For a festival headlined by Phil Lesh and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats—and where seemingly half the audience brings toddlers and would rather sit in REI camping chairs than mosh—this year's Pickathon was strangely dominated by post-punk. There might have been a little dissonance between the idyllic setting and the rowdy sets, but that doesn't mean any set with a fiddle was a wash, or that this year's festival was all doom and gloom. Held during a blisteringly hot weekend, there were just as many moments of respite as eardrum-busting performances. Here are some of the best sets we saw.
Reptaliens at the Treeline Stage
Portland's Reptaliens are probably tired of hearing their music described as "dreamwave" or "spacepop." But they can't really blame us—the band's sound is powered by cosmic weirdness. Their set was punctuated by audio excerpts from Marshall Applewhite's Heaven's Gate videos, and guitarist Austin Smith's constant wardrobe changes—from silver cloak and alien mask, to crocodile mask and a ghillie suit, to a Slenderman-Doc Brown hybrid—really made it seem that we had evacuated Earth. The whirling keys, bouncing guitars and Bambi Browning's breathy voice coalesced into a dreamy soundbath. While a majority of their Pickathon co-performers chose to stay grounded, Reptaliens shot up past the setting sun. How high you go depends on how much you can buy into what they're selling, but the band drives a hard bargain—their Pickathon set was fun as hell. JORDAN MONTERO.
Help at the Galaxy Barn
It's always nice to see Portland's own exciting a crowd (slightly) outside of our local scene. During their Saturday set, that's exactly what Help did. With their trusty stage tire in tow, Ryan Neighbors, Bim Ditson and Boone Howard crammed onto the tiny, eclectically lit stage in the hot as hell Galaxy Barn. The audience packed in like sardines, and the intimate venue quickly turned into a sensory overload. Neighbors intensely jostled around stage, and the crowd began to mirror his energy. Soon enough, swaths of sweaty bodies began feverishly crashing into each other for what was probably the moistest mosh of the whole festival. CERVANTÉ POPE.
B Boys at the Treeline Stage
The Brooklyn-bred three piece B Boys are overachieving students in Punk's School of Rock. They sound as if Television Personalities rode the New York City subway every day for the last 40 years. If they were an inanimate object, they'd be the beaten, Sharpie-spattered Vans that bassist Brendon Avalos wore on Saturday. Most the band's head-rattling punk is about rejection: rejection of mainstream culture, of capitalism, of repetition. It's hard to tell if their music is a relief from mania or an indulged study of it. Is writing songs satirizing modern consumer culture the endgame, or is it just a step towards something else? Whatever it is, it clearly lit a flame under the audience, causing bodies to slam and swing into each other without caution, and a lone, black-and-white-dotted bra to be hurled at the band's feet. Simply put, B Boys' music is exactly what punk is supposed to be. JM.
Miya Folick at Woods Stage
On Saturday, Miya Folick turned the Woods Stage into an '80s teenpop sing-your-heart-out movie scene. "Freak Out," off her 2018 Terrible Records debut, Premonitions, alludes to the art pop of Charlie XCX, but on stage, it translated into something almost Springsteen-esque. When the music slowed, she evoked the vocals of a glittery Bjork, and her classically trained, reverb-soaked voice soared over compositions that sounded straight out of a Cranberries songbook. There's anxiety behind Folick's lyrics, but the vulnerability she shows is transmitted through pure strength. Near the end of her set, she confessed her self-doubt, as a way to reassure to anyone crowd who might have feel the same way. "It's a myth," she said, arms floating overhead. "Only I know what to do with my life, and only you know what to do with yours." Folick seems to find beauty in everything, but on Saturday, she forged a beauty of her own. JM.
Viagra Boys at Woods Stage
Sweden’s Viagra Boys managed to rouse the crowd out of their lawn chairs at the usually serene Woods Stage. Their set was tinged with a don’t-give-a-fuck attitude that made it even more enjoyable. Sebastian Murphy, the band’s tattoo-covered vocalist, stripped down to nothing but a pair of Ray-Bans and black boxer briefs, chain-smoked cigarettes, gargled beer, then spat it out at a crowd that was kicking up dust while dancing. Viagra Boys sound like the mix of Electric Six and the Cramps that you didn’t know you needed, but after seeing them live, you won’t be able to get enough. CP.
Sudan Archives at the Mt. Hood Stage
On Sunday, Sudan Archives' Brittney Parks sashayed about the main stage with a flair no one could ever top, a vibrant ruby red gown flowing down her frame. Sudan Archives plays her violin like a guitar—picking, prodding and strumming over funkily arranged beats. Not many artists commanded and kept that much attention for the entirety of their hourlong set—especially in that blistering heat—but Sudan Archives and her "fiddle funk" managed. So much sunburn, but oh so worth it. CP.
Virginia Wing at the Lucky Barn
Everything Manchester-based duo Virginia Wing does defies pop conventions. Their work could be labeled as heavy avant-garde or no wave, but really, it goes beyond music and into the realm of contemporary art. On Sunday, they played the tiniest stage at Pickathon, the Lucky Barn. Rustic, hyper-American wall decor aside, it's hard to imagine a space better suited for the duo. The intimate, seated venue was perfect for taking in singer Alice Merida's atmospheric, ominous tone and her entrancing dance moves, which consisted mostly of bending, crouching, lunging and lying in the fetal position. In the most upbeat moments, she danced in small circles of crowd members. The short Q&A session after the set focused on the band's unique way of performing. Asked about her movements, Merida replied: "I just want to be what I want to see, which is someone who believes in their own shit." JM.
Soft Kill at Treeline Stage
What was great about Soft Kill's set wasn't just their performance—it was also the audience of wooks, and the jump-around, fun-time happy circle they formed. Frontman Toby Graves mentioned how weird it was to be "playing in the woods at like, 4 pm." It was loud and as close to goth as Pickathon could ever really get, especially when Soft Kill played their signature closure "Whirl." No one's ears really stood a chance after that one. CP.
Lambchop at the Wood Stage
Nearly 35 years into their sprawling alt-country career, Lambchop is in their most inventive and riskiest phase yet. Inspired by visionary hip-hop artists like Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West, Lambchop's creative force, Kurt Wagner, drenches his Nashville sound in Auto-Tune. At the Woods Stage on Sunday, Wagner's music gently droned over the crowd of plaid dads. While Lambchop is very slowly departing from twang and getting more computerized, their Pickathon performance was a slight return to form: Paul Niehaus, a founding member of the band, rejoined Lambchop and brought back the steel guitar that anchored much of the band's earlier output. But the focus was still on Wagner, whose inquisitive, insightful lyrics were blurred under the vocoder, but amplified in emotion. His gaze hid under the bill of his ever present baseball cap, and he often pointed to the crowd when his lyrics seemed accusatory. The "you's" of his songwriting are usually ambiguous, but regardless of who he was pointing at, his performance hit deep. JM.
Yob at Woods Stage
One of the final sets of the festival was definitely one of the best. Yob took over the Woods stage as if they built the damn thing. Framed in arched branches and lit by hues of purple and green, the stage almost looked like a witchy cathedral. It was perfect for Yob—you could feel the chugging bass lines in your chest, the drums felt like they were pounding from the insides of your brain and the vocals felt like they were being screamed directly into your ear. It could've felt like a terrible hangover, but instead, it was the brutal, full body-experience Pickathon needed. CP.