For a fourth year festival, Treefort is pretty mature. Over a five-day stretch, some 400 bands play about a dozen venues throughout downtown Boise, from impromptu outdoor stages to small clubs and arcades. The lineup is strong, the organization is admirable and, perhaps most importantly, the city loves to play host. The result is a fishbowl scenario wherein bands and fans are constantly running into each other, exchanging remarks, ideas, cigarettes and contact info in Idaho's delightfully compact capitol.

Apart from the official bill, there are pop-up shows and word-of-mouth gatherings at bars, restaurants, parking lots and street corners. There are already established traditions, from Band Dialogue—an experiment involving 10 bands setting up their gear outdoors and playing as one—to raucous folk performances at Pengilly's Saloon, which often spill offstage and into the crowd. Every corner of the city wants to be a part of this growing phenomenon. 

Take Bittercreek, a gastropub that hosted Portland band Animal Eyes for an extempore acoustic set Saturday at noon. Diners discussed their plans of attack on the day's busy music schedule while servers reflected on Friday night highlights. Bartenders gave unsolicited pointers to people about noteworthy local acts. Meanwhile, a few musicians clapped from a corner booth and a couple kids tried on festival T-shirts. When Treefort assembles, the entire city puts on the festival wristband.

Here are some highlights from a busy, busy weekend.

All photos by Thomas Teal.

FRIDAY

Grandparents (Neurolux,  6 pm)

Experimental Portland rockers Grandparents played a basement-type set of roughly five songs in 40 minutes. It was the kind of radio-unfriendly performance you hope to see at a live show, with extended plays, members trading instruments and—as the band candidly admitted—no setlist whatsoever. The sextet played a bouncy, acid-tinged rendition of “Kids In The Alley” and the pounding, distortion-driven “8” Cop” from its newest EP. Late Beatles and Deerhunter could be heard in the group’s cage-free performance. Given that many of this year’s main stage acts played here during previous Treeforts, the future is bright for Grandparents. 

Built To Spill (Main Stage, 8:30 pm)

Call it dad-rock if you must, but Boise-born Built To Spill still sounds great. They are true icons of the Inland Northwest, and witnessing them play before a hometown crowd is proof there is good on this planet. Frontman Doug Martsch may look like a graying 19th century prospector, but his signature voice and guitar chops are as good as ever. 

The indie masters offered a random play of tracks from their extensive discography, including “The Plan,” “Goin’ Against Your Mind” and “Dystopian Dream Girl.” While the band played some from forthcoming release Untethered Moon, the best moment came courtesy of “Carry The Zero.” The tsunami-strength track is built for the live stage, with rampant guitar work, clever riffing and an endless build that leaves everyone in its path heaving. Hearing it bounce off the walls of the Boise skyline on my way to the next show was more than memorable. 

Elel (El Korah Shrine, 9 pm)

One can’t fault sprawling Nashville act Elel for a lack of energy. The eight-piece band plays a marching-band style of pop, as percussive as it is catchy. Yet, as large as the band was, the sound came off as surprisingly linear, even via anthemic hits like “40 Watt.” The addition of a saxophone added some flavor, and inviting a fan on stage to play the triangle was both funny and friendly, but overall, the feel-good Tennessee band chose easy sing-alongs over depth and creativity. 

To be fair, Elel described El Korah Shrine—an old community building named after a Middle Eastern river occupied by members in boxy red hats—the best of any band that played its strange quarters: "We're happy to be playing this high school lockout."

And And And (Crazy Horse,  11 pm)

Crazy Horse has a lengthy history in Boise, opening in the 1960s and undergoing a few name changes since. Specializing in punk, the small and bruised venue is most comparable to Portland's East End (RIP) in terms of layout and lack of natural light. It's the kind of in-your-face, earplugs-recommended club our city used to have more of and Boise seems to be producing en masse. 

The setting was ideal for And And And, the Portland quintet known for its hard-hitting rock. The band entered the backdoor of the club single-file, sporting homespun Ghostbusters suits, complete with proton packs. Better still, the guitarist walked onstage dressed as Slimer. Led by drummer Bim Ditson's thunderous time-keeping, And And And played a fearsome set comprised mostly of tracks from latest release The Failure. Frontman Nathan Baumgartner sings and strums in a fashion not unlike Interpol, informed by equal parts punk and controlled resonance. 

