The Bumberdiary Day 1

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Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs: Interesting thing here. At last year’s Bumbershoot, the first act I saw was fellow alt-country chanteuse Kristen Ward, also at the Mural stage. I wasn’t impressed with her and said in my Bumberdiary last year that she doesn’t hold a candle to Star Anna, who was not on the bill. Well I think someone took what I said to heart, because in that exact same spot this year was Star Anna —and she proved to the patrons why she deserved to be there.

Her soulful, smoky croon was entrancing whether it was on rocking alt-country tunes or slow-burning blues romps, which was delivered perfectly by a band that has improved (and been through some changes) since I saw them play a free show last summer at the tiny park a block away from my apartment in Wenatchee. They’ve certainly come a long way since then, as evidenced by guest spots by Seattle songstress Carrie Akre and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, both of whom were fantastic. Also of note, me and my main man Travis Hay (proprietor of this here site) met McCready later in the day during Neko Case’s set. I’m still shaking from the thrill of meeting one of my all-time heroes. I don’t think I said one comprehendible word. But I digress.

Plants and Animals: I listened to their KEXP live set during my drive over (actually, I’m pretty sure they were partly responsible for the ticket I got while blowing through Issaquah), and I knew they were going to be a band not to miss. I’ve been digging their record for a few months now, which is hard to classify but has elements from modern folk rock, a little pop whimsy, and some ambitious arrangements. On the Broad Street stage they came out with more crunchy thunder and driving grooves than I was expecting (a good thing), and the singing was exceptional and not unlike the direction Arcade Fire took on their new album. This is a band to watch for sure.

Visqueen: My favorite power poppers started their tour for last year’s excellent Message to Garcia at Bumbershoot ‘09, and they returned for a victory lap this time around. First up was the KEXP Lounge, where leader Rachel Flotard, bassist Christina Bautista, and cellist Barb Hunter ripped their way through a punchy set that was probably about as upbeat as it got in there all weekend.

Flotard palm-muted her Les Paul throughout the show to restrain the songs a bit, but more memorably bantered like a stand-up in between songs. She flipped drummer Ben Hooker some crap about not being allowed to be on stage with them (he was up in the crowd), and told him to go sit behind the sneeze guard (the sound-proofing fiberglass that surrounded the seldom-used drum set on the stage all weekend), then led the crowd through a taunting chant of “BEN, BEN, BEN!” until he moved down to the left of the stage and awkwardly stood there for the rest of the show. Anyways, they closed with a particularly moving performance of “So Long,” Flotard’s gospel-like tribute to her since-passed father from Message to Garcia. The song featured just Flotard and Bautista beautifully harmonizing with each other alongside Hunter’s mournful cello. Not gonna lie, it got a little dusty in my eye area.

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes: These crazy hippies have been blowing up all summer with the impossible-to-escape “Home” (the first thing to challenge the record set by Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” for most radio formats to be played on), and knowing that their set at Broad Street would be overflowing, I opted instead to catch their quick EndSession in a secret boardroom in Macaw Hall. It was a bit awkward — they set down all 10 band members in two rows of chairs, making them look like a deranged school choir — but the songs are undeniably catchy. After hearing it live, I’m convinced “40 Day Dream” is set up perfectly for the same kind of success “Home” has received. Expect this band to either enjoy Arcade Fire-style adulation, or to go down in a spectacularly fiery plane crash (figuratively, not literally, speaking). If the latter happens, I’m pretty sure the lead female vocalist will be to blame. She was annoyingly adorable, if that’s make sense. Too many antidepressants are a bad thing, sweetie.

Civil Twilight: I’d heard a song by these Keane rip-offs (that’s right, KEANE rip-off. As in a rip-off of a Coldplay rip-off. As in a rip-off of a rip-off of wimpy Radiohead) on the radio a while ago, and I thought I recognized that song as I was walking by the Center House, so I thought “What the hell? Let’s try it.” Turns out it wasn’t that song, which I’m taking to mean they only do overwrought, intentionally epic minor-key ballads. Once is fine. Any more is very, very bad. I did not stick around.

The Decemberists: I’ll cover these guys more in depth later on, but it was a great set, albeit slightly shaky, which is completely understandable since they’ve taken a year off from touring. I appreciated the three new songs (totally not expected), and freaked the eff out when they closed with the completely awesome four-part prog-folk-opera “The Island.”

Neko Case: She’s one of my favorites, and I was ecstatic to finally see a full-blown solo set from her (remember the 2006 Sasquatch! hail disaster? Yeah, she was the victim). I heard everything I wanted to here, specifically the classic “Margaret Vs. Pauline,” the leadoff track from the untouchable Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and a sweet cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me.” Nobody sings like Ms. Neko, and her band — very heavy on dusty instrumentation — fits her style like a glove.

Bob Dylan: I checked him off the bucket list. He’s as big of a legend as it gets, obviously, but his voice sounds like a bucket of rusty nails going through a trash compactor that hasn’t been used since Dylan went Christian. Plus, his cadence is freaking annoying as hell. I want to sing along to “Just Like a Woman,” asshole. Don’t make it impossible to do so. And Jesus, it’s “Just Like a Woman.” Don’t sing it like a tuneless Tom Waits. That sucks. I gave him five songs, then watched a bit of Visqueen at the EMP and called it a night. And now I’m reaching for the I’m Not There soundtrack so I can hear Dylan songs the way they were meant to played — by other people.

Brent Stecker

About Brent Stecker

Brent is a journalist and small-time musician based in Wenatchee, Wash. His passion for music wasn’t discovered until his teenage years, however, when he first got his hands on a Rage Against the Machine CD. He spent the rest of his adolescence broadening his musical tastes, obsessively learning guitar, and harnessing his writing abilities in journalism classes.