If you live in the Portland area and have a love for alternative & indie rock, that love may lead you to some interesting places. You may see bands in basements (Doug Fir), in upstairs ballrooms (Crystal Ballroom), or even in sandwich shops (Bunk Bar). And once in a while, if a band has enough mainstream appeal, you might find yourself making the trek to one of Portland's twin arena venues: Memorial Coliseum and the newly re-christened Moda Center. And for the masses of screaming fans that crowded into Memorial Coliseum on the 22nd, that pilgrimage ended when Denver's own The Lumineers took to the stage in a blaze of lights.
But before we dish on Wesley and the gang, let's talk openers. Fellow Denver native Nathaniel Rateliff kicked off the show with a short, low-key set. While Rateliff's particular brand of folk rock is very pleasant to listen to, it's so understated that it runs the risk of being unmemorable. Second act Dr. Dog kicked it up a notch their brand of indie rock. With their two front men sharing the singing duties, Dr. Dog almost sounds like some sort of Bob Dylan / Tom Petty side-project - although interestingly, they don't sound anything like Dylan & Petty's actual real-life side project, The Traveling Wilburys. They treated the crowd to a solid cover of Architecture in Helsinki's "Heart It Races," and their songs "Lonesome" and "Jackie Wants a Black Eye" are both pretty catchy.
(Turn up the lights - The Lumineers live at Memorial Coliseum.)
Although crowd response had been fairly enthusiastic during the open acts, it was nothing in comparison with the almost-frenzied excitement with which concert-goers greeted The Lumineers when they finally came out, and it continued unabated through all of their set.
The idea of "arena folk" is a concept that I've always found interesting. How do you convert a musical genre that's known for its mellow nuances into a sound that can fill a ten thousand seat venue? Some bands aren't equal to the task, but The Lumineers handle the translation deftly. Although lead singer Wesley Schultz's foot-stomping promenades on stage take a little getting used to, his vocals are clear and strong, and piano player Stelth Ulvang pounds at the ivories with an intensity worthy of Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis (except without, you know, the weirdness).
The concert itself kicked off with the band's most recent single, "Submarines" and followed it up a few songs later with the song that catapulted them to stardom, "Ho Hey." Although they stumbled a little on "Ho Hey" (they seemed like they might be just a wee bit tired of playing it) the crowd didn't seem to notice, and the response was equally enthusiastic for "Stubborn Love." However, in this writer's humble estimation, where The Lumineers really shine is in their lesser-known work. In addition to their brilliant cover of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," the band killed it on songs like "Slow It Down" and "Flowers In Your Hair," and one my personal highlights was their new, not-yet-officially-titled song, "Falling", a sweet, old-fashioned duet that brilliantly showcases cellist Neyla Pekarek's vocal talent. (You can find concert footage of this song online, but if you watch it, you'll probably wind up cursing the fact that it's not available as a single, yet. Don't say I didn't warn you.)
It would be easy for the more alternatively minded among us to dismiss bands like The Lumineers as merely fodder for television drama soundtracks and teenage Facebook status updates, but that overlooks the reason that The Lumineers became famous in the first place - they're amazing entertainers. Their style is simple, accessible, and honest. In an era where arena shows have been dominated by glitz, posturing, and overproduction, it's refreshing to a see some old-fashioned showmanship take center stage, once in a while.
Tennessee natives The Features rolled into town last Saturday for a pair of back-to-back shows at Mississippi Studios and the Doug Fir Lounge. Although they've been performing for well over a decade, and have opened for acts like Kings of Leon and Manchester Orchestra, The Features have only recently started garnering attention in the Pacific Northwest, thanks to their recent single, "This Disorder."
For their 94/7 Session at Mississippi Studios on Saturday afternoon, they played a raucous five-song set that was exceptionally energetic for a free show - and they brought the same intensity to the second half of their "double feature" at Doug Fir Lounge that night. (Once in a while, you'll see a band phone it in for a free concert or a pre-show appearance. With these guys, they seemed to devote the same level of attention to both shows, which was refreshing.) Musically, a lot of their songs sound like early Kings of Leon (not surprisingly, since they both cut their teeth on the Tennessee music scene in the early 2000s): gritty, southern-infused indie rock that's amazingly good, albeit somewhat uniform. Tracks off their most recent album (the eponymously named "The Features") show a little bit more sonic diversity, however - "This Disorder" has a more mainstream sound (I could almost see Young The Giant doing a cover of this song. Sameer Gadhia, if you're listening to this suggestion: you're welcome.) and "With Every Beat" has a haunting melody that reminded me of Beach House.
