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Bumbershoot 2012: Day 3 Review

1 PM Starbucks Stage

Monday afternoon was easy. The crowds hadn’t yet swelled into unbearable, impossible to navigate masses (I hope I’m not the only one who felt that this year’s festival was way too crowded), and it was even a good time to stop along the vendor fairways and peruse the goods, although doing so made me wonder about the vendor vetting process—why was there a tent dedicated exclusively to high thread-count sheets? Who buys sheet sets at a music festival? Beyond the obvious import options, hemp threads, handmade jewelry, and the disappointing lack of artist related swag, there wasn’t too much exciting stuff to buy. The Bumbershoot gear was made out of incredibly soft bamboo, which was a nice touch, but I preferred the assortment of vintage clothing and sunglasses being sold a few stalls away.

**Reignwolf

The Starbucks stage was well attended, and the early afternoon crowd was geared up to hear some rock-n’-roll. Reignwolf plays big so no one was disappointed. Otherwise known as Jordon Cook, Reignwolf attacks the guitar like a vicious and starved canine might maul an unsuspecting bunny. His instruments (he used more than one gorgeous guitar during his set) didn’t even have time to be taken by surprise before being thoroughly shredded. This was exactly the kind of show I wanted to see at Bumbershoot. Reignwolf’s music made everyone move, it made everyone feel like they were experiencing the exhilaration of summer, it did not smack of an imminent and long winter, it did not suggest that Reignwolf’s life is primarily spent staring out into a mesh curtain of drizzle. It even made me feel as if this festival, which had started out on such low, dispassionate notes, might yet reach its climax.

2 PM Sub Pop Stage

The new Sub Pop acquisition, Debo Band, is an Ethiopian funk band out of Boston. That description may be a bit confusing, but their music is anything but. With brass, horns, strings, and an exceptional vocalist, Debo Band clarified a period of music that had been previously shrouded in historical ambiguity (at least for me). Of all African music (inspired or authentic), Ethiopian has always struck me as the least accessible. But what the band refers to as “swinging Addis” in reference to late 60s and early 70s pop from that region of Ethiopia, sounded fresh, lively, and enticing. I was glad to have wandered into this exhibition of global music, and especially excited to see Sub Pop representing a wholly different kind of talent.


**Debo Band

2:15 PM Tune-In Stage

Monday was unofficially world music day at Bumbershoot, and while Debo Band finished out their set, Bombino, the stage name used by Tuareg guitarist and songwriter, Omara Moctar, kicked-off a lively set that had the audience on its feet and dancing from the first song. Their sound was a lot more rock and roll and a lot more contemporary than Debo Band’s, but their dress spoke to tradition and heritage, with three of the band members wearing veils (Wikipedia tells me it is Tuareg tradition for the men to wear veils, not the women) either fully wrapped around their heads, or across their shoulders as scarves. As the set wore on their beats became hypnotic and repetitive, which drained me, but only enlivened the throng of eager dancers at the front of the stage.


**Bombino

3 PM Sub Pop Stage

After battling to cross yet another enormous line, which had formed down the center of yet another major pedestrian thoroughfare (this time the Mainstage at Key Arena was to blame because entering Key Arena apparently requires a bag check, full physical, and an IQ test, and M83 was playing at 3:15 resulting in a line was very long and very immobile) on the other side of which sat the bathrooms (I honestly had to cut behind tents and scale a small cement wall in order to get into the bathrooms because of this line) I arrived at what was, for me, one of the most anticipated shows of the weekend: Ty Segall. Overshadowed by the all-promising lure of the long line, Ty Segall’s performance was the under attended highlight of my festival experience. Finally, Sub Pop’s weird digital screen made some sense, and the creepy twisted shots of Ty Segall and crew that illuminated the background actually looked psychedelic and professional, not like power point projects gone awry. With a female drummer, two electric guitarists, a bassist, and a set up that placed Segall at the far side of the stage instead of front and center, allowing for a less sycophantic appreciation of the music over the musician, Ty Segall’s show was bloody alive, and even came with a mosh pit.

