The first time I ever went to a planetarium was when my friend took me to see a U2 Laser Light show at OMSI. It was alright. But on Monday night, Broken Bells turned the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall into their own personal planetarium, and no offense to Bono or anything, but they blew my prior U2 experience out of the water.
Opening act Cayucas' brand of breathy, SoCal surf-rock was well received by the crowd, but their reception was nothing compared to the welcome Portland had in store of James Mercer and Brian Burton - and with good reason: every second of Broken Bells set was both visually and aurally arresting. Pretty much every surface in their stage setup glistens with mirrors, flashing lights and lasers, and a massive, dome-shaped projector at the band's feet projected fisheye views of the screaming crowd and colorful visualizations of swirling nebulae and starscapes onscreen behind the band. Performance-wise, James Mercer never strays from behind his mic, but he doesn't have to - he manages to hold your attention all the same, playing through songs like "The Ghost Inside" and "Holding On for Life" with an intensity that I've only seen rivaled by Foster The People's Mark Foster.
Towards the end of the show, Mercer paused briefly to talk about how glad he was to be back home in Portland. We're glad too, James. We're glad too.
Virginia might be for lovers, but Portland is definitely for Pet Lovers, and nowhere was this more evident than on Sunday afternoon at Sellwood Park. Close to four thousand Portlanders braved scorching temperatures for this year's PetAid, sponsored by 94/7 in support of Multnomah County Animal Services.
As festival-goers filtered into the park, Swedish rockers NONONO kicked off the afternoon with a solid set that was evocative of their last Portland appearance eight months ago at December To Remember. Although their live performances have a somewhat rawer edge than the (almost too-perfect) polish of "Pumpin Blood," lead singer Stina Wappling has an impressive voice and a pretty striking stage presence. NONONO might have managed to visit us during the hottest week of the year - quite a contrast compared to the freezing temperatures of December to Remember - but they managed to look pretty cool doing so.
The Colourist followed NONONO with their third Portland appearance in less than nine months. While their set was every bit as solid as their last two performances, the summer heat seemed to take a toll on their famously boisterous fans - instead of the constant, deafening cheering that I've grown accustomed to at Colourist shows, the crowd had it toned down to "only" a dull roar. That said, they seemed to get in gear by the end of the band's set, just in time for Adam and Maya to close it out with an even more raucous than usual performance of "Little Games."
SKATERS marked the midway point of the day, and the Brooklyn rockers got to bring their brand of effortlessly cool post-punk to a much larger audience than when they played for at Mississippi Studios earlier this year. The crowd in front of the stage ate up songs like "Deadbolt" and "Miss Teen Massachusetts," but, perhaps not surprisingly, the people's enjoyment of the band seemed to be directly proportionate to one's proximity to the stage - you have to get in close if you really want to really want to get the full SKATERS experience.
It's been over a year since Wild Cub last played in Portland, and the crowd at Sellwood Park was more than ready to welcome them back to the City of Roses. The band may be based out of Nashville, but frontman Keegan DeWitt definitely has plenty of love for his native state, and the audience was more than happy to hear his reminiscences about listening to KNRK growing up and how he's never missed a Blazers game since he was eight years old. Musically, while the band is almost exclusively known for their single, it's a pretty compelling introduction. "Thunder Clatter" is one of those songs that either makes you really glad you're in a relationship... or really sad you're single. You don't have to take my word for it, though, and you don't have to wait another year to see them again - Wild Cub will be back in Portland this fall.
Few bands this year have moved into the limelight as quickly as Bear Hands, who've gone from playing smaller venues like Doug Fir to closing out PetAid in the space of a just a few months - and with good cause. While all of the acts at PetAid were excellent, 94/7 definitely saved the best for last, and the crowd seemed to agree, cheering along as the band rocked through songs such as "Bone Digger" and "Giants."
Mark Hamilton and members of the staff at 94/7 have told me in the past that they're continually trying to top themselves, when it comes to PetAid and December To Remember, and while I don't know if it's humanly possible to raise the bar any higher, next year, so far that hasn't stopped them from trying - and succeeding.
