As we mentioned in our last post, last weekend marked not only the return of Project Pabst to Portland, but PretentiousPDX’s (at least part-time) return to the world of concert blogging. For two days and three nights, I was back at my old pre-gentrification game, wandering in and out of concert venues, notepad and hearing protection in hand.
It was great! It was exhausting! I think I came close to getting heatstroke! For those of you with ADD and/or a preference for looking at photos over reading text, we’ll have a full gallery of photos up shortly, but in the meantime, read on for a day-by-day account Project Pabst 2015.
As promised, Project Pabst kicked of festivities with an evening of comedy at Doug Fir Lounge featuring Sean Jordan, Bryan Cook, and headliner Brian Posehn. My background is in reviewing concerts, not comedians, so I’m not really sure how one goes about reviewing a comedy show, but I will say that Master of Ceremonies / Opener Sean Jordan talked a lot about alcoholism, Bryan Cook is almost as angry as Lewis Black (in a good way?), and Brian Posehn is just as graphic and self-loathing as you’d expect.
So in other words, it was a pretty good show. And perhaps more importantly, it’s great to see comedy get a little love on Portland’s festival scene.
On Friday night, Project Pabst headed into more familiar territory with concerts at seven different venues spread out across the city. For their part, Mississippi Studios played host to three different female-fronted bands.
Openers Shadowlands offered up an eighties-infused sound reminiscent of MS MR, before giving way to Ghost Ease’s more garage-oriented sound, which alternated between melodic and almost cacophonic.
Although I had never seen headliners Tacocat (sometimes stylized as TacocaT), before, the first time I heard them, I was overcome instantly with a wave of nostalgia. Their brand of punk-infused feminist surf pop (I know that’s too many adjectives, but I have no regrets) immediately made me think of nights spent at the now-defunct Matador on West Burnside and local Portland bands like Pataha Hiss (also defunct, at least to the best of my knowledge. While I doubt that the rest of the folks at MissStu were reliving that specific memory, everyone seemed to get down with their jokey lyrics and laid-back style.
Saturday morning I woke bright and (relatively) early and made my way past the bike and skateboard valet and through the giant Pabst gates at Zidell Yards for Day One of Project Pabst, proper. Although it was – conservatively speaking – about 8,000 degrees outside, the heat and the blazing sun didn’t stop a sizeable crowd for showing up early to see Hustle & Drone and Priory.
While I unfortunately showed up just a little too late to catch Hustle & Drone’s set, I was able to see local hometown band Priory, fresh off almost a year and a half on the road, touring both on their own and with Kaiser Chiefs. While they may not be on the road anymore, the band certainly wasn’t off their feet – in addition to their main stage set on Saturday, they also played a DJ set at the StubHub-sponsored #NOMOFOMO tent on Saturday and then pinch-hit for Passion Pit when they cancelled their DJ set on Sunday afternoon.
After catching part of The Velvet Teen’s set, I set off to check out some of the festival’s other amenities. At StubHub’s #NOMOFOMO Tent (a terrible name, but a cool spot), volunteers were handing out foam glowsticks during a DJ set. After that, I went to join up with a few friends who had opted to arrive later in the day – as the weekend wore on, it became a common practice to use the giant unicorn statue in the middle of the yard as a rally point for late arrivals or people returning from the food stands. If we were to check with Verizon and AT&T, I’m pretty sure “Meet Me At The Unicorn” was the most frequently texted phrase at Project Pabst.
I’m pretty sure “Meet Me At The Unicorn” was the most frequently texted phrase at Project Pabst.
Part of the reason we needed a rally point in the first place was because there were so many damn things to do at Project Pabst. In addition to the two main stages, you could duck into the aforementioned StubHub tent, hit up one of the food vendors, or try to beat the heat and get in a game of PacMan at the air-conditioned PBRArcade Tent. (Pro: All the games were free. Con: When quarters aren’t involved, the waits can be pretty long.) Outside, people chilled on the grass behind the arcade (the turf had obviously been very recently laid, but it was a nice touch) or tried their hand at tagging the #VANdalism art installation, which, in a nod to Portland’s music scene, came with a Rigsketball-style basketball hoop attached. Wherever you went, a Pabst vendor was always within reach – and although $4 for a tallboy of PBR is probably more than anyone in Portland is used to paying for a Pabst, by festival standards, that’s pretty legit pricing.
After wandering the grounds for a while, I headed back to the main stage to see TV on the Radio. While the Brooklyn outfit is undoubtedly talented, I personally don’t like them for outdoor festivals (or arena shows, for that matter) – I think their shows are dependent on the energy that you can get out of a more intimate setting.
Conversely, rap duo Run The Jewels, seems destined to become something of a go-to act for Portland marquees – having played MusicFestNW last year, they’re probably the biggest act to play two festival seasons in a row. It’s easy to see why, too – while I don’t think think they’ll be displacing Yeezy and Drake on the charts anytime soon, their aggressive, rap-fire rhyming style definitely seemed appropriate in the sweltering late-afternoon heat.
