Nostalgic Bumbershoot impresses for 40th birthday

Sept. 9, 2010, 9:05 a.m.
Nostalgic Bumbershoot impresses for 40th birthday
Weezer closes Bumbershoot's Sunday night with an epic extended drum solo. (Photo courtesy of Shurui Sun)

Entering its 40th year, Seattle’s Bumbershoot music festival trotted out nostalgia-inducing heavy-hitters to draw in the crowds over Labor Day Weekend. It was a move that worked: bullfrog Bob Dylan sold out the main stage before the festival even started, and to gawkers’ delight, Courtney Love the rock star, not Courtney Love the zombie-drug-marionette, showed up for the ‘Shoot — not to mention a Weezer spectacle that will go down in festival lore.

Yes, old and new problems still dogged the festival, from a will call pick-up system designed by FEMA, which had crowds antsy even before the first guitar was strummed, to a pervasive rain haze on Monday. And it seems four decades isn’t long enough for engineers to rig up a consistent sound system for the Memorial Stadium Mainstage (perhaps they were all busy at the neighboring Penny Arcade Expo that weekend).

But on the festival’s last night, the windbreaker-sporting crowds still boogied down to put Gene Kelly to shame. Overall, Bumbershoot’s 40th iteration had its bizarre highs, and we’ll definitely be there for 41.

Saturday

Nostalgic Bumbershoot impresses for 40th birthday
Star Anna & The Laughing Dogs hits a poignant note with "All Her Ghosts" Saturday afternoon. (Photo courtesy of Shurui Sun)

The dusky chops of Americana Star Anna & the Laughing Dogs were an alt-country blast in the early afternoon. Blistering through heartache, Star Anna had the older crowd nodding, then getting their dance on, as her full voice cracked over the notes. The highlight, though, came when Pearl Jam’s guitarist Mike McCready, a longtime supporter of the band, shredded across the stage in a not-so-secret guest appearance. Rock on.

Longtime folk-pop heroes The Decemberists drew a sizable crowd in their own right for one of their rare shows this summer, playing the same main stage they’ve rocked before. But the band that has sparked thousands of soul-gazing imitators was off that day, despite the familiar outfit’s comfortable stage presence. The band gave their best live renderings of upbeat “The Engine Driver” and “16 Military Wives,” but the mood was prematurely killed by an instrumental bass monster that was the first victim to the dirge-like acoustics. An exodus before the show’s end must’ve thrown off the band, who cut the set short by 15 minutes with no calls for an encore.

For those with the less-snazzy Economy Ticket, Texan Bob Schneider threw a funk-folk dance-a-thon like no other at the Starbucks Stage. The bluegrass veteran commanded the stage with his aviator cool and scraggly vocals, but it was keyboardist-guitarist Oliver Steck that dazzled on stage with both musical talent and some suave spazzing.

With the most impressive pipes of the night, redheaded Neko Case, the voice behind The New Pornographers, gave the couples something to cuddle over back on the Mainstage. Befittingly, as the sun set, her sensual, throaty melodies off “Middle Cyclone ricocheted off the upper rafters as a warm blanket of romance, further heightened by some raunchy between-song banter.

Nostalgic Bumbershoot impresses for 40th birthday
The legendary Bob Dylan kept Saturday rooted in history. (Photo courtesy of Shurui Sun)

For people wondering where all the crowds were on Saturday, they had to look no further than the stockyard-packed Broad Street Stage for Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes. Even the stage looked crowded for the caravan of performers that make up the L.A. band, and their spectacle of a performance showed that singer Alex Ebert and crew were robbed of a headlining spot.

And then there was Bob Dylan. Pushing 70, he sounded like an anti-nicotine commercial, his tenor register was blown out by his backing band and the stadium could have used some video screens. But he’s still the Bob Dylan, one of the greatest songwriters (if not the greatest) of all time, and the crowds duly sung along to “Just Like A Woman,” the older members off remembering previous shows and the younger set glued to their digital camera video setting. Dylan, busting out his trusty harmonica, transported the stadium to earlier times. We’ll let the old man sing.

Sunday

People streamed toward the Broad Street Stage early for Seattle seven-piece orchestral-pop group Hey Marseilles. Favoring a waltz beat, breaking into joyous handclaps and playing hot potato with their quirky collection of instruments, the band moved the crowd with their lush layers and grinning sincerity. The already Quidditch-team-sized band then added four more members to the stage for closing favorite “Rio,” getting the whole crowd clapping and shouting as they held aloft two marching-band bass drums to beat out the last hits of the whimsical single.

Bringing a tougher energy to the new Center Square Stage, guitarless rock band Crash Kings almost tore the Space Needle down with their pulsating performance. Launching the most crowd-surfing set of the day, the L.A. trio rocked some serious stadium-ready anthems, anchored by the sweet keyboard melodies by fedora-ed singer Tony Beliveau.

