Put a heard on it! 'Portlandia's' best musical cameos

Lyndsey Parker

IFC’s sleeper-hit sketch comedy show Portlandia, helmed by punk musician turned SNL cast member turned Seth Meyers bandleader Fred Armisen and Sleater-Kinney/Wild Flag guitarist Carrie Brownstein, returns for its farewell season this week, on Jan. 18. And with the season will surely come a slew of guest appearances by various actors and comedians. But we are especially looking forward to all the cameos by Fred and Carrie’s musical friends (including Henry Rollins and Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, seen in this sneak preview clip), since a typical Portlandia cast listing often reads like a who’s-who of indie rock.

Related: Fred Armisen and other comedians with punk-rock ties

All sorts of cool musicians have graced the quirky show, so to celebrate Portlandia’s legacy, we’re ranking the best musician cameos in the series’ history. (Note: This is an article best read by the bedside glow of an artisanal light bulb.)

15. No Doubt. On the “Nina’s Birthday” episode, Nina received a hella good present from her biker boyfriend, Lance: a private hot-air balloon ride with the recently reunited No Doubt. While Gwen Stefani refused to dish about how she and her own significant other at the time, Bush’s Gavin Rossdale, celebrated her birthday, we’re kind of dreaming that Gwen and her new guy, Blake Shelton, will be featured on Portlandia Season 6. Make it happen, IFC.

14. Isaac Brock. The Modest Mouse singer was neither modest nor mousy when he landed in the middle of a heated rock ’n’ roll debate with the Krautrock-loving, literally too-cool-for-school parents at Portland’s exclusive Shooting Star preschool. However well intentioned, Isaac’s attempt to donate his old Temple of the Dog and Back to the Future albums to the school’s library was not appreciated. We totally would have taken that Talk Talk record off his hands, though…

13. Steve Jones. In one of Portlandia’s most surreal and ambitious skits, the Sex Pistols’ fearsome axe-slinger brought just the right amount of punk-rock menace to his role of the nasty bouncer of “Brunch Village.” We’ve been scared to eat eggs Benedict ever since. (Watch the episode here.)

12. Johnny Marr. Johnny is usually a pretty easygoing guy. (He survived being in a band with Morrissey for years, after all — and with the above-mentioned Isaac Brock in Modest Mouse!) But he nearly lost his cool when he had to contend with Portland’s two most inept bicycle valets. The only thing that would’ve made this skit better? If Johnny had busted out some “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” when he finally spotted his red two-wheeler sitting atop that bicycle scrap heap.

11. Jack White. It was a Jack White Christmas for the vaguely holiday-themed “Winter in Portlandia” episode, when the White Stripes/Raconteurs/Dead Weather mastermind magically showed up one snowy silent night to book time in an analog-obsessed character’s long-vacant, vintage-gear-packed studio. We’re still hoping Jack actually recorded his next Third Man Records 7-inch there.

10. Jenny Conlee. The Decemberists’ multi-instrumentalist took on a very sympathetic role in 2011’s “Blunderbuss” episode, playing a hapless singer-songwriter named Sparkle Pony whose attempt to play Portland’s coolest rock festival went horribly awry. The episode also featured cameos by Selma Blair, James Mercer of the Shins/Broken Bells, Gus Van Sant, and Carrie Brownstein’s Sleater-Kinney bandmate Corin Tucker, but Sparkle Pony (and her actual pony) stole the show … even if she even ended up gigging in an Alaskan motel lobby.

9. Josh Homme. The macho, hulking Queens of the Stone Age frontman hilariously shattered LGBTQ stereotypes as an ESPN-watching, Jagerbomb-guzzling homosexual slob in the “Disappointing Gays” episode.

8. Dirty Projectors and J. Mascis. Quiet was definitely the new loud, and the new awesome, when Featherwash (a Fred-fronted Dirty Projectors) and Bless the Barn (featuring usually much-louder Dinosaur Jr. figurehead J. Mascis) went very, very unplugged for Portland’s “Battle of the Gentle Bands.” But unfortunately, both bands were out-soft-rocked by the super-mellow sounds of Franny Wisp. Try to be gentler next time, guys.

7. Glenn Danzig. In a brilliant case of typecasting, the Misfit played a rumored “ancient vampire” tasked with educating Fred Armisen’s Goth character on beach etiquette. Clearly it was the role he was born to play. “Fred got my email address from Rob Zombie and he said, ‘I want you to come up and do a part on Portlandia,’” Danzig told Yahoo. “I got back to him and said, ‘I just got home. When would this be filming?’ He said, ‘Tomorrow.’ So I said, ‘Send me the script. I’d like to do it, but could we do it at a later date?’ And he said, ‘No, it has to be tomorrow.’ I liked the script, so within two hours I was on a plane and then we shot the scene.”

6. Jello Biafra. In Season 4, the Dead Kennedys singer woke up from a decades-long coma to a 2014 yuppie apocalypse. It was every aging punk’s worst nightmare and one of this series’ funniest episodes.

5. Eddie Vedder. The Pearl Jam frontman is considered a grunge-rock heartthrob by many, but apparently he’s not the “better man,” according to prospective love interest Carrie Brownstein. Lesson learned here: Even for the handsome singer of a hugely famous rock band, a squiggly bicep tattoo of Ani DiFranco is always a dating deal breaker.

4. Aimee Mann. Fans wondering whatever happened to rebellious ’Til Tuesday songstress Aimee Mann were amused, or maybe confused, when she showed up in Season 1 playing Fred and Carrie’s cleaning lady. In real life, Mann still makes her living making music … but she demonstrated such deadpan comedic chops here that she may want to give acting a try. She’d probably clean up.

3. Kevin the Cat. Forget about Kristen Wiig. Amp-scratching Siamese kitty Kevin was the real star of Season 2’s Pitchfork-approved “Cat Nap” episode. Kevin’s claws-to-the-wall rockin’ on his feline band’s hit “Whisker Patrol” was so fantastic, in fact, that he literally shut Pitchfork down. Paws up!

2. The Flaming Lips. What’s better than the Flaming Lips? Two version of the Lips? That was the scenario for the “Pickathon” episode, when the Oklahoma psych-rockers split into “The Flaming Lips Featuring Wayne Coyne,” and his ex-bandmates were billed “More Flaming Lips.” Hilarity, of course, ensued.

1. Kurt Loder, Tabitha Soren, and Matt Pinfield. Children of the ’80s probably consider Martha Quinn, J.J. Jackson, Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, and Alan Hunter to be the real MTV dream team. But the dream of the ’90s was alive on Portlandia’s “Take Back MTV” episode, which generated a wave of grunge-era nostalgia when the station’s latter-day crew ambushed their old basic-cable stomping grounds and brought back the glory days of The Week in Rock and 120 Minutes. We needed about 120 minutes more of this awesome skit. (Watch the entire episode.)

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