Before arriving in Portland, most of my knowledge of Oregon’s biggest city stemmed from hipster satire TV-show Portlandia. A few other fun facts are derived from various locals, angry Yelp comments and train brochures: Portland is the most eco-friendly city in the U.S., is home to the highest concentration of annoying hipsters, roses seem to be a big deal here but also, no other U.S. city has as many strips clubs per capita…
Not sure what to make of that combination but I was excited to find out. Portland is also a music city which was home to indie darling Elliott Smith in his formative years. To go to a music festival while in Portland seemed like the right thing to do. MusicfestNW is the biggest music happening in Oregon and this year’s line-up included well-known names such as Belle&Sebastian, Modest Mouse and Beirut, as well as less established acts including as SALES, Lady Lamb and Allilujiah Choir.
It is a smoking hot(pun intended) Saturday in Portland and the second day of the MusicfestNW. At 1 pm a decent amount of festival goers have already braved the heatwave. The first show we catch, Florida-based duo SALES, is the first but certainly not last act to jokingly address the smokey skies stemming from the forest fires in Oregon in their in-between-songs talk. SALES, who are just finishing up their West Coast tour, consists of Lauren Morgan and Jordan Shih. The long-time friends and musical partners make light-weight low-fi guitar-pop, which in combination with the smoke-induced dimmed yellow sunlight makes for a smooth start of the day.
Twin brothers Zach and Ben Yudin make Southern Californian indie pop under the moniker Cayucas and played a fun, easy breezy gig at the MusicfestNW. The band’s sound is beachy and dance-friendly and can best be described as a mix between Beach Boys, a Mexican folk band and shoegaze all at once.
Hyped experimental rock band Battles are touring in anticipation of their upcoming album and played in front of an excited crowd. Although Battles are always musically and technically pleasing, there is a slight smugness about them that you will either love or hate. The crowd definitely seemed to love their instrumental set, which indeed stood out from the niceness of the other acts indie pop. Battles will be touring this fall, so plenty of chances to catch them ahead.
Maybe it is the heat, maybe it’s the smoke, maybe just the time of the day, but the Portlanders seem a bit hard to flirt with. But once Dominican native George Lewis Jr. aka Twin Shadow hits the stage with his band, there seems to be a moment of awakening. The crowd seemed smitten by Lewis energetic bubbly personality and the band’s 80 power synth pop had the audience dancing like there was no tomorrow. A passerby on a bridge behind the stage gave the audience a solo dance show lasting almost the entire set, something that Lewis acknowledged as “only in Portland”.
Second to last band of the day were indie pop cult band Belle&Sebastian. The crowd was suddenly much bigger, the sudden presence of babies in the audience witnessed of a mid 30s crowd excited to take in some nostalgia from their youth. Last band out for Saturday, Beirut, need no further introduction. The Balkan folk music inspired act never fail to deliver and their complex tunes rounded off the evening. A safe but yet somewhat boring choice for end of play that day.