The sun shinned bright at Zidell Yards and the crowd almost looked like they didn’t know what to do with themselves. The audience seemed in good spirits, but dehydration is something Pacific Northwesterners are just not used to. Barreling through the adversity of partying, the Portlanders at day two of Project Pabst filled their canteens with water, got another beer, and boldly celebrated 2014’s final sunny festival.For the first part of the day, the grounds looked like they held about half the audience than the day before. But by 5pm, the hungover throngs filled up the yards yet again. It proved to be a picturesque way to finish a Stumptown September.
The spaced-out rap duo from Seattle was the perfect complement to a spaced-out afternoon. Puffs of potent smoke rose above as Shabazz Palaces entertained and perplexed the audience with their layered samples, delayed vocals and extraterrestrial nature. It was cryptic rather than confusing. Not, “What the hell is this?” but more like, “I’ve got to decipher what these aliens are trying to tell me.”
Inviting the audience to a “secret meeting in the atmosphere,” vocalist Ishmael Butler rapped melodically and shook African shakers. Along with the thumb piano, steel drum, atmospheric sounds and laser tones, Shabazz painted a picture of space creatures taking bong rips on a tribal landscape.
Playing almost every song from their debut album, Black Up, Shabazz mixed the order of the tracks but created a through line in the set by utilizing recurring samples. Shabazz also played songs off their new album, Lese Majesty, which was released in July—including the standout song “They Come In Gold” (below). At times, the bass and drum machine caught a dance beat and with Tendai Maraire’s congas, the music actually got the parched crowd to dance.
I'm looking forward to seeing the ancestral astronauts from Seattle again, but it would be sweet if they took YACHT’s lead by adding more members and moving away from the laptop to focus more on playing live instruments. Having more instrumental support onstage would also free Butler to get out from behind his computer table and allow him to become what he is meant to be—a frontman from outer space.
In front of the largest crowd at the second stage all weekend, and backed by two keyboards, a bass, guitar and drum kit, GZA cleanly and enthusiastically performed his entire 1995 album Liquid Swords. The musical accompaniment blurred genres as some of the song’s breakdowns turned into rock and roll riffs. The full, epic instrumentation added to the album’s gritty tale of crime and revenge.
Unlike many other festivals, the GZA’s rap vocals and music were clearly heard. Far too often, festivals sabotage the sound of rap acts for fear of corrupting the youthful audiences. But since Project Pabst was a 21-and-over event, the buckwild was let loose. To the under-40 crowd at his performance on Sunday, it was a welcomed throwback to the old days of Wu-Tang when the Shaolin ruled the land.
Constantly moving and rapping, GZA didn’t take many breaks from the album's flow, however, at one point he took the time to lead the audience in the mandatory mantra: “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothin’ to fuck with!”
The crisp crescent moon was settling in over the dark West Hills as the festival crowded towards the main stage for Project Pabst’s last performance.
On a stage just north of the South Waterfront’s ostentatious high-rises, amongst the dirt and gravel and half-drunken fans, Modest Mouse acutely started off the set with “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes.” Lead singer Isaac Brock screamed the lyrics with all the energy and anger one would expect from Portland’s favorite musician.
Unlike every other lead signer of a headlining band, Brock was not front and center. Like a well-trained stage actor, he knew there is another part of the stage that can be even more powerful—downstage left. Not only does this position make the lead look humble and alone, but it forces the performer to project more in order to reach the entire audience. And for those of us who just happened to be on the side of the stage where Brock stood, it was pretty dope.
Modest Mouse played a range of songs spanning a good chunk of their discography, including hits like “Doin’ the Cockroach” and “Broke” (below). They even gave fans a sneak peak of three new tracks, with the biggest crowd response to the song with the lyrics “Today, today, today...”
Of course they played the radio megahit “Float On,” but what was surprising was how they played it. You would think that after years of playing that song at every single show, Brock would reluctantly go through the motions—not so much. In the anecdotal opening lines of the song, you could hear Brock’s honest, shrilling despondency. And it made you want to believe that we all will actually float on.
A welcomed part of any Modest Mouse show is Brock’s stage banter. He’s a funny and witty dude. While looking off the side of the stage towards the new Tilikum Crossing, Brock joked, “That’s the bridge they built for me. That’s the bridge I will take to my gym.” And as he was leaving the stage before the planned encore (they still had 27 minutes allotted for their set), he simply said to the crowd, “Alright, you guys have a good night.”
And just like the set started, the encore ended with an apt song. At a smoky, beer-fueled festival, at times, reminiscent of Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island, the last song of Project Pabst was Modest Mouse’s “The Good Times Are Killing Me” (below). The morose song may have rang true to some of the fans who questioned their own behavior that weekend, or those that wondered if there was anyone who would actually be pleased with their drunken debauchery.
Perhaps the giant banners of Captain Pabst on each side of the stage saying, "I’m very proud of you,” reassured those who were taking the lyrics to heart.
Destructive party or not, Project Pabst was a fun way to spend the last weekend in September. With the 21-plus crowd and the eclectic lineup and activities, many seemed to think it already outmatched MFNW in its inaugural year. It would be nice to have Project Pabst at the end of every summer because it was great to have a reason to go all out one more time before the rain set in less than 24 hours later, and a great reason to wake up and start partying. But then again, when did Portlanders ever need a reason to party?
Modest Mouse Set List:
Tiny Cities Made of Ashes
A Different City
Ocean Breathes Salty
Wild Pack of Family Dogs
Night on the Sun
Satin in a Coffin
This Devil’s Workday
I Came as a Rat
Doin’ the Cockroach
Fire It Up
Out of Gas
The World at Large
Paper Thin Walls
The Good Times Are Killing Me