Friday, September 13, 2013

Bumbershoot: Day Three Retrospective

Day Three of Bumbershoot was, as always, on Labor Day, so someone apparently had to go to the top of the Space Needle and hoist an American flag.  Jobs I'm glad that I don't have to take. . .  

Here's another.  This jackass was protesting, or testifying or witnessing or something, in front of the main gate. I'm not even sure of his point - is he saying that covetousness is idolatry, as is materialism, pornography, etc.?  In other words, is covetousness his only complaint, or is he listing all of the things he doesn't like?  Anyway, the front of the Bumbershoot main gate may not be the best place to win converts away from music. "Well, I was going to go listen to rock music, but now that I see your sign, I've changed my mind," said no one, anywhere.

But to his point, the festival was overrun all weekend with zombies.  I had forgotten to mention that up to this point.

But on to the music.  The first band of the day was a jazzy afro-pop group called Cascadia '10 performing at the Fisher Pavilion.  They were scheduled to play Bumbershoot last year, and I had even gone to their stage to see them, but they had to cancel at the last minute due to some mishap, and instead another afro-pop group, The Jefferson Rose Band (I think) filled in for them.  In any event, it was nice to finally see Cascadia '10 themselves, and sunny afro-pop is always a good way to start a day.

Meanwhile, over at the Fountain Lawn, BellaMaine, an indie-pop band from Anacortes, Washington, were playing.  The sunny, happy mood continued.

Even the zombies seemed happy.

I had three passes to the KEXP Music Lounge for the day, and for the first time, they weren't for the opening, noontime performance, nor were they all together.  The first Music Lounge performance for me on Day Three was the North Carolina band Superchunk, performing at 1:15 pm.

Superchunk played a tight, ass-kicking set, but founding bassist Laura Ballance was notably absent.  Reportedly, she's not touring due to hyperacusis, a hearing condition, and in her place was touring bassist Jason Narducy.

After the kick in the pants from Superchunk, I went over to the Fountain Lawn to really get my ass kicked, this time by Brooklyn's The Men.  If I had waned to see the band Alt-J, this would have been my chance. However, the line to get into Key Arena was staggeringly long - I probably would have had to get in line sometime around noon if I had really wanted to get in.  But I have tickets to see them Sept. 23 back home in Atlanta, and anyway, I didn't want my whole day devoted to seeing one band (and in an indoor basketball arena at that), so The Men seemed like the better option.  They were loud, aggressive, raw, and near perfect, rendering yesterday's debate about who was more punk, FIDLAR or Broncho, moot.  They have no one specific frontman and everybody takes turns at lead vocals, but it doesn't matter, because you can't hear the vocals over the guitars and walls of Marshall amps, anyway.    

The Men

I knew The Men would be playing in Portland's relatively small club Dante's, and I shuddered to imagine how their loud volume would sound in that little space.  

Meanwhile, back in the audience, zombies were devouring Miss Seattle.

I wasn't sure what the transition from The Men to Lissie was going to be like, as I wasn't sure is she was a pop singer or a rocker.  But over at the Starbucks Stage, I was relieved to find that she was a rocker, shredding on guitar when she needed to as she belted out her songs.  It was actually a nice way to come back down to earth after The Men.

My second Music Lounge set was at 3:45 by the acoustic bluegrass band Trampled By Turtles.  They played superbly and the vocals were soothing, but after all of the adrenaline and excitement of the previous acts, I almost fell asleep in the dark, cool Music Lounge.  I heard several people, folks close to my own age, tell me that the Turtles' set was the high point of the festival for them, and I might have been inclined to agree but for my mood that day.  As it was, the set was a nice little opportunity to recharge myself for a final push through the last day. 

Outside, it was still zombies.  I got something to eat (not brains), and went back to the Music Lounge for a decidedly more energetic set.

We've seen The Joy Formidable before, during MFNW 2011 at the Wonder Ballroom, at Music Midtown that same year, and this year at Atlanta's inaugural Shaky Knees festival. But we've never seen them this close or in as intimate a setting as the KEXP Music Lounge. 

