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!"
Saturday, Sept. 6
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
Pioneer Courthouse Square, 6:30 pm.
[FOLK POP] It is virtually impossible not to like the ebullient and quirky Thao Nguyen. Her tracks combine everything from Americana to ambient pop, hip-hop beats to Asian-tinged guitars, and the appeal of her sometimes Feist-like vocal delivery is nearly as wide. BRIAN PALMER.
Dante’s, 8 pm
[OVERDRIVEN PUNK] Canada could become the next hotbed of fury-driven, in-the-red garage punk, and if it does, Single Mothers—a four-piece from London, Ontario—will be the band leading the charge. The quartet’s recent brooding and heartbroken self-titled EP often makes your stereo speakers sound like they’ve been punctured by knitting needles. ROBERT HAM.
Crystal Ballroom, 9 pm
[PSYCHEDELIC SOUL] When an artist vanishes for 40 years, rumors are going to spread, none of them good. So it was with Shuggie Otis. Nearly four decades passed after the release of his third album, the psychedelic soul masterpiece Inspiration Information, with barely a peep or public appearance to prove he was even still among us. Did he get fed up with the industry and retire into a life of manual labor, languishing in bitter obscurity for the rest of his days? Or did he descend into drugs and mental illness and take up residence under an overpass? Well, Otis regrets to inform you that the reason for his long absence isn’t nearly that tragic: He just couldn’t get a deal. After being dropped by Epic Records in the mid-’70s, Otis spent the ensuing years trying to persuade a label, any label, to sign him, and had so many doors slammed in his face he grew numb to the feeling. MATTHEW SINGER. Read the full profile here.
The Old Church, 9:30 pm
[INDIE FOLK] A Portland mainstay since 2004, Horse Feathers is perpetually pushing the line between solemn folk and hushed indie ambiance. The beguilement lies in the delicate string arrangements and singer Justin Ringle’s grating vocal delivery—always piercing but never pushing you away. BRANDON WIDDER.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Roseland Theater, 10 pm
[POST-ROCK] Since forming in 1994, Montreal’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor has received critical acclaim for an intense live show that leaves fans in a daze—and all without saying a word. On record, the vocal-deprived band prefers to speak through dynamic rhythmic shifts and battering crescendos. In concert, the group adds another dialect to its wordless language: a video reel.
While contemporaries Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai use the quiet-loud-quiet format to conjure panoramic scenes of triumph and dread, GY!BE’s slow-burning approach to instrumental guitar rock eschews economy and melodrama for suspense and dissonant uncertainty. If society were to be dismantled in one week’s time, this is what day eight would sound like. This is not the soundtrack to a zombie apocalypse: It is the sound of what comes after. This is truly post-rock.
While the band was on hiatus from 2003 to 2010, a bumper crop of heavy-handed also-rans sprang up across the globe. While several young post-rock bands cashed in on the promise of being the next “crescendo-core” group to watch, it still wasn’t Godspeed. If excellent 2012 comeback record ’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is any indication of what’s been bottled up for almost a decade, then there’s a torrential assault in store for our senses. PETE COTTELL.
Wonder Ballroom, 10:30 pm
[ELECTRO NOIR] A Johnny Jewel project carries the same weight of expectation as a Quentin Tarantino film, and is often just as cinematic. The Portland-based synth maestro has enjoyed the spotlight of late, not least of all for curating the widely acclaimed soundtrack for the film Drive. Long before Ryan Gosling entered his life, though, Jewel was making music evocative of driving through a city at night. Under the Glass Candy moniker, he and singer Ida No have produced irresistibly iridescent glam pop since the ’90s. And over the last six years, his side quartet, Chromatics, has evolved from a ponderous electro outfit into a well-manicured ambient force, peaking with last year’s critically lauded Kill for Love. MARK STOCK.
Branx, 11 pm
[RETRO ELECTRONICA] For all the ’80s revivalist trappings residing at the heart of Beat Connection’s music, the quartet deserves credit for succeeding in bringing glassy synth melodies and low-saturated drum-machine beats into a modern context. The latest album by this Seattle-based outfit, The Palace Garden, is blooming with earworm hooks and a slightly tropical flavor that runs counter to its sodden birthplace. ROBERT HAM.
Sonny and the Sunsets
Bunk Bar, midnight
[NARRATIVE FOLK] San Francisco-based artist, playwright and musician Sonny Smith is a twisted storyteller, blending long-form lyricism with alt-countryish freak folk. The prolific singer-songwriter’s newest record, the aptly titled Antenna to the Afterworld, just about sums him up: It’s fun, adventurous and unlikely, blending spacey effects with traditional folk elements. MARK STOCK.
Booty Bassment DJs
Holocene, until 2 am
[HIP HOP] Oregonians are famously suspicious of their Californian neighbors, so it’s in the spirit of mutual understanding that the monthly Booty Bassment party migrated north to Portland. Locals Nathan Detroit and Maxx Bass are the regulars, while Cali-based founders Dimitri Dickinson and Ryan Poulsen will visit to deliver ass-clapping hits from the last three decades. MITCH LILLIE.
Sunday, Sept. 8
Pioneer Courthouse Square, 5:30 pm.
[COSMIC AMERICAN MUSIC] The Moondoggies’ brand-new third album, Adiós, I’m a Ghost, finds the Washington roots-rockers growing in both power and subtlety. These Musicfest three-peaters have had past buzz from the likes of Rolling Stone and NPR, and the new album’s “Stop Signs” sounds like the kind of tune to land them on the late-night TV shows this time around. JEFF ROSENBERG.
Pioneer Courthouse Square, 6:30 pm.
[NEO-SOUL] Pickwick’s transformation from neo-folk to neo-soul was something of a musical about-face, but in terms of ethos, the Seattle sextet merely traded one plainspoken, heartfelt genre for another. Pickwick, which released its debut full-length, Can’t Talk Medicine, in March, is among Seattle’s biggest current acts, with a sound that’s equally groovy and garage-y. JONATHAN FROCHTZWAJG.
Pioneer Courthouse Square, 8 pm
[COUNTRYISH FOLK-POP] Considering the connections one can make between the work and careers of K.D. Lang and Neko Case, it's amazing the two had, until last fall, never met in person. Both work in that murky and melodic world that connects pop and country. Both are closely associated with Canada (Lang was born and raised in Alberta; Case spent her formative years in Vancouver BC). And both are known for their show-stopping vocal abilities. Last October, when it came to light these two women were going to be in Portland at the same time—Lang is now a resident of the Rose City, and Case was working on her upcoming album,The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, at Tucker Martine's studio—it seemed like a great opportunity to get them together. Both met for a long lunch at Blossoming Lotus to discuss their careers, their admiration for each other's work, and the sometimes-difficult aspects of the artistic life. Read the full interview here. ROBERT HAM.
Crystal Ballroom, 10 pm
[SAXY BASS MUSIC] Since stomping onto the electronic-music scene in 2009, Big Gigantic has become pretty big and, well, pretty gigantic. The project of producer Dominic Lalli and drummer Jeremy Salken combines the improvisational elements of jazz with DJ-style production techniques, creating a sound that is fundamentally electronic but cut with Lalli’s saxophone like a laser beam through a murky storm of bass drops. GRACE STAINBACK.