For the four years that I’ve lived in Portland, I’ve attended Musicfest NW. It’s always been a long weekend of thought-out adventure and time management that culminates in too little sleep, ear ringing, and general euphoria of seeing dozens of bands across town in venues as small as Bunk Bar to big blow outs in Pioneer Square.
This year, things were different.
I’ve been throwing shade at this year’s incarnation of MFNW for many reasons (“American Apparel stage” alone is making me gag). But why should I be a grumpy? Portland is truly blessed to have such an established and rowdy fest, and even stuck in one place without the cut-throat at-capacity competition, MFNW is bound to be unforgettable. Here are a few shows that I wouldn’t miss:
Modern Kin (Sunday, 2:20, American Apparel Stage)
Portland’s prodigal front man Drew Grow has put his all into every project he’s been a part of. It seems this city is finally throwing him a bone with his latest, Modern Kin. The band, made up of Grow, Kris Doty, and Jeremiah Hayden, have undeniable energy and are band that just seem to click. Their self-titled album is strong. Produced by Janet Weiss, it’s a force of electric guitar, stand up bass, and haunting lyrics.
Run The Jewels (Saturday, 6:25, Moda stage)
If you haven’t taken the time to appreciate this honest, no-holds-barred hip-hop duo, now is the time. El-P and Killer Mike deliver beats and lyrics that will stop you in your tracks but, at the same time, make you want to dance. It’s abrasive, it’s heavy at times, but it’s fun, and it’s real.
Tune-Yards (Sunday, 6:25, Moda stage)
Tune-Yards’ weirdo pop makes waves across musical circles for its innovation. 2011’s Whokill was a a revelation; an intoxicating take on drum loops, synth, and lyricism. Merril Garbus returned this past year with the much-anticipated follow up Nikki Nack, which doesn’t miss a beat. I’m sure Tune-Yards performance will be a stand-out at MFNW. If not only for the energy, for the spectacle.
Haim (Sunday, 7:25, American Apparel stage)
The premiere album “Days Are Gone” from this group of LA sisters was the earworm of 2013. But beyond their Urban Outfitters appeal and Normal Girl aesthetic, this group of women is seriously talented, and seriously loved (for good reason). Even if you aren’t a fan of their take on pop music, it’s hard to deny their spirit, energy, and depth of sound. Perhaps one of the buzziest bands to play at MFNW this year, or at least one of the “big names” amidst quirkier headliners, Haim is sure to pack a punch.
Honorable mentions: I have every confidence that Girl Talk will deliver the most fun out of all MFNW performances. You’d be a fool to miss Spoon, the critically acclaimed, tenured group who just released a new album. And, if you want to cry, don’t miss The Antlers. You might also consider RSVPing now to the slew of Red Bull Sound Select shows throwing down some local love this weekend (cheap!), and make your way to the Doc Martens store tonight for some Pain.
While MFNW might be different, and making changes is scary, the fest will fall into step and carve out a new place for itself in the Portland scene. Don’t let your bitterness outweigh your willingness to experience something new.