Photography by Autumn Andel
There was a post-apocalyptic feeling around this year’s Project Pabst. Though Portland, Oregon is typically seen as a metropolitan utopia of Portlandia quirkiness, the festival felt far removed from this visage. Instead, it felt more like a Mad Max battle royale.
The festival took place in a gravel lot under the all seeing eye of the Ross island Bridge. After walking through an entrance that looks like the top of a PBR can, attendees were greeted by a giant statue of a unicorn. Pair all of that with an unexpected heatwave, temperatures settling around the high 90s, and it wouldn’t be too farfetched to imagine George Miller repurposing the area for one of his desert romps. If only the festival promoters gave Thee Oh Sees guitar-flamethrowers.
Thankfully, the festival made accommodations accordingly. The water refill stations ran efficiently, there was an arcade tent to cool off in, and even a vinyl recording booth. But it was hard to find time to indulge in any of this with the small but stacked lineup. There’s never a moment throughout the day where music isn’t happening. Bands alternated between two stages, so one could set up while the other played. Drudging between the two in the heat became an act of endurance. Despite beer being thrust out everywhere attendees turned, it was hard to sip any without fearing the dire consequences.
Besides the sweat and pleas for cloud cover, the bands seemed unaffected. Each act performed vigorously to counterbalance the effects the sun was having on the ever-drowsy attendees. Classic acts like Blondie and Weezer became the rewards for making it through an entire day of roasting. Along the way, punks and rappers did their part in keeping spirits up and good times had. Everyone made it out, denying the apocalypse another day.
Most Surprising Set
TV On The Radio
TV On The Radio’s roots may rest in the experimental rock realm, but in the past few years they’ve evolved into a bona fide festival-ready act. Opening with “Young Liars” started their set with immediacy – giving new life to an older song. During “Lazerray” from their latest album, Seeds, the band showed the vibrancy of veteran arena rockers. Frontman Tunde Adebimpe was a commanding presence. He’d shimmy across the stage, throw his hands in the air, and belted every line he could. The band’s hit “Wolf Like Me” became one of the biggest rallying cries of the weekend, with the majority of the crowd bouncing and screaming along Adebimpe. It’s a testament to TV On The Radio that a song they released nearly a decade ago can still garner up so much excitement and mayhem. There was a hint of irony ending with “Staring At The Sun” considering the celestial menace beaming down on the crowd. Yet it was also a fitting end, using one of their older songs as a vantage point for how far they’ve come. The band has grown over the years, yet they appear to still have that same excited mentality and drive from their early days.
Best Role Model
Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry is in the running for most badass 70-year-old alive. Oftentimes seeing a legendary act “past their prime” can be a lackluster experience or even a chore. This was not the case with Blondie. In a hot pink dress with her trademark platinum blonde hair, it would be easy to assume her headlining performance at Project Pabst was during the band’s ‘80s heyday. The group was a fitting addition to the line-up which featured a slew of younger punk acts. Blondie symbolized the roots of most of these acts as the group played hit after hit, including “Call Me”, “Hanging On The Telephone”, and “One Way Or Another”. It was also a testament to just how many hits and great tracks the band has produced over the years. Harry’s already considered an icon, but seeing her live only cements that fact. Being able to enrapture a crowd of heat exhausted, tattoo-adorn 20-somethings at the end of the day is feat in itself. Blondie is forever blond and forever a punk staple.
Best Use of Excess
Thee Oh Sees
“Somebody go cook a fucking egg on that tall guy,” John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees said during their set, pointing to the crowd covered in scorching sunlight. Pummeling his transparent guitar, he led the band through some of the most brutal jams of the weekend. Backed by a bassist and two (yes, two) drummers, the group continually upped the ante throughout their set. Every song boasted copious amounts of fuzz and waves of monstrous distortion. As they approached the end of their set, Dwyer opted to finish things off with a 10-minute jam session. What could’ve been unruly and awkward was instead a prime example of just how brutal the band can be. At one point, Dwyer lifted up his mic-stand while playing guitar, hovering the microphone above one of the high hats to bolster it’s sharp timbre in the speakers. His menacing vocals would leap through the ruckus, like echoes from a demon realm.
Closest Thing to a Dance Party
The second Passion Pit started their set, there was a sudden surge forward in the crowd. Synthesizers blared through the PA and pounding drums snapped enthusiastically as the band started up “Little Secrets”. Lead singer Michael Angelakos led the fray with his high-pitched vibrato. The crowd was instantly ecstatic and full of life, dancing wildly. Keeping the momentum in the heat up was the only thing holding people back. Periodically, the brave would bounce up and down in the late afternoon heat, succumbing to their synth-pop pied piper. The tracks from the band’s first album, Manners, garnered the most reaction. “Take A Walk” became a sing-and-stomp-along. Closer “Sleepyhead” had everyone bouncing without inhibition. Every song built up with even more funk-infused grooves and synthesizer bellows.
Most Punk Punks
A defaced Union Jack flag with a peace sign was draped over Steve Diggle’s amp. Just this view alone gave an idea of how anarchic The Buzzcocks still are. The English punk rock outfit brought one of the fastest and hardest hitting shows of the entire weekend, despite being the senior of all the acts except Blondie. Original members Diggle and Pete Shelley held their guitars like madmen bent on destruction. During “Harmony In My Head”, Diggle got the crowd to jump in unison with the song’s brash rhythms, throwing windmill guitar shredding moves in between. Shelley’s vocals on “Why Can’t I Touch It?” were maybe even more pained and ruthless than the recording from 1979. “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” got one of the biggest crowd responses of the set, with everyone bouncing along and singing along to every heart-wrenching word. Lots of punks took the stage over the weekend, yet the Buzzcocks still retained their place as the purest form of the genre.
