee aspirational next door neighbors," but whatevs. Live it was louder, a little more raucous—double drummers are always a good look, ask Lizzi Bougatsos—a little more distorted, but they need to take a page from the No Age playbook and learn to write short songs that actually have form, rather than sounding like a cool ADD kid showing you his sketchbook before he's filled in the numbers with paint. Songs began from the middle, ended in the middle, floated away without establishing a narrative. House music might be an influence but even minimal techno has a story arc, goes somewhere.

Deerhunter! The first fifteen minutes of their show consisted of a Q&A session with Bradford Cox loosely based around ultraconservative Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin. Not sure how it started because I was watching him on a screen projected into the lounge from the actual performance room (note to Kanye: Holocene = ill club), but suffice to say hearing Bradford Cox orate freely on Gov. Palin was a high point of the night. Once he was done opining, they launched into that "one song about shapeshifting" so say my notes (I have no idea what I meant). Their set was sublime in the night air.

Night Two: Paintallica, and somehow try to see 42 bands in seven hours at like a jazillion venues. TV on the Radio!

Sorta Live from Portland’s Musicfest Northwest