MusicfestNW has been a Portland staple since its creation in 2001. In the following decade, both the local community and international music scene have helped MFNW evolve into the third largest indoor festival in the United States. More than 30,000 music lovers descend on the City of Roses for the six-day fest, which hosts more than 150 bands across 16 venues.
As a Portland native, I have experienced MFNW’s growth first-hand and have seen the lineup expand to include heavy hitting acts, up-and-coming buzz bands, and the best of the city’s local groups. This year was no exception. Aside from large acts like Deerhunter, Superchunk, and Animal Collective, the festival was flowing with impressive new bands. Some our site has covered before, and some were brand new to even us. Here is a list of our five favorites.
We have been loving on Trevor Powers’ Youth Lagoon (Photo By Josh Grace) for years here at BestNewBand.com, and even though this was not the first time I personally have seen the Boise-raised multi-instrumentalist, his performance at Pioneer Square was the best I’ve seen him. Maybe the environment had something to do with it – a large, outdoor brick venue; torrential downpour and lightning warnings an hour before the set – but his hour slot seemed surreal. The rain had let up by the time the music started, but it was still coming down. But the weather didn’t stop devoted Portland natives from dancing, drenched in skirts, sandals and parkas. Powers was joined by a three-piece band, which allowed him to focus on keys and vocals. Known for being a shy musician, Powers looked comfortable onstage as he played tracks off this year’s masterpiece, Wondrous Bughouse, and its predecessor, The Year of Hibernation. To say I was impressed would be an understatement.
Dan Deacon may be one of the most underrated acts. Sure, you’ve heard his name, but do you listen to his music? If not, you should change that. Immediately. Or at least see him live. The 32-year-old Baltimore-based producer is not only a breathtakingly great songwriter and beat maker, but he’s smart. Like, really smart. And this is evident the second he opens his mouth, which he did a lot during his set at Pioneer Square. Before he even began playing music, Deacon engaged the audience. With a large stage at his disposal, the cunning producer decided to play a rare solo show and opted to set up his synths and sample pads on the floor, sharing the same space as his fans, albeit separated by a barrier. His set list selection included more of his instrumental, beat-driven dance tracks, and for nearly every song he directed the audience in different quirky ways, including spreading into a large circle around the square’s perimeter and choosing two contestants to compete in a dance-off during “Konono Ripoff No. 1.” Deacon’s live shows are an experience, whether it be with a full band and killer light show, or with his ability to interact with the crowd like no one I’ve ever seen.
Out of all the acts I was unfamiliar with before this week, Le1f won me over. The New York bred rapper/producer not only raps smartly and creates unorthodox beats, but he put on one hell of a show (and that’s a feat in the hip-hop world). Dressed in a flamboyant, bright outfit, which he gradually stripped off during his set at Mississippi Studios, the rapper strutted across the stage, gyrating to his music and working up everybody in the crowd. He started with his single, “Wut,” off last year’s Dark York mixtape and caught the eyes and ears of everyone in attendance instantaneously. The openly gay rapper (another feat in the hip-hop world) incited a dance party and twerked like nobody’s business. Miley Cyrus should take notes.
This performance marked my fifth time seeing Washed Out live, and every time it gets better. Three years ago, Ernest Greene was performing solo with nothing but a synth and sample pad; a year ago he toured accompanied by a small crew, still focusing on a synth-based performance, and currently he’s backed by a four-piece, live band. Sure, this is in big part due to the fact that his latest album, Paracosm, is the first to incorporate live instruments, but the added element breathed new life to all his songs. Greene switched between acoustic guitar and synths as he and his band played songs off both full-length albums and EPs, and the sold-out Mississippi Studios swayed together like one big, dancing organism. And of course in Portland it was only necessary for Greene and his crew to play “Feel It All Around,” the Portlandia theme song that put the band’s name on the map.
Onuinu was one of the many impressive local acts that played during MFNW, and though familiar and quite fond of the Portland-based multi-instrumentalist’s 2012 debut album, Mirror Gazer, this was my first time seeing Dorian Duvall live and in action. And I must say, he blew my expectations away. Backed by a keyboardist and drummer, Duvall was able to concentrate on vocals and shredding on the guitar. The band both enriched and rounded out the sounds of his “disco-hop” songs, giving them more layers and depth than their recorded counterparts. The three-piece played tracks off the debut album, and by the third song a strange gap in the front filled up with dancing bodies that didn’t stop until the set was over.
This is Katrina’s last contribution to BestNewBands.com. She’s been with us for something like three years. She’s been a great writer and a mainstay. Honestly, it will be strange not having her “around”. Katrina got a great job with Lefse Records/Loch Ness Management in Portland. I can’t help but wonder if she took this job for the opportunity it presented or to be closer to Oregon football. We’ll never know. I do know the Katrina played a significant role in making the site what it is today. Congratulation Katrina!
Photos by Zach Klassen (Except As Noted)
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