Though dawn broke a little after 6:30 a.m. just as it had the previous two days, and promised yet another sunny, low-70’s jaunt for Seattle, things were just a little different this particular morning. A national holiday, Labor Day, Monday the 3rd also promised to be one of the most crowded, Hipster-packed days at the Bumbershoot Music Festival. Though the Grunge-heavy old-guard of Seattle’s rock past had defiantly planted their flag on the Bumbershoot grounds during the latter-part of Sunday, a new generation of industry powerhouses were massed and in force for the festival’s third and final day, and their fans were there early to greet them.
The organizers of Bumbershoot were crafty enough to schedule some of their weaker acts around the Sunday schedule, where the presence of the great Tony Bennett likely buoyed ticket sales that might otherwise have dipped during the middle day. This was not a concern for Monday, however, when nearly all of the indie rock darlings of the moment were scheduled to perform, and Seattle’s eager youth were expected to be in attendance as a result.
First among this musical lot was Reignwolf, an absolutely savage musician who opened his set with a hobo he’d pulled off the street not too long before taking the stage. Seriously, this guy rocked so hard, the power of his guitar shredding elevated a street bucket-drummer to Herculean heights, a feat that absolutely blew the hair back off the foreheads
of nearly everybody in attendance. Only 1 p.m., and most at Bumbershoot were already collecting themselves from the Earth-shattering performance, which saw Saskatoon’s very own Jordan Cook (a.k.a. Reignwolf) simultaneously rip guitar chords whilst drumming away his very own beat.
Still, as has been mentioned in an earlier dispatch, at music festivals such as Bumbershoot, hard decisions always have to be made. As absolutely cracking as Reignwolf was, your humble author had to make his way over to see the L.A.-based garage-pop band, Best Coast, who in three short years have enraptured the indie rock community with their infectious and catchy offerings. Somewhat lo-fi, Best Coast is what Loretta Lynn’s career would have looked like if she joined a surf-rock band from the early-70’s. Anchored by the soulful but never extraneous vocals of lead-singer Bethany Cosentino, whose sound comes off as a cross between Stevie Nicks and the Pixies’ Kim Deal, Best Coast was a wonderful opening act for Monday, as their songs about cheap love, pleasant sunshine, and good jams hit the perfect note for the day’s activities.
Or maybe it just felt that way. Optimistic by its very nature, Best Coast seemed to fit the day’s vibe, at least for those going to the reservation/press-only Passion Pit afternoon set, which promised to be a small, intimate affair with maybe a sparse hundred or so in attendance. One of the indie scene’s heaviest hitters at present, Passion Pit and its electro-synth-pop sound has brought legions of Hipster music fiends to their knees in venues all over the country. They pulled this same feat off Monday afternoon, when a captivated Bumbershoot audience crowded into a tiny performance hall to watch a quick 30 minute “unplugged” set by the band before their main performance later that night.
Something of a disco-rock fusion that sounds like a cross between Of Montreal and The Flaming Lips, Passion Pit’s sound also has a little Talking Heads in it. Sometimes maligned for being too produced in the studio, the intimate unplugged session was a rare treat for fans of the band, for it showcased lead-singer Michael Angelakos’ delicate falsetto voice in a setting where its gentle flutter could pass through the audience unhindered. Though only half an hour long, the set’s mixture of old standards and new cuts captivated a crowd that knew just how lucky they were to be in attendance for the bonus set.
All was not well at Bumbershoot, however. Though Passion Pit’s intimate set cleared the way for a 9:30 p.m. Skrillex set that was up against Passion Pit’s full evening performance right around the same time, Skrillex was already commanding a main stage line that had, at 4:30 in the afternoon, already begun to reach a quarter of a mile in length. This was a major problem for Skrillex fans that had come to Bumbershoot primarily (or in some cases, solely) for a glimpse at 2012’s hottest D.J./producer. Indeed, many had to make a decision that afternoon about whether they wanted to see Skrillex on the one hand, or any of the other two dozen or so acts playing between 4:30 and Skrillex’s scheduled 9:30 set.
Consummate professional that I am (and never in any mood to stand in line for five goddamned hours), I opted for the latter course, and headed away from the massive line to catch some of the set from New York City’s The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. An
interesting, though somewhat blasé indie rock group whose music was in no way matched by the band’s boundless energy and enthusiasm, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart had all the right pieces, and most of the correct sounds, yet came off as a group that hadn’t quite figured out how to assemble everything in the proper order.
All was not lost, however, for there were other acts worth checking out during this late-afternoon twilight hour, including legendary ska-punk rock-and-soul group Fishbone, whose unique amalgam of rebellious funk and silly humor have kept a loyal and devoted fan base coming back for over thirty years. Easily the most rabidly eager and boisterous crowd of the entire festival, this was where you’d run into that skateboarder burnout you haven’t seen since high school, that forty year old pot dealer you haven’t seen since college, or that trashy bar hook-up you haven’t seen since you woke up in the woman’s apartment the next day, and snuck out the bathroom window. It was an odd and eclectic scene, yet an irresistibly fun one to be in the midst of, for when Fishbone rips, nearly everything within a three mile radius is aware of the fact.
Yet the day’s biggest surprise was just around the corner, and came in female form. Lightsis the stage name for Canadian singer Valerie Poxleitner, whose shattering
performance on Monday evening nearly cracked the city of Seattle in half. Dressed in tight short-shorts and a low-buttoned flannel, when Lights stepped on stage, every woman in attendance instantly became self-conscious whilst every man started thinking about how freakishly inadequate they were. An absolute goddess with a voice that could cut glass, Lights tore into her set with reckless abandon, and challenged the hard working band behind her to keep up with the full-throttle performance she was blasting out as if from a rock and roll fire hose.
Vocally, Lights is very similar to Deb Harry during the Blondie years, yet has a powerful, Arcade Fire-style rock backbone befitting her Canadian roots. Indeed, the woman’s cover of “Heart of Glass” nearly caused a dancing stampede, and safely brought the Bumbershoot Festivities into the evening. This was where The Vaselines awaited: for those stumbling out of the awesome magnificence of the Lights set, and with no chance of getting in to see Skrillex, had few other choices. The Scottish group that Kurt Cobain was a fan of certainly didn’t disappoint loyal devotees, yet largely confounded those unfamiliar with The Vaselines, and their relatively tame brand of garage rock.
To wrap things up, most went from the toe-tapping Vaselines set to the second-biggest act of the day, Passion Pit. Most at Bumbershoot hadn’t been lucky enough to catch the intimate unplugged performance earlier in the day, and crowded into the second-largest outdoor stage area to catch Cambridge, Massachusetts’ proudest indie rock accomplishment. A boisterous, lively, energetic group, it was a wonderful way to close out the festival, for those who had chosen to end the day in Passion Pit’s company left with a pleasant taste in their mouth, and a song in their heart. Though rumors of openings in the Skrillex show abounded, I remained with Passion Pit, and the cool evening breeze that carried the band’s music into the night.
In all, a damn fine festival, both for those in attendance, and for the neighboring restaurants, convenient stores, and vagrants who all saw an uptick in traffic and business as a result of the holiday weekend’s festivities. On their way home and on the cusp of yet another busy work week, most of the Bumbershoot crowd returned to their homes artistically enlightened, and at a reasonable hour, for those Seattle residents in attendance had a paltry ten or fifteen minute commute home, where another month or so of blissful weather and memories of a musically diverse weekend awaited them.
By Warren Cantrell
Photos by Tahna Edwards