Last night was PDX Pop Now!'s very first fundraiser ever, and it was an unmitigated triumph in every sense, taking place within the white, all-purpose walls of the Cleaners at the Ace Hotel. The venue has been home to art shows, dance performances, and DJ nights, and last night five of Portland's best acts played acoustic, stripped-down sets to raise money for the organization, which in many ways has become the emblem of the Portland music scene—a completely non-exclusive grassroots program that focuses on local music in all shapes and sizes, culminating in an all-ages, free music festival that recognizes, fosters, and showcases the music from this city. It sounds utopian—even a little starry-eyed and hippie dippie—but anyone who knows anything about local music knows that PDX Pop Now! is pretty much the coolest thing ever, and every one of the more than 135 people who crammed the small Cleaners space new this. Early word is the Make it Pop! night raised over $4000 for the organization, which is incredible.
Read more about last night's show after the jump. Next week, check End Hits for photos from the event, as well as more PDX Pop Now! news, including the tracklisting for the 2009 double-disc compilation. The PDX Pop Now! music festival takes place at Rotture on July 24-26; mark your calendars now.
VJ Dantronix played videos before and after each set with a wide array of music videos, ranging from '70s soft rock to '90s alt rock, and an absolutely gorgeous, enormous cake was chopped into pieces for greedy mouths. PDX Pop Now! co-founder (and Mercury contributor) Cary Clarke ably hosted the proceedings and reminded showgoers of the importance of the event without doing too much of the pledge-drive hard sell. Ryan Sollee kicked off with a Leonard Cohen song, which led into the most raucous set of the night, relatively speaking. He played a handful Builders and Butchers songs, and at least one older one that predated the band, while strumming heavily on his Taylor and the darkness of his songs came through even in this solo setting, and one could imagine the clattering percussion that typically accompanies the B&B songs without too much effort.
Loch Lomond took the stage with four of their usual seven members, and as a result, played even more delicately than usual, but the mellower setting brought out the strengths in Ritchie Young's songs, outlining the dark humor of some of his stranger lyrics. At one point, Loch Lomond asked the audience to stomp along to provide percussion, but even missing three members, the arrangements and harmonies weren't lacking a thing. Their radiant set was spellbinding.
Next, Marty Marquis of Blitzen Trapper played a set of country-folk songs which he said no one has heard before except his kid and wife. He talked about growing up in Yakima, and his songs definitely had a high desert cowboy sound to them; one of them even incorporated a chord progression that he called the "Yakima change." Marquis ably proved that his songs are the equal of Blitzen Trapper bandmate/songwriter Eric Earley, and I'm looking forward to hearing him do more solo stuff. His excellent, modest set was the revelation of the evening.
But almost as revelatory was Brandon Summers' solo set, sounding miles away from the spiraling, all-encompassing productions of the Helio Sequence. The lush melodies of his songs thrived in the solo setting, sounding even more beautiful and forlorn than ever. The night was closed out by another fellow who cloaks his songs in shimmering production, James Mercer of the Shins. Mercer's melodies are as functional and easily inhabitable as architecture, and swooping melodies rose up above, as the tightly dovetailed chord structures provided sturdy grounding below. It make me, more than anything, want to hear new Shins songs, a feeling I haven't had since the first time I heard Wincing the Night Away. Mercer even shared a new tune with the audience, and it was the equal of anything on the first two Shins records; he even did an expert take of the Beach Boys' "Girl Don't Tell Me."
If the Portland music scene is guilty of anything, it's of perhaps patting itself on the back a little too much, but after last night's show of talent from all strata of local musicians, it's damn clear that we're worthy of all the praise we heap upon ourselves. PDX Pop Now! is one of the main reasons the Portland scene is so great, and the Make it Pop! show last night transcended its fuddy-duddy fundraiser status to become a celebration in and of itself.