Best Of… 2014 PDX Pop Now! Festival – Concert Review

PDX Pop Now!
07.18.14 – 07.19.14

IMG_8309Ladies, gentleman, others: indie/alt is back from our little hiatus. Since my last post, I’ve gone to plenty shows, seen many amazing bands, and if you follow me on Twitter and Instagram, you’d know that. However, it has indeed been a while since I’ve written up a review for one of these. Call it a mental cleansing, lack of profound thought, or simply a break for enjoyment out of sheer nothing, I’ve decided that there’s only one thing to do to break this habit, or lack there of. That is to simply jump back in, and not stop. So, the hiatus is over, and I promise, hand on your holy word, that every show from here on out will be reviewed. If by chance you see I have attended a show, and a review has not been posted within a week of the event, please tweet me and call me out on it. Seriously. Do.

Now, to the main reason of writing. This weekend (Friday and Saturday), I spent pretty much literally all my time under a bridge, watching an astounding amount of talent, all spilled out on stage by local bands. This weekend marks the 2014 edition of the annual PDX Pop Now! Festival. The festival continued Sunday, however, I was not able to make that last day. From the two days I saw though, I found that the talent wedged in our own little corner of the world, the 503, is plentiful. While I saw around twenty bands altogether in the last couple days, I decided that my best option of reviewing this outing would be a classic top ten, best of. So, cutting the dilly-dally, here are my top ten bands from days one and two of PDX Pop Now!…

IMG_801510. Spellcaster

The only band chosen from night one, Spellcaster was a show where you didn’t really want front row unless you wanted to get punched. This group of long haired, headbanging, demonic metal shredders seriously did what they were supposed to do. Shred. You could tell there were fans in the crowd as well, as they were the ones who thrashed and shoved, rampaged their way to the front. Though heavy metal bands are not usually on my bill for shows to attend, this band did a remarkable job of keeping my interest. They didn’t so much scream, and I could pick out the lyrics to their songs, even if those songs were titled things like “Run Away”. Spellcaster earns my spot for number ten, because no matter how hard you tried, headbanging was inevitable.

IMG_80279. Hands In

Now shifting to the ever-amazing day two of the festivities, Hands In started the day at the indoor stage of AudioCinema with an airy, loopy, experimental, and simply catchy set reminiscent of bands like Youth Lagoon and Pacific Air. This one remarkable man played with both electric guitar and a variety of intriguingly beautiful synths to produce his infectious sound. Probably my favorite part of this set was watching his work with the effect pedals. His footwork was hypnotic, and with each step you could detect the sometimes slightest change in sound that kept you hanging on, and kept your ears wide open. Hands In was most definitely the perfect start to a perfect day.

IMG_80578. Brownish Black

Brownish Black was definitely the surprise of the day for me. I’ll be honest, from the write up in the program, these guys didn’t interest me too much. I wasn’t even planning on staying to watch. My original plan was to take their set as a go off and find some lunch break. However, as fate seems to guide you to what you need to hear, I ended up right by the main stage to hear their first song, and I was instantly blown away. Brownish Black reminds me of a grittier, urban Fitz and the Tantrums. Headed by two dazzling vocalists, man and woman, the sounds produced from this band got me grooving to their soulful, R&B sound. The horns, the rhythm, the dance. It had me on the edge, and I didn’t want to let go.

IMG_81177. The Cry!

I don’t believe I ever wrote the recap for the first time I saw these guys play (my apologies). Back in March, not too long after St. Vincent, I traveled back downtown to the Holocene for an intimate and fun-filled set by young Irish rockers, The Strypes, The Cry! being their locally assigned opener. Here’s what I remembered from their set: they rocked hard, their audience interaction was top notch, and the lead singer, who plays a striking personality resemblance to a member of Spinal Tap, stage dove on top of me. All in all, I enjoyed them. So, I was excited to see if they had at all changed in those four months. Glad to say, no. Nothing has changed. They still rocked, got down with the crowd, and even though I was not knocked to the ground, I enjoyed it just as much as I had the first time around. (Also, props to the lead singer for braving through the rest of the set even after he threw up all over the stage.)

IMG_81016. The Resistance

Like the heavy metal I mentioned before, The Resistance’s rap genre was not one usually on my bill. However, I have recently begun to open my ears more to the likes of artists like Kendrick Lamar, and Childish Gambino, so I thought, why not? No regrets. This St. John’s native rap group busted out a set that had the whole crowd shouting, “Viva la Reisistance!” Their energy was contagious, their beats moved you, and nobody wanted the party to stop. But even when it did, the party continued later that evening with an untouchable set by…

IMG_81945. Soar Losers

It may have just been the fact that the sun had gone down, and the lights of the stage mesmerized all eyes, but in my opinion, rap supergroup Soar Losers’ showmanship blew all previous contestants straight out of the pond. Lead by rapper Tre Redeau, accompanied by friends, including fellow Portland rapper Stewart Villain, these guys had me feeling like this show was where I belonged. While The Resistance should for sure live long, Tre Redeau’s request of a “Fuck school!” chant had me. Their energy was great, their beats were great, the transitions between verses were like little candies of top of the already iced cake. Would I see Soar Losers again? Fuck yeah, I would.

