One of the best aspects of Musicfest NW is its intimate club settings. Whereas most music festivals are synonymous with enormous outdoor stages designed to fit tens of thousands of people, Portland sticks to its quirky Portland roots and packs seething masses of people into sweaty, energy-filled bars and venues. One major perk of this indoor setting is that the festival can book major metal shows without scaring off the locals and more timid music listeners. And with that said, that is where I found myself most of the time — in the face of thrashing riffs and flowing locks of hair.

 

Red Fang

Portland’s Red Fang had a big night at Musicfest NW. The band was opening up for eventual metal legends Baroness and had also just inked a deal through Relapse Records to bring out their drink-ariffic metal tunes to the masses. So, inside the cozy confines of Dante’s, tall boys of PBR and Tecate in hand, the crowd was ready to let Red Fang fly. But Red Fang didn’t so much as fly as they steamrolled. The Portland quartet plays an interesting type of metal, less confined by creative riffs and more in the constant search of the ultimate head-banging guitar line. Personally, I think they found it with their beer drinking anthem of “Prehistoric Dog” (seriously, just watch the music video), which closed out a set that was equal parts old stuff, equal parts new stuff, and a bit of the stuff in between.

 

Baroness

It was my second time seeing Baroness in one week (see: Bumbershoot Festival 2010), but this time, I was excited to see them with a metal crowd. The band came out quickly, and didn’t disappoint, launching straight into “The Sweetest Curse” off the ridiculously fantastic Blue Record. Once again, as Baroness was plowing its way through its own interesting blend of the metal seen coming out of Georgia, it became readily apparent that these guys have way too much fun on stage. That attitude on the metal arena is quite nice to see, as generally speaking it is a genre that takes itself way too seriously. Baroness are shattering that mold, and they are doing it with fantastic music in the process.

 

Heiress

I have great respect for John Pettibone. The man just has music flowing through his veins, and every time he gets to the top, he breaks it down and starts all over — from the bottom floor. Heiress was the opening act at the Satryicon for the From Ashes Rise reunion show, and they brought their utter heaviness to a sparse crowd seemingly reluctant to get too emotionally involved that early in the night. That didn’t stop Pettibone from screaming to his heart’s desire, struggling to get over the sludgy, monstrous noise Heiress emits. The band is less hardcore than metal, but don’t place that metalcore tag on them. They are just getting started to shatter eardrums across the world.

 

Ceremony

The Bay Area spazzy hardcore outfit was up next, and the small venue went nuts. Vocalist Ross Farrar was constantly buried underneath a churning mass of stage divers more often than not. Ceremony isn’t one to play to what people expect, and there was a bizarre energy on stage half the time that really lent a bipolar bent to the show. This is fitting with Ceremony’s catalog and musical style — which keeps you on your edge just long enough to snap you back into with some blistering riffs, thundering bass, and machine gun drumming.

 

Scott Kelly (of Neurosis)

The ultimate attraction of the weekend, for me, was the reformation of the seminal metal band Sleep. But to make it to their set I had to get in extra early (a down side of having the festival indoors — you can actually get shut out), and unfortunately, I had to suffer through a useless solo acoustic set by Scott Kelly. I have the utmost respect for this man, and Neurosis is a fantastic, fantastic band, but this performance was about as unnecessary as they come. Kelly’s voice sounded exactly like it does on the albums, and although a couple of songs had the slow, plodding, guitar strokes you would expect to go with it, the rest was a mess of musical styles that you just can’t force to mesh. The crowd was rather disinterested, to the point where Kelly hopped on a horse way too high and told them to respect him and what he was doing and to shut the hell up. Sorry, Scott Kelly; I agree you deserve major respect for what your band has done in the genre it is in, but you can’t ever demand respect and expect to get it as a solo artist. Every one was there to see Sleep, and even he knew it.

 

Sleep

Sleep reformed for just a few shows to play their excellent album, Holy Mountain, in its entirety. The band came out to a filled-to-capacity Roseland Theater crowd losing their minds in utter nostalgia. As guitarist Matt Pike came out and just slammed his guitar, the wall of amps really set the tone — and so did Pike doing this for close to five minutes. It wasn’t the most creative of intros, but it was the most fitting. After all, stoner/doom metal isn’t exactly known for its speed. But when the band got going, it was about as metal as it could get. Bassist and vocalist Al Cisneros bellowed his heart out and got into his patented grooving zone. Pike was a shirtless, sweaty mess, of beer, cigarettes, and a real desire to put on an amazing show. Sleep, despite being broken up for over ten years, seemed like they hadn’t missed a beat — and Holy Mountain never sounded so good in the process. This was the definitive show of the weekend, if not the definitive show of my year.

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