PDX Pop Fest

This weekend’s free, all-ages PDX Pop Fest has a lot of good things about it that should make even the most casual fans of local music get out and catch a few acts.

This weekend’s free, all-ages PDX Pop Fest has a lot of good things about it that should make even the most casual fans of local music get out and catch a few acts. Namely, it’s free and all-ages, meaning underemployed junior-highers the city over can come check out the plethora of bands slated to play the three-day event.

There does, however, seem to be some discrepancy between the choices of bands for the coinciding PDX Pop Now!2007 compilation and the bands chosen to play the festival. The album seems to favor bands that are either: (a) quite good and popular (Menomena, Decemberists, Kristin Hersh) or (b) no longer in existence. While these acts are, by and large, decent and listenable, they are neither new nor up-and-coming artists just waiting to be discovered.

Album highlights include the brilliantly subdued Starfucker song “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second,” the left-field old-timey jazz of The Evolutionary Jass Band’s “Phyllis’ Frindge,” and Derby’s handclap-driven acoustic “If Ever There’s a Reason,” one of the few straight up melody-driven pop songs on the album. The album is a decent sampling of genres and bands in Portland, but Pop Now seems a misnomer. Much of the music here is too dissonant, experimental or otherwise non-traditional to appeal to a broad audience.

Meanwhile, the festival seems to favor acts that either: (a) deserve a listen and a bigger audience or (b) might be good, but nobody (well, almost nobody) has yet heard them. This approach to booking the festival is both a good and bad thing, but seems to be the opposite approach to the compilation lineup. The album focuses on better-known names, while the fest showcases more up-and-coming, see-them-before-they-blow-up artists, like The Beauty, Dat’r, and Blitzen Trapper.

You probably know Dat’r as Matt Dabrowiak & Paul Alcott, the inimitable rhythm section of the Binary Dolls and Menomana side-project Lackthereof, respectively. However, when these two chaps step out on their own, they produce a whole different kind of rhythm-based music, incorporating synths, loops, a laptop, joysticks and a slew of percussion instruments on stage. They both do some singing, which is often closer to chanting, but the main appeal of the music is the contagious dancing and springing around stage which Dabrowiak & Alcott bring to their live performances. Unlike most electronic artists, Dat’r isn’t just two guys pressing play on their computers–they actually play live instruments and get into the fucking groove.

It’s physically impossible to not dance at a Dat’r show. They utilize dynamic arrangements, layers of acoustic and digital sounds, and some downright hypnotic synth bass and drum loops. Their album Turn Up the Ghosts highlights the duo’s musicianship even more, but when they bring it in a live setting, the focus is more on a fun-as-hell party vibe. They could be singing about the impending fiery apocalypse or watching a girl from across the room–it really doesn’t matter, because you’re dancing. Dat’r play on Sunday at 9 p.m.

Another fest highlight–the coup, really–is Blitzen Trapper, who recently signed with Sub Pop Records. Blitzen Trapper makes refreshingly tuneful indie/americana-with-synths music with a low-key charm and steady harmonizing. The band recently finished a stint opening for the greatest bar band in America, The Hold Steady, so they should be in fine form for this weekend’s climactic headlining show. The Portland six-piece list their influences as Louis L’amour, Sergio Leone, Graham Parsons, Pavement and Nick Drake, and that seems as logical a starting place as any. The band do right by this heritage and know how to write some moving, interesting songs. The sound never gets old or cluttered: each work seems to reflect a different musical nuance and hints at all the ways that Blitzen Trapper could be going if they weren’t focused on blending genres. Blitzen Trapper play late Sunday night at 12:25.

PDX Pop Fest is August 3-5 at AudioCinema (226 SE Madison St) – Free and All Ages