Saturday’s Bumbershoot festivities got the 2013 season off to a great start. With the turnout highlight of the day going to rising Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar, and with a three way tie for most dancing going to !!!, Charles Bradley, and Crystal Castles, the day was an eclectic bunch of gems. Being one of the festival’s best years for total lineup in a long time, it will be hard for Sunday and Monday to follow up. But if they follow in suit of Saturday’s excellent start, we are in for one heck of a Labor Day weekend.
Kicking things off over on the TuneIn and Fountain Lawn stages were some local hip hops flavors. Dave B kicked things off at the Fountain Lawn to a great turnout. His jazzy beats and aggressive flow make for a great counterpoint, and even early the afternoon, he had wonderful energy going for those present. In particular, the cuts from his upcoming EP, entitled Donuts, sounded particularly well put together. Following him on the TuneIn stage was Nacho Picasso. In strong contrast to Dave B, Nacho’s beats and production shy away from jazz and groove and cater more to the bass and trap crowd. With thundering waves of bass and diamond hi hats, the crowd danced along in mob fashion as Picasso delivered with engagement and playful arrogance from the stage. Returning to the Fountain Lawn stage, we got to a long time KEXP favorite Grynch. Grynch’s off-kilter presentation and delivery are quintessential among the Seattle hip hop scene, and sure enough, he was short of no fans present today. Bringing his signature sound and style in full effect, he kept the energy going into the early afternoon.
Up next on the TuneIn stage was John O’Regan’s excellent pop exhibition Diamond Rings. John makes some pretty incredible synth pop music. His second LP Free Dimensional, out just last year, found him nearing a typically unattainable partnership of pop accessibility and personal expression. Painting himself in a neon glow and writing stuff you only want to play at maximum volume, Diamond Rings is a good time you don’t want to pass up. Today, donned in all white with a studded black leather vest, John met the crowds with anticipation and excitement. His set was a powerhouse of electronic glory, and no one dancing in the crowds had anything to complain about all afternoon. While perhaps not the most well known pop act of the day, O’Regan proved his worth with a powerful and theatrical set not easily forgotten for the rest of the day.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down throw a pretty killer show. The San Francisco indie rock band throw folk, garage rock, alternative, and some world music all at the wall and somehow, just enough of each sticks to make for a completely unique sound. Frontwoman Thao Nguyen switches between banjo, guitar, and mandolin on stage, making sounds with each that most people would only dare with a highly maneuverable electric guitar. Her musical additions, in any other context than her own band, wouldn’t really click as the main melodic drive. But thanks to some highly juxtaposed counterpart from the bass and keys, by some mixture of genius, talent, and magic, it all comes together and makes Thao & The Get Down Stay Down a delightfully fun mixture. Playing songs from their new album We The Common like the title track and the roller coaster of a rock track “Holy Roller”, Thao and her band had the crowd going from note one.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down:
At the main stage, after the opening set from Joey Bada$$, a sea of numbers flooded the Key Arena stairs, and the floor, along with pretty much every other empty corner of the venue, packed out for Kendrick Lamar and his Bumbershoot set. Last time Lamar was here, he sold out the Neptune Theater a month before his album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City dropped. Now, the record has gone platinum and Lamar is a superstar, and the Key Arena can’t even fit all that wanted to hear him. But all hype aside, when the lights went down and Lamar started in on his set, everyone in the room knew with full conviction why this younger performer is exploding right now. With a keen delivery and surprisingly humble way of hyping his own show to the absolute maximum, there were nothing but positive vibes in the room. “I gotta check if this side is weak” he said pointed to stage left, “because if this side is weak, then that side gets weak, then the middle gets weak, and if everybody’s weak then I’m weak, and we don’t want that”. And he was right - when the beat dropped on crowd efforts like “Backseat Freestyle” and the raucous second to last track “m.A.A.d City”, Lamar played off the crowds energy well, and he wasn’t feeling it, he built it back up until everyone in the house was dancing. Altogether, he was in no way held back expectation for his massive singles “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Swimming Pools (Drank)”. When they happened, the crowd went nuts, but the energy held through the very end. Lamar proved his place in the spotlight with respect and poise.
Filling in for Icona Pop’s short notice cancellation, Seattle’s electronic trio Beat Connection were no disappointment. “We’ve only known about this show for about three days” founding member Reed Juenger said, “and we are moving out of our place... so we only have a couple more prepared”. But short notice and pre-occupation didn’t make their way onto the stage one bit Saturday afternoon. Playing a strong set of material off of their LP Palace Garden and their debut EP Surf Noir, the crowd loved every minute of it. If they hadn’t mentioned it, some wouldn’t have even known they were pinch hitters. Fantastic job, gentlemen!
Another dose of local hip hop hit the Fountain Lawn stage Saturday with The Physics in the late afternoon. No surprises here: they killed it. The band can do no wrong in their home town. Last year, KEXP spun the living crap out of their record Tomorrow People. This year, they are giving us another offering of summery northwest delight with Digital Wildlife. But The Physics are best understood and experienced on stage, and on a beautiful summer’s day after a good rain during the week with the Space Needle in full view, Saturday’s Bumbershoot set was the textbook Physics set.
