Navigating MusicfestNW can leave even lifelong Portlanders looking like common tourists, standing dazed on a street corner, trying to figure out which direction to head. Every night is a treacherous journey in which one bad decision can ruin the entire evening. Don't worry, though: WW is here to help. Plotting the perfect schedule can be overwhelming, but it's not impossible. Each night of the festival, check back here to read our music experts' suggestions for making your MFNW the best damn MFNW it can be. That way, you'll never be on the receiving end of that most painful of statements: "Oh, dude, you shoulda been there!"
Wednesday, Sept. 4
Hawthorne Theatre, 7:30 pm.
[HIP-HOP BEATS] Calvin Valentine is making moves, in and out of Portland. In the last year, the rapper-producer—known by the nom de beatsmith G_Force—has teamed with battle-rap extraordinaire Illmaculate on the excellent Green Tape mixtape, remixed local indie-pop sensations Radiation City and collaborated with Houston’s legendary underground king Bun B. That’s not to mention his continued work with TxE, turning out booming boom bap for one of the hottest MC tandems in town. MATTHEW SINGER.
Doug Fir Lounge, 8 pm
[INDIE ROCK] Though they’ve only played a handful of shows, the main members of Eyelids—Jonathan Drews (Sunset Valley), Chris Slusarenko (Guided by Voices) and John Moen (the Decemberists, Elliott Smith, Stephen Malkmus)—are well used to the stares of the adoring faithful through their key roles in legendary acts. The illustrious sidemen bring the same instrumental facility and formidable connoisseurship to this guitar-pop master class. JAY HORTON.
Hiss Golden Messenger
Aladdin Theater, 9 pm
[DREAM FOLK] Like all good country-folk-blues-rock hybrid projects, this ongoing pursuit by singer-songwriter M.C. Taylor unfolds melodic ideas and lyrics slowly and with deliberate care. You fear one sudden movement will send the North Carolina musician and his friends scurrying back to their warrens. While the group is above ground, delight in its quiet country shuffling and mildly psychedelic highs. ROBERT HAM.
Crystal Ballroom, 9:30 pm.
[FOLK ART] Although his paintings and found-object collages have appeared in the Smithsonian and the White House, 63-year-old Birmingham, Ala., native Lonnie Holley has seemingly occupied his own plane of existence since the late ’70s. Last year’s Just Before Music, his first official album, is a transfixing star map of free-form soul, revealing Holley to be something of a cosmic Gil Scott-Heron. MATTHEW SINGER.
Roseland Theater, 10 pm
[SYNTH POP] Scotland’s Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty made a big impression in Portland earlier this summer when they brought their shimmery sounds to the MusicfestNW kickoff party. It was just the latest in a slate of attention-grabbing gigs for Chvrches.
A festival-circuit favorite since forming in 2011, the trio has been riding the Next Big Thing wave with widespread critical acclaim: kudos from the press at South by Southwest and the BBC’s Sound of 2013 poll, a live TV debut on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, sold-out headlining dates, a slot opening for Depeche Mode. All this for an act whose full-length studio debut doesn’t drop until Sept. 24.
Breakthrough tracks “The Mother We Share” and “Lies,” released online last year, and the post-apocalyptic title clip for the Recover EP, are gloriously pretty washes of retro textures—punk, New Wave, goth, hip-hop. Epic production flourishes are on trend in the age of Purity Ring, M83, Passion Pit, et al., but credit Mayberry’s delicate lead vocals, Cook’s grounding guitars and Doherty’s sweeping samples for setting the band apart from the electro-pop crop.
Lyrics follow suit. It’s rare that nods to burned bridges and an Earth gone cold sound both sad and soaring.
With Mayberry at the helm, Chvrches’ wounded-warrior dance parties—see hooky, stomping electro anthem “Recover”—become radiant without being woe-is-me navel-gazing or twee breakup posturing.
The results are dreamy synth gems of curious strength—in words and melody—that’s worthy of the hype. Chvrches’ date at Roseland Theater kicks off its latest North American tour, and a whole lot more of “I saw them when” talk. AMANDA SCHURR.
The Baseball Project
Doug Fir Lounge, 11 pm
[JOCK JAMS] A band themed on America’s pastime? What, do they stand around tuning for four hours, playing a full song once every 16 tries? The jokes, they write themselves. But seriously, the Baseball Project sports an all-star roster, including the Minus 5’s Scott McCaughey, Scott Wynn of Dream Syndicate, and sometimes R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, elevating murder ballads about Carl May and power-pop tributes to Ichiro Suzuki above fun diversions into something kind of great. MATTHEW SINGER.
Murder By Death
[GALLOWS FOLK] Murder by Death has always been a band that’s existed just shy of cheery. The Midwesterners find solace in the kind of boisterous Southern gothic tunes you’d expect once wafted from old-time bordellos. Sixth album Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon is brimming with dark, acoustic ballads and Adam Turla’s Johnny Cash-esque baritone. It’s a collection of brooding songs culled from American roots spliced with punk fervor and bold brass tinges. BRANDON WIDDER.