You won’t believe the golden light you wake up to crawling out of your tent at Pickathon. The tree-lined hills of the Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley, Oregon make you feel like you are in an other-worldly paradise. Taking a light walk around the Back 40 to enjoy the surroundings, among the sleepy collection of homemakings, you see nothing but smiles. In the distance, you can hear guitars and banjos, sound-checking at the Woods stage, and further off maybe even the Mellotron from Wolf Parade’s set later on in the evening on the Mt. Hood stage. Near the family camping area, there’s the light sound of kids running around in the brush. It’s like a fairy tale up here, but one that happens to be soundtracked by some of the best indie rock around. Today’s campers will hike down the hill into the festival grounds to enjoy sets from Wolf Parade, Yo La Tengo, Ty Segall, and more. The eighty degree weather is softened by the wire-strung canvas awnings lining the grounds. The smell of breakfast biscuits with collared greens and hot sauce grabs the interest of pretty much anyone paying attention. It’s just another day at Pickathon, a music festival entirely from another place and time.
Portland R&B singer Blossom opened up the Mt. Hood stage for the weekend. At the stroke of noon, she and her backup singers took to the stage in dazzling sunlight. Sitting far enough back on the lawn, you could see the shimmering spectacle of the stage’s namesake rising above the highest of the rafters. Mt. Hood shone through the rest of the blue-sky day, but getting to see it first thing here during Blossom’s set marked the mood perfectly for the rest of the day. The Trinidadian singer made her way through one woozy groove after another, some featuring backup or sax, some without. After opening up the Starlight stage the night before, rapper Myke Bogan also took to the Mt. Hood stage’s inauguration for a collaborative track with Blossom. The set was lovely and the vibes were right – Blossom nailed her opening for the weekend action.
Indie jazz crossover act BADBADNOTGOOD were slated to join the Pickathon action this year, bringing their unique collection of ensembles to the Woods stage for a lovely afternoon trip. But after a cancellation, another heavily jazz-influenced young group got the chance to show off incredible chops in their stead. Canadian sibling act Tennyson play eclectic Canadian electronica in the descendant vein of Ryan Hemsworth, but Tess and Luke’s stylistic preferences also make them accessible to the most daring, musical dance producers like Lido and Cashmere Cat. Aside from Lido’s live piano noodling, there’s one major difference between Tennyson and all of the above: they do every bit of it live. This makes the duo’s performances a jaw-dropping forty minutes of one spastic break after another. Tess and Luke are all smiles on stage, very obviously soaking in the divine opportunity to join in the Pickathon fun, especially on such a lush stage. The 3pm crowd, bent on relaxation at no opportunity cost, was a bit lost at what to do with the vibrant, bass-heavy rhythms like “Slippers” blasting them with euphoria. But by the end of their set, Tennyson had won the crowd over, and closer “Tomato Land” was an all-crowd singalong, and there’s no doubt the crowd for their Galaxy Barn set tomorrow will know the drill. With Ibeyi forced to cancel their second set as well (due to losing their baggage due to a French airliner strike), Tennyson set the mood perfectly for Myke Bogan to bring the action. It’s clear that neither act has any trouble filling in the extra space this weekend where they are allowed to show off their skills to eager Pickathon participants.
Kevin Morby followed his Starlight set Thursday night with the inaugural Treeline stage set for the weekend. The Treeline is a new addition to Pickathon, seated at the edge of the woods where the camping begins, riding a steep, barren hill making for excellent viewing against the dazzling art piece that serves as its backdrop. Morby’s set marked maybe the hottest portion of the day, working into the high eighties but not quite reaching the scorching heat of prior years. As sunglassed fans and band both grooved through the set (heavier on the rock side than his folk-leaning Starlight set the night before), the stage expansion was validated wonderfully.
Dan Deacon’s Lucky Barn set on Friday afternoon marks, in my lifetime, the most crowd crush for a seated show I’ve ever been to. Fans were tripping over lights, sound cables, and each other, trying to cram into the smallest stage of the festival for an intimate moment with the avant-garde electronic savant. Why all the tripping? Well, Dan decided to take an unorthodox approach to his setup, putting a grand piano in the center of the room. But no, he wouldn’t be sitting at a bench on the key side. Rather, he manned a laptop and a small table’s worth of electronic wizardry to turn the giant instrument into a Deacon-worthy player piano. The experiment was risky, no doubt – at one moment Deacon laughed to himself, “You know those times when you are playing a laptop controlled player piano and you wish you would have just picked the guitar?” But to no surprise, his gliss riffings went off with a bang. The player piano felt massive through tracks like “When I Was Done Dying”, where the full range of the instrument was used throughout, as Deacon offered spacey vocals and additional patching from the side. Interviewed by KEXP’s own DJ El Toro between songs, Deacon explained the origins of his madness, from 4th grade trombone to an obsession with mixing the organic and the electronic for a constant reach towards the stars. For the eager Deacon fans seated next to the piano, this was a jaw-dropping, and truly unique experience. For casual onlookers, this was an introduction like none other, that would no doubt give them reason to attend at least one more of Dan’s two remaining Pickathon sets.
