MusicfestNW: Day 2

Thursday, September 24th, 2009, 12:39 am by Ben Salmon

(Each of the last three years, I’ve traveled over to Portland for MusicfestNW, a multi-day, multi-venue music festival that features some of the best bands from around the world. With a roster nearly 200 acts deep, MFNW 2009′s schedule included rock, punk, metal, hip-hop, jazz, Americana, electronica, and who knows what else. One thing’s for sure: You can’t get to every show. But I saw my share of them, and here’s my report on the second night, Friday. My Thursday report is here, and my Saturday report will come in the next couple days.)

Already tuckered out from a late night with Frightened Rabbit, I took it a little easy on Saturday Friday, the second day of my MusicfestNW experience. I slept in late, then walked down to the Cheerful Tortoise to watch my alma mater hold on for a win over their in-state rival. (Oops. I got my days confused. The bar and the football game happened on Saturday, but day two was Friday, and all the music covered from here down happened Friday. Except maybe the Voodoo Doughnuts thing. That might have been Saturday. I can’t remember for sure. What can I say? It was all a blur.)

In the afternoon, though, I was ready for some music.

So I hopped in my car and drove over to Voodoo Doughnuts’ new(ish) east-side location, where the famous sweets-dealer was hosting a daytime festival celebrating local musicians, plus DIY artists and, yes, doughnuts. (I should note here that Mrs. Feedback was tied up both Friday and Saturday during the day at a previous engagement).

It was hot, and Voodoo had plunked the stage down in the middle of its parking lot, with very little shade to be found. Still, I enjoyed the charming, lo-fi strums of Grey Anne, followed by the warm, fuzzy power-pop of Derby, a band I had wanted to catch the night before, but couldn’t. Kismet!

In a town where bands have for years skyrocketed from local gigs to national success in a matter of months (and continue to do so), I’m not sure why Derby’s not better known. The band seems to have it all: sharp songs, memorable melodies, well-dressed skinny guys with perfectly tousled hair, and an extensive collection of Kinks and Beatles records. Seriously, these guys can write hooks for days. (Hear them here.) Here’s hoping they’re not banished to the power-pop ghetto like so many of their ancestors (The Raspberries The Posies, Jellyfish, etc., etc.).

After a maple bar and an enchilada dinner (in that order. Burp.), I headed back to the Crystal Ballroom for one of the festival’s biggest draws: the reunion of emo forefathers Sunny Day Real Estate. The Seattle-based quartet — which splintered a decade ago to make solo records and join the Foo Fighters — announced this year it is back together, at least for now, to play some shows and maybe make some new music.

The room was pretty full by the time I arrived, and within minutes, SDRE appeared on stage to the wails of their adoring fans. Few bands of the past 20 years command the kind of creepy love that this band does. Emo kids are dedicated to their heroes. Grown-up emo kids are too, I guess.

SDRE was an enormous deal when I worked in college radio, but I never quite clicked with them for some reason. In fact, they’re touring now to promote the reissue of their first two albums, which their fans tend to count as their best. Not me, though. I actually enjoyed their third record more than the first two, and I thought their final effort — “The Rising Tide” — was the best of the bunch.

Alas, when you’re touring to push two albums, you play songs from those two albums; we got nothing from “The Rising Tide.” That was fine, though. There are a few gems among the early stuff, and SDRE hit them all: the insistent, start-stop-start of “Seven,” the slow burn of “Song About An Angel.” On the latter, when frontman Jeremy Enigk sang “sometimes you see right through me” and then “WHOOOOAAAA!!!!!” a thousand fists pumped into the air. It was pretty cool.

I saw someone Tweet during the show something about emo rocking harder than they remember, and I must concur. Sunny Day Real Estate was thunderous. Nate Mendel’s bass shuddered and William Goldsmith’s drums pounded, leaving Enigk free to hit all those high notes just as he’d hit ‘em in the mid-1990s.

Sorry, folks. Best photo of Sunny Day Real Estate I got.

Sorry, folks. Best photo of Sunny Day Real Estate I got.

But the big news of the night was that SDRE debuted a new song, which Enigk described as a “work in progress.” I quite liked it, probably because it was pretty poppy, a la “The Rising Tide.” (Here’s a terrible recording of it from a show in Denver, if you’re curious.) Of course, all the hardcore fans loved it because it means the guys are working on new material together. Win win!

After another of my favorites — the million-bees buzz of “In Circles,” played during the encore — I split and headed to Jimmy Mak’s to check out soul singer Mayer Hawthorne, and here is where my night kind of went haywire. BUT! I wrote about it for the paper-paper, so you’ll have to check out Friday’s GO! Magazine (or check back here on Friday morning) to see why I never saw Hawthorne, but saw The Long Winters instead, and whether that turned out awesome or totally terrible. Cliffhanger!

Postscript: I did see two other bands later in the night that didn’t make the print article. After The Long Winters, I caught about five minutes of Seattle grunge pioneers Mudhoney at Dante’s. Lucky for me, the five minutes I caught was their biggest hit (relative term, that), “Touch Me I’m Sick.” It was the perfect amount of Mudhoney for me, and just enough to remind me that I’ve never really loved that band. I respect them. I just don’t love them.

Then I wandered over to Ash St. Saloon for the final set of the night, by Columbus, Ohio alt-country band Two Cow Garage. I liked their live sound much better than the recordings I’ve heard, probably because the band’s humble charm just pours off the stage. After thanking us all for sticking with them until 1:30 a.m., they did a wonderfully rough and raspy version of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” to close the evening. The whole bar sang along.

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