This isn’t the first time Lost in Reviews has been to Bumbershoot, yet it does promise to be one of the finest examples of this particular music festival that this publication has ever been a party to. As is always the case, the Bumbershoot Music Festival is held over Labor Day, the unofficial weekend bellwether which signals the end of summer. And while it is usually a handful of weeks, or even a month, until the true arrival of Fall, the residents of western Washington treat Bumbershoot and the Labor Day weekend as a cherished commodity not to be wasted. The proposed lineup reflected this attitude, and a majority of those that attended Bumbershoot’s first day seemed to agree.
There were a number of big names scheduled to perform on Saturday, some of which included the classic rock sister act, Heart, and up-and-coming hip hop sensation Kendrick Lamar. Yet a handful of indie and electronic rock acts with fairly large, dedicated followings there were also. Crystal Castles and !!! (chk chk chk) played on Saturday, and blew the few doors in the Seattle Center off their hinges. Smaller acts like The Robert Glasper Experiment and Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires also held their own against Bumbershoot’s bigger fish, and provided a much needed funk and soul base for the day’s musical stew.
Speaking of The Robert Glasper Experiment, it’s as good a place to start as any. Their record, Black Radio, snagged the 2013 Grammy for Best R&B Album, and watching them play, the prize certainly seemed justified. Watching them, Glasper and his boys, didn’t seem to just be going through the motions of some well-rehearsed electro-jazz odyssey, but were instead probing the limits of what might be accomplished via the synthesis of jazz and electronic rock. Their music has the sound of Radiohead during their Kid A period mixed with Miles Davis in his post-acid phase. The Robert Glasper Experiment might not be for everyone, yet it’s original if nothing else, and for that alone, it is worth checking out.
Bouncing around the festival, the next group this particular journalist came across was Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. An indie rock band with a folksy backbone, the group played to the crowd well, and had a few decent songs, yet there was a lack of creative flourish, and a recycled sound that spoke to a lack of substance. Perhaps it was because they played not long after The Robert Glasper Experiment, or maybe it’s because bands like Best Coast or Fleet Foxes do it so much better, but Thao and her Get Down Stay Downs didn’t leave a distinct impression.
Oh, and speaking of acts that didn’t exactly make time stand still; let’s take a second to discuss Kendrick Lamar. As a professional music critic, one covering music festivals and the like, there are certain expectations a person must confront. If sent out to cover a music event, and a particularly popular artist happens to be in attendance, one is expected to take the measure of that performer. Such was the case with Kendrick Lamar, who is apparently all the rage within the hip hop community right now.
Meh. Whatever. Lamar’s rapping style isn’t as technically demanding and/or impressive as contemporaries such as Twista or Tech N9ne, and his beats aren’t in the same sport, let alone league, as other artists like Kanye West, Jay-Z, or even Macklemore. As a performer, his stage presence didn’t amount to much more than a competition to see which side of the crowd was loudest (this went on for quite some time, and hasn’t been a fresh move since 1978). Although all the 22 and 23 year old white kids in attendance seemed mesmerized, this particular journalist wasn’t impressed.
Still, the day was far from lost. Indie rock mainstays !!! played in the late afternoon, and redeemed every bad band or singer who has ever performed…anywhere, in the history of forever. Seriously, on Saturday, !!! didn’t play Bumbershoot, they owned Bumbershoot. If a person has ever seen the band play, it’s hard to imagine how they could forget the experience. Lead singer Nic Offer attacks the stage with every performance, and seems to treat every live performance like it is both his first and last time in front of a crowd. Committing himself to the performance fully, gesticulating, jumping, climbing, and crawling at every opportunity, Offer had the Bumbershoot audience absolutely rocking. Easily the best performance of the day, !!! was a tough act to follow.
Indeed, the next this particular journalist caught was Charles Bradley His Extraordinaires, a decent group that probably suffered from a combination of !!! and sun-fatigue. Bradley’s group started promptly at 8 p.m., as dusk began to settle in. Whether it was the exhaustion of an hour’s worth of dancing during !!!’s set, or the natural relaxation of a body enjoying the first few moments of the sun’s departure, Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires seemed to slow things down. Their soulful rhythms were solid, yet weren’t quite on the same level as more seasoned groups within the genre (see Lee Fields and the Expressions, or Fitz and the Tantrums).
Still, to perk things up, there was the day’s inevitable showdown to look forward to. Heart, one of the festival’s headliners, was scheduled to perform at 10 p.m. on the ‘Main’ stage (Key Arena). This wouldn’t have been a proper, high-end music festival without a couple nasty face-offs, however, and as luck would have it, Crystal Castles was lined up on the ‘Tune In’ stage at 10 as well. While Heart did siphon off a good chunk of those in attendance late in the evening, those who came to Bumbershoot to dance their asses off and sweat with bleeding ears underneath the stars went to see Crystal Castles.
A take-no-prisoners electro-punk rock duo comprised of lead singer Alice Glass and producer Ethan Kath. It’s hard to write about this band, or give an original description of their sound or genre, for some of the stuff that’s been written about Crystal Castles verges on poetry in its own right. The band’s sound has been described as an enveloping exploration of oppressive drum beats mixed with synth-pop and white-hot noise. Amazingly, that’s pretty accurate. If forced to do it, this particular journalist might say that listening to Crystal Castles is like riding a giant, horse-sized rabbit that is running down the side of an erupting volcano and shooting laser beams out of its eyes.
In any event, it was a great way to close out the evening. Better still, there’s plenty to look forward to, as well. Sunday, the second day of the festival, sports probably the best single lineup of any day of Bumbershoot, and boasts such acts as The Zombies, The Animals (with Eric Burdon), Mates of State, Matt and Kim, Ra Ra Riot, and Death Cab for Cutie. Stay tuned, folks – it’s only going to get better.
by Warren Cantrell