Saturday’s early Galaxy Barn acts offered lovely collections of Bakersfield country and Americana, but the mood shifted starkly when Sacred Bones act Moon Duo took to the stage. As merciless, scorching guitar blasted through the tubes, snappy electronic drums and synth-bass filled the floor beneath. Moon Duo’s conglomeration of sounds is a mixture of brutal post-punk aggression with muddy, weather-beaten Americana worthy of a Barry Gifford novel. The combination seems unlikely until you hear Moon Duo groove through two or three numbers. The puzzlement on attendee faces starts to disappear as the crushing groove sets in. Moon Duo do a fine job bridging the stage’s sounds for today, offering some resemblance of the homespun working man’s blues, and laying the stage for the carnal rock explosion of Ty Segall and the Muggers yet to come.
Throughout the early evening viewers of the Mt. Hood stage lounged on the grass, relaxing and listening to the music in front of them with no particular agenda or presupposition other than trying to eat as much of the delicious food around them as possible. This pattern changed abruptly at the end of The Oh Hellos, when a cloud of young fans pushed forward against the stage for a fan favorite Pickathon returner: Mac Demarco. Mac’s fanbase is notoriously passionate, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to figure why. The guy is a total ham, goofing off on stage in equal proportion with actual performance. Mac’s guitarist Andy plays the Richter to his Conan, bouncing every bit of banter back with an extra dose of the non-sequitur. Mac and the band prance through new and old numbers alike, rotating instruments on the fly, and offering nothing but whimsical excellence throughout. Halfway through the set, after the solemn, bass-led groove of “Another One”, Mac prompted the crowd. “Is it alright if we have a little fun?” The crowd stated the obvious, and in response, Mac and the band broke into the break from Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years” – not the whole song, mind you, just the break. This went on for a solid twelve minutes, as solos passed between every member of the band. Always one to impress and brighten your day, Mac brought the fun for young and old on the Mt. Hood stage, guaranteeing himself a return spot at Pickathon for a third outing whenever he feels like it.
Toronto indie rock band Alvvays took to the Galaxy Barn stage for their first Pickathon outing with a great crowd. A few gracious members of the audience let smaller fans to the front of the barn, as Molly Rankin took to the microphone with a smile. Rankin’s songs perfectly balance Toronto chill with east coast surf rock magic. Their hit “Marry Me, Archie” has garnered plenty of deserved fame, but if the band’s energetic set here today proved anything, it’s that the single is no one-off, and Alvvays have plenty more to offer where that came from. For those that couldn’t squeeze into the Barn, they can catch more shimmering melancholy from Molly at the Woods stage tomorrow. But today’s set made for a lovely Pickathon introduction and warm up.
The riveting excitement that Mac brought to the Mt. Hood stage continued onwards after he left, as eager fans lined the stage in anticipation for Wolf Parade. This is the band’s first show in the Pacific Northwest in six years, and the first since they announced a return from hiatus after pursuing other projects. The dozens lining the stage all brimmed with excitement, discussing stories of discovering Apologies to the Queen Mary, exploring the dazzling heights of Mt. Zoomer and falling in love with the endless expos of passion that Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner encourage. Furthermore, much discussion was made about the band’s brand new EP, out this year, previewing new material before a new full length comes down the pipe eventually. One superfan in the front asked the woman in front of him if he could place his backpack against the edge of the stage below to not hit anyone around him. “Also”, he chided in, “can you remind me it’s there before I leave? Because I will be absolutely lost in the music”. Thankfully, more than a decade of fandom between the mingling crowds kept conversations up until the band took the stage. Kicking things off with “You Are A Runner”, the crowd exploded. It’s not as much nostalgia that amplified the moment as much as it was just sheer joy of the band’s return. Krug and Boeckner just bring out the best in each other, and hearing them here together again on stage was a lovely, euphoric experience. The setlist pulled pretty equally from across the band’s three records, working in explosive Mt. Zoomer opener “Soldier’s Grin” and Expo ‘86’ highlight “What Did My Lover Say?”. From the new EP, the band offered up the medley of “C’est La Vie Way” and “Floating World” that they’ve played on their few television outings since the return, but even still, the crowd was very responsive. It’s evident that whatever the band decide to put out next, it will be heard with hungry ears. Queen Mary all-time sing-alongs “This Heart’s On Fire” and “I’ll Believe In Anything” let Dan and Spencer lead the sea of fans in ravenous participation before closing with Mt. Zoomer opus “Kissing The Beehive”. Twelve minutes of time signature changes, traded vocals, and sheer prog-rock brilliance later, Wolf Parade called it on their first set back in the Pacific Northwest. They’ll play the more-intimate Woods stage tomorrow, and if there was any chance that Pickathon attendees missed their first chance to celebrate the return, it’s evident they won’t want to miss the second.
