Bumbershoot | 08.30.08

fest_bumbershoot2_sm.jpgMan Man offers a visual feast with five members dressed in a variety of white clothing and their instruments (too many to mention here) tightly packed into the middle of the stage.







Seattle Center

Bumbershoot is different. It’s not only an amazing music festival filled with national acts as it’s billed as a music and arts festival, so the experiential possibilities are endless. If you so chose, you could avoid music completely and spend your day watching dance troupes, listening to comedians, taking in theater or cinema, or listening to novelists. But Bumbershoot is first and foremost for music junkies, and the variety of artists makes it different than many of the other major festivals. Stages are loosely organized by style. Punks can spend their whole day at the Exhibition Hall and hear The Fall of Troy, Unearth and Anti-Flag. Alt-country fans would undoubtedly check out Neko Case and Lucinda Williams at the main stage and then wander around the smaller stages. There’s indie rock, hip-hop, world music, soul, reggae and blues, all under the watchful eye of the Space Needle at Seattle Center. With the highly varied lineup comes a highly varied crowd of all ages (including many a stroller navigating the crowds), which can be alternately interesting and infuriating. Long lines to enter beer gardens, getting stuck at nonmoving intersections in between bands, having to deal with drunken college guys who hoist equally drunk girls on their shoulders to flash the crowd (with, subsequently, grumbles from behind). But Bumbershoot welcomes them all.

When the schedule was announced, a collective groan was heard throughout Seattle as the Saturday night lineup was realized. Beck vs. M.Ward vs. !!!. Easily three of biggest draws of the weekend going head to head meant some tough decisions. As expected, Beck ultimately won out as the other two will likely be back around, but an outdoor Beck show in front of thousands was something rare to behold. On Saturday, tickets for the Beck show were passed out on a first-come, first-served basis and were sold out by mid-afternoon.

Navigating Bumbershoot involves some careful planning; what typically happens is that you see preferred artists and then catch a few songs while moving around or while downing a drink in the beer garden. After the decision to skip M. Ward in favor of Beck, the rest of my day on Saturday fell into place. Public transportation woes caused me to miss Lucinda Williams’ set, and I headed straight to check out Thao with the Get Down Stay Down for several songs. Thao Nguyen has a human beatbox ability which was showcased prominently, along with grooving indie pop songs. Nguyen and her band turned out to be the pleasant surprise of the day and are definitely worth checking out.

Next stop was local radio station KEXP’s showcase featuring !!!. This was a big bonus, as many were likely to miss this dance-punk band later in the evening (the fact was not lost on lead singer Nic Offer, who promised to the crowd that the band would play poorly at this show in favor of an amazing show later on). !!! features seven members including multiple percussionists, several keyboards and a wildly enthusiastic Offer prancing around the stage in short-shorts and a tight t-shirt. Their 30-minute set featured mostly new songs from a forthcoming album (which sounded great, by the way) and some "hits," including "Heart of Hearts" to close.

A short walk accompanied by bluesy Joe Bonamassa in the background took me to the Rock Star stage and Man Man. Similar to !!!, this Philadelphia band offers a visual feast with five members dressed in a variety of white clothing and their instruments (too many to mention here) tightly packed into the middle of the stage. Man Man play a sort of free-from continuous show, with songs running together back to back to back. The band is led by pianist Honus Honus, though all members play multiple instruments and sing at various points in the songs. The vocals all have a Waitsian edge coupled with a vaudevillian backdrop of various instruments and sounds. Highlights were songs off their new album Rabbit Habits, which found all five members playing percussion simultaneously, and closing song "Van Helsing Boombox" off Six Demon Bag. Manic behavior has never seemed so well orchestrated.

There were about 30 minutes before Beck began, so I swung by West Indian Girl at the Experience Music Project’s Sky Church. The L.A. band is fronted by a stunningly beautiful lead singer, Mariqueen Maandig, who provides soaring vocals to the group’s atmospheric pop. The first song was impressive and made me move in for a closer look. However, the second song’s lyrics (something about "the time of blood and waste") had me heading toward the door, thinking I ought to get a good spot for the Beck show.

Beck played the headlining show at Memorial Stadium, which was packed on the floor and up both sides of seats. He emerged with his now well-identified black hat and long hair and immediately ripped into a rocked out version of Mellow Gold’s "Loser." In fact, the first four or five songs all seemed amped up from their original versions, including a funked-up version of Bob Dylan’s "Leopardskin Pillbox Hat." Beck’s set featured songs from throughout his catalogue (with the odd exception of Mutations, his most underrated album), as well as selections from his excellent new album Modern Guilt, including "Gamma Ray," "Modern Guilt" and first-set closer "Chemtrails." Ever the showman, Beck brought his band forward halfway through the set and performed two songs off of Guerolito via electronic noisemakers and drum machines. After a number of slow numbers from Sea Change, encores "Where’s It’s At" and "E-Pro" were sufficient to get the crowd moving one more time. | Jim Mancini

Due to family issues outside of his control, Jim Mancini was unable to attend the final two days of the festival.

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