Editor’s Note: The Bulletin sent music reporter Ben Salmon to Portland to cover MusicfestNW, a four-day festival of rock, hip-hop, folk, etc., spread out over several venues around the city. Salmon, having recently learned about what the kids call “blogs” these days, got it in his head that he wanted to liveblog his adventures for Feedback. The thing is, he can barely add and subtract, much less operate one of those fancy blogging machines. So he jotted down his thoughts on his arm and had them traced by a tattoo artist before leaving Portland so they wouldn’t wash off. (We advised him against that.)
The following is his report.
MFNW: Day 1
10:14 p.m. A late departure from Bend has us (that’s me and Mrs. Feedback) arriving at the Roseland Theater in the middle of Mogwai’s set. The place is packed — an older crowd — to see the Scottish shoegazer band.
10:22 p.m. Mogwai’s light-and-smoke show is great, and the music even better. The formula: Start quiet, build to crescendo, and back down. For a band touted as one of the loudest anywhere, though, they’re not as loud as I expected.
10:35 p.m. Heading across West Burnside to catch alt-country band the Old 97s at Berbati’s Pan.
10:41 p.m. Berbati’s is sweltering.
11:06 p.m. Old 97s have taken the stage, looking older than when I last saw them in 1998. (About 10 years older, I guess.)
11:08 p.m. Mrs. Feedback on 97s bassist Murry Hammond: “Harry Potter’s dad is in a band?”
11:44 p.m. The guys are feeling nostalgic tonight; we get several oldies, including “Barrier Reef” and “Doreen.” Frontman Rhett Miller is soaked with sweat.
12:21 a.m. Ten years ago, the Old 97s were one of the best bands I’d ever seen. They aren’t that great anymore, but here’s what they are: consistent. With this band, you can count on a shuffling drum beat, Hammond’s high harmonies and Miller’s Beatles-as-a-bar-band songs. They’re good enough to have been doing it for 15 years. What more can you ask for?
MFNW: Day 2
5:15 p.m. Spent much of the day wandering around downtown and anticipating seeing L.A. pop-punks No Age at the Wonder Ballroom at 5:30 p.m. However, we forgot about big-city traffic. We’re going to cut it pretty close.
5:45 p.m. Walked into the Wonder just in time to hear No Age drummer Dean Spunt compare the venue to a Quaker meeting barn. It’s my first time here, and I see what he’s saying.
5:54 p.m. Spunt is polling the audience on whether the band should eat dinner at nearby Ethiopian joint Queen of Sheba. There’s overwhelming support.
5:57 p.m. No Age guitarist Randy Randall is perched atop a stack of amps for the band’s best song, a blast of buzzy, melodic punk called “Everybody’s Down.”
6:15 p.m. “Celebrity” sighting: The Thermals’ Hutch Harris is here, taking in a band that sounds like an artsier, less political version of his own.
6:25 p.m. No Age ends its set with a crash. For all the hype these two dudes have generated, I’m a bit disappointed in the set, just as I am in their album, “Nouns.” Sometimes, for a split second, I totally get what they’re trying to do. But for me, it’s too much sloppy fun and hip aesthetic and not enough song.
7:55 p.m. Mrs. Feedback floats the idea of late-night Voodoo Doughnuts. I am receptive.
8:58 p.m. Willy Vlautin of Portland-based country group Richmond Fontaine announces the band is going to do a whole set of songs about Portland. First up: “A Girl In A House In Felony Flats.”
9:38 p.m. Fontaine wraps up with a song about Portland garage-rock band Dead Moon. It was a solid set from a solid band led by one of rock’s fine storytellers. (Vlautin’s second novel, “Northline,” came out earlier this year.)
9:56 p.m. Back at the Roseland, Biggie Smalls is playing over the speakers, and a whole bunch of kids are rapping along to every word. They’re waiting for hipster hip-hop duo The Cool Kids, due on stage any minute now.
