[FESTIVAL RECAP] Pickathon 2016
Another Pickathon weekend has passed, with new bands discovered, new friends made, and new memories to cherish. Here’s a look back at a glorious festival.
Myke Bogan was the perfect way to open the festival. A Portland local with rising cred, the positive and party-inclined rapper peppered the audience with enough references to weed and beer to get the crowd vicariously intoxicated. At one point he led a chant where he yelled “Six beers,” the crowd responded “One joint!” and he continued with “...and a cigarette.” A very cool customer who surely gained a lot of new fans.
Following up Bogan was Kevin Morby, whose Singing Saw has been praised by critics since its release earlier this year. He performed earlier this year in Portland at a more intimate venue, Mississippi Studios, but seemed to acclimate to a bigger festival stage quite well, getting loud when necessary and moving about instead of letting the more introspective side of his music take hold. He closed the set with a Townes Van Zandt cover, “No Place to Fall.” Shout out to the completely oblivious video guy with his headphones turned up way too loud who thought he was whispering to himself but shouted “Townes Van Zandt?” in the middle of the song, visibly distracting Morby.
The end of the night continued the party vibes, with Portland’s Chanti Darling absolutely crushing the Galaxy Barn, turning the floor into a disco. 2 choreographed male dancers graced the stage for the entire affair, while the grooviest keytar bass anyone has ever heard had every booty shaking. So far, so good for Portland’s showing at the festival. The set featured member and Portland music torch bearer in her own right, Natasha Kmeto, as well.
Portland continued that strong showing with Blossom, who opened Saturday with an energetic yet soulful set that saw an appearance by Myke Bogan, who had included them for a song in his set the previous evening. The comradery between local artists was heartening, and the music fit that mood, with positivity flowing out into the crowd.
That positivity continued for King Sunny Ade, who had to be one of the highlights of the festival. An enormous number of musicians (13 in total) made their way onto the stage in a procession: first the hand drums, then the trap set drummer, then guitars, then backup singers, then finally the man himself, King Sunny Ade, who busted out some sick dance moves and had the entire crowd in the palm of his hand. Once again the striking feature was a sense of community between the members, as the musicians clearly trusted and relied on each other. The on stage antics were entertaining as well, with a mime of each band member passing water in cupped hands to each other, and another where the members pretended to be drunk and stumble around the stage.
After a large break in the day, it was time for what I anticipated would be a highlight, Black Mountain. But as the time ticked away and I saw the band cross off multiple songs off their setlist, it was clear that the 40ish minute delay was taking its toll. The 4 songs that the band did get off were flawless, especially the album opener for this year’s IV, “Mothers of the Sun.”
The beautiful thing about Pickathon is the low pressure atmosphere. Friday night’s delay meant that I missed most of Wolf Parade’s set on the main stage, though I did hear “What Did My Lover Say” wafting into the dark as I made my way home. No matter, though, because they played twice, and by the end of Saturday, I would be able to see them in the middle of the woods.
After catching a bit of The Desolondes and Futurebirds and hydrating with multiple cups of white wine over ice, it was time for the most jarring set of the festival: prog-thrash band VHOL on the main stage. Being familiar with the band as well as the members’ side-projects, I was interested to see how the crowd of festival goers would react. I was glad to see several familiar faces and even gladder when I realized that the crowd wasn’t scared but was actually very much into it, with a decent mosh pit full of young people forming by the end of the first song. Among the very strong sets this year, this was another highlight.
Yo La Tengo was up next. I had heard feedback from the previous night’s set about a quiet, acoustic affair, but with a promise to get loud on the mainstage. The band fulfilled that promise with multiple guitar freakouts, plenty of noise, and crowd sing-alongs. There was some inspired crowd participation as well, as Ira Kaplan looped some noise and then handed his guitar to a front-stage fan for her to play. Multiple hands reached forth to strum the strings and participate in the music. The old-school veterans showed how they had been captivating hearts and minds for decades.
At this point there was a choice to be made: Jeff Tweedy on the main stage or Thee Oh Sees in the woods? I told myself that if Tweedy came out with a band, I would stay, but if it was just him and an acoustic guitar, I would make my way into wooded mayhem. As it happens, after turning my back on the stage for a while, I turned around to see a solitary man tuning an acoustic guitar and high-tailed it down the trail. The decision paid off with one of the craziest, unhinged, sweaty, bruising sets I’ve experienced anywhere, and that includes several years going to metal and hardcore shows. Something about Thee Oh Sees makes the kids at Pickathon get loaded and go absolutely wild, and this set was no different. Bodies were flying, security was on the stage to corral stage-diving, the mist of sweat was mingling with clouds of kicked up dust. It was perfect chaos.
The last day of the festival was another short day, started relatively late by excellent Detroit post-punkers Protomartyr. While VHOL may have been a contrast in musicality, Protomartyr stuck out due to their inherently introverted and somewhat cynical nature, but the set they played in the woods was quality all the same, with newer and older material juxtaposed to create something that for a while resembled a “greatest hits.” It was admittedly odd to be back-stage when the breakdown of “Why Does It Shake?” hit and overhearing someone say “Damn, this is kind of sexy” as lead singer Joe Casey sang “Why does it move? The fear...the fear...the fear...the fear…”
I wasn’t planning on seeing Dan Deacon, but had some time to kill before closing out the main stage with Ty Segall and Beach House, so I stuck around. I was treated to a great dance set, as the artist was hilarious and knew exactly how to work the crowd. There was a dance-off, a human tunnel, and a high-five wall of death. Deacon’s personality really shined through as well, from opening the set with a joke about atheism to following up instructions on consent during the human tunnel with a sincere hope that in the future people would genuinely question the need for those instructions in the first place.
Perennial Pickathon favorite Ty Segall was up next, with a super-group that consisted of members of Wand, Mikal Cronin, and King Tuff. The music was straight-forward rock and roll, but the swagger that Segall presented it with pushed the crowd over the edge into a dusty, swirling frenzy. Security once again had to present themselves to discourage crowd-surfers from getting up onto the stage, though Segall invited them to jump in as well. This was also the first and only time I have seen people completely lose their shit to a cover of The Doors’ “LA Woman.”
My festival closed out with Beach House, who decided to play a set almost completely in the dark, which was honestly a bit of a let-down. I understand the need for dramatic lighting to go with dramatic and emotional music, but at the end of a long weekend, I didn’t have the patience to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with fans crooning along, trying to get a shot timed with the flashing strobes. What I did hear (about 4 songs) was enough to confirm that Beach House was going to be a strong closer to the festival for people who didn’t really care about seeing the people in front of them.