Delicate Steve (El Korah Shrine, midnight)

Simply put, nobody sounds like Delicate Steve. The New Jersey act swaps vocals for highly intricate guitar phrasing, affording Delicate Steve a highly evolved, extremely busy sound. It's the stuff of rock gods and air guitar championships, without the cheesiness. The buzzing, mechanized elements are reminiscent of Ratatat but there's an organic asymmetry about it, too. We often prophesize about robots with real emotions, and Delicate Steve is proof that the future is already here, at least in the form of music.

Steve Marion and company played primarily from 2012's tremendous Positive Force. The title track showcased Marion's fancy finger work while "Two Lovers" had a relaxing, unwinding effect. The band thrashed about, especially to the explosive "Afria Talks To You," built around a quick trilogy of chords and enough electric guitar speak you could listen to it on repeat for months and never hear it the same way twice.

With its brilliant stitching of electronica, outspoken guitar, and soloing that functions more lyrically than anything else, Delicate Steve continues to stick the flag of its own complicated genre into every stage it plays, stealing Friday night in the process. 

Summer Cannibals (Crazy Horse, 1 am)

For a band wrapping up its first official tour, Summer Cannibals are surprisingly comfortable and confident on stage. The Portland punk quartet has been at it since 2012 and just released its best work to date in sophomore LP Show Us Your Mind. Band leader Jessica Boudreaux has admitted that what her band is doing is not original, but that doesn't mean it's not high quality, nor from a long lineage of sharp garage acts with pop sensibilities. 

Sleater-Kinney and the Thermals come through in Summer Cannibals work, frayed and fuzzy enough to appease the punk purists while tidy enough to snare the indie crowd. The straightforward carefree nature of the Portland band might be its best asset, bubbling up through familiar-feeling songs like “Summer” and “All It Takes.” The songs are petite and fiery, smoking as though held under a magnifying glass in the sun. 

SATURDAY

Desert Noises (Main Stage,  3:05 pm)

I had minimal expectations for Desert Noises, a Utah band that's always felt like a Band of Horses copy. And while leader Kyle Henderson shares Ben Bridwell's airy, slightly countrified vocals, the similarities mostly stop there. Desert Noises took on the blues, Americana, rockabilly and folk during their impressive set. The band's main weapon its its lead guitarist Patrick Boyer, who wowed often with speedy, electrified blues outbursts at least somewhere within hearing distance of Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Boyer took over completely when the band covered the BB King classic "Rock Me, Baby." Desert Noises' feisty rendition stopped the crowd in its tracks, with Boyer at the mic and soloing every chance he got. Not wanting to be left out, Boyer's bandmates all went off, demonstrating a collective music IQ I hadn't previously imagined.

Motopony (Main Stage,  4:10 pm)

Motopony is somewhat of a mystery. The Seattle band, led by Daniel Blue, has just two releases to its name and, despite high praise, rarely seems to make the trek south to Portland. Blue—talked about as much or more for his fashion and personal design label as his music—could be written off as as one-hit indie wonder with "King of Diamonds," a song he released in 2011.

So when Blue and company walked onstage in crisp new threads with matching wide-brim hats adorned with feathers, it was hard to take them seriously.  But Motopony left a mark, playing much harder and more soulful than expected. At times, the band sounded like an intriguing mashup of indie- and classic-rock, as though Cold War Kids were thrown back in time a few decades. Songs like “Get Down (Come Up)” touted Blue’s vocal range, while “Seer” showed off the band’s '60s-minded love of electric organ.

“I like being right,” said Blue, reflecting on his last time through Boise. “I said this festival would change your town and it has.” 

Aan (Linen Building,  5 pm)

About the only thing resembling Aan visually during their late afternoon set was frontman and multi-instrumentalist Bud Wilson. It was just a year ago he played from standout record Amor Ad Nauseum with completely different personnel. "I have a new band," Wilson said, introducing the new cast. And with the new cast came a slough of new material, most of which was played live for the first time, at least at a festival setting.

It only took a song or two to be reminded that Wilson was and still is the heart of the band, commanding tracks with his swirling guitar work and piercing vocals. The quartet played “I Don’t Need Love,” a searing track that lights a fuse and explodes several times within roughly four minute length. The only other track from the lauded debut LP played was “Weirdo,” a spacey track bolstered by a binary keyboard pulse and crashing percussion. 

