August 27, 2016
On an especially warm and dry weekend in Portland, two festivals came together as one. Mix the 1990s with yacht rock and then add a few dashes of soul, indie rock, and hip-hop to the mix and you have a well curated MusicfestNW Presents Project Pabst. Two heads are better than one in this fest, where a chill vibe, cheap beer, and nostalgia kept everyone happy and wishing that summer would never end.
Two female-fronted bands, The Coathangers and Liv Warfield (a late replacement for Lizzo), kicked off the festival with a nice contrast of punk and soul — a back-and-forth of aggression and smoothness that characterized the two-day fest. Andrew WK really got the crowd going — with his dingy white t-shirt and power stances, his charisma and cult-like following had the fists pumping early in the day. A$AP Ferg followed with a set that was a nice balance of hip-hop set to an EDM beat. Portland’s own STRFKR took the stage with their brand of contemporary yacht rock that had a vibe so chill you could fall asleep on your blanket. Dressed as astronauts and joined by a crew of astronaut dancers, their set was a perfect sound to space out to during the late afternoon. Meanwhile, across the park, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, fresh off of big shows at Bonnaroo and Coachella, rocked the crowd with a soulful offering that paired rhythm and blues with folk without getting too folky. Their song “S.O.B.” proved to be a definite crowd-pleaser as the audience helped themselves to $3 PBRs.
At dusk, Ice Cube, dressed in all black with his name monogrammed on his chest and “Westside Warlord” on his back, took the stage with his signature mean mug. Most of the crowd at Project Pabst was old enough to remember when Ice Cube was singing “Fuck the Police” rather than staring in comedies like 2016’s Barbershop: The Next Cut — and Cube was very adamant that people should stop giving him shit for his acting career, stopping his set at one point to make the case that he’s still hard. Hits like “Natural Born Killers,” “Check Yo Self,” and “Straight Outta Compton,” had a small group of die-hard Ice Cube lovers bouncing, but it fell a little flat for others as they left early to get a good spot for Duran Duran.
As night fell over Tom McCall Waterfront Park the leather-clad Simon Le Bon kicked off their set with the title track off their 2015 album Paper Gods — a catchy tune that evokes the Duran Duran dad rock of the 1990s, a decade that most of Portland seems to be stuck in. Before anyone could say “Play your old shit!” they belted into a string of classics — “The Wild Boys,” “Hungry Like a Wolf,” and “A View to a Kill” — that had the older than average festival crowd singing along loudly. Striking what looked like a “crane kick” pose from 1984’s Karate Kid and hamming it up to the crowd several times throughout the set, Le Bon, at the age of 57, had as much energy and sex appeal as someone half his age. Flowing effortlessly up and down their catalog, Duran Duran had the crowd pumped and singing along nostalgically from the chorus of “come undone” to the last do, do, do, do from the song “Rio.”
August 28, 2016
As the PBR hangovers subsided on day two, the crowd slowly shuffled in for Sunday’s performances. In support of their 2016 album Human Performance, Parquet Courts brought their version of norm-core jangly indie rock to the Rose City. Their song “Dust” especially resonated with the crowd, as festival goers walked through clouds of it because of the parched park grounds. Following them was another high profile Portland band, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Complete with Portland Blazer cap, Ruban Neilson, the mastermind behind UMO, delivered one of the best sets of the fest with standouts “So Good at Being in Trouble,” “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” and “From the Sun.” Drive Like Jehu, another 1990s revival band on the lineup, added a nice emo/hardcore foil to the rest of the late afternoon with songs like “Do you Compute” and “Luau.”
After a four-year breakup/haitus, Boognish rose again when Ween took the stage during magic hour with “Strap On That Jammy Pac,” one of tracks from their 1991 album The Pod. A little bit grayer and heavier than when their popularity peaked in the 1990s, Deaner shared the spotlight with a Gener who hasn’t changed a bit — complete with facial contortions and face-melting guitar licks. With a cult-like following, people (including this reporter) will travel great distances to catch their music which combines psychedelia with a pastiche of styles that range from country music to soul. With the exception of “You Fucked Up,” Ween’s set was definitely on the jammy side, with deep cuts such as “Fluffy,” “Transdermal Celebration,” and “Buckingham Green,” setting the crowd up nicely for Tame Impala.
By the end of day two, the crowd swelled to the largest I had seen the whole fest. The monsters of contemporary yacht rock, Tame Impala, eased into their set with “Nangs” one of the mellowest and shortest song on their 2015 mega-hit album Currents, followed by the intro track from the same album, “Let It Happen,” that had people freaking the fuck out. Peeking out from the smoke and psychedelic lighting, front man Kevin Parker, crooned out “Mind Mischief,” “Why Won’t They Talk to Me,” and “Elephant,” under four confetti cannons that showered the crowd with piñata skins throughout the set. Their performance was as tight as a ship’s mooring and did not disappoint a single sailor, save for my friend who said they were “probably the worst over-hyped thing I’ve recently seen.” If only he had stayed for “Elephant” and “Apocalypse Dreams” two of the more rocking tunes in their catalog. Maybe he was right, but the crowd was feeling Tame and the band served as the perfect bookend for the chilliest fest I’ve been to this year.