WHEN DROPPED INTO a massive field with thousands of seemingly likeminded music enthusiasts for several days, one must either embrace the blunt reality of outdoor festivals—by removing one's shirt and taking a handful of parking lot-purchased mushrooms—or at least pretend to. Given this publication's inability to reimburse its staff for hallucinogenic expenses, I decided to go with pretending.
SATURDAY, MAY 29
During a harmony-rich set from buzzing folksters Mumford & Sons, a nearby fan screamed for the band, paused, and then dramatically crumpled to the ground. This either crowns Mumford & Sons as the leaders of a new Beatlemania, or illustrates the importance of proper hydration on a warm day. Such levels of knee-buckling fandom were not received by cumbersome rock act Brad, whose midday set on the largest stage was either the result of backroom nepotism or a deliberate guerilla marketing scheme to funnel people over to the competing stage to witness a blistering show from Portugal. The Man, who kept the sun-drenched crowd enthralled with an expansive array of material.
Portland's Nurses debuted new material and made the case that their off-kilter sunny pop should always be performed outdoors. Meanwhile, Broken Social Scene's finely perfected rock anthems took advantage of the large stage, filtering in a revolving door of members and borrowed musicians (including the National's horn section). Speaking of, the National seized the opportunity to recklessly engage in onstage behavior you'd never expect from such a restrained bunch. Dressed to the nines, the New York band torched through material from Boxer and High Violet while singer Matt Berninger took a dip in the crowd, emerging from the sea of outstretched hands with dress coat and tie perfectly intact.
SUNDAY, MAY 30
Onetime muse for Tricky, Martina Topley Bird was filed away on a small stage during the early afternoon while most of the crowd was still blearily trickling in from the vast camp cities speckling the horizon. A true festival highlight, Bird nobly battled to be heard against the ricocheting clatter of neighboring stages as she playfully looped vocals, toy drums, and beatboxed rhythm. Her flowing red prom dress made her a beacon in the monochromatic swath of gray clouds that engulfed the Gorge. Meanwhile, the Tallest Man on Earth would have been easier to spot onstage if he weren't the shortest man in Sweden and surrounded by a few thousand eager fans, but his inspired cover of Paul Simon's "Graceland" has never sounded better.
Never known for their onstage abilities, Pavement's reunion was met with complete indifference from the youthful crowd, who streamed for the exits following an absolutely ferocious preceding set from LCD Soundsystem. Stephen Malkmus battled a series of technical difficulties—"Rattled by the Rush" took three attempts to complete—before eventually calling either bassist Mark Ibold or the soundman "pathetic." Either way, it was sort of awkward. Following that, the band gently launched into a long set that mapped their storied career and included rousing versions of "Summer Babe," "Gold Soundz," and "Range Life."
MONDAY, MAY 31
An enthusiastic crowd was quick to cluster on the sloped grass hill for Phantogram's beat-heavy disco pop, a more spirited performance than their Doug Fir show from a few months back. Despite the sheets of rain that blanketed the crowd, dispersed, then returned again, the band was frantic and beaming onstage. That level of excitement was not maintained by old-guard festival band the Drive-By Truckers. It's hard to come to terms with the cold reality that DBT's greatness walked out the door with Jason Isbell in 2007, but weighed down with songs from The Big To-Do, they were an undeniably far cry from their earlier days as the greatest rock act on God's green earth. Meanwhile Passion Pit's jittery digi-pop cacophony delighted the masses, even including an inflatable whale that Michael Angelakos fished from the swarming crowd. Worry not—the inflatable orca was fine, the crowd hoisting the pool toy into the air and carrying it off to safety.