Musically Challenged 

From Rufus Wainwrigh to Guantanamo Baywatch

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MUSIC AT TBA can be a tough sell. All summer long, Portland teems with shows and festivals, most of which focus wholly on music, leaving no genre's stone unturned. In the lead-up to TBA there's PDX Pop Now!, Pickathon, and the Portland Folk Festival, not to mention newcomers like SMMR BMMR and the Great Idea Fest. Then, when it's finally time for TBA, it often overlaps with MusicfestNW, a world-class collection of popular music.

"When it happens that we're on the same weekend, or opening the same weekend as Musicfest [as they are this year], we do talk about stepping off of their dress," says Kristan Kennedy, PICA's Visual Arts Program Director and one third of the group who curates TBA's music and performance lineup. To distinguish TBA's musical fare, the directors often seek more experimental artists or ask those performing to use the stage as an opportunity to stretch out.

Opening night includes a pair of acts that are no strangers to collaboration: Rufus Wainwright and Japanther. First, in one of their highest-profile gets and perhaps the must-see concert of the festival, Rufus Wainwright performs with the Oregon Symphony. "The work that [Wainwright] is presenting is from a new opera that he's written," says Kennedy. "And it's always interesting to us when artists go back to classical form and have a great reverence for that form, but also put their own mark on it."

Later at the Works, Japanther, a raucous, all-inclusive, sweaty-hugs-in-the-pit pop punk duo will perform alongside a shadow puppet show. And while neither of the shows is particularly experimental—or a stretch to be found at, say, Musicfest—Kennedy hopes audiences will find value in the variance.

As the festival continues, things quickly veer toward the outer fringe. Day two at the Works features a collaboration between video artist Charles Atlas and William Basinski, a classically trained composer who delves into atmospheric sounds through tape loops. Other notable performances include Drum Machine, a night devoted almost wholly to rhythm and dance, including a performance by Claudia Meza of Explode into Colors and Portland Taiko. Then there is AndrewAndrew, a duo who dress identically and perform a DJ set via iPads as they move through the audience.

In a way, a night curated by Guantanamo Baywatch sums up TBA's mission of reflecting the art of the times, as well as stretching out of their wheelhouse. Baywatch's selection is a nod to the current fad of chillwave, a fascination of washed-out sounds and beach culture. But the band is also known for playing small, lively basement parties.

"That band feels good in an intimate setting because it's about that raw energy," says Kennedy. "But what's going to happen when [they're] on stage at Washington High School and there's room for 600 people? So it's also putting [that trend] in a different context and seeing how audiences respond to it—it's an experiment."

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