by Josh Bis
on Mon, Sep 10, 2012 at 10:18 AM
Passion Pit at the Crystal Ballroom
Girl Talk addresses his people at Pioneer Courthouse Square
Acknowledging that it might have been possible to piece together an equivalent string of nights of shows without leaving Seattle, Musicfest Northwest, which just rounded out its twelfth year, remains my favorite excuse for running away to Portland's brunch village for a long lazy weekend of musical treasure hunting. Aside from the appeal of skipping town with friends to make use of the shabby chic Ace Hotel as napping waystation (my continued fondness for the place makes it a strong candidate for someday becoming my own personal Hotel Chevelier), the ability of a single magic wristband to link hundreds of exciting bands and venues together into a music festival makes the whole endeavor even more magical. That MFNW continues to reach far and wide for national-caliber bookings (when it feels like others are scaling back) to put on one of the country's larger indoor music festivals at the same time as the city's also hosting a tech conference, entirely different time-based performing arts event and welcoming a massive swift migration without any of it feeling hectic is deeply impressive.
That said, despite delighting in the constant slate of competing options, I mostly stuck to seeing full sets at a few venues per night. My favorite performance of the weekend was Passion Pit's on Thursday night. Gossamer must be the year's most blissful-sounding album chronicling crushingly depressing topics and the ultra-supportive sold-out bounce-happy crowd gave the Crystal Ballroom's famous springy floor a thorough workout. At times, it felt like a people-powered positive vibrations carnival ride scored by glitchy electro soundtrack and unflappably ebullient vocals. Later in the weekend, the character of the venue flipped dramatically as Tallest Man on Earth Kristian Matsson inadvertently incited an all-out shushing war (#ohportland) between the people enraptured by his compact wiry energy, prodigious guitar skills, and engagingly ragged voice and those who thought that a quiet singer-songwriter showcase was an ideal occasion for loud inane bar conversations. Though waves of chatter and chatter-shaming distracted ever so slightly, neither could diminish the magnetic appeal of the performance.
Outdoor highlights included Girl Talk selling-out Pioneer Courthouse Square with jumping fans and a cast of onstage dancers more likely to disrobe than any other group I've ever seen backing his frenetic pop-cultural master classes; Starfucker warming up that same crowd with stirring synth-pop; and, despite some vocal tiredness, Beirut playing their long tour to a reliably-beautiful moonlit conclusion full of effusive praise and a litany of warm memories of Portland shows past (I'm guessing they didn't have a similar catalog of Seattle memories to share at Wednesday's Seattle show). Indoors, both relentlessly danceable shoegazers The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and poppy fun Sad Baby Wolf had homecomings of sorts (Pains's Kip Berman went to Reed and interned at the Mercury; SBW's Marty Crandall had a long run with the Shins); Tanlines shared their feelings between tropical dance jams; Fucked Up whipped up a sweaty moshing appreciation society growling through guitar anthemic David Comes to Life; The Hives proved to be among Sweden's more hilarious clowning punk rock exports; and, as Moonface Spencer Krug was joined by free-agent Wolf Parade alum Dante DeCaro and Finnish orchestral rockers Siinai for a thoroughly enjoyable eardrum assault of selections from Heartbreaking Bravery.
A few more snapshots from the whirlwind weekend after the jump.