Even though I’m from Vancouver BC – a mere two-hour drive away – I’d never been to Seattle’s famous Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival before. With the Labor Day weekend institution reaching its 40th year though, I jumped at the chance to cover this eclectic city festival for Consequence of Sound. Yes, it was going to be a challenge – after all, I was covering (and photographing) the concert all by myself and with three full-days and almost 200 shows to choose from, I had my work cut out for me.
Luckily, Bumbershoot ended up being one of the most efficient and organized festivals I’d ever been to, which made my job a hell of a lot easier. The festival is located at Seattle Center, a large inner city area consisting of Key Arena, Experience Music Project, Memorial Stadium and the Space Needle, which made it easy to use the festival’s gracious in-and-out privileges to take the Monorail back into the CBD, get outside food or ride the Duck Bus. That said, you really didn’t have any reason to leave the festival site.
The portable toilets (affectionately called “Honey Buckets”) were well spread out, usually quite clean and never had too long of a line. The grounds were free of garbage with an ingenious recycling program, there were various vendors hawking everything from bamboo clothing to wines, and the food was tasty and reasonably priced (halibut fish tacos FTW). There seemed to be beer gardens at every stage and if Shock Top wasn’t your cup of tea, there were several Starbucks’ scattered throughout (it’s Seattle, what did you expect?).
The crowd was an eclectic mix of city punks, teenagers letting loose on the last weekend before school, families with apple-cheeked children, young thugs, grunge hipsters and hip grungesters. Those last two were responsible for the most flannel I have ever seen in my life. It was like a Magic Eye painting; once you spotted plaid or flannel, that’s all you ever saw. But considering all of the above accounted for 150,000 people over the weekend, it was amazing that the place never felt too crowded. Aside from the will call line on the first day, you could just breeze right in.
I never saw anyone get too drunk or stupid either, even though security was quite lax and it was more than easy to smuggle a six-pack inside (but I feel sorry for the Wisconsin man who had his Pabst poured out by the police… “I’m from Wisconsin, this is sacrilegious.” ). Maybe the lack of douchebaggery at Bumbershoot was because there was so much to do. Aside from the music, there were comedy shows (The Nerdist, Patton Oswalt), actual art exhibitions, film screenings and theater shows, not to mention entertainment such as Cyclecide’s bike rodeo and Circus Una’s gravity-defying, burlesque babes on a tightrope show.
But with all that awesomeness filling out the sides, I was there for the music. So let’s get on with it!
Saturday, Sept 4th: Lots of folk from fun folks
State Farm Stage, 2:00 p.m.
The first band I started off with was Atlanta’s own, The Constellations, whose rave reviews from Spin Magazine caught my attention. The self-proclaimed supergroup was indeed funky and fresh and a groovy way to ease into the festival. Vocalist Elijah Jones has that 70’s funk swagger down to tee and the backing singers (and hipster eye candy) were a sweet throwback to a bygone era. But the sound wasn’t all harmonies and tambourines. The Constellations have got some serious beats to move to and an eclectic mix of sounds, bringing forth comparisons to the Gorillaz (one of their influences) – albeit if the Gorillaz moved to the South and spent lazy afternoons on the porch. Despite the early afternoon set-time, the sizable crowd at the State Farm Stage was into it and began to bop as a collective whole when Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” was covered with spunk.
Broad Street Stage, 4:00 p.m.
Talk about going from one extreme to the other. After I left the upbeat Constellations I ran over to the Broad Street Stage to see Atlas Sound. All I knew about it was that it was “that dude from Deerhunter’s solo project” so I wasn’t sure what to expect. For fans of that “dude,” Bradford Cox, I’m sure they knew what they were getting into: sleepily enthralling music. Cox has a shy stage presence but the fact that he was able to layer sounds and build up the illusion of a full band when it was just him up there with a guitar was mesmerizing. The Space Needle provided an equally hypnotic backdrop to this intricate set.
Center Square Stage, 4:45 p.m.
Next up on my list was the South African band Civil Twilight. Now based in the USA, the band has been compared to Radiohead and Coldplay and after seeing them play the Center Square Stage (aka The Loud Stage) I can definitely see how Coldplay fits into their sound. Radiohead, though? They wish. I didn’t find Civil Twilight to be anything special, but they were a harmless, unmemorable listen. There is obviously some talent there and they had a good way of artfully building their songs, but as a live act they were a bit of a snooze, even with the speakers blaring at deafening levels. They must be doing something right though, as there was a large crowd full of enthusiastic youngsters hanging on to their every note.
Broad Street Stage, 5:45 p.m.
