Macklemore, Das Racist and Wiz Khalifa -- plus Seattle Symphony "Untuxed" -- played to large, appreciative crowds on the second day of Bumbershoot 2011.
SUNDAY NIGHT POP MUSIC UPDATE Besides sun, which added a dreamlike atmosphere to Seattle Center, the story of Bumbershoot Sunday was hip-hop — specifically, a packed evening performance at KeyArena by local boy Macklemore, the Irish-American, Capitol Hill rapper still waiting for his national star to match his hometown dominance.
A certified pop-rap hit maker would follow him at the Key — Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa — but Macklemore had a bigger draw.
“Where my ’70s babies at?” Macklemore shouted, wearing a vintage Shawn Kemp jersey.
He didn’t get much reaction for that, nor for shouting out ’80s babies. But when he emphasized, “where my ’90s babies a-a-a-a-at?” the whole floor area jumped like popcorn.
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Macklemore is almost 30, but his fans are teens and in their early 20s, and idolize him. For “Crew Cuts” — a muscular track about growing up in the ’80s, which Macklemore’s fans don’t get and he has to explain to them every time he performs it — the KeyArena floor pulsed as one, kids pressed on kids, one arm up, waving to the beat.
Macklemore’s set was about more than himself. It was about his crew of 13 backing musicians/dancers — who mixed horns and strings for a sound uncommon in hip-hop — and passed-away Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus, whom he saluted. Macklemore also reminisced over the Sonics and even got Kemp to grace the stage for a moment. It was hard to hear what Kemp said through the muddy speakers, but his presence made a visual impact.
Macklemore said local acts like Blue Scholars and Vitamin D were “the reason we’re on stage tonight.” His Seattle pride was contagious: The most commonly worn shirts on the Bumbershoot grounds were his “My city’s filthy” tank tops.
Next up was Wiz Khalifa, one of Bumbershoot’s biggest names this year, basically Snoop Dogg for a new generation, albeit in Snoop’s cuddly, latter-day persona. Wiz hangs with gangsta rappers, but is mainly a pot enthusiast with a penchant for sing-song hooks. His bass-heavy songs about “rolling doobies up” banged off the KeyArena walls, mixing dark-edged hip-hop with European dance music, shamelessly superficial and delivered coolly. A lady next to me compared Wiz to ’80s hair bands — apt, except Wiz is more mellow, by far.
A few hours earlier, just outside the arena on the Fisher Green stage, New York City trio Das Racist (pronounced like a slurred “that’s racist”) did very different hip-hop.
“Seattle, where you at? Town business!” yelled rapper Heems, hip to the local lingo because his group plays here so often. (Local rappers refer to Seattle as “the town.”) “This song is on our album coming out in a few weeks. It’s a brand new dance called ‘Give Us All Your Money.'”
If you were up close, you could see Heems and co-rapper Victor Vazquez smirk at each others’ muttered one-liners, staggering around the stage to reggae beats and Dr. Dre instrumentals. If you moved back toward Center House, you could see a huge crowd, a thousand heads for Das Racist to fly over.
SUNDAY NIGHT CLASSICAL UPDATE: Seth Krimsky had bongo drums hidden in his electric bassoon — and a saxophone, a double bass, and a throbbing electric guitar â€¦.
At least that’s how it seemed at “Symphony Untuxed,” the Seattle Symphony showcase at Bumbershoot that surely must have been the most varied and unusual musical offering to close out the festivities on Sunday night.
Hosted by the Symphony’s new music director Ludovic Morlot, the lineup included excerpts from works by Philip Glass (String Quartet No. 5) and Vivaldi (Double Violin Concerto), along with quirkier fare: Krimsky’s electric-bassoon creation, a café-flavored chamber work by Symphony trumpeter Anthony DiLorenzo and an item called “Failure: A Very Difficult Piece for Solo String Bass” by Tom Johnson.
The program opened with a short film about Morlot (“His mother calls his Ludovic; his friends call him Ludo”), followed by the appearance of Morlot himself in dark polo shirt and blue jeans — “untuxed,” indeed. The event, a late addition to the Bumbershoot schedule, marked Morlot’s first interaction with his audience as Symphony director, and he’s clearly raring to go.
He talked up the fast-approaching 2011-2012 season, starting Sept. 17 with an Opening Night Concert and Gala (for the fancy folks) and continuing on Sept. 18 with a free “Day of Music” that will turn Benaroya Hall inside out, as music happens in and all around it. He also wanted the Bumbershoot audience to be aware of “Sonic Evolution” (Oct. 18), an evening of “completely original compositions” by young classical composers inspired by Seattle musical legends Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix and Quincy Jones (local band Hey Marseilles will also be on the bill). The news that Frank Zappa’s “Dupree’s Paradise” was on the Symphony roster, too, got an enthusiastic response.
The 10 musicians who joined Morlot on stage were, of course, also “untuxed,” and double-bassist Joseph Kaufman was clearly pleased by it: “I have to say, before I start, how nice it is to wear the clothes I was wearing this morning.”
Proceeding to play/recite “Failure,” a piece that requires the performer to talk nonstop while playing, Kaufman got big laughs, especially as his spoken text got more and more tangled in the paradox of “failing to fail,” which Johnson’s piece seemed both to require and to prohibit.
