Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival | 09/02-04/06

Onstage were two painters, a new trend in live music, each of whom painted a picture with their style of painting being affected by the flavor of the music (i.e., soft music was bright colors and soft lines; aggro music was sharp lines and dark colors).

 

Seattle, Wash.

Now in its 36th year, Seattle's Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival continues to attract musicians, visual artists, comedians, filmmakers, dancers, and craftsmen from all over the world. This year, the festival, held in the heart of downtown on the 74 acres of Seattle Center, was slightly smaller than recent years (reduced from four days to three), and the musical acts were a little more obscure than usual. Recent years have brought major bands like the Pixies, Death Cab for Cutie, Public Enemy, Modest Mouse, REM, and Bo Diddley, all of whom have created some huge crowds. This year's headliners: the 30th anniversary of the Steve Miller Band (?!), AFI (who are those guys?), Kanye West, and A Tribe Called Quest just didn't have the mass appeal in the indie rock town of Seattle. As a result, the crowds were a little thin this year, even though there was great weather all weekend (sunny in the 70s and 80s with no humidity).

While there are always interesting side shows going on, such as this year's roller derby tournament, poetry bus, and a showcase melding hip-hop and ballet, it is the music that the people come to see. Even though more than one festival goer commented to me that this year was a "weak lineup," there is always great music if you look hard enough.

Here are our highlights, in no particular order:

1. Blondie | It was a little creepy to watch 61-year-old Debbie Harry slink around the stage in a lime green outfit. However, these recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees showed why they are still cool. Many of the dance rock bands of late-including the Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Scissor Sisters, Artic Monkeys and Bloc Party-owe something to these folks. It was fun to hear songs like "Call Me" and "Tide Is High," too.

2. Daylight Basement | Bre Loughlin, former lead singer of the electonic-goth-rock band Kuma, started a new band that downplays the goth and electronic (though they are still there) and boosts the rock. The music is more catchy (i.e., poppy) than Kuma, and Loughlin danced around and interacted with the crowd like a true pro (washing away the the icky feelings left by Harry's prancing and dancing).

3. Alejandro Escavedo | This Austin-based singer/songwriter/guitarist combined his punk, indie rock, Latin, and southwestern rock influences with a smattering of electronic for a truly unique show. He went from quiet introspection to rock quickly and seamlessly. He recently fought Hepatitis C and won, and has created some great new music in the wake of his illness.

4. Of Montreal | Wearing frilly dandy shirts, these guys have been creating music sounding like electronic Belle and Sebastian since 1997, though I never heard of them before a few months ago. They are everything that I wish the Killers should be. On stage, they look like they are obviously having fun. With comments in between songs like "I'm sorry about what I was thinking" and irreverent jokes about crystal meth, Of Montreal are truly entertainers.

5. Cloud Cult | My personal favorite of the festival. A friend dragged me to this show, and this band blew my mind. An odd mix of folk, ambient electronic, industrial, punk, rock, and storytelling, this is a band that tries to send chills up your spine with its live show. The singer was humble, but still knew how to work a crowd. Onstage were two painters, a new trend in live music, each of whom painted a picture with their style of painting being affected by the flavor of the music (i.e., soft music was bright colors and soft lines; aggro music was sharp lines and dark colors). This interesting band features a cello, drummer, keyboard, electronics, bass, electric guitar, and male vocalist, and they share some double duty. They are all consummate performers. They had some interesting covers ("Mr. Tamborine Man" and "Hey Hey, My My") and many of their songs melted into each other. If you ever get a chance to see this band, reschedule your life so you can make it happen.

6. AFI | Musically, this blend of glam rock, industrial, and pop-punk is not my thing, and really not even very good. We walked in just to check it out and witnessed the band leaping all over the stage like full-on rock gods. Since the average age at this show appeared to be 15, the crowd ate up every pinwheel and raised their hands in the international sign for rockin', the devil horns. They even had a power ballad with the kids putting up their lighters and cell phones. When the 14-year-old girl in front of us screeched at the top of her lungs at the beginning of one song, I didn't even care that the music sucked.

7. Breakestra | This San Francisco-based funk collective made people wiggle and kept it funky. This is a band of very talented musicians. On their recent CD, Hit the Floor, the members of Jurassic 5 and the People Under the Stairs rap it up with them. While it would have been great see them onstage, Seattle's upcoming soul diva, Chocolate, sat in for a couple songs instead. She held her own and added a fun local dimension to a talented band.

8. Yerba Buena | A Latin funk band with each member representing a different musical style and language, which results in a more diverse sound than you might imagine. However, they are Cuban at their roots. They had two woman singers, and the rest of this band of virtuosos were shaking their thing when shaking was required. They definitely had a sense of humor, with songs like "Belly Dancer" and "Bilingual Girl" (with the great double entendre, "two tongues are better than one") which were all about celebrating, rather than objectifying, women. Their percussion guy was amazing, with his high-energy drumming, dancing, and jumping. At the end of their set, they invited the crown to jump on stage with them for dancing. That kind of energetic chaos is always impressive.

9. Halou | This Seattle electronic "chill" band is really best suited for a dark nightclub with fancy lights, but they played out in the sun. They still create some very relaxing and haunting melodies, using a cello, electronic sounds, and a lead singer with a sultry voice.

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