Not that the musicians themselves were conscious of any kind of on-going competition, but at times it was almost as if there was an old-fashioned game of "Top This!" underway during Sunday's final day of PDX Pop Now! action. The winners, as it turns out, were those in the audience, whose numbers were easily the largest and most consistent in the festival's six year history. From the first strains of Dirty Mittens on Friday to Menomena's momentous, festival closing set Sunday night, the crowds were large and enthusiastic, and perhaps the only question this year's festival left as to its state is, "How can we top this?"
The Old Believers' late afternoon set was an eye opener for anyone familiar with Eight Golden Greats, the wonderful debut they put out last year. For one, the young duo that had served as the entire band in the past, Nelson Kempf and Keeley Boyle, were joined on stage by a number of others-- including a horn section-- thus expanding the group's total number by a factor of five. More surprising, however, was the direction (or directions) new songs seemed to be taking. In short, the sounds were far removed from the old meets new roots of their debut, ranging from quiet, delicate folk relying heavily on the now two female vocalists in the band, to a number that might easily have been mistaken for a Jimmy Eat World cover. Speaking of covers, they also whipped out a version of Fleetwood Mac's 1980's pop radio staple "Everywhere." It'll be interesting to see what The Old Believers commit to on tape next time out.
Stream: The Old Believers' opbmusic session
Following Chervona's Russian folk-punk (the festival's rare foray into something resembling "world music," as it were) it was back to the sauna that was Rotture's indoor stage for Nurses. The trio impressed with an electric set of songs from their upcoming Apple's Acre debut, although the number of those in the audience who were singing along suggests that the band's self-released version seems to have gotten around already. The band recreated the lo-fi sounds of that recording very well, and showed an impressive range as Aaron Chapman and John Bowers switched off on keys, vocals and guitars. For anyone unfamiliar with Nurses, this was easily a relevatory set by a band from whom we'll be hearing plenty of good things.
Stream: Nurses' opbmusic session
Sunday's closing set promised big things and didn't disappoint, beginning with the new-look Shaky Hands' high energy set. Barefooted frontman Nick Delffs ripped through a set of songs that begged for clap-a-longs and was perfect for a summer evening. Call it hippie-punk, maybe. Another musical shift followed in LightHeaded, whose set marked another in a consistently good showing for Portland hip-hop during the festival. The super-trio of sorts, featuring Ohmega Watts, Braille and Othello, performed for the first time since December, and while the set wasn't without its bugs (their musical delivery via iMac had a few issues), LightHeaded was surprisingly tight for the layoff. They began an old-school set with a dance intro right out of The Temptations' ouvre that set the tone, as plenty of attention was paid to presentation throughout.
Stream: The Shaky Hands' opbmusic session
Then, finally, it was time for the nightcap: a festival-closing one-two punch featuring two of the city's most inventive bands. Luke Wyland and Dana Valatka, the permanent two who make up Au wasted no time in getting to their signature rise-to-a-crescendo-and-then-rise-some-more motif, building songs out of vocals, keys and multiple percussion. The duo succeeded in coming close to the multilayered cacophony found on their records, but it was the during the closing number (in which they were fortified by an additional four or so members) that they really hit a primal note of release and unfettered joy.
Au could have easily closed the night, and they played the kind of impossible-to-follow set that might have left anyone without Menomena's chops seeming empty in comparison. But this was Menomena, after all, and what followed round about 1am was not a letdown but a continutation. Highlights included at least one new song in subdued set opener "Queen Black Acid," Danny Seim's kick drum (which for some reason featured the face of Dat'r's Matt Dabrowiak, among other things), and festival-ending encore "Evil Bee." The band's PDX Pop Now! debut was a fitting and rather epic end to a festival that deserved just such a send off, and proof once again that Portland's local neighborhood show featuring local neighborhood bands will beat your town's every time.
Until next year, then....
See the full photo set from the final day of action here.
Your festival of festivals continues later this week with Pickathon, beginning Friday. Yes, we'll be there.