Each year, the PDX Pop Now! Festival presents us with dozens of reasons to love this city’s music scene—some of them old reasons (Rollerball, Autistic Youth) and some of them fresh reasons (Kuisika, O Bruxo). And despite the disparate genres, ages and backgrounds presented at the festival, PDX Pop’s annual weekend of free, all-ages music always feels warm and familiar. The haters (why they gotta hate?) say this festival is another example of Portland being in love with Portland: a self-satisfied music scene patting itself on the back each year. Maybe there’s some truth to that sentiment—there is a lot of love among these artists, no matter how diverse their music. The whole thing can feel more like a graduation than a festival. But then, that’s why we love it. So, for the second year in a row, we’ve decided to give PDX Pop Now! a yearbook.
Most Likely to Succeed: Skeletron
We’re relying on an awful lot of circumstantial evidence to predict that Skeletron’s set at PDX Pop Now! will be a big winner. After all, the group’s lineup features two (or more, occasionally) members of crazy popular Portland electro-acoustic dance-punk outfit Starfucker—and these apples don’t fall far from the tree. You may not hear Starfucker hits like “German Love” or “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” at the band’s closing set on Sunday night, but you will feel like dancing your ass off. That’s a guarantee. (CJ) Sunday, 12:25 am.
Best Hair: Ben Darwish
How does he do it? Local pianist, composer, bandleader and singer-songwriter Ben Darwish isn’t just a staple of Portland’s jazz scene or a talented artist with crossover appeal—he maintains one of the best and biggest heads of hair in the city, too. That beautiful ’fro isn’t just pretty to look at, it’s an integral part of Darwish’s music: It bounces when he bounces, gyrates when he gyrates. It’s almost a show within a show. (CJ) Sunday, 7:35 pm.
Revenge of the Nerd: Da’Rel Junior
It’s a testament to Da’Rel Jr.’s instantly recognizable sound and style that he’s playing this year’s PDX Pop Fest at all: Not Portland’s most prolific or popular MC (yet, anyway), Junior is fast on the rise because of his lighthearted rapping style, clean flow and—perhaps most of all—nerdy pedigree. This glasses-and-Chucks-clad MC will not, as he rhymes, “Get shut down by hipsters and gutter punks/ On fixed gears and skinny jeans and Nike dunks.” Said hipsters and gutter punks are going to love him. (CJ) Saturday, 7:35 pm.
Most Popular: Hockey
Since electro-punk outfit Hockey released its super radio- and dance floor-friendly debut, Mind Chaos, two years ago, record labels, festivals and DJs on both sides of the Atlantic have been falling over themselves to hang out with these cool new kids. The band’s catchy, cheeky New Wave anthem “Too Fake” has been all over TV and the charts, and appearances at Bonnaroo, Reading, Lollapalooza and Glastonbury mean the Portland-based band gets invited to all the best parties. Nice of them to say yes, then, to a non-paying gig at PDX Pop Now! (RB) Saturday, 12:25 am.
Best Dressed: Guantanamo Baywatch
The surf punks from Guantanamo Baywatch have a style every bit as trashy and early-’90s California radical as their name and trippy Cramps-covering-the-Trashmen sound would suggest: badly cut mullets, fluorescent singlets and denim so tight it would make even the Hoff wince. The band’s gnarly threads are outdone only by song titles like “Cum Fart Food” and “Titz & Twatz.” This is a live band so hot you’ll need to wear Wayfarers. (RB) Saturday, 2:05 pm.
Best Makeover: Reporter
When Reporter’s Alberta Poon, Dan Grazzini and Mike McKinnon last played the festival in 2008, they were still more likely to earn comparisons to Gang of Four than Glass Candy. But in the past two years the band has transformed itself into a sleek, sexy dance-rock machine, its early indie-rock leanings now joined in bed by Italo disco and French house music. Expect lots of sweat, lasers and a fog machine that hides the awkwardness of grinding against the stranger to your left and right. (MM) Sunday, 9:40 pm.
Best Reunion: Please Step Out of the Vehicle
Travis Wiggins has been one of the leaders of Portland’s DIY, all-ages music scene since PPN! started in 2004. Though he plays some weird shit by himself, we’ve always had a particularly fond spot in our hearts for his beloved garage-pop band, Please Step Out of the Vehicle, which has released some of the most underrated records in town over the past few years. PSOOTV has played just one show the past year and a half, but the band is making a triumphant return for its final show ever this weekend before Wiggins moves to Hawaii. (MM) Sunday, 6:15 pm.
Most Athletic: Joggers
Let’s face it: The 2010 PPN! class isn’t the most athletic bunch. But this award has to go to Joggers for two reasons: The band’s intricate, scale-jogging guitar playing is so muscular it could take any other band in an arm-wrestling match, and drummer Jake Morris and bassist Darrell Bourque are the foundation of Disjecta’s all-star bar-league softball team. Joggers didn’t play much the past few years but are back recording a new album. Never leave us again! (MM) Saturday, 11:45 pm.
SEE IT: PDX Pop Now! starts Friday, July 30, at 6 pm and runs through Sunday, Aug. 1. See pdxpopnow.com for complete schedule. Rotture. Free. All ages.