(Doug Fir Lounge)
Despite their talent and years in the industry, The Features' name belies that fact that they're still operating under the radar, at least for the time being. Prior to their 94/7 Session at Mississippi Studios, the band was milling about at the back of the venue, and when the doors opened, several eager show-goers practically ran over the band members in their eagerness to secure choice spots by the stage.
While there's something mildly ironic about people ignoring you on the way to see you, I suspect that such anonymity will be short-lived from here on out. If The Features keep turning out catchy tracks like "This Disorder", the next time they're in town, people are definitely going to know who they are.
Bastille Day came twice this year for the City of Roses. However, instead of storming a French prison, Portland music lovers descended in full force upon the Doug Fir Lounge for Bastille's sold-out show on Friday night.
Anticipation was understandably high when the first opener of the night, the rather unusually named Nightmare & the Cat took to the stage. The English/American band is fronted by Sam & Django Stewart, sons of Eurythmics musician David A. Stewart (yeah, I know it's cheap to mention people's famous parents, but that tidbit may just help you out at trivia night someday, so bear with me). Although some of their songs are catchy, their sonic identity seems unfinished - as though they haven't quite decided if they're going to rock out or embrace a more folky sound. And while I'm sure their looks of disaffection are a practiced move on their part, it contrasted sharply with the enthusiasm of the two acts that followed. Speaking of which...
So if I wasn't sold on Nightmare & the Cat, I definitely can say that I had no such reservations about the second opener, Little Daylight. This Brooklyn-based trio quickly won over the crowd with their all-too-short set. Combining modern synthpop beats with eighties inspired vocals, Little Daylight sounds a little bit like Chvrches would if they were fronted by, say, Belinda Carlisle - and it works. Their sound is polished and catchy, especially on songs like "Name in Lights" and "Glitter and Gold." Hopefully we get to see these guys back in Portland, before too long.
Once the openers finished their bit, Bastille quickly took to the stage, and it took about one glimpse of frontman Dan Smith for the crowd to go nuts, especially when he led them in a drum-pounding (Portlanders really love lead singers with a drum - Imagine Dragons, I'm looking at you), floor-stomping rendition of "Things We Lost in the Fire," followed shortly after by an awesome cover of City High's "What Would You Do."
At first, I wasn't entirely sure what to think of the London-based group - while they've garnered a lot of press recently for their tongue-in-cheek covers of artists like the aforementioned City High, Miley Cyrus ("We Can't Stop"), or even TLC ("No Scrubs"), their sound is definitely more pop-oriented than it is alternative, bringing to mind comparisons to other crossover-bound artists such as Coldplay or The Fray. Mark my words, it won't be long before we start hearing "Pompeii" on Top 40 Radio, and I suspect Bastille's next tour will be hitting much bigger venues.
However, in spite of these reservations, I was quickly won over by their performance. Despite his grousing about being "a pretty ******* awful dancer," Smith has an amazing stage presence, and he led the crowd on a rollicking, high energy joyride through their set, culminating when he waded into the crowd during "Flaws."
(Dan Smith of Bastille)
Mid-way through their set, Bastille played a song called "Haunt" wherein Dan threatens, "I'll come back to haunt you." If the crowd at Doug Fir was any indication, I think they'd tell him that he was welcome anytime.
Hot on the heels of an epic week at MusicFestNW, a few hundred Portlanders braved record temperatures to crowd into the Star Theater for Wednesday's sold-out show with Grouplove and The Rubens.
Show openers The Rubens have enjoyed moderate success in their native Australia, and this US tour with Grouplove will no doubt determine if America welcomes them with open arms or not. Musically, they're not bad - they have a nice, bluesy sound that's surprisingly melodic for modern alt-rock, their single "My Gun" is catchy, and I really enjoyed the riffs on "The Day You Went Away." However, hearing them live was a little bit of a disappointment. Lead singer Sam Margin's vocals were often breathy where they should have rocked, and the crowd's response seemed rather tepid.
Ohhhh, Australia. If I had a dollar for every talented Australian act I've heard that just doesn't quite click with American audiences... well, I'd have at least enough cash to buy a jar of Vegemite.