10:09 p.m. The Cool Kids jog out to the loudest bass I’ve ever heard. My heart feels like it might be shaken to a stop.
10:17 p.m. The Kids do throwback hip-hop, rapping about pagers and bikes with mag wheels and “bringin’ ’88 back” over old-school beats. MC Chuck Inglish looks the part, too, rockin’ thick glasses, a vintage Detroit Pistons T-shirt, skinny jeans and a black puffy jacket. He looks like an extra from the film “Hoop Dreams.”
10:38 p.m. The Kids slay the Roseland crowd for 40 minutes, almost without pause. Is their music schtick-y? Sure. But it’s a fun schtick. And who’d have thunk that in 2008, 20 years after the Beastie Boys caught heat for being white guys making black music, that two young Chicagoans would boast of being “the new black version of the Beastie Boys”?
10:41 p.m. On my way back to Berbati’s Pan, I am almost leveled by a girl in a G.G. Allin T-shirt too busy texting to look where she’s going. Not very punk rock!
11:04 p.m. Merch Table Trend Alert! There’s a spate of Obama-related stuff for sale by these bands. At the Roseland, Del the Funky Homosapien had a shirt with his three-eyed logo incorporated into Obama’s name. Here, Port O’Brien is selling “Port Obama” buttons. I think it’s safe to say Barack Obama has not approved these messages.
12:10 a.m. New York’s Nada Surf has taken the stage at Berbati’s, which is a sauna again tonight. The band had a hit years ago with “Popular,” and has released a string of impressive, sophisticated pop records since.
12:32 a.m. “Are you drunk enough for audience participation?” Nada Surf frontman Matthew Caws asks. The crowd is. Swaying commences.
12:45 a.m. Nada Surf played all the songs I wanted to hear early in the set, so I’m off to try to catch a few minutes of The Whigs’ muscular rock at Dante’s.
12:58 a.m. Caught two Whigs songs. Those three guys are brain-meltingly loud.
MFNW: Day 3
9:30 a.m. After two warm-up nights, the festival ramps up this evening, and we have an ambitious schedule planned. We’ll be walking and driving all over town. Wish us luck.
1:30 p.m. I’ve been in Jackpot Records for an hour and have seen at least a dozen people show up for free passes to see Spoon’s Britt Daniel and Built To Spill tonight at Wonder Ballroom. (Nike sponsors these afternoon shows, and free passes are available at Jackpot’s two locations.) All have left disappointed. Store clerks say passes were gone in 30 minutes.
2:57 p.m. Another cool thing happening here is Seattle radio station KEXP is recording live sets at the Doug Fir Lounge on East Burnside (the coldest bar on Earth), and the sessions are free and open to the public. Portland’s own The Helio Sequence is soundchecking now. In the sparse crowd, there’s a hipster-fashion battle going on: the ironic moustache vs. the ironic mullet. (It’s a tie.)
3:17 p.m. I always forget how great The Helio Sequence is. Indie rock meets electronica, all pumped out by two guys. I’m so glad I came to this.
7 p.m. Boise-based indie heroes Built To Spill are on tour playing their classic 1997 album “Perfect From Now On” from front to back. People are stoked; the Wonder Ballroom is a zoo.
7:29 p.m. “Kicked It In The Sun” is transcendent. Show of the festival, so far.
8:11 p.m. With “Perfect” done, BTS frontman Doug Martsch says the band is going to “wing” an encore before launching into the oldie “Car.” The crowd goes wild, then sings along.
8:12 p.m. Martsch wasn’t kidding. He’s giving mid-song direction to his cellist: “Straight into the verse.”
8:26 p.m. BTS is just now done, and I have my first scheduling casualty of the weekend: I’m never going to make it downtown to see psych-rock band TK Webb & The Visions. Bummer.
9:15 p.m. The Webb show ain’t happening, so it’s into Dante’s for a date with The Muslims, a SoCal band that sounds like the Velvet Underground, except with a singer that sounds even more dispassionate than Lou Reed. And they have a drummer who stands!
