I Was a Teenage Anarchist

Five highlights from MusicFestNW

J Mascis, Roseland Theater, Portland, Ore.
J Mascis, Roseland Theater, Portland, Ore. (by Jeremy Deputat/Red Bull Content Pool)

MusicFestNW is often regarded – and was originally founded – as Portland, Ore.'s alternative to South by Southwest: a four-day marathon of shows hosted by local weekly Willamette Week and spread out across a dozen or so key venues in the city. After partaking in both, I can testify to that being a generous comparison.

MFNW is only a fraction of the size of SXSW, boasts little in the way of industry presence, and – with the exception of a Fucked Up in-store at Doc Martin’s – severely lacks in day parties and booze.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great festival, brimming with mass-appeal headliners (Passion Pit, Beirut, Girl Talk, and Silversun Pickups), but even as a working tourist still getting acclimated to the local scene, I'm sure Portland has so much more to offer. Local record stores (Jackpot Records for starters), breweries (take your pick), and countless local businesses, theaters, and restaurants could positively contribute to the occasion, especially given the city’s impeccable public transportation.

(Just scope the itinerary of fringe events for the upcoming tech conference, XOXO Festival, for example.)

That said, here are five notable highlights from the 2012 MFNW.

AGAINST ME! at Hawthorne Theater

Transgender singer Laura Jane Grace is in the midst of perhaps the most powerful, personal transformation in rock history. Yet while appearances may have changed slightly – the singer/guitarist formerly known as Tom Gabel was wearing a black halter-top and blue mascara – little else has for Against Me! and Grace’s authoritarian lead vocals are as deep and commanding as ever.

The Florida punks stomped through a solid 75-minute set heavy on its 2007 breakthrough New Wave and propelled by Tasmanian devil/drummer Jay Weinberg. Quarter-life calling card “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” and glam-punk strut “Don’t Lose Touch” proved early highlights.

THE MEN at Star Theater

Imagine going bowling with a wrecking ball. That’s the essence of Brooklyn’s the Men, a torrential psych-punk outfit that combines the abrasive noise of the Touch & Go Records canon with Grinderman’s feral “No Pussy Blues” – all feedback and fury. The fivepiece, two guitarists and a slide guitarist/keyboardist, has a revolving frontline that like Austin’s Dikes of Holland only gets better with every turn.

DIIV at Ted’s

DIIV offers a new take on surf music. The New York quartet’s critically acclaimed debut Oshin moves with a tidal serenity, the dual guitars circling like vultures over the driven, linear percussion. Think San Francisco's the Mermen at twice the speed and with clouded vocals. Packed into Ted’s next to Voodoo Donut, DIIV played as a band with something to prove, moving around the stage like hyperactive bubblehead figurines, crafting hazy, mostly instrumental jams that could have gone on for days.

REDD KROSS at Dante’s

From the opening kick of classic “Better Stay Away From Downtown,” Redd Kross’ reunion offered one feel-good hit after another, bounding between flamboyant power-pop, proto-grunge, and its surprisingly solid comeback effort, Researching the Blues. The band appeared surprisingly spry after a 15-year hiatus, brothers Jeff and Steven McDonald shimmying across the stage like starry-eyed kids, while drummer Roy McDonald channeled Keith Moon by way of the Muppets.


This is the perk of corporate sponsorships. For the first time ever, the three components of Dinosaur Jr. shared the same stage. Lou Barlow’s Sebadoh ran through its recent reissue campaign, and Dinosaur Jr. paid tribute to its past and present with cuts from its underrated comeback, 2009’s Farm, high school hardcore outfit Deep Wound, and the Cure (“Just Like Heaven”).

The real highlight was the opening set by J Mascis, who managed to convey the visceral power of Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh’s guarded vulnerability with only a few layers of squalling guitar. In terms of awkward intimacy and intensity, his seated show reminded me of Neil Young’s 2010 performance at the Bass Concert Hall and its billing: “I said solo. They said acoustic.”

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MusicFestNW, Against Me!, Laura Jean Grace, The Men, Jay Weinberg, Dikes of Holland, Redd Kross, Keith Moon, DIIV, the Mermen, Dinosaur Jr., Lou Barlow, Sebadoh, J Mascis, Passion Pit, Beirut, Girl Talk, Silversun Pickups

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