Friday evening brought plenty of good sleep. For those at Pickathon who were sung to sweet dreams by Yo La Tengo’s intimate stripped down set the night before, or for those who danced themselves to exhaustion at Ty Segall, a few hours of rest were well appreciated. After all, there is very little on Saturday that any sane person would want to miss - the festival’s apex this year is a whirlwind of indie rock history. On the main stage, Yo La Tengo returned for a heavier set, a far cry from their set of lullabies in the woods, before Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy headed up the most lauded set of the weekend, armed with only his acoustic guitar. Meanwhile, today’s events in the woods only built on the excitement from yesterday, with a lovely set from Alvvays, a merciless set of surf rock majesty from Thee Oh Sees, and finally, an up close and personal victory lap set from Wolf Parade. There are many, many things that set Pickathon apart from other festivals, but one of the most dear is the affection for sleep. As campers end a full day of musical bliss, they climb up into the Pendarvis hills and sleep soundly, with dreams of what the next day will bring.Opening up the Galaxy Barn on Saturday was rising indie rock act Palehound. Led by Ellen Kempner, the band pulls from the renaissance of Garbage and Hole worshippers like Bully and Field Mouse and offers up gritty, unfiltered perspective on a world of paradox. Kicking off the set, Kempner laughed. “Wow, 12 noon, this is optimal. I hate staying up late.” The heavy-handed rock set was an alarm clock for anyone who had not yet made it through the ridiculous Stumptown coffee line (never under 100 people in length before 1pm). Palehound kicked the day off in great fashion.
With full view of Yo La Tengo and Jeff Tweedy on the horizon, the main stage kicked the day off with the first of many indie rock and Americana gems, country act Western Centuries. With love letters to whiskey (or maybe tequila) and songs about love lost and time passed, the band don’t stray far from the roots of their craft. But even with immense jet lag (they had just flown down to Los Angeles the day before and arrived today from LA at 5am), the country act won the crowd over with approachable charm and light-hearted fun. As yawns permeated through the crowd in the early morning, legs stretched out on countless lawn blankets and the crowd soaked in Western Centuries like a sponge. This was the perfect way to kick off the day.
Following Western Centuries were indie rock act Ultimate Painting. The young British band are on their third album now, building on style and finesse, harking back to the shoegaze meets indie rock sounds of The Clientelle and maybe even Galaxie 500. The lovely, melodious mixture of guitars echoed across the lawn, soundtracking a multitude of meandering and moseying, grabbing breakfast and snagging a spot for all the action yet to come. And yet, given the beautiful weather and the lovely applause after each number, I don’t think Ultimate Painting minded the low energy of the situation whatsoever. Rather, their dreamy guitar-driven lullabies made for an easy wake-up and built on mood wonderfully.
There are few labels with the running excellence of Merge, and it seems with each new act they offer us under their own name, they expand on their immense history with just a little something new to throw into the fold. North Carolina band Mount Moriah are by no means greenhorns, but their contribution to Merge’s namesake is lovely and refreshing to hear every time we get the chance. The band’s latest album, How To Dance, came out February of this year, hosting a well crafted mixture of melody and prose from frontwoman Heather McEntire. McEntire captivates the crowd with ease, leading with all the prestige and prowess of Merge’s finest. The band’s early set at the Woods stage drew plenty of attention, watching the crowd in the nestled wonderland grow steadily by the hour. Mount Moriah were a fantastic addition to the day for all that attended.
Canadian duo Tennyson followed their Woods set with an equally strong set in the Galaxy Barn on Saturday. Unlike the Woods stage set, where the band’s replacement of BADBADNOTGOOD may have been a surprise to some, this time around the crowd seemed eager to hear Tennyson alone (all of course except the announcer, who bungled the band’s intro before apologizing). Surprisingly, the Galaxy Barn’s sound was less conducive to Tennyson’s bass-heavy grooves, with the soundman setting the mix to odd and less danceable levels. But fans lining the stage gave the duo of Tess and Luke all the praise they deserved, as the tighter space may have felt a little more natural to them than the vastness of the woods. Tennyson played another excellent set before departing for the weekend. Hopefully next time they play Pickathon, they’ll get exactly the hype they deserve.
While their intimate set in the woods was lovely and infinitely gentile and truly something to behold, there are truly two sides to Yo La Tengo, one quiet and one loud. For this reason, the band’s second set of the weekend, this time on the main stage and with amps turned up to the max, was a welcome compliment to the first. Kicking things off with all elevent minutes of "OHM", the band was bent on proving they came to dominate. With James McNew on 12-string Danielson, playing the living daylights out of the D chord, Ira Kaplan ripped into a five minute solo before handing the guitar off to the audience for some completely avant-garde exploration. Never one to be harnessed by boundaries, Yo La Tengo proved their status as indie rock royalty within the first ten minutes of today’s set. After this, a swell collection of the hits satiated the hunger of any fan in the crowd. Two sets from Yo La Tengo in less than 24 hours, with each as far apart from each other as can be - that’s a gift that most festivals would never give you.
