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A sea of grown men, crying in the rain

Jessica Hernandez at Bumbershoot 2014

Jessica Hernandez at Bumbershoot, Seattle, Sept 1 2014. Shawn Conner photo.

Recap – Bumbershoot 2014

– by Shawn Conner

For a lot of people – okay, for a lot of middle-aged men (and some women) – the highlight of this year’s Bumbershoot was always going to The Replacements. One of a handful of reunion shows the band’s played since reconstituting in 2013, the Bumbershoot appearance was the first sighting of the infamous ’80s group in the region since its 1991 dissolution. In that time, myth has surpassed fact, the hardcore fans have grown out of their original flannel, and legions of newer converts, many of whom probably thought they would never get the chance to see the band live, have joined the fold. It’s likely the ‘Mats could have played one of their notoriously sloppy sets, the kind where they could barely bash their way through a complete song, and many of us would still have gone home happy.

Fortunately, it was better than that. Much better.

But before we get to the Replacements’ Sunday evening set, what of the rest of Bumbershoot?

This year’s edition of the three-day Seattle music, arts and comedy festival might have had one of the best lineups in recent years, depending on who you asked (i.e., not the bartender I spoke to who thought this year’s lineup “kind of sucked ass”). If you grew up listening to pre-Internet college radio, though, it was pure gold, with stalwarts like Negativland, Los Lobos, Dream Syndicate, and Afghan Whigs keeping the dream of the ’90s (and ’80s) alive. As an added bonus, the lineup included an all-star ensemble, including members of REM, who have banded together to celebrate the third record from influential ’70s power-pop band, Big Star.

Our Bumbershoot officially began on Saturday with the hugely entertaining set by New Orleans’ bounce queen Big Freedia. With all that booty-shaking going on, it seemed like a show better scheduled for a nightclub rather than an outdoor stage in the middle of the afternoon with families strolling by. However, Freedia somehow managed to make the whole thing seem like good clean, innocent fun, especially when a bunch of audience members were invited onstage to shake their moneymakers. And did Big Freedia’s dancers ever work hard!

Early evening saw a blistering mainstage set by Elvis Costello and the Imposters. In a purple jacket and powder-blue hat (or was it the other way around?), Costello kept the between-song banter to a minimum as he and the Imposters blasted through a greatest-hits-like package that included “I Can’t Stand Up (for Falling Down)”, “High Fidelity”, “Everyday I Write the Book”, “Watching the Detectives”, “Oliver’s Army”, “Alison”, “Clubland”, “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea”, “Radio Radio”, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding”, and “Pump it Up”. Phew! The beloved entertainer sprinkled only a few newer tracks into the set, including “Walk Us Uptown” off last year’s collaboration with The Roots, Wise Up Ghost. This might have been the best I’ve ever seen him, though others I talked to missed the more voluble, wide-ranging Elvis shows.

The last chord of Costello’s guitar hadn’t even sounded when we turned to leave the stadium and came face-to-face with a vision that was like something out of a dystopian YA novel – a wall of hip-hop fans ploughing towards the mainstage in the hopes to secure the best vantage points to see the night’s final mainstage act, the Wu-Tang Clan.

For this festival-goer, that was easily the clearest reminder that Bumbershoot caters to several niches, not just aging indie-rock fans. In fact, there was a ton of musical acts that had nothing to do with guitar-based rock (and lots of comedians and visual art exhibits as well). Bumbershoot 2014 included both experimental (Julianna Barwick, Negativland) and crowd-pleasing (First Class) electronic artists and up-and-coming (Greyskul) and established (J. Cole, L.A. rapper Schoolboy Q, who apparently was joined onstage by Macklemore for a track) hip-hop acts.

Our night didn’t end with an EDM act in the Pavilion, but with The Both onstage outdoors at Fisher Green, scene of Big Freedia’s bounce earlier in the day. The new band formed by singer/songwriters Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, The Both (working as a trio with drummer Matt Mayhall) peppered their set with expectedly amusing stage banter, dedicated the song “Bedtime Stories” to deceased musician Scott Miller (Game Theory, Loud Family) and ended with “Voices Carry”, the 1985 hit by Mann’s former band ‘Til Tuesday.

Our Sunday started off the heavy-duty sound of Seattle trio Sandrider at the Fountain Lawn Stage followed by the sweetener of Kishi Bashi‘s often stunning set at the Fisher Green stage. The former Of Montreal violinist’s art-pop songs brought to mind Owen Pallett, but sounded epic in their own way.

