Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Bumbershoot 2008: Backstage chatter, Death Cab review in September 5 print issue

It's Albert at Seattle Gay News, exhausted from 3 days of being on my feet at Bumbershoot. I had a fab time and don't wish for a second that I'd taken a laptop to the festival because I would've had to lug it everywhere, and I was literally everywhere on the Seattle Center grounds.

I'll have a wrap-up of Bumbershoot, complete with backstage exclusives with The Blakes and Sons and Daughters, plus sightings of David Cross and Amber Tamblyn together at Flatstock. And of course, a full review of Death Cab for Cutie's awesome concert last night - it was truly a great performance, one for the record books.

Grab a copy of Friday's (September 5) issue or check online Saturday to find out what songs Gibbard and company played, and what they looked like up close because I was in the very front row for a half hour of it before moving further back to have room to breathe and dance.

And to the darling from Bremerton standing next to me yesterday who said, "We'll take of you" in case I fainted or near-suffocated from being squished in the front row, I wanna say thank you for not letting me die at a DCFC show. All my lungs still work this morning, I think.

Bumbershoot 2008: Superchunk is super loud, draw super crowd surfers

Like nearly everyone last night at Bumbershoot, I knew very little about rock group Superchunk. I'd heard the name, but never their music.

I unexpectedly found myself in the very front row for Death Cab for Cutie when I arrived at the VIP gate yesterday, just as the house doors opened. When I stepped foot on the carpeted lawn of Memorial Stadium I realized front row access was for the taking. This meant, however, that I'd have to brave 90 minutes of wait time for Superchunk, an hour-long set by Superchunk, and a half hour wait time for DCFC.

But, I've done weirder things in life so this was a piece of cake. Or so I thought.

I don't even know one Superchunk single or anything about them really, although the bulky guy next to me - the one fan I could find in my immediate area of this North Carolina band - helped fill in some blanks. Apparently, the drummer is a co-founder of Merge Records (Arcade Fire, Spoon) and has a radio talk show somewhere. Two members of the group used to date, and a lot of their songs are about them. That's what I dug out.

It was a loud performance, which riled concertgoers to start crowd surfing. They weren't familiar with the music or the artist, they just wanted to surf. And that they did - over and over and over and over again, a few almost knocking out my teeth. I'm not sure why Bumbershoot allows people to crowd surf, but then again - I have no business being in the front row, do I?

What was interesting to watch was Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie standing on the side of the stage shouting out the lyrics to every Superchunk number. He was really into it, shaking his head and moving his body like a slinky as he stood in place. And next to him was comedian David Cross, who I saw earlier that day at Flatstock with actress Amber Tamblyn. Cross was so fired up that the dude next to me said afterwards, "Did you see David Cross going apeshit over there?" Uh, yes I did. Apeshit he was.

I'm sure Superchunk is loved by many, and apparently by DCFC (Ben Gibbard gave them a shout out during their set), but I thought they were just noisy and I would've preferred a mellower opening act like Minus the Bear or Fleet Foxes.

Bumbershoot 2008: Two Galants mini concert a treat for fans

I attended an intimate performance by Two Gallants yesterday at Bumbershoot, inside the Eve Alvord Theatre at Seattle Center.

I'd never heard this duo before, not even on MySpace or YouTube before this mini appearance. Introduced by KEXP radio host Cheryl Waters as one of her favorite artists, the San Francisco pair got onstage and played a 5-song set that included a lengthy rendition of "Fly Low Carrion Crow" and a brand new song with no title given.

There was such intensity on the face of singer-guitarist Adam Stephens, especially on a great and also lengthy version of "Waves of Grain". He's so focused on the song and the mood, I don't ever think I saw him crack a smile in their 30-minute set. Stephens, in black jeans, boots, purple'ish long-sleeve shirt and cropped blond hair is a quite fascinating singer to watch, he inserts himself completely into each song. Vogel, in an 80s punk "do" and hole-in-the-knees jeans was interesting to look at as well, giving his drumset or cymbals the slightest yet most precise tappings.

Two Gallants' music is kind of hard to describe. It's almost like a poetry reading backed by medieval pop music. I'm not sure that's the best description of it, but it's just very different than anything else out there. And while it's not my cup of tea, the 50 or so gathered at this little affair certainly appreciated the rare close-up of Stephens and Vogel.

DJ Waters mentioned a standing ovation during her live broadcast, and technically there was one but only by a third of the audience. The rest of us, newbies to this whole Two Gallants thing, were still trying to figure what we just heard. I have to say, however, Stephens and Vogel are really unique and terrific instrumentalists. I give them big props for creating music, not copying it.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bumbershoot 2008: Death Cab for Cutie, Old 97's, The Offspring set for final day

It's Albert again from Seattle Gay News, under an hour from returning to Seattle Center for the final day of Bumberhoot.

With all intent to blog on the days of the festival, the reality is that there's so much going on and so much running from stage to stage that I don't even enjoy a filling meal until I'm on my way home. Alas, it's a day late.

