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Modest Mouse, Beirut, and more bring the heat to a smoky MusicfestNW



On a gorgeous Friday afternoon, Aug. 21, the second annual Musicfest Northwest graced Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. A clear sky welcomed two main stages, dozens of vendors and countless indie/alternative music fans. Boasting a wide variety of genres, and with acts both local and national — this was the perfect cap for a hot Portland summer.

Early standout Misterwives dominated the stage on Friday afternoon with a high-energy stage show that kept the crowd dancing. Lead singer Mandy Lee might be a relative newcomer to the scene, but her stage presence is better than most headline acts. Covers of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars showcased the band’s distinct hybrid sound blending bubblegum vocals with rock guitar and a pumping horn section.

Foster The People closed the first night with a blowout set, boasting the best theatrics in indie music. Heavy fog, pumping rainbow lights and two dueling drummers gave tremendous depth to “Houdini,” which evolved into a sonic jam worthy of the big stage. Vocalist Mark Foster closed the band’s set with “Fire Escape.”

Saturday’s festivities were accompanied by a heavy serving of smoke, delivered by the various wildfires plaguing Oregon and Washington. The air was dense and dry, but that didn’t stop the crowds from flocking to unique acts such as instrumental experimentalists Battles, or passionately loud punk rockers Title Fight.

Indie rock darling Twin Shadow delivered a powerful performance in the mid-afternoon haze. This was one of his first since a near-fatal tour bus accident last April, which seriously injured his right hand and hospitalized several band members. They had been in Portland for a few days, commenting that it “just keeps getting more beautiful.” Shadow did have one complaint though — a distinct lack of all-male strip clubs. To help the cause, he called upon every guy in the audience to throw their tops off for the final song of the set.

Beirut closed Saturday night with a sultry and soulful set of jazzy pop, rich with Zach Condon’s brooding vocals. As the group crooned on “Santa Fe,” fireworks burst over the waterfront, which lit the smog-ridden skies with the twinkle of stars.

The smog persisted into a hot Sunday, but couldn’t keep the crowds away. Rapper Danny Brown brought a packed crowd, who provided some additional smoke of their own. With just a DJ and a microphone, he got dozens moving with an absolute fervor.

After crowd-pleasing performances from The Tallest Man On Earth and The Helio Sequence, the time came for the final act, Modest Mouse. The biggest crowd of the weekend turned up for a powerful evening of rock. Modest Mouse’s live sound is a full production, lavish with detail and passion. The set was heavy on the band’s more unknown tracks, even eschewing iconic single “Float On.” Even after the encore, plenty of audience members couldn’t quite believe it.

Despite air dense with smoke and the sweltering sun, MusicfestNW was an undeniable success. After three afternoons of nearly non-stop live music, no fan left unsatisfied.

  • Mandy Lee fronted the five-piece Misterwives late in Friday's performances. (Cooper Green/Emerald)

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Chris Berg

Chris Berg