MFNW Thursday: Portlanders & Scotsmen
You know what's hard to come by during Musicfest NW? Time. Time to do anything like, say, blog. There's plenty of time to stand around impatiently as the band before your favorite band seems to play forever and you're stuck sweating and trying to sip a beer slowly, but when Frightened Rabbit goes on at 12:30 in the morning (in theory) and you, as a result, sleep in so late you almost miss lunch, well, shit, my friends, you run out of time.
What isn't hard to come by in this town is a surprisingly high number of people who look vaguely familiar. I got a familiarity nod from at least two random dudes last night; I think I smiled at someone I didn't actually know at least once or twice. Everyone looks like someone else. Except this one really tall guy at the Frightened Rabbit show. He was his own man.
Thursday, in brief:
â€¢ I skipped The Helio Sequence in part because I was bitter that James Mercer was no longer the opening act; Dr. Dog was. I got enough Dr. Dog at Pickathon, thanks; that's just not my cup of tea. I do slightly regret this decision.
â€¢ Tu Fawning: Portiscarnival. (Look, "Portishead" already seems like a really random line of syllables, and thus I think Portiscarnival is perfectly reasonable as a description.) This is not in any way meant as an insult. There are catchy slivers jabbed into the Tu Fawning sound, but mostly it's too arty for that, too disconcerting and strange and occasionally really pretty. And fascinating. The festival writeup desribed Tu Fawning as "Never boring, and at moments inspired," which sounds a bit like a backhanded compliment, but I don't think it is. The band's music isn't the sort of thing you get attached to, but a thing you experience; it elicits a response more intellectual than emotional, except when it suddenly pings a heartstring or two.
â€¢ We Were Promised Jetpacks: Young, slightly burly Scotsmen with energy to spare. Like seemingly every Scottish band, they have a song about keeping warm (this one's called "Keeping Warm," and there's a Frightened Rabbit song called "Keep Yourself Warm," and I swear there's also an Idlewild song on the topic). WWPJ's fairly conventional guitar-centric indie rock felt like the kind of thing you need to know before you see them, so that you're bringing your own memories and associations to the songs, of what they call to mind when you're listening to them at home alone in the dark or barreling down the freeway on the way home from a show. But even as a first listen, they were promising. And charming, too. Darn Scots.
(I did not see Girl Talk at the Roseland because I saw Girl Talk on Wednesday at the McDonald, and I do not think I've recovered yet. But it was a delightful sweaty, sticky mess of Bananarama! Metallica! Mary J. Blige! Journey! Cyndi Lauper! Kelly Clarkson! Eight thousand other songs you barely have time to recognize! Girls with glowsticks and dudes with headbands! Don't like this tune? Wait 30 seconds; it'll change. And then change again.)
â€¢ The Twilight Sad proved that not all Scottish bands are unbelievable charming. The band plays reasonable, dense, heavily Joy Division-influenced rock, light on dynamics and high on repetition, but as a live act they lacked stage presence. They also overran their time, and when you're waiting to see a band that goes on after midnight, you sometimes run out of patience. I was getting there.
â€¢ Frightened Rabbit: This is the third time I've seen Frightened Rabbit in Portland, and it made me a touch nostalgic for those earlier, less crowded Holocene shows. The trouble with seeing a favorite band in a festival setting is that you have to share them with people who don't really care, who are just there because they read an interesting description in the program or who came with a friend (of course, you also wind up being that person at another show or several). It changes the audience dynamic in peculiar ways. This crowd seemed to like the Rabbit well enough â€” and they were certainly just as good as they have been, even without singer Scott Hutchison's solo acoustic version of "Poke," which hushed everyone in Holocene last November â€” but the show lacked the charged atmosphere their shows have had before.
But to be fair, the band's been touring on Midnight Organ Fight for ages, and Hutchison mentioned from the stage that they've finished (I believe) their follow-up. If they seemed a tiny bit less invested in the old songs, the ones they've been playing for ages and ages now â€” if Hutchison was rarely sticking to the recorded vocal melodies, instead dancing around them, mixing things up â€” it's understandable. The show was sort of a tease, I think: Two new songs and a sense of impatience. More, now, please.
Tonight: A vicious lineup pits The Jealous Sound and Sunny Day Real Estate at the Crystal Ballroom against Say Hi and Rocky Votolato at Berbati's Pan. I think Rocky's gonna win this fight, at least where I'm concerned, but so long as I make it to the "official afterparty" with The Thermals, I'll be more than happy.
PS: The Portland Mercury's End Hits blog's Twitter feed (technology, you're making me use too many words) speaks truth about Frightened Rabbit: "The only thing that could make this Frightened Rabbit show better is if people danced on the Dante's catwalks. Like an emo sinferno."