The theme of MusicfestNW — this year for sure, but probably every year — is apparently Getting a Late Start Due to Food. It’s just awfully hard to resist Portland’s culinary delights, even when you’re forced to choose between rock and a sausage. Wait, that sounded weird.
Friday began late for us with Hosannas, who used to be Church (and were briefly Ape Cave, sort of) at Mississippi Studios, where I’ve basically taken up a permanent location in the balcony. The view from above makes Hosannas more fun; their button-pushing and knob-twisting songs are more interesting than engrossing, and all the more so when you’re upstairs watching the glowy lights and the guy with the bare feet triggering stuff on one of his many, many, many pieces of equipment. It felt awfully cerebral, especially without a stiff drink.
Next, we climbed the stairs to the Crystal Ballroom against such a dense flow of downstairs traffic that we thought Okkervil River was already done. Nope — people just weren’t into the strangely sloppy/beautiful/sloppy show bandleader Will Sheff was choreographing. Well, some people were: For whatever reason, the place seemed to be full of slightly fratty, more then slightly wasted dudes who chose the oddest moments to pump their fists. The people-watching was more than distracting, especially since the band kept breaking into a nearly goosebump-eliciting song, only to crush it into shreds — and not the good kind — within minutes. Yes, “Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe”! No! It’s run off the tracks!
It was an odd scene.
Down at Berbati’s, Richmond Fontaine was easily charming a late-night crowd with the least ironic, most straightforward, always narratively fascinating set of the weekend. If at least 70 percent of the bar didn’t have some kind of crush on singer-songwriter Willy Vlautin, well, you could’ve fooled me. (Is it the sweetly scruffy voice? The Nathan Fillion-ish profile? The spare and sympathetic hard-luck novels? All of the above?)
The set wasn’t quite as perfect as the band’s afternoon show at Pickathon, which felt like rock ‘n’ roll preschool, with much of the crowd sitting cross-legged on the barn’s concrete floor, but it still ended with “Four Walls.” Wistful, building, sentimental, lovelorn, wishful, longing — it’s a song for silent rooms and shivering lighters, late nights and long pours of whiskey. It belongs on every crushtastic mix CD ever made.
So, yeah, it would’ve been a lovely place to end the night, but the Someday Lounge was on the way home, and there, the nine? ten? (19 are listed on the band’s MySpace page) members of Typhoon were crowding the stage. I’ve only seen Typhoon live — several fractions of shows, now — but if their ramshackle heartache holds up on record, I’ve got some shopping to do. Every time I hear this band, I think of the Register-Guard‘s Serena Markstrom, talking, as we walked through their Pickathon set, about male singers who sound like what a mouth looks like when it’s blowing a bubble. Round, wobbly, earnest, self-aware — I think that’s what she was going for. I think. Typhoon calls its sound “epic indie rock” across the top of the band’s website; they sound like carefully orchestrated yearning to me. I think they should come play Sam Bond’s immediately — pack us in, sweaty and uncomfortably close together, and fill the space with sound until we forget the details.
And that was Friday. Today has already been the super-extra-delightful OPB Music party at Mississippi Studios; the delight will continue with Laura Viers, Titus Andronicus, And And And and more. There will also be a Smashing Pumpkins show. Whether “delight” is a word even faintly applicable to such a thing remains to be seen.