Sandrider at Bumbershoot 2014

Sandrider at the Fountain Lawn Stage at Seattle Centre for Bumbershoot, Aug 31 2014. Shawn Conner photo.

Over on the Starbucks Stage, Dream Syndicate‘s set emphasized the L.A. group’s duelling-guitar sound and roots not only in the Velvet Underground and Television but also in West Coast punk. “They called us ‘paisley’,” noted lead vocalist Steve Wynn, referencing how the press once lumped the group into the so-called “paisley underground” movement of the ’80s. “But we were listening to Black Flag.” With that, the band ripped into one of its psyche-pop classics (“John Coltrane Stereo Blues”, I believe).

Then it was time for The Replacements.

The anticipation was high as fans and the curious flooded the floor of Memorial Stadium around the stage, and the show got off to a rousing start with “Favorite Thing”. The ‘Mats, including leader Paul Westerberg (resplendent in a Batman shirt), kept up the punk energy of their early days as a Minneapolis bar punk band with tracks like “Don’t Ask Why”, “Takin a Ride” and “I’m in Trouble” (off Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash) before playing a near-hit (the only kind the Replacements ever had) with “I’ll Be You”.

The rest of the set included “Valentine”, “Waitress in the Sky”, “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out”, “Take Me Down to the Hospital”, “Color Me Impressed”, “Achin’ to Be”, “Kiss Me on the Bus”, “Androgynous”, “Can’t Hardly Wait”, “Bastards of Young” and “Alex Chilton”. (A setlist posted at PaulWesterberg.com from the show also mentions “Swingin’ Party” and “I Will Dare”, but I don’t remember those – however I do recall a dirty-blues version of “White and Lazy” (from Stink)). For “Left of the Dial”, which came towards the end, Westerberg jumped off the stage and played in front of the barricade, with his back to the audience and facing the rest of the ‘Mats (including the only other original member, Tommy Stinson). The show also included a brief take on the Jackson 5‘s “I Want You Back” and a lesson in basic rock ‘n’ roll with a cover of “Maybelline”. (According to PaulWesterberg.com, The Replacements also did a song called “Love You in the Fall”, which is apparently from the soundtrack to the movie Open Season.) Afterwards, I ran into a friend who had been closer to the stage than I was, Dennis Mills from Vancouver band SK Robot. “At one point I looked around me, and there were all these guys crying,” he said. “And I realized I was one of them!” I was glad to hear I wasn’t the only one.

Nothing could top that, but the ensemble that paid tribute to Big Star with a complete cover of the influential ’70s group’s third album came close. The assembled included a 10-piece string-and-brass section as well as original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, the PosiesJon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, REM‘s Mike Mills and Peter Buck, Pearl Jam‘s Mike McCready, Chris Stamey (formerly of the DBs), and guest vocalists like Skylar Gudasz and Stephens himself.

Our night should’ve ended there, but we headed up the Space Needle, where we saw none other than the Replacements’ Stinson, also enjoying the view.

On Monday, the third and last day of the festival, we spent the afternoon seeing Vancouver/Montreal band Gold and Youth on the Endzone Stage in the stadium, Seattle surf-rockers La Luz on the Fountain Lawn Stage and Detroit’s Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas on the Starbucks Stage.

La Luz at the Fountain Lawn Stage at Seattle Centre for Bumbershoot 2014

La Luz at the Fountain Lawn Stage at Seattle Centre for Bumbershoot, Sept 1 2014. Shawn Conner photo.

As good as Hernandez and her band’s soulful rock was sounding, we couldn’t resist leaving mid-set to check out Ukrainian band DhakaBrakha on the Fisher Green Stage. The four-piece, which uses drums, vocals, accordion and keyboards, mostly, was amazing – emotional, political, haunting. As we headed off the Bumbershoot grounds, our path took us past the Starbucks Stage just in time to catch the last minute of the final song of Hernandez’ set – a cover of Le Tigre‘s “Deceptacon”.

Jessica Hernandez at Bumbershoot 2014

Jessica Hernandez at Bumbershoot, Seattle, Sept 1 2014. Shawn Conner photo.

And so another Bumbershoot came to an end, at least or us, though there was still plenty to see – including Jonathan Richman. Until next year, Seattle Center!

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