Yo La Tengo:
Yesterday’s Galaxy Barn action may have a selection of Pickathoners for the explosion of Alvvays’ Woods stage set, but with their return today, the Toronto surf rock act really came out swinging. The band’s self-titled record dropped to much critical acclaim a few years ago, and now, the band is primed for the release of album #2, and played a few of those selections here today. A fuse blew at the Woods stage early on in their set during the self-titled opener "Adult Diversion", mandating a short reprieve before the band could return to finish their set. It turns out, a little bit of improv broke all barriers between the band and the crowd, with Molly loosening up and killing the turnaround time by telling stories of seeing bands the night before and goofing off. The band picked up right where they left off, finishing out "Adult Diversion" and then continuing on with a newfound looseness that let them mess around a bit more with vibrant guitar leads and soaring melodies. Whenever Alvvays decide to drop album #2, you’ll want to pick it up pronto.
With the exception of Mac Demarco’s particularly youthful crowd, Pickathon attendees have, until this point tonight, successfully played off the hype of the weekend’s magic with plenty of lawn lounging, occasional naps, and plenty of delicious snacking. But the anticipation for tonight’s next act was palpable, with pretty much every member of the audience abandoning casual viewing for a spot up close and personal with the weekend’s star, Jeff Tweedy. As the Wilco frontman arrived, the hero worship was real - it was evident that this may be the performance of the weekend. And yet, the Wilco of 2016 is one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you’ll remember, last year, they dropped a free album with an awesome cat on it called Star Wars, just for the hell of it. This year, Wilco will follow it with Schmilco, an equally tongue in cheek introduction to another (no-doubt) staggering art piece. Free from the shackles of a record deal, the band’s independent days of late have been ones of joy and frivolity, and nothing exemplifies that better than the approach that Jeff Tweedy gave tonight’s lovely set. Halfway through “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, a wire-hung camera buzzed across the center of the crowd, whistling it’s way across the line over a particularly quiet portion of Tweedy’s strumming. “I thought this was a rustic music festival”, he said, prompting plenty of laughter from the crowd to break from the otherwise heavy-handed song of self-reflection, “if you guys have robot cameras, you gotta warn me”. With each beautiful number, Tweedy seemed bent on making damn sure the audience took it in stride. After all, it’s this balance that has given Wilco both the power and the longevity with which they’ve blessed us with musical magic for decades. Jeff Tweedy owned the spotlight with an open hand, lending it to whoever wanted to join in the fun he was having from wherever they came.
A far cry from the quiet beauty of Tweedy’s main stage set, every low life present at Pickathon packed into the Woods stage for one purpose and one purpose only: it was time to jam. If you know any one single thing about California surf rock band Thee Oh Sees, it’s probably that they channel rock and roll’s darkest demons through the venue of noise and unadulterated, violent energy. From beat one, the Woods set was a dust bowl of chaos. Average crowd-surfers per song easily made it above a dozen. Average people per song dropped on the stage from crowd surfing lining the dual drum sets was probably three or four. John Dwyer leads the action like he’s in a psychotic rewrite of the Music Man, chiding on the crowds in relentless amounts, ensuring that there is no one left at the end of their set who has not either sweat, blood, or wept from the sheer beauty of it all. No breaks, no banter, no holds barred, Thee Oh Sees brought it like nothing else this weekend. Only a few days ahead of the release of their new album, A Weird Exits, they proved there is nothing but fire ahead for these young ruffians. If you should be braving their second set at the Galaxy Barn later on this weekend, ye be warned.
Thee Oh Sees:
Twenty six hours ago, the Pacific Northwest hadn’t seen Wolf Parade in six years. And now, with a crazy good set on the main stage and today’s impossibly intimate set in the Woods, we have the divine opportunity of seeing Wolf Parade twice with two almost 100% different setlists. Only Queen Mary classic “I’ll Believe In Anything” and new song “Floating World” overlapped between the two. Otherwise, Wolf Parade’s set of “slightly deeper cuts” offered the crowds everything they begged for at the main stage for which time did not allow. Dan tributed “Animal” to a member of the main stage crowd whose birthday was just yesterday. Then later, Spencer made good on “California Dreamer”, another crowd request from someone eager to cash in their birthday song bank voucher five months early. While their main stage set felt like the triumphant, explosive return we all wanted from Wolf Parade, today’s Woods set was the solidification that they are still and always will be one of our absolute favorite names in indie rock. And as they move forward, there’s no doubt they will continue to be - the addition of new song “Mr. Startup” (also known as “Boy Division”) was a welcome surprise, finding plenty of singalongs between the most dedicated members of the audience lining the stage. “Blessed be the ones who let their blessings go”, Spencer sings. Well, for a while there, we had to let the blessing of Wolf Parade go, so they could go into the woods and find themselves. But now returning, we are glad we have those blessings back, with big smiles and plenty of passion to go around. By the time the band closed out the epic “Dinner Bells”, there wasn’t an audience member left in the audience without a smile. Pickathon was the perfect place for Wolf Parade to make their return to the Pacific Northwest, and they did it with more magic than we could have ever imagined.
It’s no small task to close out a night at Pickathon, but with it being their first set in the Northwest in over four years, there’s no question that Fruit Bats did the deed with flair. Eric D. Johnson and the gang have been away for a while, but there were no shortage of eager fans waiting to sing along here tonight into the wee hours of the night. As the temperature dropped, the crowds huddled together, ensuring that both voices and body temperatures could be held high throughout the set. As the sandwich truck continued to pump out late night snacks and the crowds sung and ate and laughed and chatted under the wondrous glow of the lit canopy, the weekend’s most stacked day closed out with as much energy and positivity as it began.
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