Nostalgic Bumbershoot impresses for 40th birthday
It's a brochestra romance for Ra Ra Riot. (Photo courtesy of Shurui Sun)

The photogenic indie-darlings Ra Ra Riot brought the strings back to the Broad Street Stage with a rousing set that combined material from both their debut “The Rhumb Line” and their new album “The Orchard,” released in August. From opener “St. Peter’s Day Festival” to bouncing finish “Dying is Fine,” the band were on point with their string arrangements and harmonies,  only disturbed by the bass drum pedal breaking during “Oh, La.”

The most danceable performance of the day, however, belongs to Ra Ra Riot follow-up Delorean, straight off the plane after playing L.A.’s FYFest the day before. While the crowd was surprisingly thin for the techno-rooted Barcelona band (they were up against the hometown charmer Courtney Love), Ekhi Lopetegi et al. kept their stomping energy up through the knob-turning, electronic delirium that was heightened by the well-executed instrumentals. The first crowd-surfers went up at the machine gun start of “Warmer Places” and didn’t let up for the rest of the hour, all destined to end up in the arms of the grinning security guard.

Nostalgic Bumbershoot impresses for 40th birthday
LMFAO brought the light show Sunday night. (Photo courtesy of Shurui Sun)

Sunday night, high-schoolers headed to Fisher Green for a shot, shot, shot, shot, shot of hip-hop duo LMFAO. The sparkly rapper pair took to the stage late due to “crowd problems” and enjoyed a highly expectant (and just plain high) packed-in audience, who ate up the aptly-titled entrance “Get Crazy.” The set just went downhill, though, as LMFAO covered the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” and it became clear the crowd wasn’t old enough to get some more Coronas.

We learned a few things from the show-stopping closeout show by Weezer: 1) Rivers Cuomo is one spry, speed-walking champ, 2) Lady Gaga has truly infiltrated everything and 3) a full head of hair is unnecessary to rock the hell out. It was the 30-minute encore, however, that shot the set into the Bumbershoot stratosphere, though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the crowd’s “Oh my god”s went viral — possibly when Weezer erupted into a cover of MGMT’s “Kids,” segueing into “Poker Face” as Cuomo donned a blond wig a la Lady Gaga. Or maybe when Cuomo was star jumping on stage and­ dry-humping a giant beach ball, as the band shredded through classic “Buddy Holly.” All that’s certain is that by the time the entire band jumped onto the drumkit for the finale, the collective hive mind was blown.

Monday

Nostalgic Bumbershoot impresses for 40th birthday
BOAT lights up the Sky Church stage early Monday. (Photo courtesy of Shurui Sun)

Attendees escaped the afternoon sprinkles for Seattle charmer BOAT’s bass-ringing set inside the EMP’s Sky Church. Joking about the inadequacy of the free mini-sodas and the light-show behind them, the BOAT dudes doubled as stand-up comics. “God, they’re really not going to have us back next year…shit,” said guitarist J. Goodman before they launched into a song about lobsters and snakes. But their irreverent rock showed the funnymen earned their placement at this year’s ‘Shoot, particularly on “Prince of Tacoma” and cymbal-tapping “Lately.”

Indie-loving Seattleites couldn’t resist the Jenny & Johnny lovechild, rain be darned. The pair quaintly brought their sugarcoated “I’m Having Fun Now” to life, but their hour-long goo-goo eyes at each other made me crave some genuine Rilo Kiley angst. Particularly since Rilo Kiley vet Jenny Lewis carried the set with riot grrrlish coos and growls, making real-life boyfriend Jonathan Rice a bit irrelevant.

Rapper-singer Drake was Bumbershoot’s attempt at being trendy and the demographic (read: teenage girls) loved his headlining show, if the high-pitched screams were anything to go by. While the crowd engaged in a karaoke playback of literally every song on the set list, Drake kept to rapping, letting his backing vocals sing the chorus. It’s a shame that the echoing drums fuzzed him out, since the boy is equipped with one smooth voice.

Florida’s Surfer Blood had to contend with cold sideways rain-mist during their evening slot, pushing beach-washed rock in the last place you would ever describe as summery. The young band was frazzled by the breaking of their drum pedal early on, which they negotiated with less aplomb than Ra Ra Riot the day before, ironically on the exact same stage. But the band recovered and baby-faced frontman J.P. Pitts was proudly strutting the stage edge by undeniable anthem “Swim” at show’s end.

The dedicated waited out the worsening rains for Portland’s The Thermals, whose punk intensity and singalong choruses gave one last chance to jubilantly mosh the tension away before real life resumed. The insistent bass of Kathy Foster best met Hutch Harris’ clarion cries in oldies “We Were Sick” and “Returning to the Fold,” while the new fodder off album “Personal Life” kept the pit surging. Foster also had the most rockstar f-you of the weekend: after the requisite dick in the audience called for “Freebird,” Foster nonchalantly held up her middle finger with a droll, “Here’s your free bird right here.” Touché.

A version of this review appeared at Treeswingers.com on Sunday, Sept. 5, Monday, Sept. 6 and Wednesday, Sept. 8.

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