Saturday’s headliner was Blondie, and I’ll just get right to it – yes, Debbie Harry can still rock. While their new music is (unsurprisingly) somewhat forgettable and her voice isn’t quite as robust at seventy as it was in The Seventies, Harry can still rock out with the best of them, and hearing her perform “Call Me” in the Portland twilight still had much of the same magic as Blondies heyday. And if you disagree with me, well… I want you to call your grandmother and ask her to sing “Rapture” for you… then try telling me Debbie Harry doesn’t still have it.
Later that night, I headed back to Doug Fir Lounge for the night show with Portland musician Fernando Viciconte. Playing in front of an American flag, Fernando put on an impressive show that combined elements of rock, country, and folk into a sound that I can only describe as pure Americana. While the show was great, I’m not sure the scheduling was ideal, as (personally) that’s not the sort of genre I want to hear after standing in the sun for eight hours.
The second day of Project Pabst kicked off with local band Wampire. Personally, I think they sound better in a smaller, more intimate setting, but they are also known for being an extremely LOUD band, so out in the wide open spaces, you can hear more of their jazz influences.
After Wampire, I headed back to the #NOMOFOMO tent (that’s the last time I’ll use that word, I promise) to catch the last part of Hustle and Drone’s performance and Q&A set. I’ve never known the H&D boys to be anything but friendly and easy-going, but they were in rare form during the Q&A on Sunday. When asked to define “FOMO”, Ryan Neighbors deadpanned, “When you miss a show… or don’t ask someone to marry you,” before going on to give an aspiring musician some sage advice: “Get involved with a corporation as soon as possible.”
After Hustle and Drone’s set, I was eager to see one of my favorite local acts, Wild Ones, perform on the main stage – fortunately, I only had to walk about 30 feet to get there. The band, who’s gearing up for the release of their Heatwave EP in August, seemed even more at polished than they did last year at MusicFestNW. There’s something kinda perfect about listening to Danielle Sullivan’s lilting voice while lounging next to the river, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them at few more festivals in the future.
After Wild Ones, I caught part of Terry & Louie’s set (sadly, they weren’t as exciting live as I’d hoped) before ducking into the Press Tent to recharge my phone. (God bless the folks at Project Pabst for providing the three things all festival journalists need: water, Wi-Fi, and power.) There was some speculation in the Press Tent about Passion Pit’s cancelled DJ set that afternoon and whether or not it would bode well for their scheduled performance later in the day.
We needn’t have worried, however, as Passion Pit gave a stellar performance that quickly silenced the critics. Michael Angelakos seemed much more present and focused than I remember him being at Bumbershoot back in 2012 (although it’s also totally possible that’s because I was more focused than I was back at BShoot, too).
Buzzcocks came next, but their sound was a little washed out and it was hard to get in a punk rock state of mind in between Passion Pit and Weezer. Realistically, though, I don’t very many people were actually trying to do that. Either you stayed at the Main Stage and tried to get a good spot for Weezer, or you were there for the Buzzcocks and you didn’t really care about Passion Pit or Weezer. I don’t think there was much crossover.
And then there was Weezer. Now personally, I like Weezer, but I’m don’t know that I’d consider myself to be a huge fan. The last album I owned was probably Make Believe, and although they come through Portland periodically, I never got caught up in the hysteria that seems to greet their arrival every year. At least, I never got caught up in it, until now. From the second they started playing the first few bars of “Jonas” at the beginning of their set, the crowd went wild and didn’t let up until the final song was played. Regardless of how you feel about the band, it’s impossible to argue that they put on a good show – and I think they were a solid choice to close out Project Pabst.
Project Pabst 2015 was definitely an unmitigated success. Despite having baked for two days in near-record heat and having walked close to twenty miles in the space of two days, I left Zidell Yards more jazzed than I call recall being about any festival in recent memory. Although I’m sure they’re tired of being compared to MusicFestNW, it’s an apt comparison, and one where Project Pabst seems to come out on top in most categories.
Where last year MusicFestNW was pilloried on their first day for not allowing outside water bottles – a mistake that was further compounded by malfunctioning ATMs and a temporary shortage of bottle water for sale – Project Pabst allowed sealed water bottles up to 1 liter and had a refill station on-site. (If fairness, it sounds like the water situation at MFNW will be much better this year.) Although you’re never going to have enough shade at a venue like Zidell Yards (at least not without tenting the entire lot), the PBRArcade and adjoining patio were at least a nice nod toward avoiding heatstroke, and the transportation options for the event were pretty great – and promise to be even better next year, once Tilikum Crossing opens.
While there’s always room for improvement – hip hop, R&B and pop sensibilities could probably be better represented, and I think both lineups were weak during the middle-portion of the day – in general, I think the folks behind Project Pabst have been doing a great job of paying attention to the little details, and I think that will continue to serve them well. With any luck, dear readers, I hope we can all say “Meet Me At The Unicorn” in 2016.
With any luck, dear readers, I hope we can all say “Meet Me At The Unicorn” in 2016.
Stay sharp, Portland.