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.