This week was a banner week for both free music and Major League Soccer - and those two things intersected on Sunday afternoon, when Radiation City and The Flaming Lips played a free show at Waterfront Park as part of MLS All-star Week, hot on the heels of 94/7's own free session with The War on Drugs, earlier that afternoon.
Radiation City's stock has been rising ever since they were named Willamette Week's "Best New Band" in 2012, and Sunday's gig was just the latest and biggest chapter in their ascent to fame. The band's unique brand of retro indie pop has become more and more polished with each passing year, and songs like "Zombies" (not to be confused with the Cranberries hit) serve to prove that they've deftly managed the transition from local back-room venues to big stages.
Reviewing a Flaming Lips show is a slightly daunting task, because the music tends to take a backstage to the concert experience (and antics) as a whole. If you're a fan of the band and/or you've been to one of their shows, you're probably going to be pretty stoked about seeing them (Spoiler Alert: This was most of the crowd). If, however, you're not into The Flaming Lips or you've never been to one of their shows / have no idea what to expect, I suspect the experience might be a bit surreal... or perhaps mildly scary. Beauty is, I suppose, in the eyes - or on the lips - of the beholder.
I personally had never been to a Flaming Lips gig before, but I did a lot of "research" (I watched a bunch of YouTube videos) before the show, and it was every bit as much of a crazy, wild ride as I expected. From Fred Armisen coming out three times in a row to introduce the band to people dancing on-stage dressed as mountains and trees to Wayne Conye donning a human muscle bodysuit and crowd-surfing in a giant plastic bubble, it was pure Flaming Lips in all their colorful glory.
For all the theatrics, however, The Flaming Lips are consummate musicians - and by the time they got to songs like "Do You Realize" and their rendition of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" at the end of the night, all the antics had faded away, leaving us with only beautiful, compelling music in the gathering dusk.
Although it's a very popular cliche in the music industry to refer to a band's rise to fame as "meteoric," using such adjectives to describe The War on Drugs would probably be something of a misnomer. Since forming in 2005, the Pennsylvania band had already managed to build a modest following and garnered critical acclaim for their first two albums. But it wasn't until this year's release of the single, Red Eyes, that the band finally attained the critical mass needed to propel them into the limelight. On Sunday, Portlanders got to experience this first-hand when the band came to Mississippi Studios for the latest 94/7 Session - and arguably one of the best Sessions in recent memory.
Fresh off of two appearances at Pickathon earlier that weekend, it would be pretty forgivable if the band wanted to phone it in for a free show on a Sunday afternoon. But that's not how The War on Drugs rolls. They took their time during soundcheck to make sure their sound was really dialed-in, and when they took the stage, they proceeded to rock through one of the longest, hardest-rocking sets we've seen at a 94/7 Session.
Although the catchiness of the band's blend of indie rock and shoegazer comes through on their records, hearing a song like Red Eyes live, you pick up on the slightly Dylan-esque quality of lead singer Adam Granduciel's voice and a raw energy that the recorded version only alludes to. I try not to get too crazy on the hyperbole, but I think it'd be accurate to characterize their set as "face-meltingly good." I don't know how America's doing with the actual War on Drugs, but THE War on Drugs is definitely winning.
It is a commonly accepted axiom in Portland that it's hard, if not impossible, to top a December To Remember show. However, apparently Fitz and The Tantrums didn't get the memo, because they did their level best to disprove that saying on Monday night - and they succeeded.
Although they were both crowd favorites, Fitz's two openers were about as disparate as you can get. Los Angeles indie-pop group HOLYCHILD started the evening off with a vaguely retro-sounding, super poppy set. Although the band has a good sound, their set was pretty uneven - when lead singer Liz Nistico stays within her range, she sounds great, but whenever she strays outside her register (or tries to rap), she has a tendency to veer painfully off-key.
I could level no such criticism about the second opening act, however. Austin singer Max Frost played a pitch-perfect, genre-bending set that combined indie pop, neo soul, a couple of other influences that I couldn't quite place. In the space of one song, Frost's music will make you think of everything from Jamiroquai to Alt J to Foster The People. Perhaps the most apt comparison, though, would be the latter band's lead singer, Mark Foster - although their styles are completely different, Max Frost displays the same level of energy and showmanship as the other M.F.