Sacramento dance-punk band !!! (pronounced Chk Chk Chk) are reaching legendary status with their shows. Sure, their records are fantastically well-loved. Strange Weather, Isn’t It? was murderously good - this year’s THR!!!ER sees them returning to mass acclaim. But you don’t know jack about !!! until you’ve witnessed their ridiculous power live. Nic Offer dances around in his Some Girls shorts and doesn’t let a second pass where the crowd is still. “I know you put your hands up for Kendrick, so make it happen” he shouted across the chasm of people with hands raised. He didn’t need to taunt them, though - the groove set in and the crowd was a mess of goofy dance moves and smiles all around. Easily one of the funnest experiences of the day, !!! played a headline-worthy set in late afternoon and not a single person was caught complaining.
San Francisco rapper Watsky took the Fountain Lawn stage to a surprisingly massive crowd. If he’s a new name to you, Watsky is predominantly a slam poet, but he mixes catchy hip hop and live instrumentation into his set for a highly engaging experience. No doubt, Watsky made more than a few new fans in this late afternoon set.
After a set at the KEXP Music Lounge, Charles Bradley took the Starbucks stage to the largest crowd seen there all day. Bradley’s vintage soul sound in the style of James Brown and Otis Redding is an easy sell - if you have any soul at all, you can bond with Bradley. His delivery is passionate and invigorating. Every breath, you can hear every inch of his heart laid out into the microphone. It also helps that his band, The Extraordinaires, throw an incredibly fun show with classic arrangement and timeless groove. Bradley has not let age slow him down one bit. In his mid 60s, he still throws a killer live show with dance moves and screaming into the microphone and all the outcries of love to the audience you could hope for. But that love was mutual Saturday night - the crowd was ripe with dancing and much love for Bradley and his band in return.
Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires:
If you are in any way a product of the 80s, Gary Numan should be a household name. Immortalized by his international hit “Cars” and made a part of electronic music history with records like Replicas and The Pleasure Principle, Numan has a bag of tricks that doesn’t necessitate any recent additions. But thankfully, Numan hasn’t spent the last 30 years living in the past. “Cars” was a quick tangent in his Saturday evening set before he returned to more recent material. In fact, old school fans may have been surprised at how heavy Numan’s set has turned in the modern day. Somewhat akin to mid-2000s Nine Inch Nails, Numan’s dance metal shook the surrounding area with ferocity. Not discouraged with age, Numan himself threw an incredibly fun show. Ripping it on guitar and creating a theatrical wonderland of goth brilliance, Numan proved his place in the modern context with a ridiculously fun dance party, albeit a bit spooky.
Seattle’s own rising folk rock star Kris Orlowski took to the Plaza Stage for an absolutely gorgeous set. With the Needle in full view and a massive instrumental arrangement on stage, Orlowski had most of his work done for him. But thankfully for all present, he still brought his own fervor and conviction in full amounts. It’s no secret that Orlowski is on the rise - his intelligent songwriting and his perfect placement in the scene are only spelling out success. So it’s good to see him take to Bumbershoot with a great turnout and a fantastic set, both visually and audibly.
Sub Pop electronic pioneer Washed Out took to the Fountain Lawn stage Saturday night to a ridiculously massive crowd. Unfortunately, a few of them parted ways with the band after extensive sound check issues delayed their set by 25 minutes. But once things got started, Ernest Greene and his band came out with a hunger and ferocity that we haven’t seen Greene pull off live yet. “Was it worth the wait?” Greene yelled out to the crowd, answered with massive applause. Their new album Paracosm only helps Washed Out become a more approachable live act. Its massive scope and sound came alive perfectly in the live setting. The imagery of the album came forward as well, as the band had decorated the stage with flowers, Christmas lights, and other trippy effects. Piling threw new material as well as old material reinvigorated (“New Theory” from Life of Leisure sounded particularly awesome with the new arrangement), Greene and his team made up for lost time with an excellent performance and great crowd interaction.
Depending on your thoughts of the band, you’ve probably heard only wonderful or terrible things about Crystal Castles and their live set. The band’s brutal rave music nightmare of a record comes alive on stage and incites merciless riot. Crowd crush and an absence of oxygen are a given. The noise level is deafening. But most of all, there is no question that Alice and Ethan bring their all. So if you can deal with the costs, you reap 100% of the benefits. In the light of the Space Needle, those of us in the pit even got to see Alice crack a smile a couple times. Crystal Castles take it out of you at their own shows, so at a festival, after a whole day’s worth of dancing, their set was an endurance test for most there. By the end, a lot of people were just tuckered out, but that doesn’t mean it was incredibly powerful. Closing with their all time favorites like “Not In Love” and “Doe Deer”, the band exited to a crowd fully satisfied.
Seattle rock veterans Heart closed the evening with a collection of the city’s favorites. Even with age, the band’s ability to interact with the crowd and throw one hell of a performance hasn’t diminished. The band still remains one of the city’s favorites, and seeing them live, it’s no surprise why. The energy on stage was genuine - Ann and Nancy Wilson still work off of each other’s energy like they did in their heyday. Surprisingly, 2013 marks the band’s first appearance at Bumbershoot ever, so it’s good to finally welcome these hometown favorites to the town’s backyard music festival. Heart’s performance was the perfect way to end the night.