PDX Pop Now! Summer Festival Recap: Day 2Posted by Aaron Sharpsteen
Saturday was the second day of PDX Pop Now!‘s 2012 summer festival, as well as the longest. Numerous bands displaying various genres performed from noon until the morning hours. I did not show up until a bit after 1pm, just in time to catch a band I had planned on covering.
Houndstooth brought some southern charm and sweet licks to the stage on Saturday afternoon. John Gnorski is an amazing guitar player and just might be one of the only people who can actually pull off a neck tattoo. The yin to his yang is Kate Bernstein (like the bears), whose mellifluous voice echoed throughout the streets. Extra respect goes to the drummer, who proved that you can be an expecting mother and still rock a beat in the pocket.
It is hard not to like bands who obviously build most of their instruments. So it was with XDS (formerly eXperimental Dental School) who came onto the stage with an array of what looked to be hand made amplifiers and found objects for drums. Their sound reflected their DIY set-up, with the two drummers interacting with guitarist Jesse Hall‘s driving guitars and pulsing sampled loops.
Chrome Wings, who apparently no longer exist, brought an end to the first outside set in a challenging fashion. Layer upon layer of reverb drenched guitar and loops piled upon each other in a sometimes impenetrable wall of sound. The fact that it was their last show explains the bittersweet expression on both of their faces throughout most of the set. Both performers seemed a little melancholy, but they soldiered on and gave the audience one last taste of their challenging pop compositions.
Two things happened during Neal Morgan‘s set on Saturday, one good, one not so good. The thing that everyone was waiting for once they realized that the venue was located right next to some train tracks inevitably occurred, and a train rolled by while Morgan delivered his drum/spoken word act. The sounds of the train fit right in with the performance. The second thing that happened was the decision by audience members to sit down for the entire set, a move that I personally find disrespectful at best. Sitting down is understandable after a long day, but Morgan went on around 3:40 and the show had only started at noon.
The sitting down continued while solo performer Holland Andrews brought her act, known as Like a Villain, to the stage, and it is unclear how they could remain seated while she basically bared her soul to them. Displaying incredible musicianship, she looped bells and clarinets and even her own voice together to create some of the most interesting music at the entire festival. If you were sitting down during this performance, and you are reading this, shame on you.
Portland metal band Eight Bells finally got the audience to their feet with some louder instrumentation and some help from audience members who planted themselves right in front of the stage, a move that should have been made for the other inside acts. Eight Bells brought long-form metal compositions filled with sinister sounding guitar loops and crushing bass. Drummer Chris Van Huffel provided the glue between Melynda Jackson‘s dizzying guitar work and bassist Haley Westeiner‘s angry thumps. After two relatively chill sets in a row, it was good to see the energy level pick back up.
Grandparents continued to build on the energy with some fast-paced experimental pop/rock that got the crowd moving. Grandparents set was one of the more psychedelic and meandering of the day, which was a good thing. They also impressively translated the guitar tones found on their recordings to the stage, something that not every band performing during the weekend could claim. Their set was an appropriate summary of the summery half-day of music that had taken place so far.
The order of the bands was made quite funny when Smegma came onstage. Being a noise collective that was formed in 1973, many of the members looked like (and might actually be) grandparents…playing directly after a band called Grandparents. Smegma was another instrumental noise band, with several horn players, a record player spinning creepy vocal tracks, and a violinist. Their music was some of the strangest of the day, and it seemed like the crowd was getting a little restless towards the end of their set. Still, everyone in the audience can now say that they have seen a band named Smegma, and that is an accomplishment itself.
Youthbitch was awesome, fun, and hilarious. The all male band came out dressed in drag, and the length of one of the guitarists’ shorts under his dress came quite close to exposing his testicles multiple times.Their music was a mixture of straight-forward brit-rock with some punk thrown in. The aesthetic of the band can be summarized by the run up to one of their songs, in which the bassist asked, “Whose favorite room in the house is the bathroom? It’s my favorite…I like it so much I think I want to die in there. This song is about that, its called ‘Just Like Elvis.’” Awesome.
The show headed back inside for Vice Device, the band that sounded the most “industrial” out of the whole weekend. Sampled drums thumped and cracked under brooding keys and angst filled vocals. Thankfully the sound engineers seemed to have figured out how to handle swelling and layered electronic sounds, as I was afraid Vice Device would suffer the same fate as Arohan and get a bit washed out in acoustic feedback. This did not happen, Vice Device sounded excellent.
Portand ambient/house DJ Strategy was up next, and I have to offer him a personal apology, as my camera was near death and I had to retreat to a backroom to find some electricity for it. Watching Strategy without a camera was tough, as the crowd absolutely dug Paul Dickow‘s master class in dance inducing and thought provoking electronic music.
Cloudy October came out next to give the audience a taste of some home-grown rap. The set was quite excellent, except for something a little silly. I can’t think of anything sillier than “rapper-oake,” but Cloudy October thought it was a good idea to perform Dr. Dre’s “Nothin’ But a G Thang.” Perhaps he thought he could get some crowd participation, as every single white kid from the ages of 16-30 knows the lyrics to that song. Not only that, but he attempted the radio-edit version, which simply prompted some audience members to scream out the actual (and sometimes quite vulgar) lyrics. At the end of his set, he brought on 16 year old Portland rapper Rose, who tore it up.
The show headed back outside for the final set of the evening. Secret Drum Band was up first, and honestly their effect was muted by the proceedings of the day. There were at least 6 other bands on Saturday that relied on the use of intricate, instrumental compositions which challenged the minds and ears of the audience. Perhaps those bands should have been spread out over the course of the festival, instead of having 7 bands playing challenging instrumental compositions all on the same day. The overall effect were dizzying highs and lows of energy and participation. The segue between the high energy rap of Cloudy October and long form composition of Secret Drum Band illustrated this effect. This is not to say Secret Drum Band weren’t impressive. Composing a piece for multiple percussionists and executing that piece nearly flawlessly displays extreme talent. Unfortunately that talent might have been squandered by the scheduling.
Constituting another roller-coaster rise in the energy of the day was the performance of Jeffrey Jerusalem, who was an absolute revelation. Performing a talented backing band, Jerusalem put on a dazzling and dance-inducing performance of inspired pop. The performance delivered absolutely raised not only the energy level but also the bar for the next couple performers to live up to.
Fortunately for Portland rapper iLLmacuLate, he is no stranger to high pressure performance situations, being a national rap battle champion. On the previous night, rappers TxE went into the crowd, but for iLLmacuLate, the crowd came to him, with several excited and most-likely intoxicated fans finding their way onto the stage to deliver some impromptu dancing before being escorted off by unamused security personnel. iLLmacuLate showed why he is becoming a force to be reckoned with not only in the Northwest hip-hop scene but on the national level as well, delivering a tight, professional performance that left the crowd in the palm of his hand.
The last band to perform after a long day was The Miracles Club, and they asked the audience to do something that might have seemed impossible: they asked them to dance their asses off. High energy house music wafted into the night sky as multiple dancers and two musicians performed on stage. Gigantic white and blue orbs were inflated and strewn around the audience while the party lasted until the morning hours. After a day which was full of ups and downs in terms of energy level (but not performance standards, which were all excellent), the night ended on a very high note.