The Pacific Northwest has always enjoyed a reputation for spawning -- and nurturing -- a breed of rock 'n' roll characterized by energy, daring and utterly shameless thrills. And like the contrasting geography from whence they sprang, those thrills come in a wide assortment of flavors. You don't have to travel too far to find them, even in Spokane. But, damn it, when a knockout neighboring city like Portland throws a party as large and as action-packed as MusicFest NW, we at The Inlander can't gas the car up fast enough. This is why: With one $25 wristband, you can access MusicFest NW's 21 clubs and more than 200 regional bands over the course of three nights. That's right -- more great bands than you can possibly see, just a few short blocks from each other, right in the heart of the Rose City's vibrant nightlife district. Yep, on our fall arts calendar, the annual road trip to MusicFest NW looms large.
And so a group of us, including writer Leah Sottile and myself, went to this music bacchanalia-athon last weekend, hitting two of the three nights (Friday and Saturday) so that we could come home and dutifully report back to you some of our discoveries. Thanks to our dear friends and festival organizers at Portland's Willamette Week, MusicFest NW 2004 was once again a treat. Like Cherry Twizzlers. Or free beer, pizza and cigarettes. Or, as we discovered, all of the above. (MC)
Friday, 9:07 pm, Roseland Theater (Mike)
It takes a lot of discipline -- and a lot of guts -- to play it quiet to a crowd of 400 people, especially when that crowd is in the habit of rocking the hell out at these things. But that's just what Xiu Xiu (pronounced Shoo Shoo, I think) is doing right now. It's part of tonight's Kill Rock Stars/5 Rue Christine showcase featuring Deerhoof, the Gossip and the Decemberists. And since KRS is one of my most favorite indie record labels ever, I am here in the spacious, horseshoe-shaped balcony of the Roseland Theater ballroom taking it all in and wishing I had a beer but not wanting to get up for fear of loosing my primo spot in the front row. Tonight, Xiu Xiu is made up of just two people, singer/instrumentalist Jamie Stewart and a woman of unknown identity handling everything from electric guitar and percussion to this weird pump organ thing with bellows. Like Xiu Xiu's album tracks, its live performance is a blend of the acoustic and the electronic. Stewart's vocals rise from conversational to falsetto, from whisper to scream as the songs veer from heartbreaking ballads to confrontational diatribes. The effect is riveting. KRS bands are always pretty exciting -- and ferociously non-commercial, a potent elixir for this kid, you bet. Can't wait for Deerhoof.
Friday, 9:14 pm, Dante's (Leah)
I'm way too pumped for this weekend right now to let (A) this long line for beer and (B) this band that is trying way too hard (the Catheters) to get me down. Really, I could get knocked in the head with this singer's mike stand, and I'd still have a smile on my face. I'm back in my hometown, there's a MGD coming my way and a whole lineup of those people who are keeping the Northwest music scene plugging along. Now if these guys would just get off the stage...
Friday, 10:47 pm, Burnside Ave. on the way to Berbati's Pan (Mike)
I always run into someone from Spokane at these things. This time it was two guys from Horrible Disaster who had just emerged from Dante's onto the street where I was standing. As I quickly learned, this formerly local band just recently moved to Portland -- and was here sucking up MusicFest as fast and loud and sweaty as they could get it. They had just seen the Catheters, one of several bands playing the Sub Pop showcase. They were on fire.
Friday, midnight, Roseland Theater (Leah)
I never thought that actually standing under Colin Meloy's shiny, bespectacled face would change my opinion of the Decemberists. But I'm here now, and so is he -- and I feel like I'm watching my best friend's band perform. They kick off their set with a rocking version to the Brit-poppy "The Soldiering Life," and from his very first lyrics the crowd goes nuts for Meloy -- trailing in his path with every word, belting every lyric and nodding in place to their new stuff. That falsetto that so characterizes the Decemberists always seemed like a schtick to me, but standing here actually listening, it's so clear that Meloy is just a really solid vocalist. Right now, I can't imagine a better way to experience the Decemberists: playing before their loyal hometown crowd on an intimate stage like the Roseland's. Decemberists, I'm yours.
