Death Cab For Cutie, Billy Idol and Tame Impala capped Bumbershoot with shows on Sunday.
Alexa Peters contributed to this article / Special to The Seattle Times
Update, Sunday (Sept 4)
Death Cab For Cutie, one of two locally-grown acts headlining Bumbershoot this year (the other being Macklemore), capped the festival Sunday with an intimate, romantic set at Memorial Stadium. Front man Ben Gibbard brought all his angst and bleeding-heart rock/pop to the mainstage, which had couples snuggling and young girls getting emotional. Along with favorites like “I’ll Follow You into the Dark” and “I Will Possess Your Heart,” Gibbard finished his set with the piano-heavy ballad, “Transatlanticism (I Need You So Much Closer).” The show had the sappy-poignant feel of a high school graduation, appropriately marking the end a festival attended by tens of thousands of teenagers.
Death Cab was preceded by Tame Impala, whose slow-burning set reimagined Pink Floyd for the 21st century. The band’s reverb-y psychedelia seeped into the crowd on its big hit “Elephant” and other favorites, like “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.” The band’s Australian accents and impressive use of vocal effects also charmed the crowd.
Earlier in the day at the stadium, the target age fell even lower for 21-year-old electro-pop artist Melanie Martinez, whose gauzy, ethereal set drawn from her album, “Cry Baby,” had an Alice-in-Wonderland-like vibe, enhanced by an elfin mien that included a gap-toothed smile, nose ring and hair that was platinum on one side, brunette on the other. Her skimpily-dressed fans lounged on the field like seals in the sun, smoking weed and singing along.
Some of the best music of the weekend was played at the Mural Amphitheatre (sponsored by Starbucks), which featured rootsy music in keeping with the spirit of the old Bumbershoot, before it was taken over last year by AEG. Sunday was no exception, as new stars Maren Morris and Margo Price and jazz-funk sax master Kamasi Washington (the jazz brains behind Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly”) lit up the crowd.
Morris, a slight young woman with a far-from-slight voice, belted out a tight, foot-tapping, country-rock set featuring numbers from her dynamite album, “Hero,” including “Sugar,” “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry” and her no-nonsense manifesto “My Church.” Morris won’t be playing small stages for long.
Americana singer Margo Price brought another big slice of Nashville, piquing and holding the crowd’s interest with songs about the behind-the-scenes world of Music City.
Washington’s seven-piece band released a torrent of hot musical lava, with his throaty tenor sax cry and Ryan Porter’s trombone out front, slamming through soulful riffs. Keyboard man Brandon Coleman churned with virtuoso lines on the keytar (a handheld keyboard instrument) and dreamy vocalist Patrice Quinn took the crowd to the moon on a cleverly-spiked arrangement of the swing era standard “Cherokee.”
Good on AEG for booking bands outside the pop mainstream, but attendance at this stage — which ran late most of the weekend — was poor to middling. It would be great if the producers could figure out a way to lure back the older Bumbershoot crowd that would appreciate these acts, or convince the young people now patronizing the festival to check out music they haven’t already been spoonfed by mass media.
The real highlight at this stage Sunday was the roaring pop-punk of The Pink Slips, fronted by Grace McKagan (daughter of Guns N’ Roses’ bass player Duff Mackagan). With lipstick dripping down her chin, 17-year-old McKagan delivered “Foxy Feline” with the maturity of a woman twice her age. The rest of the band was similarly adept, reminding the crowd that punk (and youth, for that matter) doesn’t necessarily equate to inexperience.
The cozy KEXP coffee house stage was packed for Seattle acts Sunday, including the opener by Lisa Prank (aka Robin Edwards), who closed her charming, jangling set with “Drive Anywhere.” Thunderpussy also played to hundreds of people, proving the band has probably outgrown small festival stages. Dripping with calculated, subversive sexuality, these powerhouse women had no problem ignoring the patronizing guy who yelled to drummer Ruby Dunphy, “Yeah, you play those drums.” By the end, fans had caught the band’s fever, dancing and dripping with sweat by the front of the stage.
Fans who wanted to participate at Bumbershoot rather than just watch flocked to the Exhibition Hall for Reign Supreme’s breakdancing competition, where spectacular and athletic moves were the order of the day.
Update, Saturday night (Sept. 3)
The big show Saturday night was Macklemore, who pulled out all the stops at Memorial Stadium in a marathon, two-hour show (see separate review here).
Before racing away to the stadium to catch the tail end of Run the Jewels, followed by Macklemore, a hefty, enthusiastic crowd gathered at Fisher Green for an energetic performance by 25-year-old singer-actress JoJo, who regaled the crowd with her hits from the first decade of the century.
