September 16th, 2011 – Pioneer Square Courthouse, Portland, OR
MusicfestNW is a festival unlike most festivals, because most of it takes place indoors. Within the past few years, the good curators have added a stage in downtown Portland, or as it would be referred to by many people over and over, the backyard of Portland (and due to the mid-90s heat that day, one person called it the frying pan of Portland): the Pioneer Courthouse Square. For a fenced off area in the middle of the hustle and bustle of downtown, the sound was surprisingly fantastic and the setting rather serene and well… concert-like.
First up was Matthew Cooper, aka Eluvium. The Portland ambient/minimalist instrumental artist was the first big test of the large and spacious venue. Eluvium’s beautiful guitar loops and gentle piano pieces worked wonders for the small crowd that had gathered so early to see him. The sirens that had been echoing throughout the buildings faded away to nothing as Eluvium gently pulled the crowd for a relaxing float along his musical river, speaking very little, except to play a song he claims to not normally play by himself live.
If you’ve ever had the question how many Portlander’s it takes to make a band, on this day, the answer was 13. Apparently on other days, the answer is even more. Portland’s Typhoon are one of those bands made up of friends of friends of friends who appear to not be able to say no to anyone with an instrument in their hand, resulting in a largely muddled sound — one that would be The Decemberists-lite if The Decemberists weren’t doing it with one-third the amount of people. But three trumpeters playing the equivalent of one trumpet line are excessive and it detracted from the overall sound. The band was a big hodge-podge of mediocre-ness, but I – the foreigner from Seattle – appeared to be in the minority as the rest of the crowd absolutely gobbled up Typhoon’s orchestral jams.
Brooklyn-based The Antlers were up next and provided a nice, relaxed, and more big time business-oriented sound. The quartet played their brand of indie rock with heavy MBV fuzz thrown in, and it was the time when the fuzz hit when the band really cranked it up a few notches, to the point where the band did what all bands quit doing (giving a shit about anything) and ran over their set time by a good 10 minutes. That is generally a big no-no in the festival round, but here in the Pacific Northwest we aren’t too good with confrontations and The Antlers trampled all over that. But when the sound is as good as what The Antlers put out, who the hell cares?
explosions in the sky
Austin instrumental heroes Explosions In The Sky came out to a barrage of loud cheers as sun finally fell on the Pioneer Square Courthouse. The band did what they do best: played their hearts, hands, feet, and souls out. Each guitar line, each riff, each note is played with emotion like it will potentially will be the time, as if they would’ve dropped dead the moment after. It is the sheer energy and passion of their live show that has carried the band’s sound so well, because no band is able to make the crescendo quite like EITS, and no band is quite prepared to handle the audio consequences of it quite like EITS either. They played a very balanced set — a few more than usual off of this year’s Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, but were also keen to fan’s desires to hear some of the older catalog.