[POP! & THEN SOME] Most of the best shows—the most vibrant, energetic and memorable shows—I've seen this year took place far from the lights and expensive sound systems of Portland's finest stages. They took place in basements and backyards around Portland, where bands like Typhoon (a tight-knit choir of kids that sounds an awful lot like its name) and Starfucker (Josh Hodges of Sexton Blake's portable dance party)—both of whom are playing this year's PDX Pop Now! fest—stole my heart.
OK, sometimes I may have felt a little old. The average age at a Bustling Townships or New Bloods house show probably hovers around the legal smoking—forget about drinking—age. And it's not unusual to overhear "Omigod!" or, "They were, like, totally making out" over the chatter. But when the music starts, all that goes away. Those of us in our mid- to late-twenties may think of underagers as obnoxious, videogame-addicted do-nothings, but plenty of Portland kids put down their controllers in favor of guitars, drums, turntables or accordions (kids still play accordions!). Portland has entire communities that survive without press releases, booking agents and booze-packed green rooms. And for me, that's inspirational. To see a basement of baby-faced kids singing Eskimo and Sons' "No Shit" at the top of their lungs is to restore my faith in both the Portland music scene and the young faces that constitute much of its vanguard. It reminds me of why I fell in love with music in the first place.
And Portland's annual PDX Pop Now! festival—which is put on by the volunteer-driven, music-centric nonprofit of the same name—pushes these normally basement-bound kids to their full potential. It pushes their band names beyond hand-drawn fliers, pushes their art onto a real stage (alongside established Portland bands like Blitzen Trapper and the Blow), and it pushes them musically to play better than they've ever played in front of what is likely the largest and most diverse crowd ever to receive them. And for those who didn't make the lineup, there's the consolation of seeing friends make their mark alongside bands like the Shaky Hands and 31Knots in Pop-fest infamy.
For all intents and purposes, PDX Pop Now! is the biggest house show Portland has ever seen. The usual festival bullshit goes out the window along with the booze and price of admission. Fans are as likely to be blown away by artists they've never heard of (don't miss Hurah Hurah or Sandpeople) as they are beloved Portland staples like Point Juncture, WA or the High Violets. Best of all, artists play PDX Pop for the same reasons those kids in the basement all sing along: for the love of the music, and to be part of something special—which PDX Pop Now! always is. .