Fun. That’s a simple way to describe the melodic, soul-tinged, beat-boxing singer that is Jamie Lidell. The talented Brit had an energetic and engaging way about him, whether accomplishing vocal trickery by layering tracks and sounds or being supported by his talented and enthusiastic band. He was all about audience interaction, making charming chit chat or checking in with the crowd. Highlights included “I Wanna Be Your Telephone” which had people dancing on the spot to the electronic Motown mix and “Another Day” a happy, soulful number that coincided delightfully with the sun coming out to play.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Broad Street Stage, 7:30 p.m.
Everyone at Consequence of Sound has always waxed on about this band and how darn great they are live, so I finally had to check them out to see what the fuss was about. Walking through the backstage area to get to the photo pit I saw a homeless Jesus kicking about at imaginary things in the air. Oh wait, that was just singer Alex Ebert, who brings “Hobo Chic” to a whole new level. But hey, if it works for him and his “hippie commune in the 70’s” type band, then it works for all of us.
Edward Sharpe actually lived up to all the glorious hype that their debut album Up From Below has garnered since its release last year. Ebert climbed off the stage and said hi to the massive, uncontainable crowd more than a few times, making everyone in the twilight set feel like they were part of his eclectic entourage.
“Janglin” brought about ecstatic crowd surfers and a euphoric sing along with their messiah, but it wasn’t until “Home” was played that I saw the Broad Street Stage explode and the audience reach an epic frenzy. The adjacent beer garden was literally shut down for an hour as it was filled to capacity. Whether you like hype or not, this is a band to see live… just to see it for yourself.
Bumbershoot Mainstage, 9:00 p.m.
And then Edward Sharpe finished up and the same crowd made a mass exodus to Bumbershoot’s Main Stage (Memorial Stadium) to see the one and only Bob Dylan. Oh man, where do I begin here? First of all, I must point out that I’m not a big Dylan fan. I appreciate him for what he is and what he has done, but his music has always been a bit too folksy for me. Or maybe it’s his voice. But I’m not alone – as it was, his voice was an issue for everyone at Bumbershoot. It was like we were all watching Adam Sandler do a Bob Dylan impression (“shaba daba da”). To say he mumbled was an understatement. Occasionally you might hear an actual word like “stoned” or “woman” thrown in there, but everything else was incoherent mumbo jumbo. If you looked around at the crowd, everyone’s faces were scrunched up in pure concentration trying to decipher just what the hell he was saying and what damn song was playing. You see, Dylan didn’t just slur onwards, he made tweaks to each and every song, almost changing the melody at times so that you didn’t actually realize what song you were listening to until half-way through.
This isn’t me ripping him apart, though. This was just the truth and what you get when you see Bob Dylan. But as confused and frustrated as it was to listen to, it was exciting – even enthralling – at the same time. Because it was Bob Dylan, man. The man who first plugged in that guitar. He’s still around, up there, doing his thing. Ignoring the lack of pronunciation (by the way I’m sure the American Sign Language interpreter they had was having a great time – what’s ASL for “question mark?”), Dylan seemed to be having a great time and played his guitar and keyboards (and, of course, that harmonica) with enthusiasm. His band too, was fast, tight, and cohesive – the drummer was really something, taking “Highway 61” to a whole new level. And though his classics like “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Just Like a Woman” almost became different songs in his hands, they were still a wonder to listen to, the genius is still there. I actually preferred these new versions to the old ones, it was like they were evolving before your eyes (and ears). I guess the moral here is, he’s Bob Dylan and he can do whatever the fuck he wants to do, but he did it with a smile on his face, which in turn, kept the packed to the rafters stadium crowd smiling too.
Gallery by Karina Halle
Sunday, Sept 5th: Reliving my teenage 90’s years
Center Square Stage, 3:00 p.m.
Unlike Saturday, which twittered between ominous clouds and teasing peeks of sunshine, Sunday was warm, sunny and full-on fabulous. What better way to harness that energy of the festival’s most rock-centric day, then to start with a crash course on the Crash Kings? I hadn’t heard much about the band aside from their single, but was told they might be worth checking out. And yeah, totally worth it. Composed of just a drummer, bassist, and lead singer on keyboards (with whammy bar), this LA trio put on an extremely high-energy and flawless show.
Sometimes it’s hard to really connect with a singer who spends most of his time behind a keyboard, but vocalist Tony Beliveau was a moving, crooning machine who got their young crowd in high spirits. And by high, I mean literally up there. The first crowd surfer appeared and then was quickly escorted by security out of the Center Square Stage area. But you can’t keep the kids down – soon surfer after surfer was being carried towards the stage, giving this Crash King set an infectious vibe that spread throughout out the grounds and caused people to wonder just which band was playing. As a fellow writer said to me, the show made him want to buy their record and that rarely happens.
