Although the fall season was just around the corner, day 2 of Bumbershoot 2014 was every inch the summer day that it was supposed to be. Bright, clear skies marred by just a handful of cloud freckles greeted festival attendees as they passed into the Seattle Center grounds that afternoon, making for a much more familiar scene to those Bumbershoot veterans that have offered up this Labor Day weekend to the gods of music in years past. As is often the case at these events, tough choices were in store for those who came out on Sunday, as folks had to decide between various worthy acts, many of them lined up against each other. Lost in Reviews and its west coast music correspondent (yours truly) don’t shrink away from such challenges, however, and to prove it, things got started on Sunday in as rough and tumble a way as possible.
Hobosexual is a bearded metal outfit that could best be described as guitar-driven lo-fi in the Motorhead vein. A Seattle duo whose stripped-down sound and take-no-prisoners attitude is reminiscent of this city’s Grunge heritage, Hobosexual isn’t trying for anything other than merciless, balls-to-the-wall rock and roll. There was nothing fancy on display when the band took the stage at 12:30 in the afternoon: just thrash metal with fast guitar, merciless drums, and a surprisingly tight vocal display (and with none of that growling crap). The thunderous and hasty set energized a crowd still shaking off the previous night’s hangover, and welcomed the festival’s late arrivals with an angry call to arms (in the name of metal).
Just as Hobosexual finished, We Are Scientists started up on an adjacent stage, and delivered a slower-paced and more nuanced set. This Brooklyn-based duo (they travel with a backing band) is an upbeat power-pop act with soaring vocals and catchy melodies, and after approximately ten years on the scene, they’re finally starting to establish a presence for themselves. Something of a musical fusion between older rock pop (a-la Hall & Oates) and more post-punk sensibilities (i.e. The Foals & Arctic Monkeys), We Are Scientists had a tight set, and energy to spare. Still, although they put on a lively show, the early afternoon sun mixed with a groggy, half-assembled crowd kept things fairly tame.
Yet by the time Kishi Bashi hit the stage just before 3 p.m., much of this sleepy day-2 fog had burned off. Formerly of Jupiter One and of Montreal fame, Kishi Bashi front-man Kaori Ishibashi retains many of those sensibilities with this new project: one that blew the non-existent doors off Bumbershoot’s hinges on Sunday afternoon. Often described as avant-pop, and frequently compared to the likes of Electric Light Orchestra and Philip Glass, their sound and look is deeply in debt to the aforementioned indie mainstay, of Montreal, yet is infused with a classical backbone that speaks to the musical complexity of each composition. The texture of Kishi Bashi’s licks reveled in this auditory juxtaposition on Sunday, as cutting violin work often ran up hard against furious banjo picking, yet in a way that allowed each note to rise like yeast in bread.
Still, there was something lingering in the air, something set loose that could no longer be put back in the bottle. Perhaps it was Hobosexual’s opening assault on the day’s sensibilities that skewered the afternoon’s musical palate, yet as raucous a performance as Kishi Bashi put on, nothing seemed entirely right again until Red Fang hit the stage at 3:45.
The new face of metal as offered by Portland, Oregon, Red Fang is the real deal. On stage for an all-too-brief hour, this throwback heavy metal outfit reminds one of early Alice and Chains, yet without all that pop radio crap mixed into the bridge of each song. Unrelenting, dueling guitars anchor this four-headed metal monster using sing-along fist-pump anthems in conjunction with a damn-the-torpedoes brand of dirty biker rock. Their set on Sunday featured some of the tamer cuts from their most recent LP, Whales and Leeches, yet pleased audiences to no end with their more popular (and arguably better) Murder the Mountains album material. As the festival reached its halfway point near the conclusion of their set, Red Fang, the audience, and even the security personnel seemed to acknowledge that the tipping point had been reached: that the power of pure, undiluted metal had gotten the masses this far, and could encourage everyone to go just a little further.
