Monday, September 1, 2008

Bumbershoot 2008: The Blakes draw big, responsive crowd to Exhibition Hall Stage

Twenty minutes before The Blakes went onstage, I arrived at Exhibition Hall to find about 300 people sitting on the floor - mainly close to the stage, but also scattered throughout this spacious basement-level venue used yearly as part of the Bumbershoot Festival.

Twenty minutes later, the body count increased to over 1000. And they kept coming and coming and coming and coming until over 2000, maybe even 3000, worked their way inside to watch this up and coming Seattle band. Not only was it the biggest local audience The Blakes have played to this year, but the most responsive since February's raucous Chop Suey audience.

The Blakes played usual favorites like "Magoo", "Modern Man" and "Commit" (apparently a favorite of Elton John) and many seemed to recognize each of them from the first chords. But those who didn't, those who showed up out of curiousity, were really taken by the trio's sound - a straightforward dose of hard rock with a Southern-like twist, kind of a punk n' roll cowboy if you will.

On this afternoon, they sounded sharper and more present than their March appearance at the High Dive. Everything worked: Garnet Keim's searing vocals, Snow Keim's thumping bass, and even more effective, Bob Husak's pounding on drums. Having seen these guys three times prior to yesterday's show, I'd never heard better percussion out of them until now - maybe it was the space or a larger stage, but the drumbeats were stronger.

Snow Keim served as the group's spokesperson, greeting everyone in between songs and introducing set list selections with the actual titles, something a lot of live acts don't do enough of. Especially in this modern age of iPhones and Blackberries, concertgoers can immediately type in a song title on their personal electronic devices to download later at their convenience.

"Don't Bother Me" was loose and fun, "Pistol Grip" was tight and slightly intense, yet what stood out for me was a new track called "Before" that will appear on a yet to be announced next record. If there was any question that The Blakes would be a one album wonder, "Before" answers that question. It's a smart, kind of dramatic piece with a great chorus that gradually kicks up speed. I can't wait for this to be recorded.

"Vampire" was terrific, and people near me took advantage of its catchy riff to dance. Ditto for "Run", a fast-paced tune with riffs a plenty.

Prior to "Two Times" being played, it was requested by loud shouts - the crowd was ready for it. I've heard different renditions of this song live, both in concert and on the Internet, and The Blakes continue to perform variations of it. Yesterday's version was shorter and less meatier than what was played at Nuemos earlier this summer, and perhaps that was due to a limited set time. But it didn't have the crunch, the impact that I wished for. "Two Times" is the band's centerpiece, the most awaited song of the night, or in this case afternoon, and it should really be performed at full-throttle.

At Bumbershoot, like most festivals, it's easy to leave a performance that just doesn't do it for you. And I've seen people leave in droves at shows in past years because the band just plain sucked. But The Blakes retained up to 90% of those assembled at the start of their concert until the very end, and with so many talented acts playing on other stages throughout Seattle Center yesterday, this was a cool bonus on top of a better-than-expected turnout.

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