For the second day in a row, idyllic weather brought out the Bumbershoot crowds. The grounds were busy, if not jampacked, in the early afternoon, and the atmosphere felt mellow and relaxed.
Some of the earliest outdoor-stage acts were a bit too manic to make the best of the festival vibe. But the Mowgli’s seemed in perfect sync with the day.
They hail from Los Angeles but would have fit in well with the San Francisco folk-rock scene of the 1960s.
With one melodic, harmony-packed tune after another from their new release, “Waiting for the Dawn,” they served up something resembling a self-realization revival meeting. (Sample lyrics: “Forget about what people think — just be who you want to be.”)
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Still, they had a sense of humor about it as they asked their audience if they were 1) in love with someone, 2) in love with themselves and 3) in love with Washington state’s new legalization of marijuana.
The crowd gave huge cheers to every question.
If the Mowgli’s were nicely tuned in to the festival atmosphere, some other traditional Bumbershoot features were sadly lacking. There was an odd absence of the amateur buskers — jugglers, mimes, musicians — who usually line the pathways of Seattle Center. The crowd ended up with less of the kind of one-on-one contact you can’t possibly get from a band on a stage.
The lack of any dance or performing-arts offerings was disappointing, too. It feels as though Bumbershoot has turned its back on a whole huge segment of the city’s cultural scene. Even the theater and words-and-ideas offerings seemed a little thin.
Visual arts was in good shape, though, and there’s one must-see in “The Enigma Machine” exhibit in Fisher Pavilion, which continues through Monday.
It’s Peter Fischli and David Weiss’ “Der Lauf Der Dinge (The Way Things Go),” a 30-minute film from 1987 chronicling the most preposterous Rube Goldberg contraption you’ve ever seen in action. Incorporating tires, bottles, plastic buckets, garbage bags, potatoes, balloons, fire, chemical reactions and more, it’s a chain reaction that has to be seen to be believed: a pyromaniac’s dream taken to insanely entertaining heights.
The biggest attractions were, of course, on the Mainstage in the KeyArena. Twin performers Tegan and Sara drew heavily from their new techno-pop album, “Heartthrob.” The sound — from the side of the stadium at least — was so echoey that their voices were often lost in a cloud of reverb and the thunderous booming of bass and percussion. They closed their set with their smash hit, “Closer.”
Sunday’s headliners, fun. (yes, that’s how it’s spelled), fared better. Lead singer Nate Ruess is a born showman, and his neo-1970s songs (think: Queen, early Bowie and, more bizarrely, Gilbert O’Sullivan) fuse baroque touches with anthemic catchiness.
The band played a couple of items from its debut album, “Aim and Ignite” — “At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)” and a generously expanded version of “Barlights” — but they focused mostly on their huge 2012 breakthrough, “Some Nights.”
Ruess reminisced fondly about the band’s first Seattle show at Chop Suey, the day “Aim and Ignite” was released. “The show was so crazy and the crowd was so insane,” he said, “I remember thinking … we might be able to do something with this.”
He gave his heartfelt thanks to Seattle for its part in jump-starting the band’s success.
Along with the big hits — “We Are Young,” “Carry On,” — fun. did something unexpected: a completely credible cover of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
In the hot afternoon sun outside EMP, Seattle psychedelic quartet Midday Veil was in full-on sun salutation mode, rocking skyward. Leader Emily Pothast raised her hands on “Without and Within” and sang passionately about “light mistaking itself for a pattern from outside.” Her repeated lyrics sunk in while synthesizers and guitars did slow arpeggios.
Later, the band broke into various dance rhythms that sounded totally unlike one another — each song was its own trip. Less than a hundred people reacted to the music by dispersing and then returning, seemingly making up their mind after a moment that yes, this was the real deal.
No disrespect to the considerable songwriting chops of David Bazan, the Seattle singer/guitarist whose voice sounds most like an old wool sweater, but the best song he did on the Fountain Lawn Stage was a cover of “Big Gay Heart” by the Lemonheads. The ballad was just something he did while sound checking on acoustic guitar. But it sounded great. He should do more covers. The rest of his set was solid, performed to a standing audience in the nearby beer garden and families sitting in the grass.
Seattle’s Katie Kate took a star turn on the TuneIn Stage with “Sadie Hawkins,” a dreamy/tight composition that starred her soprano singing voice and electric guitar licks. She’s a good songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist — she’s good at many things. The problem is that she loves to rap and her voice is not distinct or authoritative enough to carry rapping. The rest of her songs were hip-hop. Her control with meter and phrasing was tight — but she never sounded convincing. A few hundred people seemed not to agree, however, enjoying her rapping just fine. But they all responded to “Sadie Hawkins” the strongest, especially the part where Katie Kate let loose a primal scream.
The Breeders brought Bumbershoot back to 1993 with too-cool-for-school rock ‘n’ roll in the dark on the Fisher Green lawn, playing their album “Last Splash” in its entirety. Not that Kim Deal, Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs, and Jim Macpherson were outwardly pretentious. Their demeanor was smiling and silent, focused on playing arguably the band’s best album.
The music was stoned, head nodding, meat and potatoes rock — with guitar, violin and soft, high voices layered over the top. What other band has come close to achieving their dreamy/violent mixture, and still sounded so pop? The crowd was appreciative but not especially demonstrative about it, singing all the words. “That was the first side of the record,” said Kim Deal, straightforwardly, halfway through, “and so this song is called ‘Flipside.’” That was the tone of the show. But the music was something else.
Death Cab for Cutie
For a local band, headlining at Bumbershoot used to mean playing at Memorial Stadium. Death Cab for Cutie did that in 2004. But the outdoor football field on Seattle Center’s campus isn’t part of the festival anymore. So here the band was, late Saturday night, playing “Transatlanticism” — the same album they were promoting in 2004, now on a retro tour — doing the new indoor version of headlining at Bumbershoot, at KeyArena. The concert was simulcast outside on the backdrop screen of the Fountain Lawn stage, which gave thousands more people a chance to hear “Transantlanticism,” since KeyArena was very much at capacity.
Some of the record (“New Year”) sounded better and harder live, but overall, the sound quality was better outside. (The audio feed came from the mixing board and didn’t bounce around the inside of the arena.) And outside, you could watch the fountain while Ben Gibbard’s plaintive voice sang about failed relationships and having feelings that you didn’t ask for. After a long, hot day, there are worse comedowns.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional coverage by Andrew Matson, special to The Seattle Times.