There was no such equivocation from the crowd when Grouplove finally took the stage, however. Despite the sweltering atmosphere (almost everyone around me seemed to be fishing scraps of paper out of their pockets and purses in an attempt to craft fans for themselves) and a rather lengthy delay between acts, the crowd went nuts the minute the band stepped into the spotlight. For the next hour or so, the Los Angeles quintet held everyone at The Star Theater in rapt attention with their high energy antics. Style-wise, Grouplove probably wins the award for the most eclectically outfitted band I've ever seen - the group's fashion inspirations seem to be drawn from Nirvana, Dee-Lite, Jethro Tull and Aldus Snow, all in equal measure, and singer Hannah Hooper never stopped dancing or stood still for more than two seconds at a time.
Prior to attending this concert, I was actually a little skeptical about seeing Grouplove live. Sure, I had heard "Tongue Tied" (along with everyone else in America) when it was featured in that Apple commercial, and I liked songs like "Colours," "Itchin' on a Photograph" and the more recent "Ways To Go" (which almost sounds like a Len track) well enough - but each single the group released sounded almost as though it was from a different band. Just based on what's gotten airplay, I had begun to wonder if Grouplove hadn't succeeded in crafting a consistent sonic identity, yet. However, it only took about five minutes to dispel that notion. Live, each of their songs transitions into one another seamlessly, and they manage to maintain the same frenzied, pop energy with each song - as though they were leading the most epic sing-along ever.
I am a skeptic no longer. Although they may sing that they've "Got a Ways To Go," it's not true - Grouplove is one act that's definitely arrived.
(All of the love.)
**Photographer Andrew Walsh caught Grouplove's acoustic set the next night at Alberta Rose Theater - check out his snaps!
Welcome to the fourth and final installment of our coverage of MusicFestNW 2013!
With a slightly heavy heart, I headed to Pioneer Courthouse Square on Sunday afternoon for the final night of MusicFestNW. After six days of concerts, I was exhausted but slightly sad to see the festival come to an end.
Such maudlin thoughts were quickly banished when Seattle band Pickwick came on stage, however. Pickwick has a distinctive style (I'm pretty sure lead singer Michael Parker may have the same hairdresser as the dude from Motion City Soundtrack) and catchy, bluesy sound that really got the crowd going as they waited for Neko Case to take the stage later that night. Musically, Pickwick has a soulful vibe to them that sounds a lot like if the Cold War Kids "found religion", so to speak. Although I hadn't heard Pickwick prior to MFNW, this show quickly made me a believer - in particular, I can't get enough of "Lady Luck," their collaboration with singer Sharon Van Etten. The band sounded amazing in the 'Square, so I can only imagine how much better they probably sound in a more intimate club-type setting.
Not long after Pickwick finished their set, indie/folk singer Neko Case took to the stage, playing to a packed Pioneer Courthouse Square on the evening of her 43rd birthday. Despite being plagued by frequent monitor problems early in her performance, Neko played a dynamic set that was equal parts sung Americana and stand-up. During one particularly long technical delay, Neko demonstrated her dance moves and talked about stalking Adam Ant around Portland (he was in town that weekend for a show at the Roseland). Throughout the show, she frequently cracked wise about her songs ("This song is about a homicidal picnic, so...") and about visiting Portland ("It's an honor and a privilege to sup upon your fine bacons") - although a lot of her remarks aren't repeatable on a family radio station (or said radio station's live music blog). Towards the end of her show, the crowd turned the tables and broke into a spontaneous rendition of "Happy Birthday," which just goes to show you that Portland's a pretty fine place to spend your birthday.
(She sings! She dances! She tells jokes! She occasionally plays folk music! - Neko Case)
Following Neko Case's concert, some of the most die-hard festival attendees headed over to the Crystal Ballroom for the final show of MusicFestNW, featuring livetronica act Big Gigantic. While making the trek to the Crystal, was pretty easy to tell who had been at the festival all week: almost every green VIP or blue All-Show wristband holder I ran into was an almost comic allegory of fatigue - drenched in sweat, clothes rumpled, and plodding down Burnside with looks of determination on their faces - these were people committed to seeing As Many Shows As Possible.
Once they arrived, however, the dedicated remnant was treated a fittingly epic send-off for MFNW: a super-sweaty, high-energy show featuring electronica beats accompanied by live drums and saxophone jams. Although I don't listen to a lot of EDM, it's hard to argue with it when it's accompanied by a dude wailing on a sax. (I also found it equally hard not to think of the Jon Hamm's "Sexy Saxophone Guy" skit from Saturday Night Live, but maybe that's just me).