4 PM Tune-In Stage

Omar Souleyman is hilarious. Imagine a younger, beardless, more Syrian, less crazy looking Saddam Hussein, wearing his aviators and ghutrah, smiling down affectionately on an audience filled with folks dressed and ready to rave, clapping his hands and encouraging the audience to bounce while intermittently singing a few lines from traditional Middle Eastern songs to the accompaniment of a single keyboardist dropping pre-recorded drum beats and crazy synthesized rhythms, and you will have perfectly imagined the entirety of Souleyman’s performance. To further flip your expectations, Souleyman watched the crowd as if they were the ones performing for him, and he was just the occasional audio addition. Never have I seen a performer enjoy his audience so much, and the effects were clear, the audience loved him loving them, which made for one hell of a dance party.


**Omar Souleyman

4:30 PM The Promenade Stage

The Pharmacy plays the kind of music I might have loved if I had never moved to the Pacific Northwest. It’s the kind of music that feels real, it feels indie, and off-the-beaten path, it’s the kind of music that’s never heard on the radio by a teenaged girl from small town Michigan. And the band is the real deal too, they looked like they had actually huffed and puffed their way directly to Seattle from Humbolt County in a Volkswagon camper, maybe tie-dying shirts to make a few bucks along the way. Big sun hats, long hair, and wink to alternative medicine were the name of the game, and I loved it all, or I would have loved it all if it wasn’t such an omnipresent look and feel amongst musicians in my new native culture. Still, if I had to pick a band from Bumbershoot 2012 that reminded me of the Cave Singers and the Fleet Foxes but still seemed to deserve their own following, it would be The Pharmacy. At the very least, they won the award for band I’d most like to hang out with after the show.

6:15 PM Starbucks Stage

I haven’t yet mentioned an important aspect of every festival experience, and I will do so now because watching The Pharmacy gave me the munchies, so before I actually headed to the Starbucks Beer Garden (my target location for that evening’s beverage consumption because the artist billed was someone I’d never heard of before, but who was described in the festival literature as an internet sensation, which I figured—correctly—would mean it’s adjacent beer garden wouldn’t feature an extended line (Always remember when attending a festival: teenagers can’t drink.)). I first went in search of food. Here is my complaint: a local festival smack dab in the heart of a city filled with much-loved, highly evolved, street food vendors should not feature the random, nameless, unpalatable garbage that more out of the way (say in the middle of the desert or in a forest) festivals offer by necessity. The collection of overpriced, traveling county-fair food trucks must have been given allowance to swarm the festival with their greasy, unimaginative garbage for a reason, but I could have left the festival and traveled less than a mile in any direction and probably found a heavenly, locally made, burrito, so their presence at Bumbershoot felt unacceptable. Why not invite our better, local options inside? The one food vendor I recognized was Ballard Brothers, so I settled for a burger.

Regarding that internet pop sensation? I think her music played at the Superbowl because she won some YouTube contest. I do not think I want to say anything else about her.
The beer, however, was good.

6:45 PM Sub Pop Stage

This day was also the unofficial day of Sub Pop’s redemption. Low was a unique blast of we-take-our-name-quite-literally alternative rock. Highlighting growling, droning bass lines that packed a more ominous it’s-the-end-of-days-and-we-don’t-give-a-damn punch than any anarchist punk band or death metal maniac could have, Low put on one hell of a discomforting performance. And I mean that in a good way. Quick readers poll: female drummers—fad or feminism finally gaining purchase in the music world? It seems to me that the harder the band, the more likely it is to have a female drummer, at least at Bumbershoot, at least today.

7:15 PM Exeunt

With my ears ringing and my feet tingling, I finally accepted that there was a limit to what could reasonably be expected of my body and soul, gave up trying to convince myself that waiting forty-five minutes to watch Hey Marseilles was the right thing to do, and went home. I walked past the deflating dinosaur that had straddled Youngershoot’s inflatable slide, surveyed the wreckage left behind at the free Slurpee table, and dodged streams of freshly showered incoming festival goers who reminded me of how happy I was that this year, as last year, it hadn’t rained. Who knows, if this trend continues maybe next year’s line-up won’t look so much like a Death Cab for Cutie Pandora station. Hey, a girl can dream.

**Photographs taken by Steven Smith

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reviews

Bumbershoot 2012: Day 2 Review

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.