Neither opener could hold a candle to Fitz and The Tantrums, however. Although their first song (Get Away) started out slowly, that was the last low key moment of the show; by the time the song ended, they had worked the crowd into a screaming, cheering frenzy that only intensified during classics such as "Don't Gotta Work It Out," "Break The Walls" and "Breakin' the Chains of Love."
Midway through the show, singers Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs issued their usual edict to the crowd (the majority of whom were seeing Fitz for the first time) about audience participation, before leading the crowd in a call-and-response cover of The Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)." They eventually closed out the night with a barn-burner of an encore, ending with "Moneygrabber" (complete with confetti cannons) and "The Walker."
A band that can get the entire audience to clap and sing along to one or two songs? That's impressive. A band that can get the entire audience to clap and sing along to EVERY song? That's Fitz and The Tantrums.
Since the early days of KNRK, Passport Approved has been a weekly fixture on 94/7. For the past ten years, Portlanders have tuned in to hear host Sat Bisla introduce new music from all over the world - but on Friday night at the Doug Fir Lounge, they got to see the music firsthand. Prior to the show, we caught up with Sat and 94/7 Program Director Mark Hamilton, who took a few moments to celebrate Passport Approved's unofficial ten-year anniversary, noting that 94/7 was the second station in the nation to play Passport Approved and recounting some of Sat's more notable finds: The Ting Tings, Gotye, Adele and more recently, Lorde. But Sat came armed with more than just recollections - he also had four up-and-coming artists in tow.
GIORGI + LEO
Husband and wife duo Giorgi + Leo were the first act to take the stage, opening with a gutsy cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry." The only non-Australian act of the evening, Giorgi + Leo have a multinational pedigree - lately of London, Giorgi is originally from Los Angeles and Leo hails from Rome. Musically, they sound like someone crossed the The XX's guitar work with Ms Mr's vocals (albeit without as much of the 80's vibe). Although they're a little more pop-oriented than most of the bands we normally cover, they've got a solid sound.
Melbourne rocker Hamish Anderson was up next, with a bluesy set that combined Claptonesque riffs with Jacob Dylan-like vocals - not unimpressive for a guy in his early twenties. While he rocks out on most of his songs, some of his songs take on a more folky vibe. His recent single, "Howl" is definitely worth a listen.
Sydney rockers Lime Cordiale would be easy to dismiss as just another surf rock group, were it not for two things: first, most surf rockers don't usually feature trombones and trumpets in their lineup; secondly, few bands pull off the genre quite as deftly as these guys do. (If you want to see what I'm talking about, check out their single "Sleeping At Your Door.") With honey-sweet vocals and catchy hooks, Lime Cordiale sounds like they're straight out of the past - and it's a past I wish I lived in.
MONKS OF MELLONWAH
Within minutes of taking the stage, Monks of Mellonwah succeeded in answering a question that I had hitherto never thought to ask: Can Australians do Southern Rock? The answer is yes, sortof. Ok, maybe it's not Southern Rock, exactly, but the Syndey band has a semi-operatic quality that wouldn't sound out of place on a Red Hot Chili Peppers record... or on a cover of Skynyrd's "Simple Man" (I'm not saying that they would ever want to do this - just that they could pull it off).
The latest installment of 94/7's "I Saw Them When" concert series got off to a slightly bittersweet start on Tuesday night, as Portlanders crowding into the Crystal Ballroom were treated to what turned out to be The Ecstatics farewell show in Portland. Having been a consistent fixture on Portland's concert scene and a regular opener at 94/7 shows, teenage rockers Eli & Quincy explained that they're moving to Los Angeles to pursue their music. Throughout their set (which was just as catchy & energetic as the last two times we've covered them in this blog), the boys took time to thank their fans and pay tribute to 94/7 as "the best radio station on the planet," before closing their set with a hilariously unexpected - but very apt - cover of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream." Best of luck to you, guys, and to paraphrase Ms. Perry - "Don't ever look back, don't ever look back"... but we do hope you'll come back to visit, once in a while.