9:26 p.m. And ... they’re done. Most bands at the festival are playing a full 40 minutes. Not these guys, I guess. This, combined with singer-guy’s scowl, makes me like them less than I did when I walked into Dante’s.
9:56 p.m. It’s our first visit of the festival to the Crystal Ballroom, which tonight hosts the biggest, hottest name of MFNW: Vampire Weekend. There are a lot of people here, and a line to get in that stretches up the block.
10:37 p.m. VW appears to a chorus of squeals and kicks into “Mansard Roof.” The Crystal’s famous trampoline floor immediately starts to bounce.
10:42 p.m. If you don’t pay attention to these kinds of things (understandably), VW is currently in the midst of a meteoric rise from NYC no-names to headlining places like, well, the Crystal Ballroom. The hype (and resulting backlash) surrounding this band of fresh-faced guys who play a hybrid of pop-rock and African music is enormous. As if to rub all this in, frontman Ezra Koenig thanks the crowd for coming, before saying this: “Last time we played (in Portland) we played at the (much, much smaller) Doug Fir. That was, like, six months ago.”
10:51 p.m. The perils of being a hip mom: I’m standing next to a fortysomething woman, her young son who’s covering his ears and clearly upset by the volume, and her pre-teen daughter, who is simultaneously singing along and worriedly trying to comfort her brother.
11:04 p.m. The boy, who is maybe 6 or 7, still has his ears covered but is now dancing to “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” I don’t blame him; Vampire Weekend sounds great.
11:09 p.m. The young boy has removed his hands from his ears and is singing every single word to “I Stand Corrected.” When I was his age, I was listening to Richard Marx and Bobby Brown.
11:15 p.m. Our priority tonight is getting to Holocene to see Seattle pop band Throw Me The Statue, so we must bail on Vampire Weekend. But one observation: It is fashionable right now to hate on these guys. Quick and seemingly easy success stokes jealousy and dismissive barbs by folks who think they know better. But that doesn’t cha nge the fact that the songs on VW’s debut album — the songs we heard here tonight — are really, really catchy pop songs. They are nearly impossible to resist, as far as I can see. Will Vampire Weekend change the world? Of course not. But what they’ve done so far is good enough for me.
11:36 p.m. At Holocene, Seattle electronic act Truckasaurus is wrapping up its set in front of footage of Hulk Hogan wrestling The Ultimate Warrior. The bartender just gave Mrs. Feedback a 50-cent piece as change.
12:45 a.m. Throw Me The Statue was terrific, playing a couple new songs and tunes from its 2008 album “Moonbeams.” Stacked with one toe-tapper after another, I think it’s the best album of the year so far.
MFNW: Day 4
11:10 a.m. MusicfestNW is full steam ahead tonight, highlighted by reunited 1990s rockers Seaweed and Polvo. But we’ll be scaling back. We’re wiped out.
8:10 p.m. Besides being frigid, the Doug Fir also has some of the best meatloaf I have ever tasted. Make a note of it.
9:31 p.m. Portland’s own Horse Feathers prove the strength of a hometown draw at Holocene, where a big crowd is absolutely rapt listening to the band’s delicate folk. Lead Feather Justin Ringle, who looks and sounds like a cross between Nick Drake and Will Oldham, is appreciative: “Thanks for being so quiet.”
9:40 p.m. Thanks to the vocals of Ringle and cellist Heather Broaderick, this band just played the prettiest set I’ve seen here.
11:11 p.m. Still at Holocene, things are considerably louder as up-and-coming Portland quartet The Shaky Hands does its spazzy jangle-rock thing. This is the only repeat band from my MusicfestNW 2007 experience; they’re in fine form again.
11:18 p.m. In between songs, Shaky Hand Nick Delffs says MusicfestNW is all about “celebrating bands.” He couldn’t be more correct. And as much as I’d like to stick around and celebrate the final act of the evening, Thao and The Get Down Stay Down, I’d say that’s a good note on which to end. Till next year ...