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Bumbershoot 2012 Day One Review

Bumbershoot, Seattle’s end-of-summer, arts and music festival, is part of the long standing, sad-but-true, local joke about summer. Offering an abundance of indoor venues and activities—more than most summer festival coordinators would consider reasonable—and named with a wink to the umbrellas that historically accessorize festival attire (Bumbershoot’s website has a FAQ which reads: “May I bring an umbrella?”), Bumbershoot is a manifestation of the adaptability and devil-may-care attitude that Seattleites take, by necessity, toward their beloved nemesis: the rain. (Nota bene: a true local will never carry an umbrella; obviously a rain coat will be sufficient. The FAQ exists for visitors and tourists because we are a polite city, and because we want to be able to recognize non-locals in the crowd.) Unfortunately, if the recent trend of late-breaking summer continues in Seattle, Bumbershoot may have to change its name, or at least its mindset.

3:30 PM Sub Pop Stage

There’s a certain kind of music that 37 inches of rain, spread out over nine months, inspires. There’s a subdued quality to the performances that dampness evokes, a slow rocking, eyes-closed, day-dreaming nod of the head (physical expressions of mundane pain, discomfort without real suffering, pain that is closely related to boredom, boredom which can be seen reflected in the mirror of nightly audiences across Seattle.) Seattle musicians can perform these muted motions while playing their most upbeat jam. Even—as Sera Cahoone proved—while wearing sunglasses, on the most gloriously blue-sky-filled day, on the first day of what was, for most people, a three day weekend. The former drummer for Band of Horses, managed to strum a brilliant blue guitar, glowing in the sun, and still evoke Seattle’s dreary winters with her simple lack of energy and enthusiasm. The Sub Pop label to which she is signed has its own stage at Bumbershoot this year, and Cahoone’s early performance was honestly not the stage’s most memorable. Having opted out of the indoor, much anticipated Seattle debut of Belgian-Australian boy wonder Gotye (pronounced Goh-tee-yay) for fear that he would sing his ridiculous, pop-music-addict’s new drug, “Somebody I used to know,” and ruin my ability to hear any other song for the rest of the festival, I endured as Cahoone and her band played songs that were beautiful, but unremarkable.

4 PM Starbucks Stage

Ayron Jones and The Way were my next stop, a band that has been described as a crossing between Stevie Ray Vaughn and Nirvana, and while I didn’t find it to be quite as chaotic as all that, I was happy to hear some rock and roll, and pleased to see that the Starbucks Stage wouldn’t just be for old folk-singing folks this year.

4:15 PM Fisher Green aka Tune-In Stage

Why does this stage have two names? I hope I wasn’t the only one who felt like festival management was a little out of touch this year (more on that later). Somebody sent the local alternative news magazine The Stranger a schedule that wound up like sour milk: in the trash. The Stranger offers really comprehensive pre-game coverage of Bumbershoot every year, but this year, not only were acts missing from the festival schedule, but the schedule for the stage known as “Tune-In” on the Bumbershoot website, the mobile app*, and in within festival itself was listed in the paper under the headline “Fisher Green.” This was the same schedule that was widely available within the venue via strategically placed newspaper boxes. This was the festival’s official schedule. Party fail? As a repeat customer, I did not suffer dramatic casualties due to this typo/oversight/last minute change, but I’d be willing to wager that others did.

Who were we talking about? Oh, that’s right: King Kahn & the Shrines. How were they? They were awesome. Ask me to put together a show that will pull an I’ve-accepted-my-fate-summer-is-over-even-though-it-never-started zombie away from eating the flesh of her neighbors, and I will give you King Kahn & the Shrines. That’s right: King Kahn will give your zombie her soul back.

*By which I mean to say iPhone app—there is no Android equivalent. Stop scouring the web you silly, pedestrian, Android user.

5:15 PM Sub Pop Stage

Thee Satisfaction is probably my favorite local band, and they are definitely my favorite female hip-hop artists. They bill themselves as psychedelic, feministic, etc., etc., insert awesome adjective here, etc., but it’s all totally unnecessary. Thee Satisfaction is doing something truly original with hip-hip, and that’s almost all I need to say. Standing front-and-center isn’t always the best way to experience a band (even if it is a frequently vied for concert position), but I’ve seen Thee Satisfaction live three times since first hearing them at last year’s Capitol Hill Block Party, and this performance was by far their strongest. With unexpected decisions being made on every level of production and creation, this duo has recently breached the wall of nationwide popularity with refreshingly good reason.

5:45 PM Starbucks Stage

Heartless Bastards
are a band you might hear at a Ballard bar called The Tractor. They weren’t bad; they weren’t great.