KONGOS is a difficult band to write about, only because their influences are impossible to pin down. One minute, they sound like Kings of Leon if they stole the accordion player from Dropkick Murphys; the next, you'll hear hints of blues, reggae, or even Muse-esque rock operatics. One thing is consistent, however - these four brothers know how to rock. For their set at The Crystal, the South African rockers led the crowd through a raucous, floor-stomping set. The band likes to pay tribute to their roots, too - during their encore, they covered their dad, John Kongos' 70's track, "Tokoloshe Man" (allegedly their dad was in the audience, too), along with The Beatle's "Come Together" and "Get Back" (although the latter two included guest vocals by Phoenix rapper Moe'z Art, along with samples from Dr. Dre's "Ain't Nothing But a G Thang" and Daft Punk's "Da Funk").
With bands that are as eclectic as KONGOS, music journalists have a tendency to make all kinds of outlandish comparisons... and we're not above the fray, in that regard. If you forced me to compare KONGOS to any one band in terms of sheer style and energy, I'd have say they remind me most of Stillwater from the movie "Almost Famous" - which is pretty much the highest praise I can dish out for any band, actually.
It's not every day that you can literally say "I Saw Them When," but as Little Hurricane proved on Saturday at the Wonder Ballroom, when you can, it's not a bad thing, at all.
Early in 2012, Little Hurricane was the first band to be featured for only 94 cents a ticket in 94/7's "I Saw Them When" concert series. In the intervening two years, they've become a regular visitor to Portland's concert scene, but I personally haven't been able to revisit them until now - so I was curious to see what they sounded like, after all this time. I can't say that I was disappointed.
Little Hurricane took the stage after a rousing and well-paired opening set by Lincoln Durham, whose unique brand of bluesy southern rock transitioned seamlessly into Little Hurricane's bluesy not-so-southern rock set. For their show at the Wonder, the band performed the standard mix of old and new material, punctuated by a few covers (including a not-too-shabby rendition of Bill Wither's "Ain't No Sunshine" and an unexpected but no-less-enjoyable cover of "Afternoon Delight" during their encore). After two years of touring and two more records, the San Diego band is a little more polished than they were back in 2012, but the key elements are still there - Anthony Catalano's howling, brooding vocals and low-key guitar work paired with C.C. Spina's vicious drumming and effervescent stage presence. They also seemed to have addressed the one criticism that many people leveled against the band: CC's not a very strong singer, especially live. (This is still the case, but she doesn't take the lead on as many songs as she used to, so it's not as noticeable.)
I'm sure we'll continue to see Little Hurricane in Portland in the future, but even if we don't, I think they'll always be a band that Portlanders will be happy to boast that we saw them back in the day.
Sasquatch Music Festival is the ultimate NW Music Festival. Several genres of music, performed on five stages within 3 days. The main Sasquatch stage, built seemingly upon a canvas of painted scenery, which in fact is just the very real, very beautiful Gorge of George, Washington. The combination of the nature and the coverage of so many different types of music make this festival one for every human to enjoy. Below are some of the acts I believed to be highlights of my 2014 Sasquatch Music Festival. I wish it was humanly possible to see and hear each band and artist perform. However, I suppose that’s the beauty of a festival—every individual has a unique experience to share.
KONGOS | The Kongos brothers gave the crowd a joyful set before transitioning into what most didn’t expect -- a beat-bumping performance from their respected friend Moe’z Art, who rapped over their instrumental mix to Come Together by The Beatles and Nuthin’ But A G Thang by Dr. Dre. The band transitioned back to their more predictable style, but the crowd’s energy level stayed high as they played Come With Me Now.
THE NAKED AND FAMOUS | Being at Sasquatch stage level of the amphitheater (or as some refer to as the pit) for this performance I got to observe the chemistry the five band mates had together. Although they were clad in all black, The Naked and Famous colored the stage with their excitement of performing for a full main stage crowd.
FOALS | True to the electric and interactive nature of their performances, lead man Yannis Philippakis crowd surfed, electric guitar in hand while he and his band continued to play their set on Sasquatch on the first day. The band covered songs from all albums, including Inhaler and My Number.