DiLorenzo’s “Street Musicians” was a witty excursion into boulevard music, while the Philip Glass string quartet was something a little different from the wallpaper pattern that Glass’ music can sometimes be.
As for Krimsky’s work, which clearly had Morlot excited, it stretched the definition of “classical music” as it used electronics to set up towering tiers of sound — fat saxophone echoes, unlikely pizzicato tattoos — before resolving into gradually dimming celestial reverberations.
“Symphony Untuxed” closed with the Vivaldi, eloquently introduced by Morlot: “Rhythm, melody and harmony — when we combine those things in a beautiful manner, it becomes great music.” He then pulled out his violin and took a modest place in the string section while soloists Elisa Barston and Artur Girsky led the way.
Morlot, while intent on maintaining high musical standards, also seems up for anything. With “Ludo” at the helm, we should be in for a playful time at the Symphony.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com
EARLIER SUNDAY: Dance lovers attending Bumbershoot knew they were in for something special with Trey McIntyre Project. Comedy fans could count on barbed one-liners from funny guys Hari Kondabolu and Anthony Jeselnik.
But did anyone anticipate prankish, flirtatious juggler Jules McEvoy?
Staking out a corner just northwest of Center House, McEvoy salaciously “warmed up” his juggling pins against various parts of his anatomy before launching into a smoothly executed routine, wisecracking all the while. He then coaxed a sheepish volunteer down onto a supposedly “protective mat” (a black plastic bag laid across the ground) so as to do headstands and other feats on top of the poor man.
“If I’m making you nervous,” he told his half-willing victim, “it’s good.”
McEvoy, who also goes by One Fine Fool and sometimes performs with the Mud Bay Jugglers, is exactly the kind of serendipitous surprise I look forward to at Bumbershoot, and almost always get.
Another treat was Chris McCullen’s sculpture/contraption, “Potentially Annoying Sound,” which, if you could muster the manpower to crank it — “It’s a calorie-burner, for sure,” quipped McCullen — made noises akin to a train whistle, a church organ and/or an air-raid siren. Located near the entrance to McCaw Hall, it’s constructed partly from an old pipe organ from Fremont Abbey that hasn’t worked for years.
The best surprise may have been the weather. This has been a positively toasty Bumbershoot, and it made for a festive atmosphere. Still, true culture vultures don’t necessarily like to spend all their time in the sun — and the indoor venues had much to offer.
EMP Level 3 is a nice dark place to cool down and escape decibel-overload. When I stopped by, jazz singer Gail Pettis was bringing some slippery-slidy scat-singing to her version of “Honeysuckle Rose,” while she and her quartet handled “Nature Boy” with an unexpected Latin beat.
Intiman Theatre, the main comedy venue, was a more crowded refuge — and a more unsettling one, especially when headliner Jeselnik took the stage. He delivered his one-liners with a scorched-earth cool — about rape, death, suicide, mastectomies and the holocaust, somehow blended with golf, blind dates and helping out children in Africa. His most benign joke, and probably the only one quotable in a family newspaper: “Here’s some good news — my grandfather turns 100 years old next month … maybe.”
Kondabolu was also in good form at Intiman with satirical takes on racial politics, pop-song inanities and the mystery of baseball bats being for sale in London — where they don’t play the game, but do, Kondabolu noted, have riots. Another mystery: What reason is there for white chocolate to exist? And how would you advertise it? Kondabolu had a hilarious suggestion, with a loaded racial subtext.
Sandwiched between Kondabolu and Jeselnik was raconteur Kyle Kinane, sort of a Skid Row answer to Dean Martin’s boozy jokester. Kinane’s tale about a midnight meal at a 7-Eleven (“not a date opportunity”) and confusions that followed was so smartly told, in its meandering way, that I’m guessing he wasn’t nearly as drunk as he made himself out to be. The Kondabolu/Kinane/Jeselnik triple bill repeats at 6:15 Monday.
Boise-based Trey McIntyre Project brought eight dancers and two new works to town: “Oh, Inverted World,” set to tunes by the Shins, and “The Sweeter End,” set to music by New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band. “World” was full of springy action, rippling geometries of movement and some exquisitely acrobatic interaction. Travis Walker was a standout, luxuriating in the moves he so precisely delineated.
“The Sweeter End,” however, was the knockout, especially its opening, set to “St. James Infirmary.” Chanel DaSilva, Jason Hartley, Brett Perry and John Michael Schert matched the funereal thump of the music with sharp, almost brutal snaps of movement, pushing the dirge to ecstatic heights. Dark-haired gamine Lauren Edson brought a spry, agile contrast to the mordant sensibility of the piece, while Hartley, in one solo, had some macabre showman’s razzle-dazzle. Trey McIntyre Project repeats at 12:15 Monday.
No coverage of dance at Bumbershoot would be complete without mentioning Saturday’s stunning world premiere of Donald Byrd’s “Euclidean Space,” performed by Seattle’s Spectrum Dance Theater. Set to and inspired by an electronic score by Amon Tobin, the piece was as abstract as its title suggests and featured near-superhuman turns by Ty Alexander Cheng and Vincent Michael Lopez, pushing at the swiftest edge of what human bodies can do. It also introduced several dancers new to the company, including the formidable Jade Solomon Curtis, who was regal, cool, charismatic, flexible … a whole geometry unto herself.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org