About five minutes after leaving this venue, I began to worry that I am simply too old to enjoy anything that involves other people because now I am thirty and officially a curmudgeon.

I then proceed to rationalize my way out of this suspected “old-person” condition by reminding myself how much I loved Thee Satisfaction and King Kahn.

So I’m a snob, not a people hating hermit. Sweet relief.

6:00 PM Fisher Green from here on out known as Tune-In Stage

It was hot and now it’s basically cold, and I probably didn’t bring warm enough clothing, and I haven’t yet mentioned the weird new screens on any of the stages or even the weird new stage, ceremonially named “The Promenade,” which sort of makes you feel like the mouse at the end of a twisted and possibly sadistic tech-nerd maze aimed at helping designers tweak the specs on an app for next year’s horrible zombie RPG—which will only be available to users of iPhone 4 and above.*

Oh, The Heavy. They played. I watched their overly large selves play like giant shadows on the twin overly large screens encroaching either side of the stage. It was surreal. It was silly. The Heavy are pretty good, but I don’t have anything constructive to say about them. I’m probably going to get fired from this gig for being so honest with you, so I hope you appreciate it.

*Did I mention how jilted I am by the lack of an Android Bumbershoot app? Did you know that Andriod is basically the phone equivalent of a PC, and that the PC King, Microsoft gah-zillionaire, “job creator,” malaria killer, and (I’m willing to hypothesize: Bumbershoot donor) Bill Gates lives, breathes, and listens to music in the fair city of Seattle?!

7:30 PM Starbucks Stage

The only defining feature of Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s show was that my pen, my perfectly functional, filled with ink pen, decided to die. Thus even my remarkable revelations re: why Jason needs so many units will forever remain a mystery.

7:45 PM In-Tune Stage

Having suffered the indignance of begging, nay bribing a KEXP* intern for a pen (under the dusty and slightly snarling stare of a very pretty, but perhaps very pen-hating co-ed intern) (only to have my original pen spring into action arbitrarily, hours later, under no particularly remarkable circumstances (excepting the opportunity to openly mock me) ), I attended the underwhelming “so-sad-boy” performance by City and Colour, a band whose name has fully embraced, intentionally or no, the nature of Seattle-specific hipster irony. The band was as apathetic as the crowd. With a bass player reminded me of the character Pacey from Dawson’s Creek, and a lead singer’s voice said, “I’m lonely but filled with hope,” and I couldn’t help but be distracted by the audience member with the enormous red beard who reminded me of my best friend from grad school so much that I nearly hug-tackled him.

*KEXP is Seattle’s best independent radio station. Its interns opinions about pens do not reflect the opinions of KEXP or its members.

8:45 PM Sub Pop Stage

I will admit that I approached this show from the vista of the adjacent beer garden. Each outdoor festival venue, with the exception of the new, narrow, too far out of the way, Promenade Stage has one of these, equipped with a variety of tables, chairs (many covered by just-in-case rain tents), and open lawn spaces. At the In-Tune Stage, the beer garden is a fine place to enjoy the staged show. The In-Tune garden is located on a hill facing its venue, and it is vast. The Sub Pop beer garden leaves something to be desired by way of both visibility and personal space. It’s not possible to sit on the earth and watch a show with your beer in hand, and it’s not possible to stand with out being run into. This garden is a contact sport, which is too bad because Sub Pop’s new standard for signing artists requires that they sound a lot like The Helio Sequence. The Helio Sequence is a Seattle based band, so they drew an understandably large, committed crowd. But they are pop music without the “pop.” Ethereal, dream within a dream, style singing and lyrics that ultimately make you want to sit. While the lead singer managed to avoid the Gyote style monotone that is has taken a recent surge in popularity, and their second song maintained a particularly lively, staccato vibration, and they managed to make a lot of noise for a two man band (a fact that can be attributed to the wonders of technology which permit ghost bass lines), there was nothing particularly inspiring about their performance as a whole.

