The chatter of this year's TBA Fest kept returning to the subject of the 16,000-square-foot space in NE Portland recently gifted to PICA rent-free by an anonymous patron. Outside the building, which housed The Works events as part of this year's festival, PICA Artistic Director Angela Mattox positively glowed with excitement as she talked about the possibilities for art events and installations there.
That certainly bodes well for the future of TBA and PICA. At present, however, the space hasn't come near its full potential yet. Outside of the installations in the space, the live performances often felt like they were getting swallowed up by the huge room that housed them. This was clearer than ever during the closing night event: She's In Parties, a concert organized by musician Shannon Funchess.
With zero fanfare or introduction, a parade of short sets kept beginning and ending. Were it not for the plumes of dry-ice smoke filling the room and the purple and red lights coming from the stage, no one would have really known that there was a show happening. It didn't help that, being the big party to round out the festival, the crowd within the big concrete walls of The Works building was more interested in talking and drinking than dancing. Nor was it favorable to really listen to the music unless you were parked right by the stage. The poor acoustics swallowed up most of the sound otherwise.
What music came clear out of the muddiness left a bit to be desired as well. The DJ and the artists that performed stuck to a pretty one-note version of darkwave electronica. For all the danceable beats they kicked up, the feeling was more gothic and brooding than celebratory and joyous.
The one exception to this shrug-inducing evening was a surprise appearance at the beginning of the night by Bunnybrains. Dan Seward and company had been at the festival for some time, holding seminars and readings at the 511 Gallery. They also performed earlier in the day as part of a simulcast for the Soundscape Festival in Hudson, New York.
They returned for a quick but effective 30-minute set in The Works. The music was a noise rock chug driven by dual percussionists, and the honk of a gent playing a pocket trumpet. At its peak, it felt like watching a vintage Butthole Surfers performance, especially with Seward and a barely dressed female vocalist (thigh high pink high-heeled boots, colorful panties, and pasties) wandering the room vocalizing and interacting with the small crowd there. Brief though it was, the set was explosive and magnetic.
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