The first day of the 42nd annual Bumbershoot was a blast. It was filled with great music (I’m talking about you Don’t Talk to the Cops, The Heavy and King Khan and the Shrines), some minor tweaks to the festival grounds (no EMP Sky Church this year) and of course lots of fun people watching. Here’s a rundown of some of the highlights and lowlights from Day 1.
The plaindromically named TacocaT provided a bubbly way to kick things off at the Sub Pop stage, and I’m not saying that just because they had a bubble machine that was in full effect throughout their set. Sure the bubbles helped add a playful atmosphere to the band’s already playful presence (singer Emily Nokes was a bouncy bundle of fun in her pink tutu), but it was the Hardly Art band’s songs that really sold the band’s playful demeanor. Goofy pop-rock songs about urinary tract infections, Anna Nicole Smith and Nancy Kerrigan were all excellent ways to ease into the rest of the day. And yes, a song about urinary tract infections can be fun.
While TacocaT provided a pretty good start to the day, headliners Jane’s Addiction provided a pretty poor ending with a haphazard set at KeyArena plagued with sound issues and a frontman who should consider throwing in the towel, or at the very least laying off the booze and treating his voice better.
Jane’s Addiction came with an arena-read rock show complete with plenty of pieces of visually engaging eye candy — aerial dancers, a backup singer literally interpreting a song, dancers dressed like dominatrices and more — but Perry Farell, the band’s biggest focal point, ruined the entire show. “Mountain Song,” “Been Caught Stealing” and “Just Because” all appeared within the first five songs but you would have been hard pressed to figure that out if you didn’t know the melodies to those alt-rock mainstays. Farrell — who is always fun to watch, especially when he goes all Axl Rose and starts dancing like a slithering, shirtless snake — was a mess of a frontman and his voice was just plain terrible. Sometimes it could be heard, other times it was noticeably absent. Maybe it was the bottle of wine he continuously drank from between songs (and verses) that caused his slurred banter and sloppy singing, or maybe it’s his age catching up to him. After all, a strong case could be made for 53 being a tad too old to be dancing around on stage in tight leather pants that leave little to the imagination.
Meanwhile, Dave Navarro, a man whose torso is almost as famous as his guitar playing (Seriously, has he ever been spotted wearing a shirt?), played mightily. But as great as he shredded, he couldn’t overcome the handicap that was Farrell. Yes, Jane’s Addiction is a band that should be playing arenas, but unfortunately if they continue to deliver sets like they did at Bumbershoot their arena-rocking days will be numbered.
Fortunately, Jane’s Addiction was one of the few lows my Bumbershoot experience delivered Saturady. Earlier in the day King Khan and the Shrines weren’t as rowdy as I expected them to be considering what happened the last time I saw them, but even though they were dialed down a bit, KK and the Shrines still brought the R&B boogie to the KEXP Music Lounge. The nine-song set, which included a rare Music Lounge encore and a song dedicated to Jay Reatard, was chock full of cuts from The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines with the highlight coming during “Take Out the Trash” when the bassist and guitar player exited the stage and played their parts while walking through the crowd.
Australian Missy Higgins opened the main stage with an endearing set of pop songs. She’s well-known in her homeland and is currently touring with Gotye which will definitely give her some well-deserved extra exposure in the U.S. She stayed behind a keyboard for most of her set but did leave keys in favor of a guitar in order to perform the touching “Sweet Arms of a Tune” solo which was a highlight. Her voice soared through KeyArena (which is why Perry Farrell has no excuse) and if the response from the rather large crowd was any indication, she’s someone to keep an eye on as it’s likely her profile will only continue to get bigger.
Higgins’ Aussie counterpart, Gotye, or the guy who had the song of 2012 that wasn’t “Call Me Maybe,” showed that he has the ability to be more than a one-hit wonder. KeyArena was close to capacity (which hovers around 18,000) and Gotye and his band more than held up their end of the bargain with a great sounding set. Gotye played just about every instrument on the stage, ranging from a set of percussion instruments to a drum kit to a sampler and keyboard, displaying some solid musicianship along with a strong set of pipes.Video screens displayed fancy animations and his band was on point delivering a solid set throughout with “Easy Way Out” and “State of the Art” being two of the songs that stood out the most, except for that one song of course.
And about that one song. By the time Gotye got around to performing “Somebody That I Used To Know,” which came at the end of the set, it was clear he had the crowd won over but he gets a mixed review for the delivery of the hit single. Since he isn’t touring with Kimbra, who sings the female parts of the song, Missy Higgins typically duets with Gotye. However, Higgins was at an autograph signing session on the festival grounds that was scheduled during the same time as Gotye’s set, so an instrumental section replaced her parts. This left the crowd to sing along and fill in the gap. It was a good way to encourage audience participation but definitely not the way most fans wanted to hear the song performed.
Later in the day, THEESatisfaction‘s futuristic hip-hop tunes sounded great while sitting in the shade by the International Fountain, especially “Queens,” which is one of the best local songs of the year. Later in their set Shabazz Palaces dropped in for a cameo making for a cool and somewhat unexpected moment. It’s always a treat to see Shabazz perform with their hip-hop kindred spirits in THEESat.
Across the way following THEESat’s set, British soul rockers The Heavy plowed through a scorching set of songs off The House that Dirt Built and their latest album, The Glorious Dead. Singer Kelvin Swaby was full of charisma and swagger and when the band closed their set with “How You Like Me Now?” the crowd went berserk. One thing of note from the set is that the band recruited local guitar wizard Thomas Hunter, who you may know from his solo work, Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground or possibly Wild Orchid Children, to fill in for the this current stretch of their tour because their regular guitarist has a health issue. For his part Hunter did well, especially since he likely had to learn the songs pretty quickly, and it was great to see him play with a non-Seattle band.
Finally, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised since I continually rave about Don’t Talk to the Cops, but their set at the Free Yr Radio tent was one of the best things I saw all day. The high energy, loose vibe and plain and simple fun emanating from the stage was contagious. It was hard not to smile through DtttC’s entire set. Do yourself a favor and see Don’t Talk To the Cops some time this year. You’ll thank me for it later.
A few extra notes:
KEXP’s Music Lounge remains the best setting to see a band at any major festival in the Northwest. It’s unfortunate that access to the Music Lounge is so limited — KEXP listeners sign up weeks in advance of the festival to get into the venue, while Bumbershoot patrons who purchase expensive platinum passes to the festival are guaranteed access — because everyone should get a chance to experience the intimate sets KEXP offers.
The programming for the TuneIn stage (formerly known as the Fisher Green stage) featured back-to-back-to-back sets of soul-rock revival acts, two of which were great and one not so much. The two great bands were the aforementioned The Heavy and King Khan and the Shrines, the act in question was JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound. Apparently these UK neo-soulsters are a hit with the younger crowd due to a cover of Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” which is actually pretty okay. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out whether it was part of their set because quite frankly I was pretty bored with JC Brooks and his band. The banter was canned and the performance felt extremely uninspired. It was almost as if JC Brooks was as bored as I was, which made me walk away unimpressed.
While the KEXP Music Lounge was a bit exclusive, the Free Yr Radio stage offered a similar experience but instead of being in the intimate confines of a small theater, you’re outdoors in a tent surrounded by Priuses. At the tent band play 20-30 minute sets with a brief interview thrown in during the middle of the performance. It provides a great way to have a quick and dirty encounter with a Bumbershoot act up close and personal and is definitely worth seeking out.