Project Pabst was blessed last year with their end-of-season festival: sunshine breaking through the rain for the duration, comfortable mid-70s sunshine. 2015 did not find itself so blessed. Moving the festival up to mid-summer, festival creators hoped to avoid any of the weather mishaps they flirted with last year, however, what they ended up with was more of an obstacle than rain. Portlanders are prepared for rain. What Portlanders are not prepared for is triple digit temperatures, and neither was Project Pabst.
By the time the festival started early Saturday afternoon temperatures were already climbing. Among the first things people noticed when walking down to the festival was that there was no shade. Anywhere. But alas, there was beer. So much beer. And somehow that made things bearable. There might not have been one band who didn’t thank the crowd for showing up in spite of the weather, even though the whole weekend was marked by an overwhelming lethargy.
Both days started off with a handful of well-chosen local bands whose draw, unfortunately, wasn’t greater than the draw of air conditioning. Those who did show up were enthused. The most notable PDX natives were Priory on Saturday and Wild Ones on Sunday.
Priory seemed proud to be back in their hometown after over a year of touring. Their catchy music is the kind that has radio producers foaming at the mouth to air their songs, branding them as “Song of the Summer.” With music like that, there was a natural sense of fun and simplicity that people bopped along to as they filed in. That being said, it seemed like most people in attendance on Saturday were looking for the heavier sounds of later acts like Against Me!, Thee Oh Sees and Run the Jewels.
Wild Ones sound was more cohesive with the rest of Sunday’s lineup. From a distance, it would be easy to confuse Wild Ones with Alvvays who played a sweet and slow set mid-day. Wild Ones separates itself from the growing pack of twee, girl-fronted pop bands with crashing, unexpected drums and guitar hooks you’ll never get enough of. Near the end of their set, after playing “Loveless” a super groovy song off of their forthcoming EP, Heatless, they shamelessly invited the audience to come listen to more of their new release at their release party at Mississippi Studios August 14.
Among the Portland natives was Terry Six who played on Sunday as Terry and Louie. It was nothing short of celebratory to see Terry Six on stage again. Terry and Louie’s new music blends seamlessly with the sound The Exploding Hearts fans have missed over these last several years. Of course we weren’t denied Hearts favorites like “I’m a Pretender,” but if that’s the reason people showed up, they stayed to see Six absolutely shred on guitar. Something remarkable about Terry and Louie is their ability to write music that doesn’t just remind you of the music you listened to when you were young, it makes you feel young too.
Similarly, Against Me! took the stage mid-day on Saturday, and the crowd packed in to see them. Their raucous and howling set was a true snapshot of their decades long career. The standing area in front of the stage filled for the first time, dirt flying and catching on the wind as a punk-filled pit formed in the center. Laura Jane Grace is a personification of her music: biting, forceful, alive. The lyric “There’s a brave new world raging inside me,” from “Fuck My Life 666” seems a fitting one to summarize both how they played and how the audience responded, never mind that this song was among the best in their set.
Coasting off of the energy of Against Me!, everyone hurried over to the second stage as Thee Oh Sees began to play. This performance was arguably the tightest of the entire weekend, even if they didn’t rile the crowd quite as much as RTJ or Passion Pit. Thee Oh Sees is not unfamiliar to lineup changes, but I think we all really hope to never see the end of the current lineup with two drummers: Ryan Moutinho and Dan Rincon. Ryan and Dan’s synchronicity was astonishing, completely smothering some inner OCD I wasn’t aware of. It was almost difficult to even look at John Dwyer by comparison, although you don’t really need to look at anything while they play: the crunchy, monstrous guitar and lunging forceful drums inspire you to move, trancelike, completely enveloped in fuzz.
Thee Oh Sees was part of a handful of bands who seemed especially fitting for a festival devoted to Portland, with Portland’s deep love of lo-fi, high fuzz rock n roll. But despite a lineup that was curated with a good eye for music Portlanders love, who would consider what performances might rouse people from their sun-comas? Each day there was only one performance that really awakened people from their PBR haze.
Run the Jewels played the second stage just before Blondie on Saturday evening and despite big acts like Thee Oh Sees and TV on the Radio playing just before them, no one was able to work the crowd like Killer Mike and El-P. They strutted on stage to “We Are the Champions” demanding everyone throw their fists and pistols in the air. Riffing off of each other they worked their way through all the favorites from Run the Jewels and Run the Jewels 2, egging the audience on to drunkenly shout the lyrics along with them. Mike and El-P have an undeniable chemistry that makes them fun to watch even if you don’t love the music (who doesn’t love the music?) From the center of the crowd every single person in a ten-foot radius was singing along however sloppily.
Passion Pit pulled a similar response from the crowd Sunday, inciting the only real dance party of the entire festival. Their set started with a symphony of synth and drums on “Little Secrets (Manners)” which immediately had the crowd dancing, wildly despite the nearly unbearable heat. Compared to a few years ago, the group has really grown stronger instrumentally. Michael Angelakos’ voice in particular carried across the space instead of being swallowed in the music. They smartly bookended their set with their hits. “Sleepyhead” closing out the set, giving people only the best songs in their repertoire to remember.
Festivals are an entirely different ballgame than club shows and it takes a special kind of artist to understand how to cater to a festival crowd, which both Run the Jewels and Passion Pit did exceptionally. They considered that people were a mix of drunk, tired, hungry, stoned, and generally over-stimulated. You have to invite people to connect. You need to energize them, especially under the 100 degree sun. Both bands excelled.
Of course there are exceptions to any rule. Headliners Blondie and Weezer certainly are. Neither band needed to do anything extra to get people stoked.
Blondie closed out Saturday night as the sun set and the temperature was finally becoming manageable. Crystal clear, even from a distance “One Way or Another” called to everyone who hadn’t been standing at the main stage waiting. Their live sound was as pristine as their recordings, which in some ways is a bit of a let down. Part of the joy of live music is the spontaneity and the Blondie set was obviously lacking that. But Debbie Harry wasn’t, even for a second, any less kickass than she ever was. One of the highlights of the entire festival was when they broke into Beastie Boys “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)”. Although their age certainly showed, even in how they styled their songs (the long breakdowns mid-song felt very county fair), they gave everyone what they hoped for. This set will be both the first time for some and the last time for most that they’ll be able to see Blondie play live and that is something to cherish.
Weezer closed out the whole festival and before they played a lot of people wondered how their set would go. Most people agree that the Weezer they love is Weezer 15 to 20 years ago, so, is Weezer even relevant? Do drunk people love the song “Hash Pipe?” They sure do. So, good call, Pabst, it was the perfect set to end a scorching, boozy weekend. We have our fingers crossed for next year. Our sunburns should be fading by then.
Here are more images from the weekend: