1:30 PM The Promenade Stage
Katie Kate, the lady hip-hoper with half-a-head of long blond hair, and Seattle’s heart in the palm of her hand, is funny. She’s local and while her raps aren’t changing the world, they are socially relevant on a local level. She finesses the crowd (when I arrived she was assuring them, “You’re the people who matter”), she wails lines like “read my motherfucking tote bag,” and tosses quality canvas totes into the audience. She jokes afterward that QFC (the local grocery chain) won’t keep her from being happy (a reference to a newly imposed Seattle law banning plastic bags and requiring a five-cent fee for large paper bags with handles). The audience, understandably, loves the hell out of her. But: that does not mean she can rap or sing. She can write rhymes, and honestly, listening to her is fun because she’s sharp and snarky, but her attempts to successfully co-opt the hip-hop style and sound, and pair it with the yuppie experience of Seattle daily life could be a train wreck in the face of a broader, more diverse audience. Her singing voice is about as nuanced as a high school cheerleader’s—a reality she (or her production team) will ultimately have to face and conquer.
2:15 PM Tune-In Stage
I really love Eldridge Gravy & the Court Supreme. This thirteen person funk band boasts a lead singer stylin’ like the Madhatter (even wearing the requisite miniature hat under which there is, presumably, a drunken mouse hiding), who seriously seems to enjoy his role as bandmaster of the bizarre, and encourages the audience to dance, which they do happily, tirelessly, and largely without the aid of traditional inhibition eliminators (it was, after all only 2:15). Sure, Parliament is the period at the end of Funk’s sentence, but the Court Supreme provides the next two periods, giving that sentence an ellipses.
3 PM The Promenade Stage
The Knowmads are a local hip-hop outfit. They opened their set with a live-sample style cover of “People Get Ready,” courtesy of their vocally-endowed female accompaniment, who I had hoped was a regular part of the team, but who is not featured in the band’s website bio. The crowd was packed into the narrow corridor to see Knowmads, making me seriously consider the wisdom behind placing this new stage in a dead end outdoor hallway. The space handles bass well, and the overall sound is great, but you have to wonder what might happen if someone yelled “Fire!”
No matter, Knowmads hollered out to Seattle’s 206 area code and the rain city, and the crowd loved it. Unfortunately, their music ends up evoking memories of Eminem. Their set list even included a weird suicidal, drug addicted desperation song similar to the kind that Eminem popularized. While many fans might feel a kinship with that kind of confessional hip hop, I couldn’t help but suspect that the sentiments were more than a little contrived. Their performance was not a fail, but it was also not a win.
4 PM Tune-In Stage
Who is responsible for booking Yelawolf? That’s a serious question. I would like to meet that person and probably offer them a slap across some portion of their face. I don’t care that as soon as Yelawolf made his appearance onstage people came running to see him. I don’t care that almost everyone within eyeshot seemed to know the baffling lyrics to his rhymes, or that he made weird passive aggressive comments about Eminem (most likely as a response to the common criticism that he sounds exactly like him) (everyone here is rapping like Eminem today), or that he presents himself like a trashy nightmare, like the real time version of the horribly obtuse boy you were none-the-less charmed by in junior high, who roughly manhandled you under the bleachers one day and then promptly dumped you, who, it turns out, never left your home town, never got much for himself beyond a few really offensive tattoos, and who still manhandles women under bleachers whenever possible. I don’t care about the fact that a couple of songs into his set Yelawolf accidentally referred to Seattle as San Francisco. I don’t care if he was once fifteen years old and “sleeping under that fucking [space] needle.” I don’t care if the whole thing is an act, and I don’t care if it isn’t. I never, ever, want to hear another word out of Yelawolf’s mouth ever again—ever.
A rant regarding screen-printing: Each year Bumbershoot provides swag to festival attendees courtesy of its corporate sponsors. Last year, screen printed canvas tote bags were the hot item, and this year was no different. Well, except that it was different. I learned exactly how different right around 5 PM when I devoted myself to procuring one. Last year the Toyota sponsored bag line was located south of the Fisher Green Stage (known to us as the Tune-In stage) nestled between the stage lawn’s southern edge and a building flanked by two tall stairways to the east and west, leading up to the festival’s outer ring of vendors. This year the line was located to the north of the fountain, just south of the Sub Pop stage, and stretching across a main thoroughfare between the festival’s inner and outer pedestrian rings. This means the line was relocated from a place where it was entirely out of the way, convenient to access, and partly covered in shade, to a place where it created undo stress and congestion. Did I mention that the line was probably thirty feet away from the entrance to Sub Pop’s beer garden, which often had a line of its own snaking down from the south? And that it ran so closely parallel to the beer garden’s southern fence that traffic also bottle necked there, and a Bumbershoot employee had to constantly encourage those waiting in the line to please move away from the fence?
