PDX Pop Now! Summer Festival Recap: Day 3Posted by Aaron Sharpsteen
The third day of PDX Pop Now! was the last, and featured even more amazing local acts for Portlanders to enjoy. It also happened to start the same as the previous days, with a late arrival by myself.
Luckily I made it exactly on time to see Batmen play their last show. That fact most likely broke some hearts, because they played an awesome set filled with punk/post-punk energy. Comparisons to the mighty Hot Snakes aren’t out of the question, though Batmen play a bit more straight-forward punk. The drummer’s Freddy Kruger inspired drum set was rad as well. Hopefully they will let all of us know whenever they plan on having a reunion show.
Sean Flinn and the Royal We were up next, bringing to the stage some pleasing and literate pop. After days of bands coming to the stage with complicated arrays of electronic devices, it was nice to see PDX Pop Now string together 2 bands in a row that employed more straightforward sounds and instrumentation. There were still some people who thought it was appropriate to take a seat for the inside proceedings.
The precedent of sitting during the inside sets reared its head once again for Pulse Emitter, although for his set the transgression seemed a bit less slight. The project of Daryl Groetsch, Pulse Emitter is reminiscent of more ambient projects like Stars of the Lid, and just as meditative. The music was perfect for some thoughtful reflection during the end of a long weekend of music.
Although sitting down might have been appropriate for the previous set, it was still a bit annoying that Shy Girls had to ask people to stand up before they started to play. (Seasoned show-goers should simply know better). The vocalist handled the situation with grace, however, and the set was off, giving the audience a taste of some groovy, 80′s inspired love-pop. Multiple vocalists harmonized while a sultry keyboard slid through the grooves and got the crowd head-bobbing at least. All this being said, Shy Girls were oddly placed between the meditative ambiance of Pulse Emitter and the raw acoustic emotion of the next performer, Edna Vasquez.
Of course, there is no reason why all city events should or could strive towards representational demographics. The conclusion that someone could form after attending this festival is that Portland is mainly filled with 20-30 something year old white people who are obsessed with finding ways to modernize what they regularly get nostalgic about, and for the most part this is an accurate description of the city. All of that granted, it was very nice indeed to see a Spanish language performer, Vasquez, accompanied only by her guitar and violin. Her ability to transfer the emotion from song to listener was uncanny, as was her ability to produce whistles capable of being in any Sergio Leone score.
Battle Hymns and Gardens put on one of the gutsiest performances of the festival. Normally a jazz quartet, the two horn players on stage informed the audience that the drummer was on an emergency flight back home to deal with a family medical situation. It would have been completely understandable if they had simply cancelled their set, but they did the right thing and brought some quite interesting jazz to the stage. At the end of the set they were joined by Noah Bernstein who also happens to perform with tUnEyArDs.
The second outside set ended with the performance of Sons of Huns, who brought some Sabbath-worship to the stage. Continuing the trend of the harder acts performing quite well, Sons of Huns delivered an awesome set, though the crowd seemed to still either be hung over from Saturday or still asleep. Sons of Huns did their best to wake them up, however, with chugging riffs and pounding drums that got at least a couple heads banging.
The PDX Pop Now program described JonnyX and the Groadies as “future fantasy metal for wizards on a road trip.” While this description is an admirable attempt, the more accurate description would be “metal composed in the mind of a mad scientist who has been working in an unventilated lab and has thus inhaled too many fumes.” Coming out in costume, the band, which included a mad scientists, a very scary skeletal bird man, and a day-glo hair-metaler, proceeded to drown the crowd in fog and then blast their ears with speed metal backed by absolutely insane drum machine blast beats.
Following a somewhat crazy act like that was always going to be difficult for White Hinterland, and that difficulty was increased even more-so by some technical difficulties during her set-up. The most awkward moment of the festival came when the assistant to the sound engineer went to the back to the sound board to report to his associate, who said “She keeps saying its an input, then an output. She doesn’t know anything.” This happened to be quite an ironic statement, because he forgot to turn the microphone which fed into the monitors off, letting the performer and all of us who happened to be near the front of the stage listen to his somewhat unprofessional thoughts on the matter. Either way, she recovered from these multiple setbacks to deliver an intriguing and beguiling set of downtempo electronic pop.
Dana Buoy was up next, a project brought to Portland by the drummer for Akron/Family. Buoy’s sound was an amalgam of afro-cuban beats with simplistic pop. The skies outside the building where he performed might have been grey and the air getting a little colder, but Buoy brought a dose of sunshine.
The festival moved back outside for the final set of the festival, kicked off by psych-rockers Aan (the shortened form ofAmor Ad Nauseum) who proceeded to blow everyone’s minds with one of the best performances of the festival. Their interesting mixture of psychedelic aesthetics with a more straight-forward rock vibe surely captured many hearts. The fact that this was their homecoming performance after a tour simply sweetened the deal. Their performance probably had some concert goers headed over to purchase their album, but we all have to wait, it isn’t due out until later this year.
It wouldn’t have been a Portland music festival without a “Reedie” (a name attached to those lucky folks who attend Reed College, Portland’s version of Hogwarts) band performing, and Hausu certainly stepped up in this regard. Comprised of college kids who make music during summer break, Hausu brought a somewhat European vibe to the proceedings of the night, beckoning to the sounds of the UK specifically. It isn’t clear how vocalist Ben Funkhouser pulls off a faux accent while singing, but he does it quite well.
White Fang was the next band up, and they brought their distinct mixture of rock/punk to the stage to encourage debauchery. It is always good to see hedonistic drug and alcohol use explicitly encouraged and performed by band members, and White Fang certainly stepped up to the plate in this regard. They even performed their signature anthem representing the swashbuckling attitude, “Wrecked.”
Unfortunately, White Fang was the last band I got to see on Sunday, as I had a previous engagement. (I was going to see a band at another venue, a band whose name rhymes with “Ruth Baboon”) Nevertheless, a competent photographer friend of mine helped me out and got some decent shots of the closing bands of the festival, Pure Bathing Culture and Onuinu (for the uninitiated, that is pronounced “on you, in you,” a fact that was made clear to me after I mangled the pronunciation myself.)
To conclude, PDX Pop Now! makes a strong case as Portland’s best local music festival. Free is the best price, it features only bands that call Portland home, and absolutely exposes local music fans to worthwhile bands that they might not have time to investigate one by one. If all this is inspiring, it is also important to remember that PDX Pop Now is a non-profit which runs entirely on the efforts of volunteers as well as donations and contributions. The organization responsible for this incredible weekend of music can be found here.