9:45 PM In-Tune Stage

M. Ward. If I say something mean about M. Ward after all of this griping, you won’t believe me anymore. You’ll think I’m a troll, instigating comments and tweets by implying that almost the entire first day of Bumbershoot was a wash. I can hear you now: “She didn’t even go see Gotye!” Listen, I know that M. Ward has participated in the creative monster making of all your most loved musicians: Nora Jones, Zooey Deschanel, and Bright Eyes to name a few. And I also understand that if, as you read this, you are (or could be) happily listening to Bright Eyes screeching about how the calendar hung itself and imagining that your affection for the song probably means you are into punk, or thinking Zooey Deschanel is really a pretty good example of a popular female vocalist, then we aren’t going to be agreeing on much of anything anyway. Thus, your opinion of my opinion of the live performance of M. Ward at Bumbershoot is not something that will fatally wound your super-secret sense of pride at your excellent musical taste, and hopefully it will not wound mine either. So, I’m just going to say it: M. Ward was the final snore. I was so bored of trying not to be bored by all of these bands who were each a strum away from playing the other’s songs that I asked an audience member his opinion of the show. John Clark, a twenty-something Seattle native who admitted that he’d come to see Colour and City play but stayed to see M. Ward at the same stage out of sheer laziness, put it best when he said, simply, “The screens are cool. It’s like the front row experience.”

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music videos reviews

Lady Antebellum – Own The Night review

Disclaimer: I don’t understand Lady Antebellum’s popularity.

I recognize that, especially over the last few years, the Country Music Association has been recycling artists, and that the category (which Lady Antebellum won in 2008) of Best New Artist only came into existence in that same year—replacing the less pointedly titled Horizon Award (a name which implies acknowledgement of the potential to achieve instead of honoring actual achievement). I also realize that the winner of the Horizon Award in 2007 was none other than Taylor Swift, wretchedly intolerable as she is to anyone over the age of fifteen. So I get it, the CMA’s aren’t that reliable—they award popularity, not quality—and frankly, the problem is the same with the Grammy’s, but that just brings me back to my original disclaimer: I don’t understand why Lady Antebellum is popular. For that matter I don’t understand why Taylor Swift was popular, or why Carrie Underwood was popular, or even why the Dixie Chicks were popular before they became politically vocal.

Lady Antebellum’s new album, Own The Night, is an overproduced nightmare. It’s an insult to your intelligence. It’s so clearly a falsification and distortion of the actual vocal and musical abilities of the band’s members that it is shocking how bad each song still manages to be. I mean, with that kind of production, with what must have been a veritable flock of sound technicians hovering over a sea of production equipment backing them up, couldn’t they at least manage to produce something remotely listenable? Instead, each song is so painfully vapid, so devoid of anything musically complicated, or even interesting, that it fails to do what even the worst, most manipulative television commercials (think: homeless babies crying with flies in their eyes, think: late night ads for pharmaceutical drugs cure depression) manage to do: make you feel.

The sad songs on Own The Night won’t make you cry, the upbeat songs won’t make you happy. Even the song “Singing Me Home,” in which the band ironically sings, “feet on the dashboard tapping out the backbeat,” doesn’t have a backbeat to tap your feet to.

The nail in this album’s coffin is the song, “Friday Night.” Does anyone remember Rebecca Black’s viral disaster of a song/video, “Friday?” Maybe you took a moment to post a disparaging comment on YouTube about Rebecca, or maybe you felt bad for the girl, and wished people would stop picking on her for the youthful arrogance and cruel parental delusions of grandeur that landed her in such a humiliating, vulnerable position. Well, we don’t have to wonder what Lady Antebellum did. It’s clear that after listening to “Friday,” they went straight to their producers and said, “That song–we want to sing a song just like that.” Otherwise, how could a song so painfully similar in vocal inflection, lyrics, and rhythm end up on an award winning country band’s album? Oh, coincidences. Fifty-bucks says “Friday Night” wins Lady Antebellum a Grammy.

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reviews

Glen Campbell – Ghost On The Canvas review

Glen Campbell doesn’t exactly need any new fans. He’s been in show business for 50 years, sold over 45 million records, gone Gold, Platinum, and Double-Platinum, and even had his own television show. His latest album Ghost on the Canvas, is a collection of music by a man who has earned his self-indulgence. For an uninitiated or barely initiated listener, the album may reek of Bob Dylan’s so-called “born-again” gospel period. The two records Dylan produced in the late 70s and early 80s, Slow Train Coming and Saved respectively, drew criticism from fans and musical contemporaries, and were overall poorly received. Campbell is seventy-five-years-old this year, and for the devoted fans who have listed to him through the decades, many of this album’s songs will carry a satisfying message even if it isn’t one that will capture the interest of a broad new audience.

