There are more ways, and moments, to mark the passing of a year than when the big glowing ball drops on Jan. 1 in Times Square. The Chinese New Year started in early February, marked by the journey of many Chinese to their homeland. The new school year will start next month, marked by grumbling students shuffling into homeroom. And this week in Portland, we celebrate the beginning of a new music year, marked by the second annual PDX Pop NOW! music festival, which collects 40-some of this town's best acts for a free three-day concert. We just think of this loud, long party as a chance to look ahead at what could be, while looking back at what was. Surely you have your own memories. Here are some of ours.
PDX Pop NOW! festival celebrates the scene. Indie shut-ins empowered.
"This is not a group of people who had stars in their eyes and huge ambitions. We were really motivated by what we personally wanted, and it just happened to be that what we wanted clicked with 3,000 other people, who also managed to get themselves off their asses." -Cori Taratoot, organizer, PDX Pop NOW!
Since 1998, the PDX Pop email listserv has served as a spot where musicians, writers and fans posted show listings and argued about the local music scene. But it wasn't until early 2004 that the members started chatting about the idea of putting on a music festival that would showcase the talent of that scene. What happened next? A committee was formed. Music fans voted online for their favorite Portland bands. And members of the music community donated time and resources to make the first PDX Pop NOW! music festival happen. And it did, when 43 Portland bands descended on the Meow Meow (now Loveland) to play for a crowd of 3,000 fans. While critics sniped that organizers didn't adhere strictly to the voting system, the festival was, ultimately, a great success. If political blogs were this effective, you'd have health insurance.
The Second Annual PDX Pop NOW! festival takes place Aug. 5-7 at Loveland. Noon. Free. All ages. For a full schedule, see page 33.
The Shins gain full exposure from film appearance. Portland band's life is changed.
"You gotta hear this one song-it'll change your life, I swear." -Sam (Natalie Portman) to Andrew (Zach Braff), Garden State
By June 2004, the Shins had appeared in Vanity Fair and scored a live spot on Gilmore Girls, while keyboard player Marty Crandall had dated a contestant on America's Next Top Model. In the indie world, despite middling sales, the Portland band was considered enormously successful. Then actor-director Zach Braff included two songs from the Shins' debut, Oh, Inverted World, in his cinematic debut, Garden State. The film became a cultural touchstone, the Shins' album sales tripled, and scenesters everywhere bemoaned, once again, the fall of indie-irritatingly so, since the Garden State soundtrack and its success said far more about the changing mainstream than any vanishing subculture.
Bossanova Ballroom opens.
The century-old Viscount Ballroom on East Burnside Street was restored and expanded into a new multifunctional venue called the Bossanova Ballroom, which will host live music and dance nights.
Doug Fir Lounge's first show. Portland club scene turns east and turns in early.
"I showed up for soundcheck and was blown away. First, by the magnitude of architectural daring. Secondly, that people were still working, doing some pretty substantial last-minute details. The clarity of purpose was everywhere, and I knew that this was the 4-minute mile-the new standard by which venues would be measured in this town."-deejay Gregarious
The dawning of Portland's most promising club started off, well, fairly dim. The opening band, the Joggers, actually started at the set time of 9 pm. That early start was simply unheard-of in this town's nocturnal-leaning live-music world, which resulted in the band playing to a nearly empty room. By the second act, a typically transcendent set by Quasi, a sold-out crowd packed the floor and, afterwards, quickly emptied it, only to be replaced by the bright young things who follow DJ Gregarious. Still, the club itself was the star of the evening. Doug Fir didn't look like anything this town had seen before, and attempts to describe the place-Twin Peaks-themed casino lounge or a 22nd-century ski chalet disco as imagined from 1953-didn't adequately summarize the venue's peculiar blend of design and comfort. A variety of factors-from the exquisite sound, its eclectic mix of top acts, early hours and no-smoking policy-has helped the club regularly draw a diverse crowd, while subtly transforming local nightlife.
Dig!, featuring the Dandy Warhols, premieres in Portland. Local popsters once again show a national audience the city's tragic hipness.