And with that, MusicFestNW 2013 drew to a close. Portland had a good run, this year. Some years, the lineup for MusicFestNW is overshadowed Bumbershoot, which wraps up just before the start of MFNW - but this year, Portland held their own with six days of great concerts, great venues, and great people.
Now all we have to do is wait for December 2 Remember, am I right?
Welcome to the third installment of our coverage of MusicFestNW 2013!
What you do at a music festival says a lot about you - do you only see headliners? Do you catch every obscure act out there? Does the music take a back seat to parties and beer tastings?
For MusicFestNW attendees, these differing priorities became most evident on Saturday, as the Monday-through-Friday crowd finally found themselves with an entire day at their disposal. Some of the people I met during the course of the festival parked themselves at the Doug Fir to catch daytime sets from bands like Titus Andronicus, The Dodos, and The Thermals. Others saved their energy for the evening shows. And at least one or two people I had met earlier in the week never made it further than the day parties at Mississippi Studios or Bunk Bar.
Given the focus of this blog, this writer decided to forgo the day parties in favor of making as timely an appearance as possible at Pioneer Courthouse Square to catch Saturday's headliner show with Thao & The Get Down Stay Down and The Head and The Heart.
(Thao & The Get Down Stay Down)
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down is not a band with an easily-defined style, although if I had to try, the closest description I can come up with would be "Asian Banjo Folk." While Thao Nguyen's music and lyrics could readily be categorized as folk music, her style of banjo-playing makes you think more of a Chinese zither than it does of the dueling banjos in Deliverance. Regardless of how you categorize them, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down delivered a rousing set to Pioneer Courthouse Square on Saturday as they opened for The Head and the Heart, and the crowd seemed to enjoy their music, even if they were a little bit unsure as to what exactly they were hearing.
(The Head and the Heart)
As dusk fell on Portland for Day Five of MFNW, The Head and the Heart took to the stage for what was arguably the best headliner show of the week. While there's nothing particularly groundbreaking about the Seattle band's folky sound, their music has a certain guilelessness that is rare in modern music. As the crowd swayed and sang along to songs like "Down In the Valley" and "Rivers and Roads", it was easy to see the band's appeal. One concert-goer told me that although she had seen the band play just one week earlier at the Gorge Amphitheater, when she found out they were playing at MFNW, she jumped on the opportunity to see them again. If you ever have the opportunity to hear them sing "Lost in My Mind" (one of their best known songs) live, you might find yourself looking up their future tour dates, yourself.
So while you aren't likely to hear much funk or R&B on 94/7, I included Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires in this article for three reasons: first, his music is AMAZING; second, few men in America can rock a jumpsuit or a purple pantsuit the way Charles Bradley can; and lastly, because acts that we do hear on alternative radio owe a huge debt to this genre - bands like Fitz & The Tantrums, Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings and even Lauren Hill have all been heavily influenced by traditional soul and R&B. And few artists exemplify the legacy of Motown better than Daptone Records artist Charles Bradley, who played to a packed house at the Crystal Ballroom on Saturday night. With soulful ballads like "Strictly Reserved for You" and barn-burners like "The World is Going Up in the Flames," Mr. Bradley had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.
Check back soon for the final installment of our coverage of MusicFestNW 2013!
Welcome to the second installment of our coverage of MusicFestNW 2013!
Want to see how much someone loves live music? Invite them to go see a concert with you in the pouring rain. While this probably isn't the only litmus test of someone's show-going bona fides, it's definitely one way to pick out the dedicated fans from the more casual concert-goers. And by this metric, Portland is no slouch in the Dedicated Fan department, let me tell you.
Despite consistent (and at times torrential) rains, a few hundred of Portland's more adventurous souls trudged downtown on Thursday for the first of MusicFestNW's headliner shows in Pioneer Courthouse Square. By the time Young the Giant took the stage, a small sea of Gortex-hooded Portlanders had gathered to greet them, and the band made sure that their water-logged fans were well-rewarded for their trek. Heedless of the elements, lead singer Sameer Gadhia led his bandmates in a raucous, fast-paced set that included old favorites such as "Cough Syrup" (which the crowd went nuts for) and "Strings" as well as several new tracks from their forthcoming sophmore album, including "Anagram" and "Firelight."
(Young the Giant)
Friday evening brought us back to Pioneer Courthouse Square for Animal Collective, who packed an impressive crowd into Pioneer Courthouse Square for their show. However, despite boasting probably largest turnout of any MFNW show, the crowd was surprisingly sedate, and I found myself skipping out a few minutes before the close of their set to join a crowd of people making pilgrimage to The Old Church to see local favorites Typhoon.