Biggest Crowd Pleaser
It’s easy to underestimate just how many hits Weezer has to their name. Nearly every song in their closing set, aside from a few bits from their latest album Everything Will Be Alright In The End, topped radio charts at some point in the past decade. This meant that of all the bands that played over the weekend, the crowd had the most familiarity with Weezer’s material. It was like comfort food at the end of a tiring but invigorating weekend. As the band started with “My Name Is Jonas”, guitarist Brian Bell walked on wearing a beer helmet and quickly threw it into the crowd. From there, the hits just kept coming, centering primarily around their first three adored albums — one intoxicated man next to me took to yelling “Yeah Weezer! Blue Album!” Even newer and less prestigious singles like “Troublemaker” and “Back To The Shack” were met with enthusiastic yells and cellphones up in the air to video every moment. The new material fit seamlessly within the setlist, showing a timelessness to Rivers Cuomo’s hook-writing capabilities. Whatever critics will say about the band’s later material, the group still has their live performance on lock.
Most Summery Set
The bright, jangly guitar tones of Alvvays feel orchestrated for summer. Frontwoman Molly Rankin’s voice felt like a serene oasis, washing over the crowd with blissful melodies. The Toronto indie-rock outfit only has one album to their name so far, but they padded out their hour long set with new material and covers of Deerhunter’s “Nosebleed” and Kirsty MacColl’s “He’s On The Beach”. “We’ll all pretend we’re sucking on a Freezee on the beach, cause that’s what I’m doing right now,” Rankin said of the MacColl track. While other bands may have offered an escape from the heat, Alvvay’s music seemed to be enhanced by the atmosphere. Their chipper attitude is built for wistful days gallivanting in the sun, reminiscing about old and new lovers. Repeatedly Rankin would tease keyboardist Kerri MacLellan about her childhood crush on Rivers Cuomo. The banter was indicative of their entire set, which included subtle and retratcted disses at Pabst. “It’s basically water anyway!” Rankin chided at one point. For a few minutes the sun wasn’t the enemy; it was an ally for infectious Alvvay’s pop minded songwriting.
Most Rejuvenating Act
Heat be damned. Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace commanded the stage with a ferocity that even the sun couldn’t parallel. Within an hour, the band rampaged through a career-spanning set. Opening with “True Trans Soul Rebel” felt like a thesis statement for the set, much like it does with their latest album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Wearing a shirt bearing the words “Gender Is Over”, Grace howled through the song. The set attracted punks in the crowd that looked like they were straight out of 1984, wearing studded vests bearing the names of The Descendents and Black Flag. Despite the band’s commercial success, they still maintain a punk intensity. Mosh pits erupted in the heat, with dust clouds fluttering in the air from the shifted gravel. Fists pumped through the air. People shouted along with every word. Grace is truly a trans soul rebel and her spirit gave an energizing boost to the scorching weather.
Run The Jewels
Killer Mike and El-P’s bond is the secret ingredient that makes Run The Jewels work. Sure, their beats are impeccable and they’re both immensely capable MCs in their own right. Yet all of this fuses best because of the supremely badass “power of friendship”. Walking on to their usual intro music of Queen’s “We Are The Champions”, it was clear these two rap-buds were here to conquer the festival side-by-side. From the minute the drums kicked in on their namesake track, “Run The Jewels”, the two rappers were bouncing across the stage and getting the crowd hyped up. Their verses were just as menacing as on the record, but with an added playfulness thanks to their camaraderie. There were secret handshakes, hugs, and repeated compliments of one another. Neither of them are above showing their joy being on stage. “I’m as high as that bridge right now,” Killer Mike said, pointing toward the Ross Island bridge looming above them. His jovial attitude was absolutely infectious. He’d even break down for a dance solo at one point, with El-P guiding him and throwing up supportive gestures. Afterward Mike turned to his comrade and said, “That’s my fucking brother right there. I love him”.
Terry & Louie
“This one’s for Portland, Oregon,” Terry Six said before erupting into The Exploding Hearts’ “Modern Kicks”. It was almost 12 years to the day that Six was in a tragic car wreck that took the lives of his Hearts bandmates. Portland hadn’t heard these songs electric since. Teaming up with former Hearts cohort Louie Bankston, the band made their brilliant return as Terry & Louie. Though the emotions around the set were high, the performance itself was more of a celebration. Old punks and 20-somethings with liberty spikes and studded vests all sang along with every word. For some, this was the first chance to see the Hearts’ material live, present company included.
It wasn’t just about hearing those old Hearts songs — the duo’s new material like “(I’m) Looking For A Heart” and “Daze Gone By” (which were both originally written for the Hearts) lifted the set out of nostalgia and into a new era for the PDX-punks. The two split vocal duties, offering up rousing versions of “Sleeping Aides and Razor Blades” and fan favorite “I’m A Pretender”. Six’s guitar work was incendiary, capturing the vibrancy and advantageous tones he brought to the Hearts’ sole album, Guitar Romantic. Bankston’s personality was absolutely infectious, joking about trying not to mess up songs and wailing any time he stepped up to the mic.
Ending the set with “Teenage Faces” felt immensely appropriate. The ode to youth seemed to bookend Terry & Louie’s own journey. At only 21 at the time of the accident, it’s easy to imagine a fresh-faced Six playing these songs all those years ago. Those years are gone but Terry & Louie’s story isn’t over yet.