on the road : photos from musicfest nw

get up kids playing the roseland for musicfest nw. photo by me; more in the photoset [flickr]

Last weekend Portland (a.k.a., the new Ballard) turned over some of its finest clubs to host Musicfest Northwest, a sort of (I imagine) South by Southwesty citywide parade of excellent shows. Over the four days, it seemed like just about every important touring band converged on the town to torment fans with difficult decisions about how to best make use of their wristbands and to balance strategic decisions about lining up early versus seeking out taco stands and worlds of books. To an infrequent visitor, this collection of packed nighttime performances and small daytime performances in basements or former funeral homes only enhanced the perception that Portland is a sprawly city with a bit of magic in the air. Schoolbuses with confused drivers shuttled between clubs, a costumed wrestling match took place on our hotel’s covered courtyard, the per capita concentration of plaid and heavyframed glasses were so far above the national average it’s hardly even worth trying to quantify, entire villages of food carts have come to occupy stray parking lots, and sometimes people say “the evil swoosh” out loud.

Of course, the shows were great, too. Explosions in the Sky make melancholy sound heroic like nobody’s business; Frightened Rabbit make continual heartbreak seem like not such a poor life choice; Arctic Monkeys kept the dance floor rolling while seeming incredibly tired of being young and famous; Mount Eerie are wrapping sprightly nature poems in harsh metals; the Local Natives provided an excellent reason to get out of bed before ten; Pink Mountaintops were pleasantly less psychadelic than advertised; and the Get Up Kids had me screaming with Napster-era nostalgia during certain parts of their set. Also notable was a KEXP–Caffe Vita co-production at the Woods, a venue carved out of a former funeral home. The Lonely Forest, Langhorne Slim, Fences, John Vanderslice, Bobby Bare Jr., Black Whales, and others played tiny sets in the parlor as the perfect soundtrack taking it easy on a Saturday afternoon. Keep an eye on their blog [caffevita] for performance footage. All in all, the festival was a wonderful reason to visit our neighbor to the south to be reminded that there are cities even more relaxed than Seattle.

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