You know, once you fought your way past the tall fences, the hour-long lines, and the general disorganization that was Bumbershoot 2015, there were some bright spots. The artists themselves really put themselves out there to give a great performance, and it really helped feed the crowd a bit of the life and excitement that seemed to be lacking. With five stages for music and endless rooms of art, performance, film, comedy, and panels, there was just so much to take in.
I arrived at the Seattle Center complex with thick gray clouds building behind the Space Needle. After a bit of time spent trying to find the proper entrance- which of course was on exactly the other side of the campus from where I was, with an insurmountable wall of green fencing separating me from my goal- I decided to set off in search of the #NeverTamed stage, where the iconic riot grrl band Babes in Toyland was set to perform next. Their set was energetic and they had every bit as much angst as they did in 1992. They also had plenty of puddles to splash around in, thanks to the torrential downpour that saw fit to soak everyone in the King County area with the strongest storm we'd seen all summer. The lightning held off long enough that they were able to play my favorite song, 'Bruise Violet', but their set ended shortly after when the lightning became too intense to continue. Soaked and cold, I sought cover in the International Fountain Pavilion, where an art exhibit featuring a retrospective of the Punk scene in Seattle during the 70's was on display. I enjoyed browsing fashion-forward images of bygone days while drying off and warming up, especially show posters from 1972- think how exciting it must have been to be involved in the birth of a subculture! Those kinds of things just don't happen anymore.
The hellacious storm lightened up after about an hour, so I ventured back into the rain to where The Airborne Toxic Event was starting up. I'd never seen them live, so I was pleasantly surprised when the joyful approach the band claims to take to their music translated into a bubbly, quirky stage show. Synths and strings and drums melded into a delightfully indie-trancey sound- at least until their keyboard cut out. I suspect the puddles left onstage may have had a role in that, but the band seamlessly transitioned into a song that didn't need the keys. A tech (those unsung heroes of the live show!) got them up and running again in no time, and they finished out their set with vocalist and viola player Anna Bulbrook taking a leap off the stage into the drenched arms of a happy crowd.
Feeling a bit more uplifted but still getting rained on, I decided to head over to Memorial Stadium to check out Fitz and the Tantrums. This indie-pop band was one that I'd heard but never really connected with- good music, but not something I was likely to seek out. I am, however, glad that I caught them live. The energy from the singers, Michael and Noelle, was refreshing and buoyed the audience. The whole band had a great energy and was really locked in with one another- I also got to hear music I'd not heard from the band, and the way they incorporated classic soul and R&B elements was unique and clever.
From there, I headed back outside so I could catch alt-rockers Cake. Disappointingly, the energy here was a bit subdued since singer John McCrea was definitely under the weather, sometimes coughing deeply in between songs. Still, he tried his best to be animated and joke as he could between songs, and he took full advantage of the bag of cough drops a fan tossed onstage for him. Ending their set with their hit 'Going the Distance' the set ended on a high note and the crowd sent Cake off with a raucous cheer.
Up next was pop violinist Lindsey Stirling, and she was every bit as adorable as I had hoped. Coming onstage in a very Victorian bustle dress, she was a spark in the damp, drizzly evening. The dance and EDM elements in her music offset the beautiful tone of her violin, and her skill at the instrument is formidable. The choreography and gothic backdrop projected during her set was also wonderful, and all in all it closed out a day that had an iffy start quite wonderfully.
Unlike other festivals, the biggest day of Bumbershoot is usually Sunday. Since the organizers figure most people have the next day off, there's always a lot to do on the second day, and this year was no exception. Up first was Dead Moon, punk rock from Portland that I was really looking forward to. Unfortunately, they only made it through a few songs (including my favorite Walking on My Grave) before the singer, Fred Cole, braced himself on all fours and had to be helped offstage. (I later found out he was hospitalized due to complications from a heart condition- feel better, Fred!). It's never a good feeling to see someone go down like that onstage, so I decided to steady myself with a drink in the fenced-off beer garden and wait for The Melvins to take the stage. King Buzzo, looking for all the world like his hair was, as usual, on a completely different gravitational plane, appeared in nothing less than a black robe adorned with gold eyes. Appearances were not deceiving; The Melvins played a rowdy set where their two drummers (yes, two!) played off one another in a terrifically entertaining way, at times totally stealing the spotlight. Recorded versions of this band just can't capture the pure, unadulterated, weird joy this band has live, and I highly suggest checking them out if you can. If you love loud, brash rock and roll, you won't be disappointed.