It’s not that Campbell has gone from writing youthful music to old folks music, nor is it true that he is suddenly embracing a heretofore unmentioned Christian message. It’s simply that what’s changed about Campbell’s music is probably also what’s changed about Campbell as a man who has passed the prime of his life. His focus is different. Whereas once his songs were based more on earthly longings and experiences, now many of them carry an ethereal and heaven-seeking element. Campbell expresses his gratitude for life and his hope for something better beyond it in almost every full-length song on the album. Sometimes the effect is more subtle than others. The titular song, “Ghost on the Canvas,” contains lines like, “Ring around the rosary,” and is almost intolerably Christian-rock. For a non-Christian listener, this song, and others like it (“It’s Your Amazing Grace,” and “A Better Place” are both songs in which Campbell is clearly speaking to his higher power directly) might be a big turn-off.

Remember when you first heard George Harrison sing “My Sweet Lord,” and you thought the lyric was, “my sweet love,” and that the song was really wonderfully romantic and good? Remember when you found out the title of the song, and that it was actually about god? I’m guessing that you were just slightly disappointed, but decided you still liked the song well enough to listen because the song is damned good. This is the fine line that Campbell would have done better to tread more often, and tracks like “A Thousand Lifetimes,” almost hit the mark with a harder country sound that suits his vocals much better, and makes him seem much less like a sentimental old-timer. Still, “A Thousand Lifetimes” is too grateful, an ultimately gushy Campbell sings, “I will never take you for granted…”, and while you’re happy to hear he’s lived a long, satisfying life, you may also feel inclined to roll your eyes and switch the track.

The hands-down best songs on the album are the two that embrace the spirit of American country music and avoid sounding like hymns while still expressing Campbell’s joie de vivre. “In My Arms” starts out with counting and clapping, has a nice twangy country sound, and makes use of the guitar in ways the rest of the album doesn’t bother to, and the lyrics are about romantic, earthly love. “Nothing But the Whole Wide World,” talks about country things like, black-top, bein’ built like an ox, rich folk, and momma raisin’ you right, and instead of expressing gratitude to a higher power, Campbell expresses gratitude for being a country boy, which is a sentiment that all country music enthusiasts can appreciate, regardless of their faith.

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CSS – La Liberación review

CSS (an abreivation for Cansei de Ser Sexy, or “Got Tired of Being Sexy”) is a Brazilian band with an identity crisis. It’s true that all burgeoning artists emulate others as a part of their artistic maturation, but it’s unfortunate, given all the fully developed musical talents in the world, that CSS was given the job while they were still in a stage of musical adolescence. Sub Pop signed them in 2006, and La Liberación is their third album.

It’s not that CSS has absolutely nothing going for them, they are culling from a variety good of sources; reggae, psychedelic rock, and even punk influences can be identified by taking a brief glance over the album’s track titles. The problem is purely one of application. The song “Ruby Eyes” references weed smoking and hippie chicks, but fails to pay successful musical homage to the psychedelic movement that inspired it, and this holds true throughout the album, suggesting that CSS only possesses a superficial understanding of the music they claim inspires them.
Lovefoxxx, the band’s lead singer, has certain moments of overproduced glory, as in the album’s opening track, “I Love You,” where she sounds like she’s singing into a box-fan, but once that effect is removed her voice becomes so crystal clear and saccharine that she could easily be singing “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world.”

The problem with giving a soap-box to someone at such an early stage is that what they have to say often ends-up sounding trite and shallow. On the track “City Grrrl,” Lovefoxxx whines that she wants to live in the big city, and “pay my bills with the money I make.” These suburban 14-year-old sentiments might appeal to the demographic of rave-kids that have given CSS their popularity (the band is apparently credited with helping to kick-start the New Rave movement), but again there’s a consistency issue. “City Grrrl” is not a track that ravers can dance to, and it’s ultimately a downer. As the story progresses, the narrator moves to the big city like she’s always dreamed only to find that she “can’t rule this place.”(Here, the sole opportunity for a more complex message is wasted). Now, most rave music contains vapid, sexually encouraging, ego-boosting sentiments, but what it often does it’s best to avoid (and rightly so) are exactly the kinds of buzz-killers that “City Grrrl” ends on.

By far the best track on the album, the titular La Liberación, is in Portuguese, and maybe this is the moment when CSS is finally being themselves, but I have to be honest: I think I only enjoyed it because I couldn’t understand a single word.

