This week we celebrate the 15th year of one of Seattle’s favorite hometown labels: Barsuk Records! Since its birth in 1998, Barsuk has helped create a platform for dozens of great bands, from the Pacific northwest and otherwise, to get off the ground and put forth incredible music. Even in the decade and a half of growth, one thing that Barsuk has never lost is its family-style sentiment, and to celebrate its birthday, Barsuk planned out an incredible weekend of music, getting the whole gang back together for a hodgepodge of new and old Barsuk goodness. Each night, the label is tackling another neighborhood and bringing a full card of musical genius.
Saturday was a party any way you sliced it. Each one of the whopping six bands on the stage tonight owned every minute of their performance, giving everyone at Neumos an eclectic and completely awesome weekend celebration. The dark dance-pop jams of Say Hi, the raucous rock cyclone of Cymbals Eat Guitars, the noisy melodic wonder of Yellow Ostrich, the bright math rock godsends Maps & Atlases, and the fully engaging Portland favorite Menomena – they were all here. Plus, with a murderously good set from electronic gems Phantogram to wrap up the night, Saturday’s Barsuk 15 celebration was probably the best bang for your buck you’ve seen in recent history. It’s no wonder this one has been sold out for weeks on end.
Eric Elbogen has been making brilliant pop music as Say Hi (formerly Say Hi To Your Mom) for a decade now. From Brooklyn to Seattle, Say Hi has come in all shapes and sizes over the years, ranging from full band sets to one man dance parties, but one thing never changes about Say Hi: these tunes are way too good. Armed with a laptop, a sample pad, and a full suit, Elbogen warmed up the night with a wry smile and a whole lot of energy. Breaking out synth-pop renditions of cuts from his wonderful 2011 record Um, Uh Oh as well as older ones, Eric got every head bobbing in Neumos and started the night off with a delightful bang.
“You think they’ll play that on the radio?” Joseph D’Agostino laughed after Cymbals Eat Guitars wrapped up a five-minute noise rock jam session. Tonight, his band was playing all new material for the follow up to their acclaimed 2011 release Lenses Alien, and as far as Neumos was concerned, it sounded excellent. Cymbals Eat Guitars blend an eclectic number of genres together for a heavy indie rock sound that is pretty unique to the band. But a welcome reception didn’t seem to be a priority for any member of the group on stage. Rather, while walls of sound blasted out of the speakers, the band were a self-contained unit, rocking out to each other and maintaining an impressive synchronicity throughout.
Cymbals Eat Guitars:
Alex Schaaf was a crowd favorite Saturday night. His project Yellow Ostrich has been gaining ground in Brooklyn since 2009, but made serious strides last year with their record Ghost. With the reception he received, it seems like that hard work is seriously paying off. Schaaf kept the crown engaged throughout his set, sending smiles and nods to all members of the audience singing along. Between the excellent sounds emanating from the stage and the positive vibes throughout Neumos during their set, it’s no doubt that Yellow Ostrich gained some more fans along the way tonight.
Chicago experimental band Maps & Atlases took the stage next to bring the energy back to a more danceable setting. The band really hit their stride on Barsuk, releasing their first full length record Perch Patchwork in 2010 and sophomore LP Beware and Be Grateful last year. Since signing, the band has shifting slightly from a folk math-rock mashup to a highly engaging experimental indie rock sound that plays on their strengths (insane guitar chops, bright mixture of drums and percussion, etc.) but brings modern appeal to new levels. No surprise to any familiars, Maps & Atlases were phenomenal, blazing through material from both records and even tossing in a very well put together Tears For Fears cover. Though their set was short, Maps & Atlases made it count and left everyone satisfied.
Maps & Atlases:
Menomena are widely known to be one of those “you have to see it to believe it” type bands. Danny Seim and Justin Harris have been making tried and true Portland music since 2000 and have been signed to Barsuk for over half a decade now. On the record, their dense, mulit-layered tunes seem near impossible to tackle in the live setting without at least 10 people on stage, but with some fancy footwork and a whole lot of energy, Menomena took the Neumos stage with a four man setup and rocked the house to the ground. Seim mans vocals behind a drum set, whether he’s sitting, standing, or throwing himself through the set at the end of the show. Front and center, Harris stands on top of a platform where a multitude of pedals, buttons, triggers, bells and all kinds of whistles are scattered around his feet. While he’s singing and playing guitar, bass, or saxophone, he’s also pumping out one or two more layers of sound with his toes. And yet, the two still find time to interact with each other, provoke the crowd, and do it all with a smile. Everyone in the crowd was a bit let down when the band were coaxed to cut down their three last songs to a three minute interval, but ending the set with a bang, they gave tonight’s crowd one to remember.
Rounding out Saturday night’s Barsuk goodness was a stellar set from New York psych pop band Phantogram. Despite the fact that the synth pop genre has gotten quite crowded in the past couple years, no one is taking the crown away from Phantogram’s live set. There’s just nothing quite as hypnotic as the way that Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter play off of each other. Each one manning a side of the stage, their dynamics are totally removed. Carter rips guiding lines out on guitar, each one with a different soaring texture and direction to fill out the skittering stencil of the drums. At stage right, Barthel mans a keyboard setup, face almost always obscured by her jet black hair until she turns to the microphone and belts it out to the heavens. The two pulled music from their 2013 self-titled EP including “Black Out Days” and “The Day You Died”, as well as the instant classics from their prior releases like “Mouthful of Diamonds”, “Don’t Move”, and “When I’m Small”. Before wrapping up, Barthel took a minute to thank Barsuk and give a personal note of thanks and admiration to every band on the bill for tonight. There’s no doubt about it at all: Barsuk has created one very special family, and it’s a blast for us and for the bands to get to celebrate all these years of excellence together.