SP20 | 07.12-13.08

fest_sp20.jpgSP20 took place at Marymoor Park, a gorgeous venue just outside Seattle on two perfect Northwest summer days.




Marymoor Park
Seattle, Wash.

Sub Pop Records has been feeding the indie music lover’s appetite for 20 long years now. They started out loud, birthing grunge with Nirvana’s Bleach and releasing records by Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Green River (whose members went on to form Pearl Jam); they later signed indie legends such as Sebadoh and the Afghan Whigs. Presently, the label is at a new peak, with acts such as The Shins and Band of Horses and rising stars Fleet Foxes and Wolf Parade. The Sub Pop 20th anniversary festival provided a showcase for new and old, with a slough of current bands as well as some impressive reunions, notably Green River and the Vaselines. Sub Pop’s sound today is varied, from the punk-pop of The Thermals to the melody driven and rootsy sound of Iron & Wine to some of best comedy albums to be released in recent years, Flight of the Conchords and David Cross.

SP20 took place at Marymoor Park, a gorgeous venue just outside Seattle on two perfect Northwest summer days. Sub Pop decreased downtime, as two stages were set up side by side and bands were up and ready as soon as the previous band was finished. One difference to note compared to other music festivals was a definite lack of choice. Everyone in attendance was subjected to all the bands, so even if you were there to see some of the mellower bands on the bill, you were forced to sit through the aggressive punk rock of The Fluid or the heavy instrumental rock of Kinski. This also created an occasional awkward transition, as the bands appeared in terms of their celebrity rather than with thought to musical style. Though with sets lasting only 40 minutes, one could tolerate the wait or simply embark on a journey to partake of one of the local Northwest brews available on tap.

Highlights of the two days were Fleet Foxes, Mudhoney and Iron & Wine’s solo acoustic set. Fleet Foxes lived up to their harmonious reputation, with most members singing on each song throughout the set. The local band gathered the biggest crowd of the day (prior to the evening shows) to hear selections from their EPs and recently released self-titled debut album. Mudhoney has been around for all 20 years of Sub Pop and, with a recently released new album, seem as relevant as they were during the grunge era. Frontman Mark Arm’s voice continues to be as powerful as it was in the late ’80s; he also returned on Sunday to sing with Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament as part of Green River. While some were disappointed that Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) came without the excellent band with whom he has toured since the release of The Shepherd’s Dog, all was forgiven once he began his show. He provided an inspiring performance, with selections from most of his albums and a demonstration of his fine guitar-playing skills. His interaction with the audience was the most pleasant surprise, as he was confident and funny throughout the performance. The set ended with his cover of The Postal Service’s "Such Great Heights," which he shyly admitted he had not played in several years.

Other impressive performances included Low (though listening to Low on a beautiful sunny day seems terribly out of context), the Grand Archives, Foals, Helio Sequence and No Age. Both Helio Sequence and No Age are two-member bands, which always seem so impressive when seen live. The Saturday night headliner, Flight of the Conchords, seemed somewhat of an odd choice, as they tread the line between music and comedy. However, they pulled it off as they played new material as well as their most well-known songs ("Business Time," "Part-Time Model," "Robots"). and deftly dealt with getting pegged with a pair of underwear with characteristic humor.

While low points were few, The Vaselines’ much-hyped first tour of the United States seemed unimpressive, in part due to ill-conceived banter involving toilet humor and intentionally vague introductions to their more well-known songs (those made famous by Nirvana during their MTV Unplugged performance). All and all, though, it was a successful 20th birthday party and, with all proceeds going to charity, a good cause as well. With its current roster and level of talent, Sub Pop intends to be part of the music scene for years to come. SP25, anyone? | Jim Mancini

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