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Bumbershoot 2011 Day 3

Bumbershoot 2011 Day Three

(September 5th, 2011 – Seattle, Washington)


**

There may not be a better way to begin a day of musical carousing than by watching Charles Bradley, otherwise known as “The Screaming Eagle of Soul,” and “The Black Swan,” take the stage for an intimate, live KEXP performance. The Gainesville, Florida born funk-star and soul-singer is a true legend, and it’s easy to see why. Draped in a royal-red, sequined blazer, and offering a reverential bow, Bradley held the audience in a state of excited bliss through his entire set, which–thanks to the wise and wonderful disc jockey’s at KEXP–went on at least three songs longer than even Bradley had anticipated.

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music videos reviews

Bumbershoot 2011 Day Two

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.

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reviews

Milk Maid – Yucca review

Let Martin Cohen’s new solo project, Milk Maid, be a lesson to you: never underestimate the bassist. Until early this year that’s who Cohen was for the Manchester based band Nine Black Alps. His new album, Yucca, doesn’t necessarily boggle the mind with previously hidden musical genius, but it does offer the promise of great things to come and more than justifies his breaking free from a band that might have been growing a little stale.

Primarily an album about broken relationships, Yucca blends lo-fi, mostly upbeat sounds with so-sad-boy style lyrics. The vocals are so disaffected and at times obscured by swells of noise (which are some of the album’s most satisfying, rock moments) that they seem intentionally irrelevant. Ultimately, this is fine because a close inspection of the lyrics might prove disappointing. The titles tend to summarize perfectly the more long winded message in any given song. The song Not Me, for example, contains lyrics like: “You say you’ve got no where to go, you’d better run, run fast to someone you know. Not me.” While this may be catchy in it’s simplicity, the explosion of noise that takes place around the second minute of this song is infinitely more expressive, satisfying, and innovative than anything the lyrics have to say (you’ll imagine tossing your lover, barefoot, out the front door because you just can’t take their bullshit anymore).

The penultimate track, Sad Song is surprisingly not as sad as the track following it, Someone You Thought You’d Forgot, which closes out the album and which, while it still has difficult to decipher lyrics, embraces a more clearly defeated sound (making you feel exactly the same melancholy way that you might feel if you bumped into a past love on the street and were blindsided by the remorse of losing that person all over again).

Tracks like Girl aren’t as explosive, although they offer a nice palate cleansing reprieve from the rest of the album. You’ll find yourself longing for those moments when emotions are expressed in music and not in words, because those moments are where Milk Maid’s power and potential thrive.

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reviews

The Chain Gang of 1974 – The Wayward Fire review

Confusion of spirit will not be found in The Wayward Fire, the third album by The Chain Gang of 1974. In fact, to listen to The Wayward Fire, is to know that Kamtin Mohager (the man behind the Chang Gang curtain) is lovingly, un-ironically enthused by his eighties-inspired beats and lyrics; so much so that many of his songs go on too long, like over-indulged children placing their own orders at a restaurant.

Pop-80s culture has been making a comeback in hip-aught culture for a while now, and popular 80s music—once regarded by some as evidence of a generation filled with vapid, unchallenged, passionless youth—has made a resurgence along with it. Bands like Journey and Queen have found a new set of fans, many who embrace that entire era with a spirit of detached, mocking admiration, making their devotion hard to comprehend. Do they like it—or do they like making fun of it? Mohager takes a risk, playing straight to an audience with questionable motives, an audience that’s often snickering, and there’s a reason he succeeds.

The Wayward Fire is primarily an album of dance beats, and it is exceptionally good at being exactly that. Most songs open with familiar notes, a teasing approach that could result in either disaster or satisfying suspense (compare to: the first seven seconds of “Under Pressure” and “Ice, Ice Baby”). If taunting you with a few recognizable 80s riffs only made you want to listen to The Bangles, then Mohager would have dealt himself a losing hand. But Mohager never dwells too long in the old familiar places, and with songs so comparably catchy to the 80s music they’ve been inspired by, and with beats so driving they’ll make your foot ache, the risk repeatedly pays off.

While The Wayward Fire (like many trends) may be forgotten in a few years, it is undeniably an album of the times. Not because we are welcoming in a generation of unaware, socially negligent youth, but because sometimes those youth need something familiar they can roll their eyes at, something to ease the strain. Sometimes they just want to dance.