MusicFest NW Day Four and Five Recap
The gray clouds rolled in over the city on Friday night. The previous three days of the festival had been bright, warm days—the climax of the short Portland summer that had arrived just in time for the festival. But unexpected thunder struck and rain fell on Friday night—quickly dissipating but returning on Saturday morning as a thick, gray cloud that Oregonians know all too well. For me, a native Oregonian, it just meant I wasn’t going to pass out from overheating at the Girl Talk show later that night.
If I could have planned out my schedule of show-seeing on Saturday night myself, I would have started with a quiet acoustic set from The Tallest Man On Earth, followed by seeing the joyous orchestral pop collective Typhoon, and ending the night with the two-hour long, confetti-filled party with Girl Talk at Pioneer Square. Instead, things were a little backwards, starting with seeing Starfucker perform their take on electro-dance pop (a genre of music that by then I had heard quite a bit of), opening for Girl Talk. But the hype to see Girl Talk was thick in the air, even as the band finished up their set.
Earlier in the day, I was eating a very classy meal at The Spaghetti Factory when the server noticed the bracelet around my wrist. “Are you guys going to Girl Talk?” he asked excitedly. He may not have understood that Girl Talk was part of a larger music festival since tickets could be purchased individually, but I was surprised to see that it was least on people’s radar.
The show was pretty much Girl Talk as we’ve all come to expect him: toilet paper guns, Biggie samples and sweatpants included. Tongue-in-cheek commercial images and icons from youth bounced across the screens, successfully transforming his unending mashup remixes into loving nods to Warhol-esque pop art. The crowd, however, was the tamest Girl Talk crowd I’ve ever seen or been a part of. In typical Northwest fashion, a lot of people hung out on the steps of the amphitheater, with plenty of standers hanging out on the outlier of the crowd. Gregg Gillis did his very best at pumping up the crowd, but it just never hit the point of insanity that most Girl Talk concerts usually hit. I wondered about what kind of city Portland actually was and what people who attend a festival like MusicFest NW expect in a show. Maybe Girl Talk just wasn’t the right fit.
As has become theme of my experience at MusicFest NW, Portland bands have continuously impressed me throughout the week. First it was Onuinu and Radiation City, but now Typhoon was really making me proud of the city I call home. The band seems to keep increasing in size, adding more and more people into its circus of orchestral folk pop. As they look and smile at each other across the stage, the two drummers keeping in unison with one another and the rest of the band keeping up with their varied song structures, Typhoon just felt like a vibrant celebration of community. These people just seemed to love each other and love playing music together. To the delight of the audience, they played a set of mostly new songs that got me really excited to hear their new full-length album that’s supposedly on its way. As their set came to a close, I concluded that this was an accurate representation of what Portland felt like to me. Not Portlandia or some big band coming into town to play a huge headlining show. Seeing The Crystal Ballroom packed to the brim to see one man known as The Tallest Man On Earth was just icing on the cake at this point. This was Portland.
Or at least so I thought. Sunday, the last night of MusicFest NW, to put it lightly, was a pretty tame closer. Only three bands were scheduled, and each of them felt like peculiar choices. Pioneer Square, the headlining venue of the festival and where Sunday’s events took place, sits in the heart of downtown—a hub of the city’s activity and identity. One of the openers, Australian rockers Atlas Genius, remarked at how cold it was getting in the evening. I looked around and saw a crowd full of people wearing shorts, t-shirts and skirts. Didn’t seem to bother them.
After School of Seven Bells played their set, the skyline had grown dark and the air continued to get colder—but the people just kept pouring in. People from every direction cheered as the Silversun Pickups played their opening song, the fans recognizing the song just by the first strummed chords from frontman Brian Aubert. In a city that I thought would have been pretty much disinterested in what a band like Silversun Pickups had to offer, here was this huge crowd of people, possibly the biggest crowd I’d seen at the festival yet, rocking out to the band’s breed of alternative rock like it was 2002. Aubert humbly stated that he wasn’t sure the band even deserved the honorable treatment they were receiving: namely this huge crowd of people on a cold Sunday night and the slot as the closing headliner. Yet the crowds threw up their rock fists and sang along in disagreement.
And that’s when I realized that I might not know Portland as well as I thought I did. Maybe Portland isn’t just a hip city of young people with the same musical tastes as me. But maybe it also doesn’t really matter. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from MusicFest NW this year, it’s that I’m happy just being a part of it.