Review and photos – Bumbershoot Sept 3 2011
– review by Shawn Conner/photos by Robyn Hanson
Much is being made of Bumbershoot’s new scaled-down format. Last year, Bob Dylan, Hole and Weezer headlined the Memorial Stadium (see our coverage here); this year, Ray LaMontagne, Wiz Khalifa and Hall & Oates are closing out the successive three nights at the considerably smaller Key Arena. Also gone: the Broad Street Stage, which served as an oasis for indie-rock fans, and the literary program, which last year brought Maakies cartoonist Tony Millionaire to the festival. And let’s not forget that Bumbershoot was once a four-day event.
And for the first time in memory, I found myself facing a Bumbershoot schedule with almost no conflicting acts – that is, having to choose between two, three or even four bands I really wanted to see. In fact, yesterday (Saturday) saw some dead space where there was nothing to do but sit in one of the beer gardens. Which, granted, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
And there were some surprises – acts I wouldn’t normally think to check out but ended up liking. So without further ado…
Bumbershoot 2011 Day 1 – Saturday, Sept 3 2011
Witchburn – It was too nice of an afternoon to spend much time indoors, but Seattle metal band Witchburn drew us in with singer Jamie Nova‘s tremendous pipes, which reached out of the Exhibition Hall to assault us on our way to the press check-in. We couldn’t resist checking them out and were rewarded with the last 10 minutes of their bludgeoning set; as Nova put it, “Hello to all the new ‘Burn victims.”
Champagne Champagne – The Seattle hip-hop trio’s early afternoon set drew a huge crowd, though family-unfriendly lines about “sucking on your titties” probably caused more than a few parents to shield their precious ones’ ears. The group, which has a track called “Molly Ringwald” (bonus points), performed a great bouncy dance number (possibly called “Bounce”?) from a forthcoming album. The group ruined it all for me by introducing a track by saying “This one’s about peer pressure” and then repeating the words “peer pressure peer pressure” over and over again. Thanks for the insight.
Wagons – Only managed to catch a couple of songs from this Australian country-rock act, which was playing to a lot fewer people at the Starbucks Stage (aka “the older folks stage”). However, the band played with spit ‘n’ polish and one of the tracks, “Down Low”, had me making a note to download ASAP.
Shelby Earl – We hadn’t heard of Ms. Earl before this but the Seattle singer’s charm, strong country-inflected tunes and the venue (the moody, cavernous EMP Level 3 Stage) all won us over. Especially great was Earl and band’s rendition of Kasey Chambers‘ “Rattlin’ Bones”, which made the afternoon a salute to Australian country-rock. Sort of. Earl announced her album Burn the Boats will get a national release this fall; tunes like “At the Start”, an NPR song of the week, will hopefully ensure she doesn’t have to go back to her day job.
PS I Love You – This much-loved (by Canadian indie-rock cogniscenti, at least) Kingston, Ontario duo earned my enmity with a cover of Madonna‘s “Where’s the Party” (recorded for a True Blue cover album) that, with singer/guitarist Paul Saulnier‘s animal-cry vocals, turn the track into easy irony. However, live on the Fountain Lawn Stage (where passersby as well as indie-rock fans gathered) the band made a sort-of sense; Saulnier has a quiver-full of great riffs, and Benjamin Nelson on drums matches the big man’s ferocity. Even Saulnier’s tortured-cat vocals sounded okay in this context, though Bumbershooters out for an afternoon of accessible fun were probably not lining up for autographs after the set.
Shabazz Palaces – This Sub Pop-signed Seattle act’s atmospheric hip-hop probably sounded a lot better up close and personal than it did from the beer-garden terrace overlooking the Fisher Green Stage; from where we sat, the music was mostly lost and the energy seemed dissipated. These guys – and for a couple of tracks, two female singers – might be better in a small club than on a big out-door stage, or maybe I just needed to get my butt down to the green.
Little Dragon – Little Dragon mesmerized with their synth-heavy dance-pop, clever melodies and singer Yukimi Nagano‘s stage presence and vocals; an enthralling performance and one that probably introduced the Swedish band to hundreds of new fans. And isn’t that what Bumbershoot – even as it seems to shrink a little more each year – is all about?