For my third night chained to my MFNW bracelet, I decided to hit Pioneer Square for an open-air concert in the middle of downtown on a strikingly beautiful evening. Marketa Irglova was already on stage (I missed local rising star Sallie Ford), backed by a woman with a finger-played persian drum and a very subdued guitarist. Separated from her duo The Swell Season, Irglova delivered sentimental lyricism familiar to viewers of Once, the duo’s critically acclaimed irony-free mockumentary. It was a pleasant performance befitting the tranquil evening, though Marketa’s in-depth explanations of the emotions inherent in her songs were somewhat jarring.
She and her drummer remained on stage as skillful back-up singers for the next performer Samuel Beam, known as Iron & Wine to you and me. With a voice generally defined by the sound and title of his song “Cinder and Smoke” from 2004′s Our Endless Numbered Days and a pepper-shaker beard down to his chest, Beam was regal and even jovial at times with the crowd that soon covered most of the bricks in the square. His voice was clear and strong for this show, with barely a hint of any wispy smokiness, and his backing band looked like seasoned jazz veterans who occasionally let loose with a sound so tight it tamped down any hint of chaos. They played a jaunty version of In Your Wings with added congo rhythms. When a very clever person in the crowd called for “Freebird,” the hirsute Beam immediately unleashed a stipped-down version of the anthem that he could have carried to the end; instead, he cut himself off, saying “Be careful what you ask for, bitches.” The crowd laughed, but the comment was off-key. In his black suit, Beam was like your uncle the preacher who told your mom to kiss his ass. Awkward, in retrospect. The largely female crowd gave him a pass, and he delivered the rest of the set in uninterrupted glory.
Hankering for the full music-festival experience, I went across town to the Roseland Theater and through its metal detectors. If the experience of being body-searched before a show wasn’t enough to signify that I was about to experience a massive cultural shift, then standing on the floor with several hundred antsy teens let me know it was largely a generational one. The young fans were there to experience the phenomenon that is Macklemore and Ryan, and they let his opening band know it. Shabbazz Palaces, critically acclaimed for experimental hip hop, kept pace for a few songs with frenetic congo and rhymes before the restless crowd shouted them down with cries of “Macklemore!” Portland polite it was not, and Shabbazz left the stage shortly after. When the fans’ beloved eventually took the stage, the racial subtext was blatant but unacknowledged. Macklemore launched with the dialect of his street-wise hip hop peers, and the crowd was there to represent, straight outta the West Hills and south-central Lake Oswego. The hormone-intensified unison chants and fist pumps verged on pure worship, and Macklemore was clearly moved. “Last time we were here, there were only about seventy-five people in the crowd,” he remarked, almost overwhelmed. The sentiment fed right into his music, which unlike the Vanilla Ice his critics might compare him to, is a very different project indeed. His is a brand of emo hip hop, with plenty of “shits” and “muther-fucks” to make it “real,” but also a lyrical content aimed at the heart, which seemed especially on target for this adolescent crowd. Somehow he managed to get the entire floor to pogo for a tribute to a dead sportscaster from Seattle, before asking them to raise their lighters in the air in memory of “all those lost to addictions.” Apparently the irony was missed. The crowd followed his bidding, jumping and holding hands in the air on command. It was a sight to behold.
Eventually I escaped to track down The Ladybug Transistor, and ultimately the legendary Olivia Tremor Control. But the musical and generational whip-lash was too extreme to recount much more than anything pre-verbal. Leave it to my peers to describe these bands, or my review for the insanely-clever OTC would be guttural blatherings. Yagh.