Bumbershoot 2011 Day Two
(September 4th, 2011 – Seattle, Washington)
**Atari Teenage Riot
Maybe it was a mistake to kick-off the second, glorious, sunny day of Bumbershoot (a fun, colloquial way of saying umbrella), Seattle’s annual international music and arts festival, by arriving at 6pm after seven hours on an airplane, and walking straight into the dark pit of the Exhibition Hall music stage. Watching Anti-Flag rage incoherently about social injustice to a group of half-interested, disaffected, fans who couldn’t be convinced to mosh or crowd surf despite the abundance of signs expressly forbidding such acts of rebellion, was a doomed endeavor from the start. Anti-Flag may be considered punk, but their Bumbershoot performance was more like preppy-hardcore. To their credit, all four members look impossibly young (they were playing shows in 1988—when I was six—a fact that you’d find impossible to believe if you’d have seen the way they skipped onto the stage and bounced about clutching their wireless electric guitars like Adderall induced teenagers playing Rock Band), but while the band’s physical appearance has made the necessary 21st century adjustments, their sound has not, and no amount of screaming or goading between songs, was going to turn the meager, apathetic audience into the thrashing punk kids to whom Anti-Flag owes their former glory. The sentiment—“This Machine Kills Fascists”—painted on the front of one guitar, suggests that the band believes their message still resonates with the protest music of previous generations, a fact that, unfortunately may only be true for fans who can manage to reconcile it with the freshly showered pop-punk-prince appearance of the band’s everlasting members; a feat I certainly wasn’t capable of in my surly, ripe-off-the-plane condition.
Bumbershoot is held in the Seattle Center, originally designed to house the 1962 World’s Fair, featuring a sunken fountain the size of a house, a monorail, and a phenomenal view of the space needle. The best decision I made in the first-formative hours of my time at Bumbershoot was to avoid (post Anti-Flag facto) most shows taking place in indoor arenas (with the exception of one event at Key Arena, which, maybe because it serves beer that can actually be consumed outside of a beer corral, manages to be a reasonably satisfying indoor venue). The impeccably clean open-air environment at Bumbershoot (I never once saw an overflowing garbage can or felt filthy sitting on the shag-rug soft grass that covers the lawns, and the bathrooms were stench free and stocked with TP) offered exceptional visibility and circulation, and allowed such an easy flow of traffic between sets that the decision to take any of these artists indoors would seem ponderous if it weren’t for Bumbershoot’s annual tradition of taking place under a cloudy, rainy sky.
**The Butthole Surfers
The Butthole Surfers on the Fisher Green Stage (one of three, large, outdoor arenas) provided a welcome counter-point to my Anti-Flag debacle. The air was fresh and warm, the breeze was nice, and whoa! Butthole Surfers are actually pretty awesome. They played to a remarkably young crowd, which reawakened my guilty feelings about hanging a Butthole Surfers poster up in my room as a teenager–not because I’d ever heard their music, but because I thought their name was cool and might piss my parents off. It was good to find out that this band might still be around because they’ve actually got a lot to offer, while they were once deeply rooted in hardcore punk, now the band seems to lean into a calmer, happier, more psychedelically inspired sound that suits them well.
Also satisfying was the open air performance by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend Leon Russell (who looked more God-Gone-Country than ever before) and his band of merry music makers at the Starbucks Stage. A cover of “Wild Horses” and Russell’s shimmering white beard were a smash hit combination, and the considerably older crowd danced with more enthusiasm to the countrified beats than any audience I’d seen before it.
**Toro y Moi
After the sun set, Toro y Moi stole the award for show of the day with a solid and exuberant set. All my praise to the Fountain Stage, easily the most accessible, beer drinker friendly of the three outdoor venues offered. The music on this stage was often some of the best available, but what really set it apart was it’s digital screen. Thanks to Chazwick Bundick’s post-chillwave musical gymnastics and the mystery figure in charge of the mesmerizing graphics displayed behind them, tantalizing the dance-ready crowd, Toro y Moi’s performance was the most enjoyed-by-all show of the day.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the biggest loser was not actually Anti-Flag or Carbon Leaf (who I saw last, and whose peace-and-love warblings left me feeling mildly nauseated), but The Kills who played a disappointing closing set on the Fisher Green Stage. Having heard live recordings of The Kills before, I knew their drums had a tendency to sound thin and their vocals too quiet, so I wasn’t looking forward to hearing them so much as I was to seeing them. Alison Mosshart, is usually one hell of a hot, hot mess, and the band’s video for “Last Day of Magic” promises that so much dynamic sexual chemistry exists between the two band members that I could hardly resist wanting to see what would happen on the live stage. Unfortunately, in a festival filled with mostly well behaved musicians, The Kills opted to play the divas, finally taking the stage thirty-minutes after they were slated to play (sure, blame the sound guy). The ultimate effect was thin and unsatisfying, as expected, but what’s worse, Mosshart seemed more strung-out than she seemed sexy, and there was something desperate about the way she was climbing up on the speakers and flinging her hair around so early in the set.
For a half-day of frantic music indulgence, I would have preferred a more tightly knit layout with less musical options, but having attended the sweltering, overcrowded Capitol Hill Block Party earlier in the summer, I was ultimately grateful for the spacious design and open accessibility of Bumbershoot’s stages, and with the sun pounding down even in the waning hours of daylight, I have to attest to the genius of organizing a summer music festival around an enormous, relief granting fountain.
** Photographs taken by Steven Smith