This set was a warm-up of sorts for their later performance at the Fisher Pavilion, but they still held nothing back for this late afternoon set. 

More damn zombies.

Despite the presence of the undead, it was time to prepare for the final 1-2-3 punch of the Bumbershoot schedule.  To get a good position in the crowd for the first of the last three performance, I went over to the Plaza Stage early and enjoyed the slightly gothic, country-rock sounds of Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands.

I got the rail for Seattle's Ivan & Alyosha, but wound up giving it up to a younger and far shorter fan. Still, I had a great, unobstructed view for their uplifting set of folk-pop songs.

They closed their set with their popular song, Be Your Man.

Ivan and Alyosha were the 1 of the 1-2-3 finale.  Number 2 was Atlanta's own Deerhunter, playing at the Fountain Lawn.  Despite the large crowd and my late arrival a mere couple minutes before the set began, I still managed to get a reasonably good position in the audience.

Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox was as confrontational as ever.  He wore a similar wig to the one he wore on his infamous Jimmy Fallon performance, and after one particular song, he told the laid-back Seattle audience, “I'd heard Seattle crowds are crazy, but this is something else."  He went on, sarcastically mimicking Mick Jagger pleading with the Altamont audience to calm down.  "I'm not going to sing on this next song," he declared. "I don't want to be singing when the world ends in a whimper and not a bang.” Guitarist Locket Pundt wound up handling the vocals on Desire Lines.

After Blue Agent, Cox thanked the audience for their "polite applause,” and announced “Here's a polite song,” launching into The Missing

But in the end, he delivered the goods, using several of the songs as launching pads for extended psych-rock excursions and experiments in feedback and pedal effects, particularly at the end of Nothing Ever Happens.  At the end of Monomania, his vocals were looped over and over on top of themselves, building up into a wall of sound.  Cox and the band then unceremoniously left the stage without announcement even as the instruments still squealed. It seemed like an encore might be possible as the stage remained lit and the feedback showed no signs of stopping, but those of us who saw him leave the Fallon stage knew he was not coming back (he didn't). 

There was a huge crowd in front of the Fisher Pavilion stage to see The Joy Formidable for the final set of the night.  However, I had learned a neat trick over the past three days - instead of standing at the back of the crowd hoping to press forward for a better view (like I had for Crystal Castles), I walked all the way around the crowd and down a stairway that marks one edge of the audience space, which put me near the front of the crowd, although at an extreme angle to the stage.  However, people don't seem to mind when someone works their way sideways through a crowd and even back a little nearly as much as they resent someone who tries to move forward, and soon I was standing near stage right about six rows of people back from the stage.  It wasn't as good a view as in the Music Lounge, but it was better than about 90% of the rest of the audience. 

But then a funny thing happened:  The Joy Formidable was playing their set when the drum mics suddenly failed. Lead singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan seemed at a loss of what to say, and blamed the drummer for always having something “explode” at their shows.  She soon ran out of stage banter and told everyone that the band was going to go backstage for a few minutes while the crew fixed the problem.

A good amount of time passed and The Joy Formidable still hadn’t come back out.  The crowd began to get impatient, and calls for the band's return started turning to taunts. This wasn't going well, but after about 10 minutes, the band finally reappeared on stage and completed their set.

Fortunately for everybody, both the redemptive qualities of rock 'n' roll and the audience's capacity for forgiveness overcome the earlier awkwardness, and the band got huge applause and a call for an encore at the end of their set. 

And that, then, was the end of Bumbershoot 2013, the best Bumbershoot in my limited experience (three consecutive years).    The final 1-2-3 punch of Ivan and Alyosha, Deerhunter, and The Joy Formidable was every bit as satisfying as expected, despite Cox' taunting and the Formidable mishap.  In addition to that 1-2-3 finale, highlights included the wild and crazy Beats Antique show, !!!, and the chance to watch Thao twice in one day (Joy Formidable, too).  In fact, all of the Music Lounge sets were great, and everything was run with perfect timing.  

A short walk back to my hotel, past the KEXP studio, and finally a chance to rest my feet and get some sleep before starting MFNW in Portland the next day.

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