Saturday, 6:40 pm, Fez (Mike)
Well, the Booze 'n' Schmooze this Saturday evening is a hit with me, mainly because the kegs of complimentary Bridgeport Ale hadn't run dry by the time I arrived -- as they had last year. Yards of pizza is definitely a good thing, too. The MusicFest B 'n' S is a chance for everyone -- Willamette Week staffers, bands, fans, journalists, mutts, what-have-you -- to mingle and partake of free food and beer. And music. At this juncture, it's the Portland band, Man of the Year, a co-ed quartet featuring the usual scruffy men on bass, guitar and drum and a stylish woman on keyboards -- in her case, a hair-raising, '80s flashback-inducing analog synthesizer. Decent harmonies, good drive and those crazy synth fills are making this cold pizza go down easy. And hey, it looks like the guys over at the American Spirit tobacco stand are definitely giving away smokes -- with no interrogation. Damn, people here are nice.
Saturday, 10:12 pm, Roseland (Leah)
Here's what's great about this festival -- one minute you can blast your face off at a gritty, distorted rock show, and when you get bored, you can just walk across the street and see one of the city's best deejays. That's what I've just done, and DJ Angelie is up on-stage now, furiously fusing molasses breakbeats with some sort of East Indian chanting. She's got my attention, and people are slowly trickling in as she leaves the stage and DJ Alter Ego comes on. He's mixing dancehall -- not my favorite -- so I just head back across the street to blast my face off.
Saturday, 12:17 am, Ash St. Saloon (Leah)
I was wondering where all the rockers were, but as Dead Moon, one of Portland's oldies as far as punk goes, takes the stage I can see where they were all hiding. Fred Cole, the band's front man, is looking as old as ever -- and so is his wife, Toody, the bassist. But the Coles and drummer Andrew Loomis slam out a gritty, grimy set that this audience eats up like unclaimed cake. The place is packed from wall to wall, but no one's bothered by it. In the house of these old Portland rockers, the young hipsters and haggard hangers-on unite in the name of rock. After all, that's what MusicFest is all about.
Not Just Stevie's Brother -- In the music business, it's good to know someone. It doesn't hurt if that someone is Stevie Ray Vaughan. This is where Stevie's brother, Jimmie Vaughan comes into focus. Up until his sibling's untimely death in a tragic helicopter accident in 1990, Jimmie was relegated to the backdrop, as Stevie deservedly garnered the spotlight. But the other Vaughan, Jimmie, still commanded respect as one of the top blues guitarists around. Jimmie Vaughan is going to spread his brand of red-hot, Texas-style blues at the Big Easy on Friday.
Over the past decade, Vaughan has slowly built what has evolved into an empire of fans and the respect of music critics and peers. He has released numerous albums and worked with the finest in the business. And he has done it on his own terms in a genre with more than sampling of impressive artists. Vaughan is one of those guys who goes with his gut, kind of an old-schooler. It has served him well to this point and there's no reason to fix what ain't broke. His retro style sets him apart from crowd, and he flaunts his Texas roots like all Texans do, with a bit of flair. Similarly, his guitar playing is of the same influence. He takes the blues to an otherworldly place, much like his brother did so many years ago.
Vaughn's latest album maintains the roots of blues and its fusion with contemporary rock music and adds a little Southern spice and even some jazz to the mix. Do You Get The Blues? (Artemis) is a return of sorts to the some of the smokier material he produced with his band the Fabulous Thunderbirds in the late-1980s. Make no mistake, though, this is not a rehash of former greatness; Vaughan has had it all along and continues to put out strong studio albums. The tracks on this outing border on so many different genres and include dynamic arrangement that allow the listener to experience the album rather than just listen to it. The passion that Vaughan pours into his music is clearly communicated and leaves a greater appreciation for this blues maestro with each listen.
After as long a run as Vaughan has had at the blues, he has racked up some impressive collaborations and contributions in the business. His chops have earned him guest appearances on albums with the likes of Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, B.B. King and Willie Nelson. When you keep company like that, there's no doubt that you've earned your stripes in the business. -- Clint Burgess