Newer material included “Haunted Million Ways,” a track that perfectly illustrates Aan’s ability to cram several songs into one, starting off jumpy and jazz-infused before breaking down into a lovely, strung-out space-rock ballad fit with paranormal whistling. The rest of the set indicated that Aan is in fine form, despite the new faces. 

Generationals (Main Stage,  5:30 pm)

It's tough not to root for a band from New Orleans, especially one as irresistible as Generationals. While the songwriting is left to the duo of Grant Widmer and Ted Joyner, the two tour with a full four-piece band. Its best work to date, Heza, was released in 2013, a near-flawless effort of minimalist indie pop. 

The band played from its last two records, the most recent of which, Alix, being much more effervescent. In many ways, Generationals' sound is a proud proclamation of pop's current flexibility, agile enough to take in the band's experimental methodology and love of disenchanted guitar riffs. If punk went to private school and was known for throwing the best parties, it would be Generationals. 

Foxygen (Main Stage, 7 pm)

Foxygen would probably counter with “at least I gave you something to write about,” but in short, the L.A. art-pop outfit’s main stage set was calamitous. Even with an arsenal of strong releases to its name—from the band’s startlingly good debut to remarkable side solo projects from founding members Jonathan Rado and Shaun Fleming, aka Diane Coffee—Foxygen managed to collapse onstage. Lead singer Sam France paraded around like a possum, running into every piece of equipment and breaking multiple microphones (at least four, after that I lost count). 

A few tracks were recognizable but the majority of the set—which started late and was cut short by France's sprint backstage while his band was still playing—was incoherent noise. The addition of three dancing background singers was interesting and added to Foxygen's soulful, vintage stance; however, it all felt gimmicky. It felt like accessorizing so as to distract from supreme instability. And this is coming from someone who usually loves dysfunction and destruction in a band.

From his perch atop some keys, Rado seemed unamused every time France pretended to throw a mic stand at the crowd or attempt a dance move. The roadies were equally frustrated, forced to babysit throughout the set. Foxygen managed a cool rendition of "Shuggie" and a high energy, all-hands-on-deck spin of "On Blue Mountain." The rest, including a failed attempt at the Beatles' "Let It Be," was candy for the eyes but gristle for the ears.

Yip Deceiver (El Korah Shrine, 9 pm)

Easily one of the most infectious acts of Treefort, Yip Deceiver was somehow able to play the role of crooner, nostalgic DJ and funky party starter all at once. The Athens, Ga., duo served up a synth-based dose of beat-driven jams adorned with plenty of samples. Channeling Passion Pit and '80s pop, Yip Deceiver pillow-talked its way through a groovy set.

The two shared vocal duties, sometimes passing the mic within a song. The retro styling—namely the breathy vocals and that specific synth setting that sounds like a balloon leaking air—established Yip Deceiver as gamer R&B gods, at least for the night.

Future Death (The Shredder, 10 pm)

I had highlighted Future Death when the Treefort schedule was first announced, having heard a lot about its exploratory take on punk. The Austin band had been buzzing since it released Special Victim about a year ago, so I wandered across Highway 20 to see them play a beercade called The Shredder.

Future Death delivered nothing short of an onslaught, throwing handful after handful of offbeat rhythms, esoteric guitar work and operatic vocals into its cauldron. It was an explosive take on math-rock, heavily distorted but no so much that you couldn't detect the elaborate skeleton beneath the fury. Calling Future Death "metal" would be selling it short. Instead, this was a storm of sophisticated spasms from some four-headed monster, working violently but in complete harmony with itself.

Hosannas (Linen Building, 11 pm)

Heart still pounding from the Future Death set, I returned to the Linen Building for an ideal Treefort sendoff. It came in the form of Hosannas, the ambient Portland band founded by brothers Brandon and Richard Laws. The set was a soothing one, a slowly moving wave of dreamy electronica and rippling guitar effects. Warm as a down blanket, Hosannas put a wired crowd at ease.

The current live incarnation of Hosannas, a band that has gone through a few members, includes a drummer and Aan’s Bud Wilson on bass. They played the shimmering “Good Medicine” from a forthcoming release, a track that sounds like a collaboration between White Arrows and Nurses. Hosannas’ downtempo avant-pop served as the perfect fade out for a fine weekend. 

MORE TREEFORT IN WILLAMETTE WEEK:

  1. "Live Review: A Treefort 2014 Wrap-Up"
  2. "Idaho Bound: Can the Treefort Music Fest make Boise the next Portland?"
  3. Bimstagram at Treefort 2013