The Redwood Plan
EMP Sky Church, 3:30 p.m.
A homegrown favourite, the poppy, punky Redwood Plan has been gathering a strong following in the Seattle area for their raucous live shows and danceable, rock pop beats. This was the first band I’d seen in the EMP Sky Church, a dark, trippy stage located in the Experience Music Project (right next to the gift shop, actually) and was the perfect venue for this band that had a bit of darkness to its lively riffs.
The riveting singer Lesli Wood played guitar, keyboards, and high-kicked her gym-shorts clad booty to the eventually-riled up crowd, whipping her shock of neon red hair around to the energetic swirl. The band’s moto is “We’re a party and you’re invited” – I suggest you all RVSP.
The Bouncing Souls
Center Square Stage, 4:45 p.m.
Wasn’t sure what to expect from these Jersey boys in 2010. In the 90’s I had some of their CDs in my wannabe punk collection and I know I must have seen a few of their shows, but that all kind of goes out the window when it’s been so long. At least that’s what I thought until I heard their opening song “Here We Go” when it all came back to me with poppy punk nostalgia. Yes, the guys are a lot older, but just as the tireless punk of Bad Religion carries on decades later, The Bouncing Souls do too. Singer Greg Attonito looked relaxed and affable as he jumped off the stage to greet fans in the crowd, a gentlemanly contrast to his fellow bandmates with their East Coast swagger, shredding riffs and decades worth of tattoos. The band played a lot of their classics, which the crowd seemed to know by heart, as well as a few new ones like the Rock Band featured “Gasoline,” which showcased a more pop-based Souls for the new decade.
State Farm Stage, 5:45 p.m.
After I was punked out from The Bouncing Souls, I checked out Jay Electronica at the State Farm Stage. I’m not big into hip-hop, especially live, but I figured I should try and add a little variety into my musical weekend. I probably could have picked a better hip hop artist to see. While Jay Electronica is a stunning wordsmith with personable delivery, his frequent excursions into a capella territory left me feeling all out of sorts. Where was the beat? Where was the rhythm? The rhyme was in his microphone but it wasn’t enough to keep the energy moving. And then there was the fact that he cut his performance short by 20 minutes. To tell you the truth, I stopped listening long before then. That said, it was highly entertaining to see him thwart the security guards by inviting half the crowd on stage with him. Maybe I need more than just clever rapping to keep me engaged but he sure as hell won over the audience with that move, not to mention the outstandingly talented kid Jahyaire he ended up freestyling with.
Bumbershoot Main Stage, 7:30 p.m.
Last time Courtney Love was in the Seattle Center, it was two days after Kurt Cobain’s death and she read his suicide note to the candlelit fans who had gathered there. Fast forward 16 years and she’s just as controversial as before. Love her or hate her, everyone in Seattle was talking about Courtney Love – she even made the cover of Seattle Weekly where her illustrated face had her injecting Botox into her lips using the Space Needle. A lot of Hole fans were there, judging by their 90’s era babydoll shirts, but most people wanted to see Love in order to witness the trainwreck first hand. I must admit, I was one of the latter.
Yet, that trainwreck didn’t happen. She took to the Main Stage at Memorial Stadium looking rather good, with a tiara on her head and a sleek black dress. She wasn’t as deathly skinny as she has been in recent years and her face looked pretty normal (then again, I wasn’t that up close). Of course, she was as loopy as ever (one only needs to hear about her unplugged media pre-show) but she performed surprisingly well. Hole is no longer the band it used to be – all of the original lineup is gone – but that didn’t stop Love from playing a rather tight set that spanned the spectrum of Hole’s career. “Violet” and “Malibu” sounded on-par and Love showed she could still scream and screech like a banshee, but at least it was in-tune, and at times sounded better than it had back in the day. Even if you didn’t think you knew a song, you’d find yourself screaming along to it anyway.
And she was personable, funny too. She put a lot of effort in getting the crowd to sing along, even during parts where there were no words (yeah, I’m not sure how that worked). During “Skinny Bitch”, Love ad-libbed “But I’m not (a Skinny Bitch). OK, well kind of. But I’m not the worst!”
There were some downfalls… I don’t have to go into the details of why her cover of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” was terrible. But Love did warn us “We suck at it. It’s awkward, charming at best.” Well, it was shoddy, brave at best – taking on a hometown hero probably didn’t put her in Seattle’s good books. On that note, the fact that she kept on referring to Seattle as “my hometown” did not go down well either with the audience. Every time the LA-based Love mentioned it, it prompted a flurry of “Oh, shut up. This ain’t your hometown. This is MY hometown” from people around me.
