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Last Labor Day weekend I desperately needed to escape the disagreeable, torturous heatwave. So I made a last minute decision to fly to Seattle and bumbershoot. As luck would have it, my spontaneity provided for a much more temperate and rainless 70 degree haven.
The Bumbershoot Festival has been running 37 years strong and every year it seems to progress into a bigger and better animal. Situated within the spacious Seattle Center amidst the Experience Music Project and the Space Needle, Bumbershoot attracts nearly everyone within the Seattle area and even a few festival nuts like myself who make spontaneous decisions to travel out of state. Between seven music stages and nearly one hundred and fifteen artists to choose from, I certainly got my music fix for Labor Day weekend.
Portland, Oregon was well represented at the Bumbershoot Festival. Bands like Stars of Track and Field, Viva Voce, and Menomena played astounding sets. Their performances completely overshadowed any of the Seattle acts I saw. Stars of Track and Field jammed through minimal, keyboard-based indie rock gems from their 2006 release Centuries of Love and War as well as new tunes from their forthcoming album. Sunglasses-clad frontman Kevin Calaba gracefully executed pristine three part harmonies that impressed me more live than on record.
The American indie rock duo Viva Voce played through songs from their latest Barsuk effort Get Yr Blood Sucked Out. Kevin and Anita are husband and wife and I believe that it shows in their playful yet commanding performance. Kevin came onstage sporting local love: an Easy Street Records t-shirt. Sporadically joking with the audience, he led the two through "Believer", "We Do Not Fuck Around", and my personal favorite "Helicopter". Their brand of southern tinged indie rock can be most clearly seen in the harmonica, guitar solo-driven "Believer".
Menomena absolutely amazed me. I stumbled upon the seventeen person chorus in the middle of their set. I've never seen anything like it, except maybe Polyphonic Spree. They played dramatic experimental rock songs from their latest release Friend And Foe, most notably the album opener "Muscle'n Flo". Their songs were impressive live thanks to the tremendous backing chorale. Think The Flaming Lips only much more experimental.
Devotchka concluded my first night of Bumbershoot with an Eastern European bang. Ever since they scored Little Miss Sunshine, I've become a huge follower. Immediately thereafter, I became familiar with their extensive catalogue of what I like to call gypsy-core. With unusual instruments like the bouzouki, theremin, sousaphone, accordion, and the tuba, Denver natives Devotchka proved that they are overly qualified for headlining. They played crowd pleasers like "Queen of the Surface Streets" from their 2003 release Una Volta as well as "The Enemy Guns" and "Twenty-Six Temptations" from their 2004 release How It Ends. Despite a small Seattle boy thrashing violently beside me, nearly head-butting all of his surroundings, I enjoyed myself. After all, one should expect an Eastern European dance party of sorts.
I didn't even know there was a venue inside the Experience Music Project, which bears a striking resemblance to our very own Downtown Disney Music Hall, until my friend asked me if I had seen any shows there. Between seven music stages and over a hundred bands, I hadn't initially planned on seeing anyone inside the shiny metallic building. However, my friend urged me to go in and at least peruse the venue itself. I was dumbfounded when I entered the lavish settings. Bands were playing in front of a gargantuan fifty foot LED light show and little webs of netting and disco balls hung down from the ceiling, infrequently bobbing as though they were jellyfish. This place would have been perfect for any of the acts I saw at the festival yet they reserved EMP as the location for smaller, on the fringe artists. I caught two amazing local Seattle bands while I was there.
First, I saw the youthful and entertaining Siberian. Their music contains a lot of elements I closely associate with Seattle: dreamy vocals, shimmering harmonies, and emotional landscapes. I would go as far as to say that they're at the forefront of the next round of post-Coldplay bands. It should come as no surprise that their indubitably catchy hit "Soft Rain" has graced local airwaves, earning loads of local praise.
Second, I saw the heavily 70's influenced indie rock band Fleet Foxes. I had recently read that they have been recording with one of my dream producers, Phil Ek. Phil records out of Seattle and he has worked with the likes of Built To Spill, The Shins, dios Malos, Irving, Band of Horses, and Sea Wolf. It didn't surprise me that Fleet Foxes was recording with such an illustrious producer because their music is absolutely staggering. Think the whimsical meanderings of The Shins and the lonely country acoustic ballads of Neil Young, circa the Harvest days. I was enthralled enough to sit through their entire set and if their album gets a proper release this year, then it could easily ascend into the coveted "albums of the year" category.
Excluding the mainstage, Andrew Bird drew the largest crowd the entire festival and for good reason. Bird immaculately layered violin licks and whistled vibrato to a massively packed Starbucks Stage. Although I was entirely disappointed that he wasn't playing solo with spinning gramophones (yes, he can pull it off himself), I'm sure I got Bird at his best. With the help of his two piece backing band, he played through a varied set comprised of both new ("Simple X", "Armchairs", "Heretics", "Plasticities", "Imitosis") and old ("A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left", "Fake Palindromes", "Measuring Cups") songs.
