THE DIGS are different, but the debauchery remains the same. The Bender—the annual weekend-long binge of punk 'n' roll—has lifted up its stakes from Slabtown, where it spent its first six sordid years. The change comes after former Slabtown owners Sam Soule and Brinda Coleman sold the NW Portland bar on the eve of 2012's Bender. They've taken their blackout-inducing festival of bands and booze with them, and this year it'll take place at downtown's swank Star Theater, a lush, red-curtained room that'll gussy up the proceedings with some perhaps incongruous class. But the Star boasts a fantastic patio, a comfy balcony to hide in, and good sight lines all around the room—ensuring that this year's Bender will be a fine place to hole up for three nonstop days of gunky garage grease.
Many of the headliners are not buzz bands or the latest crop of Oh Sees imitators. Rather, Soule and Coleman have stacked the bill with veterans of very specific cult appeal, bringing bands that longtime fans probably never expected to see in Portland. Pittsburgh's Cynics have more than two decades of note-perfect, nuggety garage-rock under their belt. Columbus' Cheater Slicks have trash-rock down to a science—but they inject it with noisy weirdness and destructive force. And San Francisco's Monoshock dropped some of the most wigged-out, druggy rock of the '90s before retreating to obscurity, letting their legend steep for years.
A number of Portland bands are up to this year's Bender challenge as well, including Youthbitch, Piss Test, Therapists, and Sex Crime playing their debut performance. Seattle's terrific Big Eyes close out the fest on Sunday night following a set by Jennifer Herrema's drug-numb, almost reptilian-sounding Black Bananas.
As in years past, there's tons of great, dirty music in store, but even as the fest proves to be something of an endurance test, those hard-earned, unpretty moments of rock 'n' roll splendor will likely be worth it. Weekend wristbands are a paltry 30 bucks, and they also get you into the exclusive "VIP" afternoon show on Sunday, which has free food and drinks, plus music from Tim Kerr's Freedom Band, the Angry Samoans' Gregg Turner, King Louie's One-Man Band, and Cheater Slicks performing a casual, possibly collaborative set with some of the other Bender bands. The full fest lineup is at thebenderbenderbender.tumblr.com, along with ticket info.