Partway through his Saturday set, Father John Misty paused at the edge of the Captain Pabst stage and told the crowd, “I hope Iggy Pop is somewhere right now saying, ‘What the hell happened to music?’” As Father John Misty’s stellar show and the majority of performers at MusicfestNW presents Project Pabst proved, music is doing just fine.
But now that the dust from the festival grounds at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park has settled, it’s time to take a look back at the best that the two-day festival in Downtown Portland had to offer. From living legends to up-and-comers, the festival covered a range of styles that were worth spending two days in 90 plus degree weather to see.
Best overall act: Iggy Pop
Saturday’s headliner ran onstage shirtless, strutting and spitting on photographers, and the energy never let up from there. Often credited as being the Godfather of Punk Rock, a 70-year-old Iggy Pop proved that age is nothing but a number. Backed by a sharp-dressed band, they blasted in with “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and continued the Stooges onslaught with songs including “Gimme Danger,” “1969,” “T.V. Eye,” “Down on the Street” and more. The band also drew from Pop’s solo career, including “Lust For Life” and “The Passenger,” up to his most recent project, Post Pop Depression.
Although he no longer stage dives (a move many claim he invented), during “Search and Destroy,” Pop went down into the audience and writhed around the dusty grounds with fans, falling into their arms and proving he still has a heart full of napalm. Pop had free reign of the stage, which he commanded like the living legend he is.
Honorable Mention: Spoon
Best song: Father John Misty — “The Ideal Husband”
Although it’s not even one of the best songs on Father John Misty’s 2015 album, “I Love You Honeybear,” Misty (AKA Josh Tillman) mustered every ounce of his dynamic showmanship to finish his performance with “The Ideal Husband.” The song begins with a splashy hi-hat before exploding into a neurotic cacophony of Misty recollecting how his shortcomings as a person could be altered to make him the perfect mate. Joined by a full band and eight-piece orchestra, Misty stumbled across the stage, humped the air on his knees and looked genuinely lost in the song. As divisive as “Pure Comedy” may be, no one watching Father John Misty could be anything less than blown away by his performance.
Best 15-second freakout: Beck
Twice during his headlining set, Beck fell prone to mini-freakouts. The first occurred during “Sexx Laws” when he asked the audience for permission to let loose for 15-seconds or so. He then proceeded to flail his arms and run in place, overpowered by the saxophones and pounding rhythm section.
To conclude his set, Beck assigned each quadrant of the audience a note to sing. Even after he left the stage, the crowd continued to chant the four-note cadence. As a final goodbye, Beck returned to the stage, unbuttoned his shirt, took off his shoes and spiked them on the ground. Then he dropped the mic as he exited stage left — a final cocky act that was well-earned during his headlining performance.
Best dance moves: Lizzo
Lizzo and her backup dancers brought enough attitude-fueled twerking to the stage to make even Nicki Minaj blush. But when Lizzo and co. twerk, it’s all about self-love, positivity and empowerment, not just shaking your butt to shake it. Dressed in a black bathrobe with pink trim, Lizzo said she was having so much fun that she was losing control. “I’m having so much fun right now. I started laughing and that should never happen.” She was far from the only one having a blast during her set and left the audience feeling “Good as Hell.”
Best audience participation: FIDLAR
After FIDLAR’s performance midday Saturday on the Unicorn stage, the grounds were almost universally buzzing about how great FIDLAR was. Part of that was due to the audience participation experiment. Before playing “5 to 9,” singer Zac Carper said, “We’re going to try something — no. We’re going to do it: All girl mosh pit. If you see any dudes, just clock them.” Women came running in from all directions of the festival to partake in the pit.
Most calories burned: Kurt Bloch of Filthy Friends
Filthy Friends is a collection of Portland’s finest musicians including Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5), Kurt Bloch (Fastbacks, Young Fresh Fellows) and Linda Pitmon (Minus 5). Bloch plays lead guitar, but he ceaselessly stomps across the stage, jumps in place or bumps into bassist and fellow Young Fresh Fellow Scott McCaughey. The festival featured many young bands, but the older groups moved like sweating along to a Richard Simmons tape just may be the fountain of youth.
Most likely to headline soon: White Reaper
In June, White Reaper headlined a three-band show at the Doug Fir Lounge with Ron Gallo and Naked Giants. At that show, they didn’t quite seem ready for the headlining slot, but at Project Pabst, they proved they were absolutely worthy of any stage they walk on. The band’s newest album is boldly titled “The World’s Best American Band,” and this time, they seemed worthy of at least being a part of that conversation. The Louisville, Kentucky, band is only going to improve, and if this two-month gap is any indication of their potential, they best aim high.
Best booth: The PBRcade
Festivalgoers in need of a break from the sun had the option to seek out shade, or visit a plethora of booths, the best of which was the PBRcade, a free arcade with retro video games and virtual reality demos alike. There was no air conditioning, but escaping the direct sunlight in favor of playing “Duck Hunt” for a few minutes was enough to cool off.
Biggest disappointment: $4 PBR tallboys
At last year’s Project Pabst, the titular drink sold for $3 a can. That price was only available at Happy Hour this year, from 12-2 p.m., but few people had actually arrived by that point in the day. As one attendee said, “Here they are charging $4 for a tallboy PBR. What is this, Soviet Russia?” Not quite, but the extra dollar made the jump from a cheap beer to a questionable choice.
Follow Craig on Twitter: @wgwcraig