Typhoon's fans were all over it - for their second show of MFNW, old and new fans alike packed into The Old Church to the gills to hear Typhoon jam with reckless abandon. For the uninitiated, Typhoon is an ensemble of 10-14 musicians (with a somewhat fluid lineup) headed by lead singer Kyle Morton. Trumpets, horns, violins, and not one but two (!) drummers - they've got it all. Typhoon collects musicians the way The Polyphonic Spree collects robes, but it works. The resultant sound is something quite unique - sort of like Phil-Spektor's-Wall-of-Sound-meets-The-Decemberists.
Later that evening, I had the privilege of seeing Washed Out take the stage at Mississippi Studios. Some bands you go see and even if you've never heard their stuff before, you know within about 30 seconds that you've fallen in love with said band. Washed Out is one of those bands. Ernest Greene's music combines dreamy, ethereal vocals with killer beats and impressive guitar work, and while he may be known to Portland audiences primarily as The Guy Who Did That "Feel It All Round" song for the TV show Portlandia, Washed Out's new album Paracosm is generating quite a lot of buzz as well. Tracks like "It All Feels Right" and "Don't Give Up" are two of Ernest's more popular recent songs - they're both worth a listen or two.
Check back soon as we conclude our recap of the best shows from MusicFestNW!
Any self-respecting town these days has a music festival. In Seattle, they have Bumbershoot. In Southern California, they have Coachella. In Austin, they have SXSW. In the Gorge, we have Sasquatch. And here in The City of Roses, we have MusicFestNW (MFNW), Portland's own tribute to all forms of sonic goodness. Over the last six days, 16 Portland venues have played host to over a 160 acts and countless screaming fans.
Obviously, no one can make it to all of those shows, so we're only going to share our highlights from the festival - and even just limiting ourselves to the highlights, there's more than one post's-worth of material here, so stayed tuned throughout the week as we recap our faves from MFNW 2013!
While many MNFW patrons were no doubt waiting for the festival headliners to roll into town later in the week (or attending the non-MFNW Alt-J show at The Crystal Ballroom), Dante's was a sea of wristbands on Tuesday night, as dedicated festival-goers turned out in full force to see some up-and-coming artists.
Local Portland group Summer Cannibals kicked off Dante's portion of MFNW with their own brand of Bridgetown garage rock, and they did so with style. However, while their record boasts surprisingly good vocals, live it was hard to hear vocalist Jessica Boudreaux over the wail of her axe. Still, a solid set from a relatively new Portland band - and they'll be back in town at the Hawthorne Theater on September 20, so you still have a chance to check them out!
Also playing at Dante's on Tuesday was Black Bananas. Fronted by former Royal Trux singer Jennnifer Herrema, their brand of funky psych-rock was a little heavier than what I usually listen to, but the crowd ate it up!
An early highlight of MusicFestNW was definitely was definitely Scottish electropop trio Chvrches (yes, that's Chvrches with a V - deal with it). Chvrches played the MFNW launch party in May, so it was fitting that they would be one of the first headlining acts of the festival itself - and they didn't disappoint. Even in the three months since they were last in town, they've improved quite a bit on the eve of their album release (set to drop September 23) - their sound is tighter, and their already impressive light show has gone from cool to what I heard one concert goer call "almost seizure inducing... but in a good way."
While elfin lead singer Lauren Mayberry may look adorable, don't underestimate her or her band. Chvrches lays down fierce, independent lyrics over wicked tracks from bandmates Iain Cook & Martin Doherty, and Mayberry's vocals have a sweet, lilting quality that can make your heart ache, especially on songs like "Gun" and "Recover."
After hearing Chvrches at The Roseland, I wandered across the street to hear Larry & His Flask and Murder By Death. The two acts are technically from different genres - Larry & His Flask rock a banjo for their brand of folk punk/punk rock (like Central Oregon's answer to Dropkick Murphys or Gogol Bordello), while Bloomington natives Murder By Death's version of indie folk/alt country feature a cellist and vocals that are reminiscent (to me, at least) of Social D's Mike Ness - but on Wednesday night, such academic differences mattered not; the end result was a seamless two-hour spree of sweaty, shirtless, rock-your-face-off goodness.
Check back soon as we continue our recap of the best shows from MusicFestNW!