So, in a way Hole was disappointing in that you didn’t really get your trainwreck. On the plus side, it made for a fun and enjoyable set. I’m gonna steal a line from Ms. Love herself and say Hole was awkward, charming at best.
Bumbershoot Main Stage, 9:15 p.m.
With Hole done, the Main Stage crowd that had amassed for her suddenly multiplied and pushed on forward. I was carried all the way to the rail, a prime spot for Weezer. I had heard from various people that Weezer didn’t put on the best live shows, but that didn’t really matter to me. I’d never seen them live before, despite being a big fan in high school, and they were probably the only band at Bumbershoot that were a “must see” in my eyes. So I didn’t really care if they sucked live or not, I figured it would be a good time anyway.
And a good time it was. Actually, it was a great time. In fact, it was the most fun I had at a concert in a very long time. Let’s first start with the crowd, shall we? There were a lot of folks there who, like me, had been into Weezer in the 90’s but to my surprise, the majority of the crowd were teenagers. Enthusiastic, hardcore teenage Weezer fans. If Rivers Cuomo was the MC, these kids definitely made the show a party. They were jumping up and down, singing along to every single word in every single song, they were crowd surfing like crazy – just waves and waves of them plopping over the barrier, then running past the stage with a huge smile on their face (and usually with just one shoe in hand). There was even a crowd surfer who couldn’t have been more than 11-years old – he got major props and high-faves from the security guards who plucked him out of the crowd. This audience gave me hope for today’s young people – they weren’t going to watch the band with crossed arms, talking on their phones or gazing at their shoes. They knew that concerts were supposed to be FUN.
Naturally, it helped that it was a Weezer concert, and contrary to all things I had been told, they did not suck live whatsoever. Cuomo was an energetic, tireless nerd machine who set the tone of the evening from the rocking energy of the first song “Hashpipe” all the way to the encore of “Buddy Holly”, which had the entire band joining Josh Freese on a drum solo. In the middle, they played just about every song I knew… “Pork and Beans”, “Beverly Hills”, “My Name is Jonas”, “Undone”, “Island in the Sun”, “Say it ain’t so”, “El Scorcho”, “Dope Nose”, “Troublemaker” and their new song “Memories” (well-received, by the way). Let’s not forget a surreal cover of MGMT’s “Kids” complete with an interjection of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”, which brought out the best sight of the evening: Rivers Cuomo in a blond wig.
And when he wasn’t dressed in drag, Cuomo could be found scaling the stage scaffolding, playing hide and seek with the giant banners, leaping into the crowd to shake people’s hands, climbing on top of a portable toilet and giving fans high fives, bringing a child on stage to sing, hugging his various bandmates (bassist Scott Shriner and guitarist/drummer Patrick Wilson got most of the bro love) and dodging the rolls of toilet paper, giant beach balls and rubber chickens (yes, rubber chickens) that were thrown on stage. All while sounding on top of his game and looking like he was having the time of his life.
I don’t know if these means a new direction for Weezer’s live shows or not since I only have this to base it on, but whatever they are doing, it’s working. It’s been a few days now and I’m still smiling while I type this.
Gallery by Karina Halle
Monday, Sept 6th: Soggy and Subdued
Center Square Stage, 3:00 p.m.
Monday brought cold temperatures, wind and rain to the Seattle area, something that is usually expected but never welcomed. It definitely gave the last day of Bumbershoot a subdued, sad kind of feeling, though that probably had to do more with the fact that it was back to school for most kids the next day and that the onslaught of rain seemed to signal the official end of summer.
That said, there were still quite a few brave folks out there who weren’t going to miss out on their music and for me, I started with the Georgia band, The Whigs. They had been described as scrappy, Southern rock with an electrifying live show. I wouldn’t go as far as that, but they were fun to watch. The trio kept the soaked crowd moving and grooving, and they showed off their musical prowess by including a lot of piano-based songs like “Half the World Away”. There was nothing about them that stuck out in my mind, a lot of the guitar work was reminiscent of Better Then Ezra-era fuzz, but they were talented enough to garner your attention for the whole set, even in the rain.
Center Square Stage, 4:45 p.m.
Swampy. Sludgy. Shoegazing. Aside from genre alliteration, Baroness are all these things and more. To put it simply, they rock. As a fan, I knew this going into their soggy set and as usual, they didn’t disappoint. There were some sound problems thanks to the rain shorting out a lot of the system, but they powered through with their tireless, raging mix of flying locks, intricate guitar riffs, madcap drumming and booming vocals.