FOSTER THE PEOPLE | Foster The People delivered a high energy sunset performance on the Sasquatch stage, playing majority of their Supermodel album, along with Houdini, a clear audience favorite. It was hard to tell if the crowd was feeding off the band’s energy, or the band was feeding off the crowd’s, but the vibe was incredible all around the amphitheater.
FIRST AID KIT | This was folk music done so right. These ladies brought a crowd-pleasing, soothing energy to Sasquatch. The two sisters performed their original songs, including tracks from their new album Stay Gold, along with covers of Paul Simon and Johnny Cash on the main stage. It was a perfect vibe for a mid-afternoon on the hill. Their voices complimented the vast Gorge scenery in a way that was enchanting.
CITY AND COLOUR | This was also an awesome set for sitting on the hill during the day time, looking outwards to the gorgeous view. Sasquatch attracts a large amount of people from Canada, and being a Canadian band, it seemed to me that the crowd consisted of many fans from the home land. As I looked around, many sung along to Hello, I’m In Delaware.
WASHED OUT | Performing on the Bigfoot stage on the second day, Washed Out played All I Know, a harmonious song that was placed beautifully in their set at so close to sundown. This set turned out to be one of the most buzzed-about of the weekend.
M.I.A. | It was fun seeing M.I.A. live, since she tours so infrequently. As to be expected, M.I.A. brought the fire performing favorites Paper Planes (which she cut with Lorde’s Royals) Bad Girls, Galang, and Boyz, all the while two dancers powerfully danced along-side her on stage. Her colorful lightshow was wonderfully stimulating, in view of the Gorge’s late-sunset canvas.
BANKS | What an utterly captivating performance by this woman. Her voice is alluring and sultry, and even more beautiful than the artist herself. Performing This Is What It Feels Like, Goddess, and her acoustic rendition of Aaliyah’s early ‘90s R&B hit Are U That Somebody?, this performance was one I stumbled on by chance, and turned out to be a highlight of my festival experience.
These are the times that try men's souls. Or rather last night was one of those times - when Portlanders were forced to choose between Foster The People at the Roseland Theater and the Foals / Cage The Elephant double-header at Crystal Ballroom. That said, by all accounts, it doesn't sound like there was anyone that regretted being at the Crystal... and I can speak with certainty that there weren't any cases of concert-goers' remorse at the Roseland, either.
Following her recent appearance in support of Broods, Meg Myers returned to a Portland stage for the second time in as many weeks. Clad entirely in black - along with her entire band - Meg presented a slightly more somber, reigned-in appearance than she did at Mississippi Studios, but her singing was no less intense. After rocking out through songs like "Adelaide" and her most recent single, "Desire" (which prompted a concert-goer next to me to remark, "Uh... this song sounds like a threat. But I like it."), the singer ended her set with a howling rendition of "Heart Heart Head."
I've seen a handful of bands that have enthusiastic followings - Lorde, Chvrches, even Foster The People in a more intimate setting like Doug Fir. But nothing could have prepared me for the sheer power and energy of the sold-out crowd that packed into the Roseland Theater to see Mark Foster and the gang on Thursday night. When the group started the show off with "Miss You", they were met with a deafening cheer, and the noise level never dipped below a dull roar for the entirety of the show. Although the band saved most of their more iconic songs for the second half of their set ("Coming of Age", "Houdini", "Pumped Up Kicks" and "Helena Beat" all came in relatively short order, at the end), it didn't matter, because the crowd seemed to know every song by heart.
Although the band is supremely talented as a whole, much of Foster The People's crowd appeal comes from lead singer Mark Foster's knack for showmanship and raw charisma. Mark has arguably become the Justin Timberlake of indie rock, and he's a fairly reflective guy, as well. Shortly before launching into the last song of the night ("Don't Stop"), he paused to share a final thought with the crowd: "The enemy of our generation is isolation, and apathy is its friend." Pretty deep stuff, there - but fortunately for the crowd at the Roseland, neither isolation nor apathy were to be found, that evening.