Nearly 200 bands from the PacNorWes’ and beyond descended upon Stumptown, America (Portland) from September 7-11 for MusicFestNW, a five-day fête of mostly Americana/indie rock, hosted in more than 20 venues. Seattle radio station extraordinaire KEXP also rocked up, and took over the city’s brilliant Doug Fir Lounge, bringing happy radio listeners and all-ages crowds some free day sessions with 12 of the more-awesome bands that were passing through.
And hey, guess what? I was there, too. Why? Because Portland rules: there’s beers, hippies, hipsters, fixie bikes, good food, nice venues and awesome donuts. And I spent three outta the five nights doing what I like to call SERIOUS MUSICKING.
Here’s what transpired on September 8th: Part 1.
Couldn’t quite get up in time for Sweden’s Little Dragon, who played Thursday’s “HOW early?” 10am KEXP session, but made it to the Doug Fir in time to catch my fave new US band, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. “Ffunny Ffriends” sounded particularly sunny, and lead singer/guitarist Ruban thanked folks for coming to the set so early. “Normally I’d be getting up around this time. And thinking about whether or not to smoke a bowl.”
After the sesh, and a chat in the Green Room with my new KEXP mates (including friend Shelly Corbett, who is a live-session videographer) and UMO, we all bail upstairs to the outdoor patio. It’s about 14 degrees hotter than Hades and we’re all digging the Indian Summer. By sweating.
…and drinking gin and tonics. Portland local and UMO bassist Jake Portrait and I catch up – he’d given me a list of great places to try out in town, including the almighty Sizzle Pie pizza shop. (Kind of rock n’ roll pie place down the street, which had conveniently renamed some of its pizzas for its favourite MFNW bands. Over two days I had the Kylesa and the Explosions in the Sky. They were out of the Sebadoh.) I also make him do the rockhands, but he insists that at this time of the day, this is all he is able to muster. It’s pretty fucking pathetic…
…so we teach him to straighten up and rock right. I mean, these things are important, yeah? \m/
Around the time, my boys in Sebadoh show up in their little silver rental car, and get set up for the next KEXP session. Jason Loewenstein does some pretty swift thinking during “Careful” and drops the “bullshit” at the end of the line “Watch out for my bullshit/Everybody’s got it” for the benefit of radio listeners with sensitive ears. Quick thinking, JL! And it makes Lou Barlow laugh…
After a seven-song set, including the rarely played (this year) “Soul and Fire” and the always awesome “Forced Love”, Sebadoh zip out to the street to do a KEXP photo shoot, and then we hang out with a fan who’d driven 22 hours to see them from Las Vegas. The band is pretty impressed and the fan – Jake – and his brother end up hanging with us after the night’s show. But first! There’s musician geek shopping to do! So we head nearby to the Old Town Music shoppe ‘cos the guys need strings for the bass and guitar.
After chatting for a bit with Jason, and not quite making the connection that he’s got Sebadoh shopping in his store, sales guy Hank looks up to see Lou Barlow pottering around the guitar section…and the penny drops. (Though his sandwich doesn’t). “Holy fuck,” he says, it all falling into place. “That’s Lou Barlow…. Wow, huh…okay now I get it.” He gives the guys t-shirts and helps ‘em out with strings. Meanwhile Bob has fallen in love with a snare drum and both he and Jason spend time drumming on it. I walk around admiring pedals like the “Big Muff”, which will never cease to make me snicker. Because I am a child. We also put Hank and his buddy at the store on the guest list for later that night. As a thanks for letting us interrupt his lunch.
Then it’s off to the Crystal Ballroom for soundcheck. Still unsure how “Just Gimmie Indie Jock” rockers Archers of Loaf have the headline slot tonight but Lou assures me people really heart them. I never got the Archers, and am actually curious to see ‘em first timey.
At the venue, Lou catches up with Matt and Eric from Archers. They re-acquaint, though the bands have -strangely- never actually shared a bill, though are from the same circles/era. Matt appears to be quite the Sebadoh fan. It’s kinda cute.
Opener Kevin Robinson from the night’s third band, Viva Voce, was pottering around during soundcheck and approached Sebadoh’s Jason for a chat. He had a nice clear drumkit. Aaaand that’s about all I can tell you about the duo of Viva Voce. I watched their set, but…yeah. Fine.
Anyway! After Sebadoh played (I was too busy drinking half of Lou’s bottle of white wine to shoot pics by this stage.), it was Archers o’clock. THE ‘DOH AND THE LOAF, together for the first time!” The 1500-capacity room was PACKED and the crowd awaiting Icky Mettle stuffs. The Sebadudes and I all came upstairs to watch from the wings. Eric Bachmann rocked out, indeed, and bassist Matt Gentling bounced about like Flea from the Chili Peppers’ bro. Some of us shrugged, but yeah, seemed like the Loaf were winning with most folks.
Returning back downstairs,we returned to getting squiffy and laughing like loons…when at precisely the perfect moment, actor/comedian and former Trenchmouth drummer (“he was really good!” said Lou) Fred Armisen knocks and I let him in. He’s got a long history with Sebadoh via mutual friends and record company connections, and he’s insanely sweet. It also blows my mind that I’m standing backstage chatting in Portlandia with the co-creator and main dude of…PORTLANDIA. Stick a bird on this picture, stat!
What would the end of the night be without a strange ceramic cat bank? Nothing! Marvel at the gift of psychedelia kitsch that was bestowed upon cat-loving Mr. Barlow by a rad girl called Alix who hung out with us backstage. She had, apparently, painted kitty herself. It was pretty….scary. Its green eyes still haunt me in my dreams.
And soon it was actually time for dreams. I think. Not entirely sure. I was a bit drunk. ROLL ON the next day!