It’s the middle of summer, which means that it is time for my second favorite festival of the season, PDX Pop Now! (Pickathon wins my heart with free booze for press every year). Once again a wide array of Portland talent will amass under the Hawthorne Bridge for an all ages showcase that features a mixture of both up-and-coming and established acts that should please casual fans looking to find something new as well as snobbish Portland scene-elitists who think they already know it all. Nevertheless, three days of music is a long time. Here’s a helpful guide to some of this year’s best bets.
The first night of the festival starts a little slow with some soul and jazz acts, easing the crowd into it, but by nightfall the party should be fully raging. Don’t miss:
The first couple hours feature some classy musicianship, but those interested in some slow-burning jazz can do no better than Blue Cranes. An established Portland avant-jazz act, the group will bring a style intent on exploring dynamic emotional ranges and head-spinning improvisational passages.
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed the glut of psych-pop/rock/whatever bands that call Portland home these days, but for me they all owe something to The Shivas, a band that’s been around the block a few times by now. The fact that they play an appealing mix of surf, psych, pop and rock certainly doesn’t hurt, and their name has only spread since their supporting tour with Portland celebrities The Dandy Warhols.
Have we stopped saying Dewayne’s name since last year? Several cameos during the festival sealed his position as one of the crowd’s favorite unofficial performers. Perusing the schedule for the weekend reveals what seems to have been an intentional decision to include more representatives from Portland’s hip-hop/rap/dance communities, and Dewayne is certainly a worthwhile selection. His juxtaposition with Chanti Darling at the end of the evening will have the night owls shaking their hips and bobbing their heads non-stop.
The second day of the 2015 festival is honestly one of the best, most balanced lineups I’ve seen in Portland…ever. Make sure to catch:
Still hung over at 2 in the afternoon? Dance and headbang your fuzz away with The Stops, an infectious punk group that will be on the tip of your tongue for the rest of the weekend. Get your friends together and come early, they are the second band on Saturday.
One of five bands that I specifically advised to watch for this year in Portland, The Domestics are riding a high, well-deserved wave, with Tender Loving Empire giving their incredible self-titled debut some label support. The album easily made my top ten last year, and the band’s live presence matches their recorded beauty. I’m still questioning the decision to put them on at 3:30pm instead of giving them a headlining slot, but if the intention was to get a bigger crowd in the early afternoon, this might be a good way to do it. This is one of Portland’s best bands, playing for free under a bridge. There are no excuses. Do not miss this set.
I love it when PDX Pop Now listens to the metal community. Runners up in last year’s Portland Metal Winter Olympics, thrash outfit Weresquatch might be a little family un-friendly, but a rough edge is what rock-n-roll is all about right? Ear drums are going to be blown out, hair is going to fly, and faces will be melted. Long live Portland underground thrash.
As if having a thrash band in the middle of the afternoon wasn’t enough, the geniuses at PDX Pop Now also managed to get one of Portland’s best hardcore acts, Long Knife, to join the fray. By the time they take the stage, it will be after 10, with the youngest of the younger crowd slinking off to their curfewed existences while the rest of the summer-time troublemakers stay to party down and hopefully start a pit.
Have you ever seen a star be born? Another one of my “bands to watch” this year, there is simply no way that Holy Grove does not blow everyone out of the fucking water in their headlining slot at 10:30 on Saturday night. Can you imagine it? A summer night, a packed crowd full of in-the-know metalheads mixing with a bunch of fresh faced 19-20 year olds who have no idea? At least one kid pisses their pants, and quite a few fall in love with Andrea Vidal, guaranteed. Once again, this is one of Portland’s best, for free, under a bridge. Do not miss this set.
After the juggernaut that is Saturday, Sunday has a lot to live up to. I’m not sure it is going to carry the same weight as the previous day, with organizers grouping a contingent of “experimental” acts together on a day that will likely challenge a lot of casual music fans. The sets to see are:
Nevermind the somewhat pretentious name. bed. recently dropped a worthwhile album full of pop/gaze treats. After two days of hard partying, bed. won’t put the crowd to sleep, but will engage the audience in pleasant, dreamy fun.
Muscle & Marrow
Kudos once again to the organizers of the festival and the decision to put Muscle & Marrow on relatively early in the evening, so their crushing, discordant, existential doom can scare as many children as possible. Hyperbole aside, the far-reaching, powerful feminism of vocalist Kira Clark will be sure to touch some hearts.
A few years ago I saw a band called Nucular Aminals. They had some great stuff. I’ve recently thought to myself…what ever happened to them? A conversation with PDX Pop Now veteran Annie Ostrowski revealed the truth: they now go by Marriage+Cancer, ditching their admittedly goofy name but not the sharp NW post-punk that made them so likable.
Have work on Monday morning? Can’t stick around until well after midnight for one of the godfather’s of Portland’s hip-hop scene, Cool Nutz? That’s ok. Mic Crenshaw will give you his posi raps for you to think about on your way home to face another week after three days of some of the best music Portland has to offer.