Portland, Oregon is a mecca for craft beer and prides itself on its dedication to all things local. Both of these facts make it, at first glance, an odd choice for a festival thrown by massive beer company known for a profoundly tasteless lager. Then again, Portland is also a hipster haven and few of its residents can resist the occasional Pabst Blue Ribbon. In fact, the company often cites Portland as one of the main cities responsible for the beer’s youthful comeback. This is the reason why PBR has been able to hold its own festival on the Portland waterfront for two years in a row. And though the festival favors branding over creating any kind of specific identity, both years of its existence have featured a solidly booked lineup of acts. It’s also easy to get to and isn’t too crowded, both of which make up for the lack of beer options (only PBR).
This year Project Pabst once again brought in a nice smattering of acts, ranging from hip-hop to pop, rock and roll, and even a couple local faves. Here are some of the best acts and a touch of the worst…
Best Rock the Fuck Out: FIDLAR
One of the heaviest sets of the weekend came from skate punk favorites FIDLAR. The group encouraged moshing and the crowd responded in glorious fashion the second they opened with a heavy, grinding take on the Beastie Boys classic “Sabotage”. The energy was relentless throughout the set as the band balanced raucous slamming punk and shred-heavy rock and roll. Front man Zac Carper earned himself festy MVP status with his anthems about living a crusty skater lifestyle and enjoying the hell out of it. The world of FIDLAR’s music revolves around drinking 40s, doing drugs, partying, and being broke – topics that seemed to resonate with the moshers. And even though the band displayed a wild dynamic onstage as they sang pretty much entirely about getting fucked up, their songs were melodic and catchy. The culmination of their set came at the end with “Cheap Beer”, a song that could not have summed up Project Pabst any better.
Best Self-Indulgent Adult Contemporary: Father John Misty
Even an 18-piece band couldn’t make Father John Misty interesting. The bearded singer seemed to bask in his love of himself, weirdly swaying along to music that can best be described as easy listening while singing songs that say a lot without saying anything at all. His set covered mostly material from his albums I Love You, Honeybear and Pure Comedy, which meant performing music in a constant state of melodrama. “Truth Affection” was a droopy almost dance tune that found the Father conducting his mini orchestra through a cheesy build-up with his cigarette as maestro baton. One of the only highlights was the simple rock ballad “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”, but even that song begged to be taken seriously. While it was easy to see the appeal of the Father and perhaps a relief to not have been subjected to one of his infamous rants, his set proved to be little more than swooning panty dropper music for people with bad taste.
Best Weird Ass Dance Party: Die Antwoord
One of the most packed sets of the weekend was that of South African dance rappers Die Antwoord. Many of their fans seemed to be a cross between Juggalos and raver kids, which makes sense considering their strange hybrid of rap, wonky dance music and sexuality mixed with morbidity. Nearly everyone in the crowd erupted into a dance party to the oddball lyrical flow of Ninja and creepy anime vocal stylings of Yolandi Visser. The two ran up and down a staircase, keeping the crowd properly hyped with songs like “Fatty Boom Boom”, “I Fink You Freeky”, and the uber sleazy “Daddy”. Making it all more bizarre was the constant stream of demented phallic imagery on the jumbo screen. All of this made for one of the most lively and fascinating sets of the weekend.
Best Putting the Youngsters to Shame: Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop is 70 years old. Let that sink in. It was difficult to even grasp this fact as the perpetually shirtless “Godfather of Punk” deliver a performance that would put to shame acts 50 years younger. He may have been a bit wrinkled and a bit gray in his stubble, but Pop was a bundle of energy as he cavorted about the stage and unleashed a hard-hitting set that seemed to touch all points of a career that has spanned five decades. He wasted no time getting right to the classics, kicking off a double dose of the Stooges with “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “Gimme Danger”. He asked the crowd, “If I was hitchhiking would ya fuckin’ pick me up?” before launching into his Bowie-era glam rock tunes “Passenger” and “Lust For Life”. “Search and Destroy” was sang from the photo pit as Pop embraced his fans and got on his knees, putting everything he had into the moment. Ultimately, Iggy Pop’s set was everything rock and roll should be: brooding, heavy, exuberant, relentless, free flowing, chaotic, and energetic.
Best Timeless Cool: Spoon
The members of Spoon emerged amidst a cloud of dust and opened with the frenetic song “Do I Have to Talk You Into It” off their new album Hot Thoughts. “Inside Out” followed up and displayed a sound that was bolstered two keyboardist/multi-instrumentalists whipping up a range of exciting effects. “Turn My Camera On” started with a sharp guitar solo before dropping into the hook and front man Britt Daniel leading a chorus sing-a-long. The gorgeously catchy combo of “Don’t You Evah” and “Do You” kept the mood upbeat with positive energy, while “I Ain’t The One” took on a slower, almost industrial sound. “Can I Sit Next To You” was a feisty dance track brimming with indie rock funk and “Don’t Make Me a Target” swapped out the horns of the original version in for a charged up group jam. “The Underdog” was downright euphoric and spunky with its organ and piano combo, and Britt Daniel referenced that he wrote it while living in southeast Portland to the approving cheers of the crowd. The song segued directly into the New Wave-y “Got Nuffin” before closing out on a high note with the straightforward rocker “Rent I Pay”, once again signaling that Spoon is as timeless and hip of a band as ever before.
Best Legendary Flow: Nas
Unlike lots of other rappers, Nas doesn’t mess around when it comes to performing live. The lyricist from Queens was accompanied by a DJ and a drummer who also laid down silky smooth choruses at times. Together they gave the audience a lesson in hip-hop history, leaning heavily on Nas’ game-changing 1994 debut Illmatic. There was little nostalgia as the songs on that album haven’t aged at all. Ever the professional, Nas wasted zero time hyping the crowd and avoided doing the kind of medley mashups that are often a staple of live hip-hop. He delivered his songs without bombastic silliness and a flow that was as impressive as it was 20 years ago, making for a moment to be savored.
Best Festival Closer: Beck
No act on the bill was more suited to be the grand finale than Beck. His set was proof of how he is still one of the most versatile artists currently making music as he lead the audience on a tour de force through his entire catalogue. As one might expect, his biggest hits off his 1996 album Odelay garnered the largest audience response, but so did tunes off albums like Guero and Midnight Vultures. In Beck’s world, every song is a single and that translated to a setlist where every song felt special with even casual fans singing along. His talented band was able to navigate his diverse catalogue, flawlessly executing the psychedelic folk of his Morning Phase and Sea Change material while stepping up for the trap meets melodic pop of his new song “Wow”. At other points they simply exploded into pure funk, making it a party, and towards the end of the set Beck even busted out his acoustic guitar for a quick solo performance of Prince’s “Raspberry Beret”. Beck’s songs may have been nostalgic for many in the audience, but his set was proof that he is anything but a nostalgia act. All of his songs still sounded as fresh and innovative as they did when they were released, and the new songs he played made it clear that Beck is only going to keep doing things his own way.
All photos by Arthur VanRooy.