I caught a little of Joan As Police Woman on the neglected Wells Fargo Stage. She played a large part of her set solo. Her beautiful vocal styling was orchestrated by means of grand piano. Luckily, I stuck around for her band to rejoin because otherwise I might have missed my favorite song off of her debut full-length Real Life, "Eternal Flame". I also managed to see Sufjan Stevens' counterpart Shara Worden and her solo project My Brightest Diamond. Her voice is probably one of the most unique instruments I heard all festival long. With pristine pitch and utmost precision, Shara performed songs from her latest Asthmatic Kitty release Bring Me The Workhorse.
Ohmega Watts touted himself as a one man band as he took stage. I watched him MC his way through a set of sample-soaked hip hop. He even brought Lightheaded on stage to push through his set with him. Sampling everything from Dr. Dre to his own material, Ohmega kept the hands thrown in the air.
Other notable non-main stage acts included Blue Scholars, who replaced Ryan Shaw, and Barrington Levy, who beat Sean Paul at his own dance hall game.
The Avett Brothers ravaged through a set showcasing tunes from their latest release Emotionalism. They played all of my favorites including: "Shame", "Paranoia In Bb Major", "The Weight Of Lies", "Will You Return?". I've seen them twice now and even if a bluegrass-y Beatles doesn't sound intriguing, you'd surely be impressed by their raucous energy.
I read somewhere in the festival pamphlet that The Blakes were lauded as "the next Modest Mouse". So I was obligated to check it out. I was pretty disappointed because they sounded more like a poor man's Kings of Leon. Speaking of which, I caught Kings of Leon on the main stage and they were thrilling. Their live performance encapsulates all of the energy that their latest effort Because of the Times exudes. They even played the seven minute album opener "Knocked Up", by far my favorite track on the album. It's no surprise that a band of this stature scored main stage status. They definitely out performed other main stage acts like Gym Class Heroes. Although the crowd was captured by their performance, I felt otherwise. They played revamped versions of "Clothes Off!", "Viva La White Girl", "New Friend Request", and the obligatory "Cupid's Chokehold". I've seen them in much smaller venues before they graced national airwaves via KISS FM and I must say that they were more entertaining up close, as opposed to from afar in a stadium-like venue.
Other main stage acts such as Joss Stone, John Legend, and Lupe Fiasco killed it. John Legend has a ridiculous voice that made me get down with my bad self. I actually danced with a bunch of random mothers in the pit. Lupe Fiasco caught me off guard by playing the CRS song "Us Placers", which appears on Kanye's latest mix tape. I loved every moment of his show, especially the Food and Liquor songs like "Kick Push". Joss Stone shattered glass with her soulful vocals. I'm pretty sure that there's a huge black woman stuck inside of her. With a chorus of backing singers and a full-fledged band, Joss rocked the house.
Smoosh was the one thing that got me up and rolling on my third day of bumbershooting. Despite my bruised feet and aching muscles, I managed to get to the Seattle Center bright and early to catch the 13 and 15 year old sister duo. It was beachball and kid mania! Everyone was enjoying their Monday off and what better way to enjoy it than watching the youngest act of the Bumbershoot lineup. Aside from being entirely adorable, Asya and Chloe, and occasionally the even younger sister Maia, jammed through piano-rock songs from their irresistible Barsuk album Free To Stay. Yes, the fact that Chloe's drum mentor is Jason McGerr (of Death Cab For Cutie) easily sways me. However, the rudimentary pop sensibility displayed throughout songs like "Find A Way" and "Free To Stay" is impressive, especially since they're so young.
The Watson Twins did not surprise or disappoint. They played a seemingly lackluster set of songs from their debut EP Southern Manners and premiered a few new ones from their forthcoming album. I'm pretty sure everyone who was there was merely there because of the inextricable Jenny Lewis ties.
I watched a brilliant spoken word performance by Sage Francis, which came off as more of a stand-up comedy routine than anything. My brother had seen him in New York a few months back and suggested that I catch him. I'm glad I did because he was so entertaining that I decided to see him last thursday night in LA shooting for a potential DVD release. I suppose this spoken word gig is going fairly well for him, perhaps even better than his rapping career. My favorite joke all night was his explanation of bumbershoot:
"You don't know what a bumbershoot is? You know when you're giving sweet anal and shit starts splattering everywhere? Yeah! That's the Jackson Pollock. No! It's when you keep going and the fecal matter collects in the urethra of your dick. So much in fact that a little shit cork is created. And then when you take it out...Yeah that's ass to mouth. That's also major hygiene violation, but yes. So when you're there and it all collects, all the spermies come together and they create like power propulsion. Like a water rocket. You know water rockets? And then your shaft goes boom and pshh. And you shoot a hole right through the motherfucker's head. Bumbershoot. Did you know that one in five Americans don't know what a bumbershoot is? Why is that? I personally believe that US Americans don't know what a bumbershoot is because there aren't enough nasty, sexual acts in our country."
I love Seattle humor. I belong here.
Overall, the Bumbershoot Festival was a glorious three day music bender that made me re-think residing in Los Angeles for twenty some odd years. I know I was there during a weather anomaly, but even if it had been raining and cold I would have remained just as inspired. The general consensus was that for thirty-five measly dollars a day, you get way more than what you bargained for. You don't have to sustain the gross heat of the desert and there's no other festival that is as comprehensive. Bumbershoot was an amazing experience and I simply couldn't have chosen anything better to do with my Labor Day weekend. I'll definitely be bumbershooting next year.
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