Seattle’s La Luz may have moved to LA for this last record, but that doesn’t mean the Northwestern blood doesn’t run through their veins, and every time they return, it feels like they bring home something they’ve learned apart from it. This weekend marks the one year anniversary of their breakthrough record Weirdo Shrine, and during their packed out Treeline set today, the band were eager to celebrate it. It feels like they’ve done immense growth in the last few years, and having such a great turn out for their first Pickathon set of the weekend is no accident. As the action began to wind down for Friday night, La Luz soundtracked the come down with grace and style.
A few songs into Yo La Tengo’s set at the Woods stage, the band closes another number and turns to the sound man. “Can we get rid of that noise?” Ira Kaplan asked the sound man politely, talking about the feedback in his monitor. The sound guy motions something to the degree of, “You are just really quiet on the microphones”. Kaplan shrugs. “This is an intimate gathering in the woods”, he laughs, “I can be as quiet as I want”. If quiet was the goal for the Hoboken indie rock veterans on Friday night, then it was accomplished with flying colors. The Woods stage was packed out like nothing else the crowds had seen thus far at this year’s Pickathon, and the stifled excitement from both attendees and the Pickathon staff showed that this was one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend. Considering the fact that Yo La Tengo will easily pack out the Mt. Hood stage to full capacity tomorrow night, it’s truly nuts to even consider how special this Woods stage set is for fans and the band alike. The band promised a more rock-heavy set tomorrow, but for now, the set ended the day with a tremendous lullaby, a whisper of magical fragility, and proof that Yo La Tengo are truly the masters of their craft. The band worked through their own classics, as well as a few covers as sampled from their new some covers some new project Stuff Like That There. One such gem was The Cure classic “Friday I’m In Love”, on which Georgia Hubley’s Nico-esque whisper flipped Robert Smith’s hyperbolic passion in brilliant ways. I can’t think of a sweeter, more intimate way to end the first day of this year’s Pickathon than this. Truly, Yo La Tengo brought a magical day of music to its end saving the best for last.
Yo La Tengo:
But of course, there are those who have no self control, and will continue on into the wee hours of the morning until their bodies give out on them. For those select individuals, there was only one place to go, and that was back to the Galaxy Barn for a late night set from Ty Segall & the Muggers. If nothing else at all, Ty’s set was, in a word, chaos. As Town Mountain closed before them, stage hands dived into their work like scuba divers into a sea of sharks. With Ty’s band hosting Mikal Cronin on bass and sax, Cory Hanson (also of WAND) on synth and guitar, King Tuff on even more guitar, the gear setup in this small space was a nightmare. I thought someone was going to have an aneurism during the mic check. By some miracle, everything was set up only ten minutes after the slated start time, and once the band took the stage, it was off to the races. Ty stared out at the crowd like a maniac. “You know, usually we are all doom and gloom”, he smiled, “but tonight, we’re happy!” Happiness, to the Muggers, is a scorching room full of bodies flying through the air. If the natural amount of stage divers (Segall himself included) weren’t enough, in the middle of the set, Ty brought a fan on stage to wear a velvet Elvis astronaut suit and stage dive into chaos to a bloodletting cover of Doors classic “LA Woman”. If for some reason there were any Pickathon attendee who felt that they had extra energy to burn at 2am, Ty Segall lit the match and torched it. After an hour of maniacal magic, the Muggers called it quits. I think both the crowd and the band are excited they have until Sunday to recover and do it all again.
Ty Segall & The Muggers: