Saturday, November 2, 2013

MFNW Day Four Retrospective

It would be unfair to compare Friday, Day 4 of MFNW, to the epic dimensions of Day 3, but that would be true of almost any day of your life.  In the scale of days of your life, there's the largely forgotten day of your birth, the unforgettable first time making love, the miraculous birth of your first child, and the totally awesome Day 3 of MFNW, in about that order of specialness.  Day 4 of MFNW wasn't at the same level as Day 3, but how can any day with performances by Animal Collective, Washed Out, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Ty Segall be considered anything less than awesome?

For starters, the rain of the day before had stopped. The sun still hadn't come out, however, resulting in a rather cool and cloudy, although not at all unpleasant, day. 

The music started with a 10:30 am set by The Shivas for KEXP at the Doug Fir.  Exhausted from the day before, I almost didn't go ("Who are The Shivas again?"), but at the last moment I found my energy, rallied, and made it across town in time to catch an energetic and enjoyable set from the young band, who played surf-tinged garage rock reminiscent of Austin's The Strange Boys.  

The KEXP photo nazi was still patrolling the audience forbidding people from taking any pictures at all with any type of camera, so these pictures are from

Speaking of which, KEXP also posted the entire Shivas performance on line ("Dude, I was there!"). 

I skipped breakfast to make it to the Fir by 10:30, so as soon as The Shivas set was over, I went upstairs to the Doug Fir's diner and ate some vegetarian chili and black coffee, the breakfast of champions.  The people at the next table looked familiar, and I quickly realized it was The Shiva's drummer with what I assume were her parents, and they were soon joined by the rest of the band.

After breakfast, the next band up was Georgia's own Washed Out.  Not seeing any sign of the KEXP photo nazi around, I resumed taking my own pictures (without flash, of course, in accordance with the sign by the entrance).

We previously saw Washed Out just the weekend before at Bumbershoot, but that in no way diminished the enjoyment of seeing them again a week later.  In fact, in ways, it enhanced the enjoyment.

KEXP also posted a video of the entire Washed Out set for our second "Dude-I-Was-There" moment.

The third band of the day at The Doug Fir was Seattle's Beat Connection at 2:30 pm.

We also saw Beat Connection at Bumbershoot, coincidentally on the same day as Washed Out, but that in no way etc.

Beat Connection were kind enough to again bring along their three-piece Butternut Horns section.

After Beat Connection, North Carolina's The Love Language were scheduled to play at 4:30 pm.  However, since I had just seen The Love Language the day before at the totally awesome Day 3 Marmoset party, and since there would be a 90-minute wait until their set, and since I was still dragging butt not only from Day 3 but from the entire previous week of Bumbershoot and MFNW, I left the Doug Fir to eat a more substantial meal than chili and coffee, wash up, and get ready for the evening's performances at the Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland's "Living Room."

I had missed the Pioneer Courthouse Square sets the day before, being as I was at the totally awesome Marmoset Party, which was probably just as well, as it rained and rained hard during that time.  Day 4, however, was getting noticably cooler, and, for the only day of the entire week up in the Pacific Northwest, I had to break out the hoodie that I had packed.

So as it turns out, the first Pioneer Courthouse Square performance of MFNW 2013 for me was a band, Haerts, of whom I had never heard.

They weren't bad at all but somehow never quite clicked with me.  I couldn't quite figure out what they were doing, or where their music was supposed to be taking us.  I subsequently came to realize that part of the reason for my lack of involvement was that I was watching the show from a comfortable but distant position on the steps way toward the back of the Square, back by the food and beer vendors and the more talkative element of the audience.  My sight line was unimpeded, but that distance tends to let one be easily distracted from the music, and without a familiar song or sound to hook me in and hold my attention, it wandered and I became disaffected.  So what I'm trying to say here, Haerts, is that it wasn't you, it was me.

