Live Review: Mikrofest, Saturday, September 5 @ Camp Rainbow
Organized by the Boy Gorilla collective, and held at inner North Portland house venue Camp Rainbow ( a.k.a. Beech House), Mikrofest was intended to be a 12 hour, 22 band music festival in one house. A 10/12, 19/22 result isn't bad.
Showcasing bands from throughout Oregon and Washington, some performing for the first time, others more established, the festival organizers succeeded in providing a safe and welcoming environment for fans of all ages to see some of their favorite bands and discover new ones.
Unfortunately, eight hours after Portland police first came by responding to "noise" complaints, the day long festival ground to a halt at 11 pm, a time when most shows are either getting started or half way through. Camp Rainbow residents received a $1,000 fine and an invitation to a court date. When asked for an update on the situation Tyler Ferrin of Boy Gorilla responded: "We've got a plan to get that dropped. Maybe it's foolproof but we'll see." Ferrin also suggested that next time the event would take place at another space.
Boy Gorilla and Camp Rainbow have been among the most important incubators for talented and emerging artists over the last three years. Both have changed greatly over the time that I've known them, not only physically, in terms of what persons have been the energy of the label or the residents of the house, but also emotionally. There's been a lot of potential for success on the part of songwriters and musicians who have been the heart and soul of Boy Gorilla. Sometimes that potential has felt a bit wasted. Mikrofest laid to rest any doubts to be had about whether that potential still exists.
The last time Mikrofest was held in Portland was July 14, 2007. It was the middle of summer, the weekend KPSU's all-ages venue The Modern Age opened, and a time at which I felt all twisted up inside. This year's Mikrofest, held in the waning days of summer, felt a lot better. Bands I'd teared up during in 2007, I laughed with this year, and bands I didn't watch out of spite that year, I teared up over this year.
While the festival started at 1 pm sharp, I took my time getting over there and arrived a little before 2:30, planning on catching a new favorite band, Pardee Shorts, live for the first time. Everybody looked rested and ready, bright eyed, bushy tailed, clean cut and eager. Everybody looked really good, and they would all sound good too.
It turned out I was in time to see the last few minutes of the set by Dash!, the great one man project of Jordan Dykstra that always sounds like a symphony and might have one of the most accurate and honest MySpace tags I can remember: Ambient/Classical/Experiment. The performance seemed accurate to me, but maybe a little too honest. Dykstra's incessant apologizing wore on me to the point that it started to feel like shtick. It's easy to forget that most of your audience doesn't realize you aren't performing like you think you're supposed to unless you remind or tell them, and even then most people are pretty forgiving.
Dash!'s performance was held in the living room, but the loyal early afternoon crowd traveled to the basement for the set by Pardee Shorts, a last second replacement for the previously announced/scheduled Guidance Counselor.
Pardee Shorts is a keyboards /drums duo made up of Cyrus Lampton and Kevin Gwozdz. Lampton (formerly of Trifina Trifosa) is one of Portland's best young drummers, and employs a variety of styles in Pardee Shorts, who didn't disappoint. While Lampton recalled some of the great jazz and rock drummers (Buddy Rich, Kim Schifino, Jim Eno), Gwozdz's whispered vocals made me write down things like "Thom Yorke vocal guide demos," "John Lennon fucking around" and "Gordon Gan0." Gwozdz's vocalizing, half sung into the mic while steadily plunking and noodling the keys, is the kind of endearingly off-kilter singing that can only really come off well by somebody who knows what they're doing wrong.
While Pardee Shorts was performing, the Blast Majesty were setting up on the other half of the basement, which meant we didn't have to go too far for the next act. The Blast Majesty combine the boyish harmonies of' 60s surf pop (think Jan & Dean) with spiky riffage and the Eugene group was less abrasive, less sloppy, had less strobe lights, and was far more enjoyable than the last time I saw them in January of 2008. I wrote down "Jonathan Richman," "Talking Heads" and even "Nick Delffs."