"Five minutes before showtime, 30 or 40 or more drunk hipsters crossed the street en masse and mobbed the lobby of Cinema 21. The stairwells to the balcony had been marked as 'Closed,' when, actually, they'd been reserved for the Warhol clique. They swept the 'Closed' signs away and took over the entire upstairs section. It was...a riotous atmosphere." -Anonymous friend of Courtney Taylor, lead singer of the Dandy Warhols
While Portland's Dandy Warhols didn't release an album in 2004, they were on the cultural radar as the stars of Dig!, a rollicking rockumentary that won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. The Portland premiere wasn't all giggles, exactly. Ondi Timoner's documentary, culled from seven years following the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, showed all sides of Dandys frontman Courtney Taylor, including moments when he had viciously insulted band members who, at the premiere, sat inches away. Watching the film was sometimes uncomfortable, but the rock-'n'-roll audience seemed to understand. After sustained applause, viewers and musicians alike left for the band's clubhouse-of-the-moment, Slabtown, to buy one another drinks, glamorous psychodrama checked at the door.
Posthumous Elliott Smith album released.
While police continued to investigate Smith's apparent suicide in 2003, the unfinished, final album from Portland's favorite songwriter, From a Basement on the Hill, garners praise, regret and countless thought-pieces by rock critics everywhere (see "A Year in the Death of Elliott Smith," WW, Oct. 13, 2004).
Richmond Fontaine leads the Americana-ization of the British.
British music mag Uncut named Richmond Fontaine's Post to Wire the fourth-best album of the year, as the longtime Portland country-rock outfit repeatedly tours Europe. Later, lead singer Willy Vlautin signs a book deal for his first novel with British publishing house Faber and Faber.
Modest Mouse sells out five nights at the Crystal Ballroom. Isaac Brock leads a massive audience in isolation worship.
"I just thought that those five shows proved that Isaac Brock is the real deal. He's up there with Greg Sage, Sean Croghan and Kurt Cobain-the Northwest icons. Some people care about being in tune and some people care about their voices, and some people just lay it down and do their thing, no problem. And dude, that guy is the shit. No ifs, ands or buts about it. He's by far what you would want from a rock musician." -Trevor Solomon of Thrasher Presents, who attended four of the five shows (which weren't promoted by his company).
After playing numerous holiday festivals around the country, Modest Mouse returned for a four-night stand at the Crystal Ballroom, which, after those nights quickly sold out, added a fifth night. The band's fifth release, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, written around Portland through two years of drug-addled breakdowns and band turnover, had been giddily adopted by the radio, MTV, MGD, The O.C., Nissan and all parts of the new media. The album was quickly certified platinum on its way to winning the sheer, bristling envy of most everybody who'd ever picked up a guitar 'round the Northwest. Frontman Isaac Brock claims to disdain the spotlight because he's more interested in following his own muse. But somehow, despite the hype, Modest Mouse becomes known for that rarest of things-releasing a smart, glowing, addictive rock album that appeals to everybody and caters to none.
Art Alexakis declares bankruptcy.
Alexakis, the frontman for Everclear, Portland's contribution to mid-'90s mod rock, filed for Chapter 11 protection in California, reportedly owing the feds $2.75 million in back taxes, as well as $230,000 to Oregon and more than $100,000 to credit-card companies.
Viva Voce plays an intimate show to devoted fans. Their heat almost melts the ice.
While most smart Portlanders huddled stranded and fearful during Winter Blast 2005, 100 devoted hipsters braved frozen streets to attend the Saturday-night Viva Voce show at Doug Fir, one of few concerts that wasn't canceled. The married Portland duo warmed up the room with an incendiary set of its indie prog-soul majesty.
Roseland Tsunami benefit raises $25,000.
The Dandy Warhols, the Out Crowd, Durango Park, the Upsidedown and the Decemberists' Colin Meloy rocked for charity at the Roseland Theater.
Grayskul celebrates debut. Portland hip-hop grows.
"Oldominion has really taken the Northwest hip-hop scene to the next level, making the rest of the country take notice. They're respected by hip-hop crews across the United States from the major labels to the underground. Living in Portland, living in this rainy city, something comes through their music from production to the rhymes-something darker, hardcore." -Anthony Sanchez, Thorn City Improv promoter
MCs Onry Ozzborn, JFK and bass player Rob Castro took on the Grayskul moniker and released their first full-length album, Deadlivers, on the Rhymesayers label (Atmosphere, MF Doom) to critical acclaim. It was a good year in general for Oldominion, a loose collective of artists known as the Pacific Northwest's Wu-Tang Clan. Among other members, Boom Bap Project released its own debut, Reprogram, on Rhymesayers; Sleep signed with Upabove Records for his sophomore album, Christopher; Chicarones joined Grayskul on the Vans Warped Tour; and Syndel teamed with Hungry Mob's Toni Hill to release Siren's Echo's full-length debut, Psalms of the Sirens, earning the Portland women praise for their lyrical abilities.