Today's lineup features headliners and Seattle's own Death Cab for Cutie. These guys are worth the $40 entrance fee alone, a marvelous live act that fluctuates the mood throughout their sets. Expect to hear "Soul Meets Body', "Title and Registration", The Sound of Settling", "Crooked Teeth", and "I Will Possess Your Heart". Cross your fingers, as I am, for "Long Division", "I Will Follow You Into the Dark", and "Your Heart is an Empty Room". Death Cab for Cutie hops onstage at 9:15pm. Opening is Superchunck at 7:45pm.

The Offspring is one of those bands we thought might disappear at the start of the new millennium. Their brand of quirky, make that downright wacky, rock tunes are far from classics. But fans like them this way, and they should pack Memorial Stadium this afternoon to see them. The Offspring is slated to begin at 3:15pm. Grammy nominees Paramore open at 1:45pm.

Another act sure to draw a good crowd is Old 97's, featuring hot lead singer Rhett Miller. The Texas-based rockabilly band hits the Starbucks Stage at 6:45pm.

I'm in a rush, so I gotta just list some acts to check out today: John Vanderslice, Xavier Rudd, Two Gallants, Minus the Bear, Flobots, and local group Feral Children.

I can't wait to see Death Cab for Cutie again!!! I'm on my way.

Bumbershoot 2008: Stone Temple Pilots give decent showing at Memorial Stadium

Before last night's show at Memorial Stadium, it was rumored Stone Temple Pilots might not even perform. This is because lead singer and bad boy Scott Weiland appeared out of it the previous night when he surprisingly turned up to watch Beck.

But, the rumors proved to be false as the group slid onstage thirty minutes tardy, mind you, and opened with "Big Empty". It was such a slower start than one might expect for a band that hasn't toured together for nearly a decade.

Weiland looked good, in tight black jeans, cranberry shirt and gray vest, but unfortunately it was evident his vocals lacked the bite they once did in the 90s. The rock star Scott Weiland was present, but the gritty vocalist was not.

Concertgoers didn't really care about how great the Grammy-winning act sounded like, or not, they just sang out the songs' lyrics with enthusiasm and wiggled wherever they found room. A petite girl next to me danced by herself with her eyes closed the entire time, and she didn't even mind being rammed into by fellow fans en route to the front.

"Wicked Garden" was electrifying, though that was partly due to a giant, colorful digital screen behind the drummer. What Stone Temple Pilots lacked in quality, they returned with sensational lighting. "Vasoline" was great, yet "Creep" sounded as if it was plucked directly from an MTV Unplugged session - very uninspiring.

Audience members began to leave midway through the group's set, and one fan in particular said he was disappointed that such a long wait to see this reunited act had resulted in a mediocre appearance.

On the plus side, "Plush" was quite memorable. It brought back memories for me, as I used to listen to it over and over again when I lived briefly in Hawaii. It sounded fresh even after all these years, and even after personal turmoils the band has faced.

I left soon after "Plush" was played, and I wished I'd been given me reason to stay. This just wasn't vintage Stone Temple Pilots, this was a band giving a worthy try at being what it once was.

Bumbershoot 2008: Sons and Daughters wow at Rockstar Stage

At Neumos earlier this year, Sons and Daughters sounded terrific yet looked out of place because the crowd wasn't really into it. They liked what they heard, but they were hesitant to show any emotion or to dance or to cheer in jubilation to anything the Scottish act did.

Last night at Bumbershoot, the audience easily made up for that. There was dancing, hollering, hands waving in the air, clapping, and more dancing. Even better, there was a request for more.

A newly comprised lineup, Ailidh Lennon temporarily replaced due to pregancy, drew a good-sized audience to the Rockstar Stage that sits almost underneath the Space Needle. In fact, lead singer Adele Bethel beamed during the group's set when she exclaimed, "I can't believe we're playing next to the Space Needle!"

Concertgoers didn't seem to mind the chilly night, they quickly got moving and warmed up to songs like "The Bell" and the title track of their album This Gift.

Surprisingly, Sons and Daughters wore nearly the exact same outfits as their previous visit to Seattle. For a band with such flair, I was hoping for more eye-catchy threads.

Bethel introduced "Gilt Complex" as a #1 song "nowhere", and then laughed and said it was indeed a charttopper in their native UK. It had the required sass and punch from the original album version, and sounded incredible under a dark sky and illuminated Seattle landmark.

"Iodine" was rather nice, but it was done so fast that I hardly remember it. What I do recall quite well was how joyful and surprised Sons and Daughters were by a strong turn out and the love given to them by this crowd. With The Black Keys and Jakob Dylan performing at alternate stages and people flocking to squeeze in for Stone Temple Pilots, it was great to see a swell gathering at the Rockstar Stage for this Scottish foursome.

"Darling" was jumpy and wonderful, though I would've preferred a bit more heat thrown in. It sounded more pop than rock last night, and could've used some impromptu choreography from Bethel because the song has such energy. Overall, I can't complain - it certainly dazzled in parts.

Called back for an encore, which Sons and Daughters excitedly said was their first at any festival, the quartet jammed mightily to the turbo-charged "Chains".

On this night, both audience members and artist were equally satisfied by each other's display.

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.