Now thoroughly entertained, I decided to go see some bands I was not at all familiar with. Up first was Nikki Lane, a thoroughly adorable Outlaw Country starlet-in-making with a perky set. The music was nice, if a little forgettable, but her set was good and kept the audience bobbing along. After Nikki was The Cave Singers, a folksy band that would definitely appeal to fans of bands like Mumford and Sons, but wasn't really my cup of tea. The musicianship was solid though, and I took the opportunity to snag another beer and a comfy seat to finish out their set. I still had a lot of music ahead of me!
Up next was more punk- this time, Social Distortion. 37 years of punk rock under his belt, Mike Ness still manages to sound as angry as he ever did. They played one of their biggest hits, Ball and Chain, and even covered Johnny Cash and Hank Williams towards the end of the set, showing some impressive depth as he paid tribute to those original bad boys of music. The crowd was as angsty as any I'd seen (at least up front) and I wondered where all of these modern punks had materialized from, as outside I'd mainly seen an older crowd waiting to get in. I guess we all have our inner punk rocker just waiting for the right song to lure them out.
On to the last big show of my night, I headed off to see grunge rock/alternative 90's band Faith No More. When I lived in Florida, I hadn't heard about them in over a decade, but in Seattle their fanbase is still alive and kicking. Emphasis on kicking, after seeing the live show. The crowd was amped up even before the band hit the stage. Opening with an amazing rendition of Motherfucker, the band blazed through their setlist and the energy was at a definite high. They even covered some fun songs- 'Easy' by the Commodores and 'I Started a Joke' by the Bee Gees...not easy to do in a venue where everyone expects some good alt-grunge, but it worked. It so worked. They of course played the songs everyone knows from when MTV played videos, 'Epic' and 'We Care A Lot', but those honestly aren't the songs this crowd came for- all of Faith No More's portfolio is adored here, so they really got some love in Memorial Stadium. I'm still a little confused as to why the stage was covered in flowers and Mike Patton was dressed like a yogi, though. Oh well- let's just chalk that up to 'Seattle, right?' and call it a night.
Ah, the sun finally came out today! Glorious. Nothing beats Seattle in the sunshine! The first band to inspect today was The Moth and the Flame, an alt-rock band from the shiny city of Los Angeles. These guys were added to the lineup later than most, in June, but still put on a good showing. I'd never heard them before, so I was pleasantly surprised by the cool track 'Young & Unafraid', tying in electronics in much the way bands like M83 have in previous years. The vocal stylings of Brandon Robbins have a rich timbre and stand out beautifully- I had to make a note to pick up their album, it was that good.
Up next was Colony House, an indie rock band from Franklin, Tennessee with a catchy and energetic set. The style is good for those who enjoy bands like Kid Astray, and their poppy guitar lines tend to get stuck in your head. After Colony House came the Floozies, best described as funk dubstep. I'm not really sure anything else would give you the right impression- I kept thinking it sounded like Rick James had been abducted by Daft Punk. I'm not ashamed to say I liked it. I'm not sure I'd pick up an album, but it was certainly fun.
Emancipator was my next band, and was a total gear change from The Floozies. Serene, trip-hop influenced trance, Emancipator gave me the opportunity to just relax and chill in the sun for a bit, surrounded by boho-chic girls braving the elements. Thoroughly enjoyable, I think this may be my go-to yoga music from now on.
With that, I moved into the final musical foray of the 2015 Bumbershoot, Peaches. The electropunk queen had been doing panels on feminism during the weekend, but I hadn't the time to stop by any of those in all my dashing around. The glittering lightshow she put on dazzled, and her prowling presence onstage was brilliant and captivating. Her set was disappointingly short at just half an hour or so, but I left with my retinas burning from the fierceness (and maybe the sheer wattage of the neon!). If you like Katy Perry but wish she were tough- I mean, really tough, check out Peaches. She has a new album out later this year, and is such fun to rock out to in the car. She's not PC, but she is strong, and she isn't afraid to say what's on her mind. The Teaches of Peaches, indeed.
Thus ended my weekend of Bumbershoot 2015. Ups and downs, rain and shine, indoors and out, art and music- despite a takeover that has left some sour, the performers are what we come to Bumbershoot to see, and that's as it should be.