The Decemberists' trailer is stolen. Band loses gear and goes on to lose relative anonymity.
"The police found the trailer abandoned on this logging road near Boring. My keyboard was there, my amps were there, but they'd taken this accordion I bought in Seattle, this Italian reed-style accordion with a special tuning that was so hard to find. They took Colin [Meloy]'s vintage Martin six-string that his sister bought him when we were starting out and broke and nobody would see us. They took the stuff that was irreplaceable." -Jenny Conlee, accordionist, the Decemberists
The Decemberists' trailer was stolen outside Jenny Conlee's house the morning of their tour kickoff show at the Crystal Ballroom. The theft of virtually all band equipment nearly canceled the Portland indie-pop troupe's tour, but they borrowed gear and received more than $8,000 in donations after a fan set up a charitable PayPal account online. Led by Anglophile warbler Colin Meloy, the band (with new drummer John Moen and violinist Petra Haden) soldiered on to tour its third full-length, Picaresque, around the world, finding a welcome audience for their eccentric indie pop, from NPR's All Things Considered to NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Earlier in the year, the first single from Picaresque, "16 Military Wives," was rumored to be the soundtrack for a national Hewlett-Packard Digital ad. Perhaps the deal fell through because HP execs feared the song's skewering of American hubris hidden within those upbeat fanfares. The song eventually found its way onto television, winning regular airplay on M2 with the music video shot at Portland's Cleveland High School.
Talkdemonic headlines WW's Best New Band showcase.
After being named Portland's Best New Band by WW, the duo of Kevin O'Connor and Lisa Molinaro took the stage as Talkdemonic to the collective shout of a packed house at Berbati's Pan. The line for the free show stretched a block long.
PGE plays for PGE. Public utility displays heart.
"They were kind of confused."-Barrett Ryker, Portland General Electro
When Portland General Electro member Barrett Ryker received a call from the utility that shares his group's initials, it wasn't to wave a copyright in his face, but to invite PGE to play its annual employee talent show in the World Trade Center auditorium. The group was generally well-received and even danced onstage with the company's mascot, Larry the Lightbulb. This was the second spot of good news for PGE (the band), which would have been forced to change its name if the sale of PGE (the utility) to Texas Pacific Group had gone through in January. Techno Pacific Group just didn't have the same ring to it.
Sleater-Kinney, Stephen Malkmus release contemporaneous albums. Portland hipsters caught in financial crisis.
"When a lot of people were expecting both artists to repeat themselves, to fall off the cliff of mediocrity, they both shook up the Etch-a-Sketch and made themselves interesting again. The songs are stronger. In the midst of middle age, they've honed their ability to write pop songs." -DJ Dantronix
Imagine, for a moment, the pain of our budget-conscious Portland hipster this day of days. The two most eagerly awaited albums from Portland artists (neither of whom, much like the Shins or Modest Mouse, would've imagined themselves Portland artists a few years ago, but that's another story) are released at the same moment. The Woods, S-K's first Sub Pop album, indulges in '70s rawk for an uncommonly apolitical effort, while Malkmus' Face the Truth unfurls an experimental psych-guitar reinvention. They say the listening booths of Everyday Music ran red that day.
Satan's Pilgrims play reunion show.
After five years apart, the beloved surf-rock heroes return to Portland for a sold-out, one-night-only reunion maelstrom to support greatest-hits album Plymouth Rock.
Wonder Ballroom opens. Portlanders learn what Hibernian means.
The near-century-old Hibernian hall is restored and expanded to become a new multifunctional venue 'midst Northeast Portland's transformation.
Foghorn Stringband plays Borneo. Band shows 8,000 Muslims what a barn dance is.
"On the third night, the Foghorn Stringband only had to make a passing mention about their music being appropriate for square dancing, before some of the audience shot up and began kicking up their heels." -Tan Hee Hui, The Jakarta Post
Three years ago, the square dances played by the Foghorn Stringband were ignored by the international press, while even neighborhood attention seemed rare. But that was before Foghorn became the first band from the United States to play the Rain Forest World Music Festival. Between performers from Pakistan, Poland and the Ivory Coast, the Portland old-timey band thrilled largely Muslim crowds, capped by authorities at 8,000. On Aug. 16, Vancouver, B.C., label Nettwerk will release the band's new record, Weiser Sunrise.