Following the Blast Majesty was another one man ambient act upstairs, Deau Bird, a solo project from Dorian McMillan (also of Yeah Great Fine). McMillan might be one of the best kept secret talents in town and that's mostly his own fault for not playing out often enough. As he has finally found the live setup that works for him, audiences have been lucky to see McMillan's music, which consists of looped harmonies over dreamy soundscapes (think Panda Bear). McMillan's sampler apparently fried at a Yeah Great Fine show later the same day.
Though the sky had been thick with clouds in the early part of the day, that had long burned off by 4 pm. It was pleasant and bustling in the front yard of Camp Rainbow so I hung out outside for awhile where I enjoyed an ice tea from Boy Gorilla coffee, the great DIY cart from Typhoon and Breakfast Mountain drummer Pieter Hilton. This meant missing Jeffrey Jerusalem (who sounded good), and Phantom!, who I now regret having missed.
At 5 pm, the Black Black Black performed a three song set that was bogged down by technical difficulties (leaky fog machine, broken string, broken guitar strap, unplugged amp) but was still a brilliantly rocking and mosh worthy set. This was followed by a quick set from Rib Cages who sounded great for the one song I saw, and a rare indoor performance by Rob Walmart, in deference to the neighbors.
As Rob Walmart started up, a couple of friends and I made the gamble of taking a trip to Mississippi St for dinner. Laughing Planet was busy, and the food was good as always, but we should have chowed down faster and ran back in time to catch more of Brainstorm. We caught the last seconds of recent Cut of the Day "Battling Giants" (I wanted to yell out "I just got here, play that again") and the duo's final number. Their set seemed enormously, but predictably, well received.
Salem's Good Indians performed upstairs next. I'd been briefed on the group's pedigree by Camp Rainbow's senior resident Dylan Morris but was taken aback by the sheer force of the rock the group brought. I was pretty floored. Considering this was the group's first show, I think most people were. Good Indians consists of two younger brothers and a cousin of Morris', as well a former member of the Shepherds of Ontario. The four piece played expertly skilled and blisteringly heavy guitar rock, like a pint size Wolfmother or Witchcraft. They knew what they were doing and nothing felt contrived or forced. It's nice to know there will be something more to look forward to.
From the "The best decision a band can make is to stay together department" came the next performances that I saw, by White Fang, who I hadn't seen in almost a year, and Typhoon who I hadn't seen in longer. Typhoon played a three song set of all new material and White Fang played new material too, as well a few of their classics, which they had rearranged. It's nice to see both groups are still together.
The basement had already been sweaty in the afternoon, but by the time Leather Tom & the Dirty Dudes started up at 9:30, it was pretty impossible to be anywhere but outside and still be comfortable. I didn't physically SEE any more bands, and ended up volunteering to help with security at the door during Reporter's set, which would end up being the final performance of the night. When the cops showed up I went in and sat on the couch at the back of the living room for Reporter's set, taking it all in as Alberta Poon's ethereal vocals hovered over the haze of Dan Grazzini's guitar and Mike McKinnon's beats. Talk about staying together.
A lot can change in the year between most music festivals. The two years and two months since the last Mikrofest was held in Portland? Forget about it. Just for starters, chew on the fact that at the last PDX Mikrofest the Starfucker that performed was just Josh Hodges. Now a four piece, Starfucker just came off a pretty killer week which included not only two packed headlining shows at another basement of sorts, the Doug Fir, but also inclusion on the soundtrack to the season finale of popular Showtime series Weeds, a new ad for Target, and now a name change. Damn son.
It's enough to make you wonder: what will happen in the next two years?
Photos: The Black Black Black (first photo) by Toby Tanabe, Brainstorm (2, 3, 4 ) by Devin Gallagher, Good Indians (5,6) by Devin Gallagher, Typhoon (7) by Jayme Gantz, White Fang (8) by Devin Gallagher