Still, it’s not just about the music at Bumbershoot. A slew of literary figures, visual artists, and comedians are always slated to appear alongside the music acts each year, and 2014 was no different in this regard. One of the Bumbershoot regulars at comedy-themed events is Doug Benson, modern pop culture’s stoner mouthpiece. Mr. Benson took his podcast on the road again to appear at Bumbershoot on Sunday, where he and a panel of comedians and pop culture C-listers played a movie trivia game before the assembled crowd. Doug Benson is a clever guy, and a reliable source of chuckles on most occasions, yet Washington State’s recent marijuana legalization push may have dulled his faculties a bit, for he spent a full half hour describing the items in the day’s prize grab-bag, and needed all the help and prodding his good-natured co-hosts could offer thereafter. And while it was amusing to see the panel fumble for answers to trivia questions that revolved around (for example) movie titles without any vowels, a tighter, more prepared comedy set might have played better.
Still, there was a lot of day left by the time the comedy show let just before 6 p.m.; most of the folks at Bumbershoot spent that next hour at the main stage, with proto-punk royalty The Replacements. The architects of what would eventually evolve into the “alt rock” genre, The Replacements put a smile on nearly every face that turned out to watch their high-energy, hit-filled set. Middle-aged parents rocked alongside kids in Stussy t-shits and flat-billed baseball caps: each demographic swimming in the melodic power chords gifted so generously to the gathered masses. In what appeared to be a mostly sober, focused set, The Replacements seemed to delight in the multi-generational enthusiasm of the Bumbershoot crowd, one split between those who disdained the copycat Emo acts that have swum in the band’s wake, and those that have defined themselves by that musical evolution. All in all, it was a fun trip down music’s memory lane, and The Replacements did their part to assure that everyone’s journey was a pleasant one.
As the evening set in, and the sun disappeared behind the horizon, Seattle’s indie-R&B hometown boys, Pickwick, took the stage and transitioned the audience into the final phase of day 2. A peppy, unobtrusive band with catchy lyrics and a commanding stage presence, Pickwick played to a mostly subdued audience that seemed torn between dinner, and another act warming up on an adjacent stage. Indeed, although Pickwick put on a fine show, it had a hard time competing with indie rock royalty, The Dismemberment Plan, which took the stage at 9 and never looked back.
An underground juggernaut in the late-90s and early 2000s, The Dismemberment Plan broke up in 2003, only to reunite again in 2011 to the overwhelming approval of fans and music lovers everywhere. Notoriously high-energy during their live sets, The Dismemberment Plan established a rabid and devoted fan-base during their heyday that hasn’t diminished in the decade since their dissolution. And while the band mixed in a handful of new songs throughout their hour-long set, the majority of their time on stage was occupied with D-Plan standards like Time Bomb, You Are Invited, and The City (a fact that kept the audience singing along throughout most of the hour). Lead singer Travis Morrison seemed to have found the enthusiasm and gusto for his music and the band that escaped him in 2003, and consequently the indie rock champions put on what was easily the strongest and most active show of the day.
The evening finished with a diabolical three-way playoff between The Head and the Heart, Los Lobos, and Bootsy Collins: three acts as different and musically diverse as they are talented. This juxtaposition of musical styles played well with the audience, however, for depending on a person’s musical preference, each band seemed to offer something unique and different from the others. And while this particular journalist cheated some, and took a nibble from The Head and the Heart sandwich before heading over to see Bootsy Collins, there was never really much of a debate on the matter. Bootsy Collins is Funky with a capital –F, and his set, replete with brass backing and an inspired rhythm section, validated the decision of every person who sacrificed other acts to be there.
It was a good way to close out the evening, and just the kind of funked-up send-off Bumbershoot’s three-day attendees needed to see them through another evening, towards one last summer day when music reigned supreme in the Emerald City.
Article & Photos by Warren Cantrell
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