Musicfest Northwest presents Project Pabst offered an interesting and eclectic lineup this year: Ice Cube, Duran Duran, irreverent rock group Ween, psych-electronic titans Tame Impala, Brooklyn slacker rock Parquet Courts, Portland’s own Unknown Mortal Orchestra and plenty of others.
The annual music festival, which took place in Portland this past weekend, represents the collusion between Portland’s two biggest summer music festivals MFNW and Project Pabst. The upside? One event in a central location at Portland’s waterfront park with all the big names. The downside? The beer-themed music fest means MFNW is now a 21+ affair.
Check out the photos here, plus some highlights below.
Best almost reunion: N.W.A with Ice Cube. Cube brought out a whole cast of characters during his blazing set, like his 25-year-old son O’Shea Jackson Jr. (who plays his dad in the biopic Straight Outta Compton last year), as well as N.W.A. alumni MC Ren and DJ Yella to run some classic NWA tracks. Cube also paid his respects to his fallen friends: Eazy-E, Phife Dawg, and Nate Dogg. In recognition of Nate Dogg, he chanted “Hey, hey, hey, hey / Smoke weed every day,” with the crowd.
Best cover: “Gimme Shelter” from Liz Warfield (originally by The Rolling Stones). While Duran Duran’s “White Lines” (borrowed from Grandmaster Flash) and Strfkr’s rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” were all superb, Warfield’s cover takes the cake. Her vocal capacity does the devastating original from Merry Clayton recording ample justice.
The strongest weird-name-to-good-music ratio: The Coathangers. This Atlanta-based punk band is unhinged and mesmerizing. During the depressive, acidic relationship howl “Squeeki Tiki,” one of the singers clutched two microphones and squeezed a noisy stress ball right into them both. It’s hard to look away when The Coathangers take the stage.
Sexiest astronauts: STRFKR. Before the Portland indie-electronic band stepped out, they were preceded by about nine astronauts, dressed in white body suits and helmets, parading onto the stage in slow motion, staring at the crowd and the scenery around them with indefatigable awe. After the four-person group — also dressed as spacemen — graced the stage and began to play, the other astronauts expressed themselves in almost every dance thinkable: pole-dancing, stripping, cha-cha, Batusi and ballroom dancing. One astronaut simply lied on his back, defeated, and stayed in the fetal position for a full song like a bug that’s been flipped over. Later they exploded confetti cannons, tossed inflatable balloon animals into the crowd and jumped onto inflated flamingo rafts to surf through the crowd.
Best father-son bonding moment: Ice Cube and O’Shea Jackson Jr. Cube insisted that the crowd on stage right was the loudest, while his son posited that it was actually stage left. “Nah, nah, nah,” Cube told his son. “Father knows best.” He even called O’Shea “a chip off the old cube.” Aw. I’m just grateful that Cube’s set didn’t include the track “You Can’t Fade Me” from AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, or it may have gotten a little awkward.
Best non-nostalgia act: Duran Duran. Frontman Simon Le Bon brought a vital energy to the Duran Duran set Saturday night. After seeing Blondie deliver a perfunctory headlining set at last year’s Project Pabst, it’s really refreshing to see someone like Le Bon still have fun (or give off the impression that he is, anyway) singing songs that he’s been doing since 1980. Le Bon was youthful and hungry, one might say …like some kind of wild canine.
Best use of chains: Tenement. The power-pop band from Wisconsin opened the second day with a bang. The best moment during the set: when the all-white wearing percussion and backup singers traded the tambourines and shakers for a violin and saxophone, and singer-guitarist Amos Pitsch whipped out a suitcase, reached into his bag of tricks, pulled out chains, wrapped them around his guitar and held it up high. Holy Christ.
Best band with four guitarists: Diarrhea Planet. Not even a competition, since scarcely does a band have more than two guitarists. The garage-rock group from Nashville have four guitarists in their six-person makeup. Just about each guitarist also takes a turn as a singer. Diarrhea Planet is a testament to the power of teamwork. And, while we’re at it, drummer Ian Bush and bassist Mike Boyle are also excellent, and are probably too often overlooked.
Best vocals: Frances Quinlan of Hop Along. Equal parts Kate Bush, part Kurt Cobain, Quinlan’s painful rasp adds an extreme urgency, especially on the track “Powerful Man” from 2015 album Painted Shut, which Quinlan wrote after seeing a man abusing his child. Well, I didn’t expect to cry this weekend over anything other than spilled PBR. Hop Along also sweeps up the awards for Best Metal Band Disguised as an Indie Band, The Band that Makes More Sense Live than in Studio, Most Fetching Lead Singer and Best Musings on Ferrets (Quinlan gave a shout-out to a friend named Matt, who let the band play basement shows once upon a time, when there was a ferret running around; “can’t do that anymore,” mused Quinlan, “ferrets…they’re a mixed bag.”)
Best Stage Decoration: Parquet Courts. “Aren’t the trees lovely today?” jested singer-guitarist Andrew Savage, gesturing toward shrubs that the band installed between amplifiers and drummer Max Savage. The rather rushed afternoon set was one of the weekend’s best. The former Savage apologized for not bantering as much as usual; guitarist-singer Austin Brown remarked, “I had all this shit planned about how your basketball team sucks, but now I won’t get to it.” Later he went on, “I mean, you coulda had Kevin Durant, but you got Greg Oden. You must think about that every day.” Comically, the boys in the band were signaled five minutes; they milked every moment and sprinted through four songs to the set. The track “Dust” was prophetic, as Savage barked “Dust is everywhere! Sweep!” and minutes later, the crowd’s dancing made for billowing dirt clouds that hovered over the fields.
Best use of a megaphone: Aaron Freeman (stage name Gene Ween) of Ween. During “The Stallion,” Gene Ween and Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo) traded lines back and forth like hungry kids, but Gene’s words were garbled through a megaphone; while Dean sang, Gene dragged on a cigarette before he returned to the tool.
Best all-around show: Tame Impala. It’s a little surprising that the Australian psych-rock band’s unique brand of introspective dance music has such a wide appeal. Kevin Parker’s soprano pipes killed it as he swept through the band’s catalog, from 2010’s Innerspeaker through 2015’s Currents. It made for some all-out dance parties, too, like during the impeccable sequencing of “Elephant” followed by “The Less I Know The Better” and the Mark Ronson-produced track “Daffodils.” Tame Impala brought this dirty, swill-drinking festival some elegant, exquisite closure. Tame Impala also snags the award for probably the best lyric of the weekend, if only for its catchy syllabic rhythm: “He pulled the mirrors off his Cadillac, ’cause he doesn’t like it lookin’ like he looks back.”
Best Pabst endorsement: Ice Cube. Cube speculated that some people might think he doesn’t have the wherewithal to go on stage and rap anymore since he’s been so tied up in show business. Cube brought up his Coors Light commercials, and shouted, “I shoulda done a Pabst commercial!”