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Monday, September 12, 2011

My Own Personal MusicfestNW Recap: Part Two

Posted by Charlie Swanson on Mon, Sep 12, 2011 at 2:04 PM

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Following a bit of a raging start to this year's MFNW, my weekend was positively serene. Under the sun of Pioneer Courthouse Square and around the city, the festival dominated the hot and muggy weekend. Getting by on a steady diet of burritos and beer, I hung around downtown Portland for the entirety of Saturday and Sunday's offerings, a far more mellow collection of artists and music. After the jump, I'll rant and rave a bit about who I saw and how it went.

Saturday:
I started Saturday down at the Courthouse, taking in the outdoor show for the first time in the week. I was excited for the lineup, which included a couple local acts. First up was Portland's own Eluvium. Consisting of Matthew Cooper and a few instruments, the ambient noise and melodic repetition of his long compositions was the perfect soundtrack for watching the shadows move across the buildings.

Up next was Typhoon, about 12 members strong and with a clear pop sense to their orchestral indie rock, they played like the opposite side of the Eluvium coin, though just as intimate and inviting. Every time I see the band, I'm amazed just how quiet and close the ensemble feels, even in an outdoor setting. And I would like to thank Typhoon for playing "The Honest Truth," a song that always gives me chills. It was especially appreciated in that afternoon heat.

After the rousing music of Typhoon, follow up the Antlers put on a so-so production of slow moving indie rock. It picked up after a while, but couldn't really capture my attention, even after the first two acts had me practically entranced. The Antlers have a good sound on record, maybe I was just feeling a bit restless at this point. It seemed like a lot of people were feeling the same.

And maybe that's because everyone was really there to see the headliner of the evening, Explosions in the Sky. Once the Austin instrumental group took the stage, the audience became as one as the band played through a blistering set of their highly melodic and expressive post rock. Only thing odd about the set was that the band, either drunk off a sense of compassion and goodwill or the leftovers of a weeding they recently attended, dedicated their set to "Love" in one of the sappiest things I've probably ever heard at a rock show. I mean, whatever you guys, if that's how you want to play it, that's cool. But seriously, gag!

So, after skipping out early on Explosions, I headed over to Backspace to catch Death Songs, a last minute decision and one I'm glad I made. Fronted by Nicholas Dellfs, the trio played a good old alt rock set of short, catchy songs and bittersweet bravado. Dellfs, switching between keys and guitar, scrambled about a bit on stage, slightly wild eyed as he shifted back and forth, at one point playing the keyboard WITH HIS FACE! Nothing wrong with that.

After Death Songs wrapped, I made my way over to the Crystal Ballroom to see the last two bands of the night there. First up was Long Beach rockers Avi Buffalo. They were...hmm. I'm having trouble writing anything because I'm a firm believer that if you dont have something nice to say you don't say anything. Let's just say I adore the band's debut album and their songs are constantly buzzing about in my head, but Antlers are now officially off the hook for worst clunker of the weekend. Though, you can't let it get you down and thankfully, the headliners of the night more than made up for it.

And those headliners? Portland folk rock troupe Blind Pilot. Marking this show as their official We Are The Tide album release show, the band superbly played through a gracious and humble set of knockout tunes. I was kind of surprised at how eager the crowd was, how into it they were. I knew Blind Pilot had built up a following and a reputation, but even the band seemed genuinely astonished at the packed house and enthusiastic response the crowd was giving each and every song. If this show is any indication, Blind Pilot could very well be the next BIG band out of this town. And they deserve it.

Sunday:
Ah, Sunday. The last day of the festival, and the shortest by far. Only the evening outdoor show in Pioneeer Courthouse Square to attend and then it's all over. By this time, I gotta say festival fatigue was setting in, late nights and loud noises for three days straight was starting to get to me, and I almost contemplated skipping the last show altogether, but duty called and I headed downtown yet again to face the sweat and sounds of one last show.

I was actually more excited to see Cass McCombs than Band of Horses, as I had yet to see him live and really, his songs are just better. I was not disappointed. McCombs and his band played a serene set of emotionally resonant music, highlighted by the material from his latest album, Wit's End. Frankly, a lot of this brilliance was lost on the crowd there, and I don't want to start talking shit about festival audiences but there are just so many better places to catch up with friends and chat than at a rock show! I actually moved around three times during Cass's set because each spot I picked, some couple or group of people would come up right next to me and start talking about their new futon or something. Too bad that one of the best sets of the whole week was relegated to background music for so many people. Their loss.

So why did these kids and families and people who seem completely uninterested in the concept of music show up? Band of Horses! People love these guys. I get it, the songs are easy to like, even easier to identify with, and super easy to gain indie cred with. Now, I know I'm sounding like a hater, and I'm not really, I love the band's debut album. I just don't think they're doing anything unique or very interesting nowadays. It's like they found the formula for instant success with any song and they're sticking to it. So, for me, their set was blah squared. They played a couple tracks off that beloved debut, a smattering of songs from their last couple releases, and even some new new, untitled works that are in the process of becoming another new album. Singer Ben Bridwell's voice was hoarse from a long tour and at times he shied away from the more soaring elements of his harmonies, but for the most part it was a nice end to the festival, and that was enough.

So, that was my experience. How was yours?

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