IMG_83034. Blouse

Blouse was one of the three bands I was most excited to see Saturday night. I would have seen them sooner, as an opener for the incredible Dum Dum Girls, had the event not been 21+. (Five more years…) So, naturally, I was glad to know I would finally be able to see this amazing band, not to mention at midnight, under a bridge, for free. One thing you should not ask me, and I will try to ignore, was how people were able to mosh to their mysterious, haunting, vibrantly chilling sound. I suppose the alcohol would help, as demonstrated by that-one-guy-who-stage-dove-to-everything. As I said though, Blouse gave a beautiful performance, finding comfort in the dark with a minimal amount of swirling color to light the way to our hearts. Now I will wait for an all ages indoor performance, so I can better find peace in the mood the sound always sets inside me.

IMG_82123. Hustle & Drone

Another apology for this being another band I did not recap. Don’t worry. The hiatus is over. I won’t let you live in the dark for any longer. If you know your Portugal. The Man members, past and present, you’d know that this quick to rise electronic band is lead by former Portugal keyboardist, Ryan Neighbors. Hustle & Drone is, hands down, no lies, one of the most amazing bands to experience live. Complete with flashing colored panels and fog machines, the electric sound and feel of this trio causes a mandatory act of golluming (if you know your Lorde fandom terminology). Watching Ryan Neighbors is like watching me blast them in my room. He is having a blast up there, and when the band is having a good time, we’re having a good time. As I saw on Twitter, I would not be surprised in the least if we see Hustle & Drone headlining Wonder Ballroom later this year.

IMG_81712. Thanks

This was another surprise for me, a knock upside the head, and a slap in the face. From the write up in the program, I really didn’t know what to expect from these guys. Blues, psychedelic, dark soul, rock and roll? Anything could have gone from this set. What I found in Thanks was my new favorite band. Seriously. For you to understand how this happened, let me take you down to my level, where I was sitting below the stage, eating some chips, then stood to reveal a beautiful band, falling in love even before hearing their song. And I’m not just talking about lead singer, Jimi Hendrix (female), who is a perfect ten in my book. They were all très attrayante. The music certainly fueled my already in place obsession. Jimi sings like an angel, with a backing chorus of Lilly Maher’s cello and low alto voice, and classic bass, guitar, and percussion from male members Garrett, Andrew, and Drew. Though the write up may not have been particularly on point, the description of dark souled rock and roll certainly fit the bill. The harmonies, lyrics, sounds, and vibes that came off of this band were dark, brooding, and everything you’ll ever want. Buy their album. No, really. Here’s the link. You will not regret it! (Fun fact about Thanks: They are officially the 100th band I’ve seen live! Congrats to them!)

And finally…

IMG_82361. Summer Cannibals

Okay, I may be a little bit biased on this one, but Summer Cannibals was an experience, and I’m sure others could say the same thing. This marked my third time seeing Summer Cannibals live (one more, and they will be tied with Superhighway for my most seen). They did not let me down, and they never will. If you were there at PDX Pop Now! on Saturday, you would know me as the guy in the Summer Cannibals shirt who stood at the front of the stage all day waiting for this moment. This garage-pop-punk-rock quartet is so simple, yet so entertaining. No fancy effects here, but in the same way Ryan Neighbors had our hearts, these Cannibals did too (dark joke intended) for the fact that they were having so much fun! Guitarist Marc Swart is always a blast to watch, with the headbanging and jumping around near constant. Lead singer Jessica Boudreaux is equally as entertaining, stomping, wailing, shredding, and interacting with the crowd and fellow band member, bassist Lynnae Gryffin. And though in the back, what would this band be without the talent of female drummer, Valerie Brogden. They all fly on the same cloud, tune to the same frequency, and make the most fun music. A true experience live for anyone. This set in particular was a special one, with a close out on an Eve 6 cover, complete with crowd surfing by Marc and Valerie. Okay, why exactly was I biased on this choice though? A key reason would be the fact that, being a huge fan of the band since seeing them open for CHVRCHES in April, I made them a personalized card (pictured above), complete with a photoshopped picture of Marc running from a stampede of buffalo. Turns out, they liked the card so much, they decided it was only right to give me a shoutout during the show, a setlist, and inviting me to come back to their merch table to grab a free vinyl copy of their debut album, No Makeup. You can call it biased I suppose, but I’m just going to say that treatment of fans played a key factor in their place at number one. Thanks, Summer Cannibals!

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