Posted on 27 September 2011.
This was perhaps the busiest Thursday night I’d ever experienced. I went to four different venues within Portland and saw six bands.
Let’s get this started, shall we?
I ventured to the Wonder Ballroom, which sits in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, for headliners Brand New. However, I’d completely forgotten that the Joy Formidable was opening for them, but I’m thankful I got there as early as I did, because the Joy Formidable rocked my socks off. I mean seriously. I’d only heard one of their songs before this show, and I was an instant fan. This was the afternoon that I realized that the girl rockers were back. By the end of the festival, I noticed that only three of the bands didn’t have girls playing with them.
Ritzy Bryan is a fierce front woman, even though she stands about 5’3” in heels. Rhydian Dafydd (and that’s a Welsh name, so I guarantee ‘Dafydd’ isn’t pronounced that way) sweat through his shirt by the middle of the set, but then again it was at least 90 degrees in there.
This is a band to watch. I’m sure of it.
To be honest, after the Joy Formidable’s set, Brand New wasn’t all that special for me. It was nice to see a band that I’ve liked (on and off) since I was 13, but after the first three or four songs I was satisfied. I’m not big on too much screaming anymore like I was when I was in junior high, but Brand New put on a show worthy of 90-degree weather, from what I caught.
Thankfully the next venue I went to had air conditioning – the Doug Fir. I can’t tell you how much I love that place. It is comfortable, roomy, the food is good, there is free water, the bathrooms are relatively clean, and that places gets some amazing bands. And as well as a music venue and restaurant upstairs – the Doug Fir is also connected to a hotel, the Jupiter. Oh and did I mention that there is free street parking? Yeah, I love this venue.
On this particular evening, I went to the Doug Fir to see Portland’s own Brainstorm, whom I knew absolutely nothing about other than what the MFNW site said, and I was pleasantly surprised with the results. It’s an odd mixture – two well-coifed blonde guys, one on guitar and one on drums and both singing – doing catchy surf rock. Think Surfer Blood but switch out Florida for Portland, and that’s what you get with Brainstorm. Also, a few songs into their set, they brought out a female keyboardist. That’s one more on the list of bands with girls in them!
After Brainstorm was Purity Ring, kind of an inexplicable band. When they started playing I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or not, but that’s mainly because the lighting was stressing my out trying to get photos. But they were surprisingly polished and unique. Purity Ring consisted of a female vocalist and percussionist and male instrumentalist – and I say instrumentalist because I don’t even know what he was playing. He was beating on a set of pipes that lit up at the end, making different toned with each strike, so I’m not sure what to call it, but I just know it was cool.
I debated staying the entire evening to see Phantogram later that night because the Doug Fir was at capacity, but I had a couple more places I wanted to go.
First was Holocene – a venue I’d never been to – for Twin Sister. I saw this band open for the Morning Benders last year and they were Fantastic with a capital F. I fell in love with their sultry sounds at Neumos, but I was so disappointed with their set at Holocene. I didn’t think my tastes had changed that much in a year, but I just was not feeling their vibe on Thursday. Singer Andrea Estella looked wide-eyed and confused and awkward on stage, and their chillwave melodies were almost too chillwave so the rest of the band was half awake.
So either their set at Musicfest was a fluke or I was on a different wavelength last year. It probably didn’t help my attitude that night that a guy spilled his green minty drink on me. I smelled like toothpaste for the rest of the night.
Since I skipped out on Twin Sister early, I headed over to the Bunk Bar – another venue I was unfamiliar with – to see one of my hometown heroes Damian Jurado. This guy is one of those Seattle musicians that hovers around open mics and you’ll see him everywhere, and because he is so good you feel a bit starstruck but considering how close the Seattle music scene is, you feel sort of silly acting starstruck. The Bunk Bar is a small bar with absolutely no light, but a friendly vibe and a great view from the outside window. It was especially awesome when several members of Seattle’s Pickwick and Sharon Van Etten walked in. That’s one thing that I really love about Musicfest Northwest – you’ll see one band at a different band’s set, like it’s a completely normal thing. But I guess in a city like Portland, that is a normal thing.