The crowd wasn’t moving so much due to the weather and the fact that a lot of the time with Baroness, you just want to listen to the complex patterns and soaring crescendos. But by the end of their set, a sizable audience had gathered, many of them just passerbys who were intrigued by their progressive metal sound. Yes, I am probably biased with my admiration for this band but a lot of the journalists I had talked to about Baroness, ended up thanking me for my recommendation. These boys are going far.
Broad Street Stage, 5:45 p.m.
Japandroids are Vancouver’s hometown heroes, even though the band doesn’t actually get that much play in our fair city. Whatever the reasons though, they are getting more than enough hype elsewhere and the hype is pretty much all warranted.
They had been described to me as “a two-piece Sonic Youth” but I would beg to differ. Sure there was noise, but Japandroids had bounce and melody splashed all over the distorted angst and fuzz. These unassuming guys, singer/guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse, were stereotypically Canadian in their apparent humbleness and shy banter (“We’re from Vancouver. We’re really sorry we brought this weather with us”), but still rocked out the wet crowd with an interesting and varied set. They weren’t boring, they weren’t typical (though “Here’s Your Money Back” had the catchiest, pop-type tune) – they were welcome addition to Bumbershoot.
Plus, they were the only set I saw that had people flinging spinning tortillas into the crowd onto the stage.
Jenny & Johnny (ft. Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice)
Starbucks Stage, 6:45 p.m.
I caught a bit of Jenny & Johnny as I made my way out of Flatstock 2010 (the music poster expo that had tons of artists with their original work) and joined them at the Starbucks Stage. I hadn’t caught an act at this stage before and as you can tell by the name, this is the stage that sounds like you’re sitting in a coffee house, listening to soft cooing, warm vibes and a touch of spice.
Jenny & Johnny is compromised of real life couple Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley) and Jonathan Rice . The duo’s collaboration is called I’m Having Fun Now and while I don’t know if anyone was having that much fun in the constant drizzle, it was pleasing set that attracted a variety of people from dance circle hippies to a guy dressed as a faded copper statue (I actually thought he was until I leaned against him). Lewis was a coy, charming personality that spread a little bit of light and joy across the huddled, pensive crowd.
Broad Street Stage, 7:30 p.m.
I had heard a lot about Surfer Blood. I was not expecting to see a bunch of 12-year olds on stage. I was also not expecting to be impressed by this band, and yet it happened. Now, I know they aren’t twelve but they do have that naive, youthful look about them that helps sell their Weezer-esque rock songs. They’ve said that the name Surfer Blood isn’t to be taken too literally in terms of their sound but at this show, I found it to be quite fitting. They had that happy, surf rock feel with a touch dark (and at times, wise) lyrics. Sounds like blood on a surfboard to me.
Wild Orchid Children
EMP Sky Church, 7:45 p.m.
As had been happening with a lot of bands this weekend, I was running again on recommendations. Someone told me to check out Wild Orchid Children, a Seattle-based band who apparently sounded a lot like the Mars Volta. Now, maybe I could see that in the various percussionists the band seemed to posses, but that’s where all comparisons end. And I know it’s lazy to make comparisons to other bands, but for this band I can’t help it. During the whole set, I couldn’t help but think this was Rage Against the Machine meets Portugal The Man or something akin to that. The Rage bit comes from vocalist Kirk Huffman with an artfully draped American Flag on his stand, and biting vocals a la Zach de la Rocha. The Portugal bit comes from the psychedelic rock flavorings that the eight-piece band brought forth with a mix of funk and thump.
I think the show might have been more enjoyable had the crowd inside the EMP Sky Church not been so thin (it was raining outside, so you would have thought there would have been more people inside the only indoor venue) and so dead. But it was Monday night and though the Children tried their best to be Wild, the audience could only handle so much. I’d like to see this band in another setting, on another day and see how my perspective changes.
Broad Street Stage, 9:15 p.m.
The piece de resistance for Bumbershoot was Portland indie band, The Thermals. Their name sounds warm and fuzzy but this trio knows how to rock. No-fi, neo-grunge, post-power-pop, alternative punk – whatever you want to call it, it probably falls into The Thermals repertoire. You would have thought that being one of the last bands to close out Bumbershoot, or at least the Broad Street Stage, in the rain would have equaled a sparse crowd, but people were here to see them and say goodbye to the festival in style. The band was cynical, catchy and smart. There was a dance party in the crowd, an encore of “My Name is Jonas” and a feeling of never wanting the set to end.
But like all festivals, Bumbershoot did have to come to an end. And even though it ended on a soggy note, the relaxed, friendly festival brought a bit sunshine to everyone’s ears.
Gallery by Karina Halle