Add to this the fact that last year’s two-person screen printing operation was reduced to a single screen printer using the only available device (there were two prints to choose from last year, this year only one), who took casual breaks every ten bags or so to yuck it up with one of the many other festival employees he (pronoun specific to my experience) was acquainted with, and you have a lot of unneeded aggravation and chaos. The bag itself: totally cool. The design is of an owl with wing’s made of guitars, eyes of a sun and a moon, and a midsection featuring the Space Needle. Worth the hastle? Probably not.
6:45 PM Sub Pop Stage
Mudhoney’s performance put me back at ease with the world. This is what a Sub Pop band should sound like. Why don’t they sound like this anymore?
Aside from the fact that the sound team got off to a rough start, causing the occasional squeal and some inconsistent vocal coverage, and the other fact that Sub Pop’s stage has an enormous screen across it’s rear wall, which is horribly distracting and glaring during a dusky sunset show, and which often features the artists covered in weird visual effects that are supposed to look cool (“Oh look honey, the drummer’s arm just turned into a waterfall!”) Mudhoney’s show was a perfectly self-justifying addition to Sub Pop’s line up.
7:15 PM The Promenade Stage
Earlier, before my bag buying debacle, I had wandered past Deep Sea Diver playing on the Free Radio mini stage (located under the same tent as the screen printers), and I wish I would have stopped and listened to them then instead of attempting to mount the quivering wall of people at The Promenade Stage. Was there nothing else happening at 7:15 that evening? Did somebody tweet a flash mob? Why were there so many people at the show, when the afternoon’s intimate cameo performance went largely ignored? Who knows.
Deep Sea Diver actually sounds like the kind of bands that Sub Pop has been signing lately; they did not rock my world, but they did play a new song, which I’m sure made their fans salivate.
I did not last long at this show, which is why I can also tell you all about what happened here:
7:30 PM Tune-In Stage
Lee Fields & the Expressions were this year’s Charles Bradley. Don’t look at me askance, the acts are so similar that I couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Bradley had also graced the same stage, right around the same time of day, last year. Bradley’s performance is admittedly more hard-luck story meets Vegas (sequin’s adorned each costume he wore) and Fields is more she-broke-my-heart-so-I-turned-to-god gospel (he praised the audience frequently, saying, “I love you! Are you happy?”) but their soul-spilling, guttural blues vocals are really similar, and they are both well rewarded for the energy they exude. A happy crowd, indeed.
A side note: I couldn’t find a specific booth or vendor dedicated to selling band swag and apparel, so I appreciated Lee Fields shameless plugging of his album and his gear. At least that way the audience knew there was some available.
8:30 PM Sub Pop Stage
Waiting for a show to start after dark in front of the Sub Pop stage is a lot like standing in a dressing room in Forever 21. You feel ugly, impatient, and somehow totally frozen in place, and the light shining into your eyes illuminates more than you’d really care to see. It’s bright enough to write by, and I’m at least 100 feet from the stage.
I like country, but I don’t like Blitzen Trapper’s style of country. Country that won’t admit it’s country. Country that has never lived anywhere near a cow, calls pomade hair gel and wears too much of it, but still wants to act like it knows its way around a barn. Country that sings like an Georgian debutante and tucks in it’s pants while describing itself as some new musical rebel genre, a love child made by rock-n-roll and bluegrass (or whatever name is currently popular for hip music that twangs). Blitzen Trapper’s country, is a country that hates reindeer. They also seem to hate the song “Hey Joe,” which they covered with minimal effort, and maximum disappointment.
9 PM The Promenade Stage
Thenewno2 knows a thing or two about marketing (even their name smacks of internet start-up). They also have a solid grip on the usefulness of a simple icon. About five minutes before the start of the show, masks and stickers were spread through out the crowd, these depicted a figure that is hard to describe but easy to identify: think Picasso’s abstract version of a Pac-Man ghost, white, lopsided but still geometrically recognizable, and lacking a significant portion of its lower half.
They also know a thing or two about hype and mystery: a hooded band member hunched behind an equally shrouded organ or some other kind of electronic mystery device at the rear of the stage for the duration of my viewing experience.
I was stoked for this show, had even decided it was going to be this season’s big take home, the new favorite, surprise of the festival. This just shows how gullible I am, how susceptible to clever marketing strategies. The show began to disappoint the moment the lead singer opened is mouth, a mouth that provides smooth, clean, lyrics which immediately smashed my hopes for some weird howling or otherworldly whispering. Hype is good, but hype without payoff is not good, and even if I had been jumping up and down in a sea of eerily masked dancers, I don’t think I would have been satisfied by the Thenewno2’s sound.
9:15 PM Tune-In Stage
I had to go see Keane because about ten years ago, I loved Keane. I had never seen them live, but their album Hopes and Fears had struck a particularly angsty chord with me at the time, and I needed to know how well they held up.
I will not describe my shame or regret in detail, but I will say that Keane’s lead singer has the face of a spoiled child, and he writes music to match, music so overproduced I swear I saw Britney Spears and Kayne West cringe.