July 20th, 2012
The third day of any festival is the endurance round for all in attendance. At this point, we’d all been beaten around by the weather, the barometer-breaking porta-potties and, not least of all, each other in the thralls of some of the greatest live music around. This was the day that all the UV radiation we’d expected finally appeared, and it showed in the form of ice cream cones and “big ass lemonades” as they were advertised by the food stalls, but it also gave us a chance to relax and enjoy the summer in a town that squeezes the life out of the earth every winter. Festivals Sundays can sometimes be a test for even the most diehard music fans, but due in no small part to the caliber of the acts and the “great vibes” as Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig continually noted, it always felt like we had the answers.
Portland’s Unknown Mortal Orchestra exemplify the eternal strengths of the rock’n'roll power trio dynamic, and right out of the gate, opener “Thought Ballune” set the tone for the entire set; crunchy guitar grooves, psychedelic lyrics (“I’m a smiling alligator, I tell lies that ring true later”), and punchy bass grooves locked into the bouncing percussion.
The band’s identity is unabashedly indebted to the freaked-out garage rockers of the late 1960s, but specifically the kids who followed Syd Barrett and the Beatles in a wonderland era of LSD and fearless fashion statements. This was illustrated both by singer/guitarist/New Zealand native Ruban Nielson’s dashiki and his finger-plucked shredding on a bright red Fender Jag-Stang. So at PMF 2012, UMO proved John Lennon’s predictions true: people are still visiting the cosmos.
When Iceage took the stage, it was impossible not to notice just how young the band’s members were. The Danish punks are barely out of their teens — their first U.S. tour was only last summer on account of their members needing to finish high school — and they came onstage bearing the smooth-skinned, doe-eyed innocence of youth. Of course, as soon as they started playing, any trace of naiveté was torn to shreds. Frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt bellowed into the microphone, regurgitating guttural syllables with the conviction of a veteran showman. The set went on for less than ten minutes before something broke, which, in the world of hardcore punk, is a good sign.
At the Blue Stage, which seemed to always have more weed per capita in the crowd than anywhere else in Union Park, Thee Oh Sees brought fodder for sunny psychedelic freakouts that translated beautifully in the rapidly increasing temperature of the early afternoon. The group exuded a lucid energy from the very start of their set as guitarists Jon Dwyer and Petey Dammit cinched their instruments high — almost comically high — and whipped their heads around like pinwheel fireworks on a sugar bender.
Few artists today can achieve the same audience-wide stranglehold that Ty Segall had at the Red Stage. Segall’s forte has always been turning heads towards the turntable — where it seems impossible for any sound system, regardless of volume or fidelity, to be emitting such crushing tones. The band was there on Sunday with signature crunch in full force, only sped up dramatically by the adrenaline of a large crowd. Segall’s smiling snarl was evident throughout the full 45 minute set, especially when he abandoned the microphone to dive face first into the crowd.
The weekend’s quickest set went like this: a table crammed with electronics appears onstage, Daniel Lopatin sits down, spliffs and joints start lighting up. Transitions like this are the kind that perfectly highlight the strange nature of festivals — seguing from Kendrick Lamar’s high octane, call-and-response hip hop into the stupefying and meditative electronic auras of Oneohtrix Point Never was enough to send the stoned and zoned Blue Stage crowd into shock. After easing into the first few tracks, the feeling that we were all test subjects in a white room didn’t fade. With each of Lopatin’s signature clipped samples on indefinite repeat, it was easy to forget about the heat/humidity and enjoy trying to nod along to OPN’s irregular beats.
Londoner Archy Marshall gave a solid performance on Sunday as King Krule, bolstered by the incoming breeze and the breezy jazz-reggae basslines spouted from the stage. Of all the international acts at the festival, it no one twanged their accents quite as much as Marshall, who bared his English heart on his sleeve with a trademark belted baritone. The band behind him were as unequivocally smooth as the voice they accompanied, bringing humble class and a sense of soul to the weekend.
As the sun dipped lower towards the horizon, Beach House struck up a twinkling preview of the evening stars that would soon appear. The thick throb of the band’s keyboards sped up the process, battling a day washed out by the July heat with the warm tone of vintage Kodachrome — the romantic sound that put them on the map. Backed by plumes of fog (much like Sleigh Bells’ set the previous day, but with drastically different results) Alex Scally laid down smoldering guitar lines while Victoria Legrand added reverb-soaked vocals ranging from crystal clear highs to diaphragm-rumbling contralto tones. Pangs of nostalgia couldn’t help but be felt from the crowd, whose last remaining bits of innocence seemed to bubble up in the form of euphoric smiles and endearingly goofy dance moves.
For the first time in the whole weekend, the last few acts were staggered slightly to allow the migrating crowds to have their cake and eat it too. The Field were the last to have the Blue Stage and they held onto their spot well into the night. Those who had heard Axel Willner’s work on records exclusively might have expected the work of a single man, pushing buttons on a laptop, but Willner pleasantly surprised the crowd by adding a drummer and a bassist to the mix, abandoning the subtleties of his ambient techno for a thorough romp through pure rock’n'roll insanity.
Soon after, verified superstars Vampire Weekend were all set to close out the festival. With the horizon glowing a pale blue, the stage lights flashed on and all of a sudden Union Park turned into a bona fide stadium courtesy of VW’s vibrant guitar pop sound. Frontman Ezra Koenig was delighted to be playing the festival, which the band first played in 2008 just a few short months after releasing their self-titled debut. I hadn’t seen the band live previous to that night, and in truth, I’ve never been too much of a fan, but I imagine that much of what they’d learned in those elapsed years was on display that night on that stage. There were two things undeniably apparent about the band that night: a) they could put together and perform a damn good pop song, and b) bassist Chris Baio can really move.
In retrospect, the last few sets brought the crowd together in a way that mimicked the best house party you might have ever been to. Whether you decided to spend your evening spazzing out in the living room to Vampire Weekend, sweating through your t-shirt in the basement with the Field, or stargazing on the front lawn while listening to Beach House, there was a place for everyone. It was a weekend filled with incredible feats of creative innovation, with a final night that satisfied a swooning hoard of music fans.
See coverage of Day One here.
See coverage of Day Two here.