MusicFest NW Day Two and Three Recap
A city festival definitely has its share of drawbacks. Not only do you regrettably end up missing shows you would have loved to go to, but you also rarely feel like you are part of something bigger than just a couple random shows. The fact that you have to wear a plastic bracelet around your wrist for five days is pretty much all you’ve got as a reminder.
On Thursday though, day two of MFNW, I really started to feel the drag of it all. I don’t usually like encouraging people to feel pity for people who get to go to shows for free, but the the way MFNW is set up is really not designed for someone who is trying to go to as many shows as possible.
Our night started off seeing a high-energy electronic band called Copy, who performed their wild synth compositions in what was probably once a dark cellar of some kind. Even as they began to play, I could feel my head getting heavy in the darkness of the room.
Next I made my way to the more classy vibe of the Aladdin Theater—plush seats and pinot noir included. Five bearded men known collectively as Trampled By Turtles took the stage and began to play their bluegrass-pop to the joy of the audience. Even though it was refreshing to get a break from the electronic dance pop, I could still feel the intense weight of my eyelids pressing down. I felt lame. Or maybe just old? I’m not old. I looked down at the bracelets on my wrist and they felt more like shackles keeping me from the comfort of my bed and much-needed rest.
I could have just retired home, but man was I glad I didn’t, because the final show I saw on Thursday made it all worth it. We arrived at the Doug Fir and walked into the basement, the band having already started. Three guys stood on the stage—one pounding away on the triggers of an electric drum kit, one bobbing back and forth playing wacked-out swells on his electric guitar, and the last guy switching between synths and bass. They are known as Onuinu and in all honesty, were exactly what I needed to wake me up. Chopped up samples and big disco beats whizzed by in a flurry of electronic sound with frontman Dorian Duvall’s reverb-soaked vocals cutting in just above the mix.
If I could give you one recommendation from the festival thus far, it would be Onuinu’s debut LP Mirror Gazer. I know it’s what I’ll be listening to in between shows for the rest of the week.
Having caught up on some sleep, I was ready to hit it hard on Friday, which featured the first headlining act, Beirut. Unfortunately, the sound at Pioneer Square was at best a letdown and at worst a total disaster. Most outdoor venues suffer from similar problems, but perhaps because of sound restrictions, the subs didn’t kick and the music just couldn’t fill the space in the way you’d hope. Local heroes Menomena opened, still managing to get the crowd into their music nonetheless, after which Beirut seemed to jump the hurdle by being a little more chill in their orchestral folk music. Frontman Zach Condon captured the audience with his trumpet and mandolin playing, while letting the band fill in their signature sound. Lesson? A band who is confident in its songs and stage presence can always connect with the audience, regardless of sound problems.
For me though, the real winner of Day 3 happened down the street back in the sweaty hall of the Crystal Ballroom. The band took the stage: two female vocalist/keyboardists on the outside; the bass, guitar, and drummer in the middle. It was Radiation City, another rising band from Portland that seems to have all the right things going for it. They play a heavy breed of indie rock—not heavy in distortion and drums, but heavy in emotion. They built their songs of angst and bedridden emotional trauma under layers of climactic group vocals and ‘60s soft rock. Hearing them follow their tightly wound but non-traditional song structures was just plain exciting for a band with as much chemistry as Radiation City. Maybe it’s because the band is made up of two couples, or maybe it’s just because these guys seem to know exactly what kind of music they want to make.
Talking with a band member afterwards, I mentioned I’d probably be talking about them in an article I was writing, to which he replied, “Make sure give us some really harsh criticism. Give us a really hard time.” Normally, I’d gladly accept that rare directive. But Radiation City is a band that deserves to be heard by more than just a crowd of half-listening tipsy Portlanders, so I suppose this is my way of gracefully refusing.
If Radiation City was my favorite act of the night, seeing Danny Brown hang out onstage with A-Trak was the most memorable. As A-Trak played his normal game of beat-dropping and crazy sampling, Danny Brown just stood on the stage bobbing his head, holding a plastic cup of festival-sponsored beer. After he walked over to the mic and began rapping some indecipherable lyrics into the mic and talking up the crowd, I was finally satisfied in remembering why festivals are so great. Moments like these make the whole thing worth it.