About those "Long Live Oregonians" signs around the stage.  At first, I thought it was just some sort of provincialism ("Hurray for us!) but I later came to learn it was the slogan for Cover Oregon, which is the state-run health insurance exchange set up under the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare).  Cover Oregon were one of the co-sponsors of the festivities to encourage young people to sign up for health insurance.  None of the well documented problems in accessing the federal insurance exchange web site affected Oregon, as they were among the handful of states with the wisdom to take the initiative and set up their own exchange, as encouraged by the ACA. In fact, I've read that a full 10% of the Oregonian uninsured got coverage on the first day of eligibility.  But I digress and don't want to bother the gentle reader with reminders of political realities (meaning, that's exactly what I'm trying to do).  

After Heaerts, the next band up was Baltimore's Dan Deacon.

How to describe Dan Deacon?  His set was as much audience participation as it was artistic performance, and he encouraged the crowd to engage in barrier-breaking activities like turning around and waving at all of those people, like me, sitting on the steps toward the back of the Square.

Deacon himself performed not on the stage but down in the audience, removing yet another barrier, this time between performer and participant.

One fun feature of the set was an ersatz dance contest, wherein the dancers would randomly tag a spectator to indicate it was their turn to get up and dance to Deacon's zany electronic beats in the middle of the crowd. This meant that individuals had to spontaneously get up and do something, anything, creative and entertaining for the rest of the audience, often with very humorous results. 

I think the facial expressions of the two young women in the upper right of the picture below aptly capture the reaction of much of the audience.

After the dance contest, inhibitions were sufficiently broken down to allow just a general dance party.

After Dan Deacon, Animal Collective, another Baltimore band, headlined the Pioneer Courthouse Square set. 

We last saw Animal Collective at Atlanta's Tabernacle almost a year ago, although much of their set, including the stage design, were similar to that show last year.  That's nor a bad thing - Animal Collective put on a great show, and that night at Pioneer Courthouse Square was no exception.

However, due my distance from the stage and all of the distractions around me, it still wound up taking me nearly half of their set to finally get engaged and really appreciate their performance.  At the time, I blamed it on the sound system or on the band themselves, but I now realize it was all on me.

MFNW captured a scene from the Animal Collective set with the courthouse itself in the background, and used it as their "thank-you-and-farewell" message for the 2013 festival.  

That was the end of the Pioneer Courthouse Square sets, but that wasn't the end of the day.  After Animal Collective, I was hoping to make it across town to the club Branx to hear Wooden Indian Burial Ground, but I got there in time to hear only the last couple notes of the very last song of their set.  

No problem, because the main reason I wanted to go to Branx was to see the headliner, Portland's own Unknown Mortal Orchestra. 

Even though it was pretty chilly outside, it felt about 90 degrees inside Branx, a dark club that appeared to be illuminated by no more than two or three red, 40-watt light bulbs.  But regardless, UMO put on the best set I've heard from them, with guitarist Ruban Neilson unleashing some furious and intense guitar leads. The set felt like more of a statement about Neilson's place in the guitar-god pantheon than just another home-town concert.  Just incredible, incendiary stuff.

It's a long walk back from Branx to my hotel in NW Portland, but fortunately, Dante's, the club where I ended Day 1 (Redd Kross) and Day 2 (Murder By Death), was almost at the half-way point. Better still, as I passed, Ty Segall was playing, and I was able to flash my VIP wristband to the bouncer and walk right in past the people waiting outside in the "one leaves, one enters" stand-by line. 

An unexpected treat:  I had no idea that I was going to be able to fit this set into the day's schedule.

And that, after I walked the remaining distance back to my hotel after Segall's set, was Day 4.  Eight bands, including one of my favorites (Animal Collective), two Bumbershoot stand-outs revisited (Washed Out and Beat Connection), two new discoveries (The Shivas and Haerts), the inspired lunacy of Dan Deacon, a major statement from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and a "surprise" (at least to me) set by Ty Segall.

Not a bad day at all.  And the rain had quit for the rest of the week. 

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