The weather was splendid all day, with blue skies and cool breezes, great for enjoying music outdoors. At Memorial Stadium, Run The Jewels was volcanic. Fronted by Killer Mike — the rapper who gained recent fame by supporting the Bernie Sanders campaign — and El-P, the group erupted with political as well as creative energy. Their kind, human side showed, as well, as they often were looking out for fans getting too wild near the stage.
“On the count of three, I want you all to take a couple steps back and give each other some room!” Killer Mike yelled more than once.
At KeyArena, Bumbershoot was graced by a rare but much-anticipated phenomenon in the male-dominated world of electronic dance music: a female DJ/producer. Tokimonsta brought down the house with her nostalgic remixed throwbacks and her shout-outs to modern greats like Kendrick Lamar. She took his song “Alright” and laced it with her own special medicine — a psychedelic, bright electronica that had everyone shaking on the floor.
Saturday closed with electronica act Pretty Lights (Derek Vincent Smith), who focused on syncopation and rhythmic pulse and got the crowd at KeyArena (about 60 percent full) buzzing with late-night party fever.
Update, Saturday afternoon (Sept. 3)
Former Seattleite Reggie Watts, at Fisher Green, spared nothing, bringing his humor and musicality to the stage full-force. Watts’ voice is rich in funk, soul and hip-hop. He flit from Bee-Gees style falsetto and a soul-jazz croon to heavy gangsta rapping without a hitch. Fans went absolutely nuts, yelling their own jokes in response to his charismatic on-stage act, which included a Liverpool accent and some striking microphone twirling. His band was totally in the pocket, his strong female bass player, Hagar Ben Ari, leading the pack.
Seattle indie rock fans shed a metaphorical tear at the KEXP stage early Saturday afternoon as the much-loved duo Pony Time — Stacy Kent (drums) and Luther Beetham (bass, guitar) — played a vigorous set, then announced that the band is going on “indefinite hiatus.” They had a good run. Beetham’s echo-laden, punkabilly vocals and Kent’s dense, cymbal-colored drumming have a been a great pleasure for many years.
Also at the KEXP stage, Bellingham-based Manatee Commune took the idea of a one-man band to the extreme, alternating live guitar, virtuosic violin and in-the-pocket drums with magician-like skill on his midi-controller. It was as if he were puddle-jumping after a thunderstorm, hopping from one rippling melody to another.
Donna Missal lit up the Mural Amphitheatre, offering soulful, full-voiced vocals. She swayed and swiveled as she sang over nicely mixed synthesizer sounds that sometimes harmonized with her voice.
Nashville Americana band, Blank Range, was an outlier for the day. They brought the twangy sounds of rebel country onto the sun-soaked Fisher Green.
Bumbershoot isn’t as strong on the non-pop-music arts as it once was, but an arts highlight this year was Chicago’s five-piece Improvised Shakespeare Company, which invented, on the spot, an hour-long drama with a theme suggested by an audience member in the full house at the Bagley Wright Theatre: “Captain Blackbeard’s Surprise Party.”
The troupe not only commanded Shakespearean syntax and vocabulary but managed, time and again, to come up with Shakespearean rhymes that had the crowd in stitches, at one point rhyming “own” with “testosterone.” You get the idea. It was bawdy and very funny, indeed.
Fans flocked to Bumbershoot Friday (Sept. 2) as early as 2 p.m. to get a head start on a packed opening day that featured pop stars such as Fetty Wap, Bryson Tiller, Halsey and KYGO. Though there were a couple of mishaps and a few sprinkles of rain, it was, overall, a successful start.
Trap/R&B singer Fetty Wap drew long lines that wrapped around KeyArena. Many fans who complained loudly that they came to Bumbershoot specifically to see Fetty pushed and shoved to the point that security blocked the entrance to the at-capacity venue until it cleared. Once inside, however, they were not disappointed by Fetty Wap’s volcanic stage presence and intoxicating mix of light, easy pop melodies with the beats of trap and hip-hop.
Over at Memorial Stadium, new vocal star Halsey, another much anticipated act, delivered an altogether different kind of set. Bathed in red-hot-lava light and posing on a high platform like a dominatrix, the 21-year-old singer raced through hits like “Hold Me Down,” “Haunting” and “Castle,” driven by ceremonial, stylized beats graced at one point by a saxophone soloist. Her little-girl voice stood in dramatic contrast to her charged adult persona.
Earlier at the stadium, Odd Future founder Tyler, the Creator exploded on stage and the crowd exploded right with him. Jumping inches off the ground, fans waved their hands to one angry, driving number with an unprintable name and followed Tyler’s lead as he asked them to clap to his DJ TACO’s beats.
Tyler also shared his characteristic humor.
“I actually really like this city,” he yelled at the crowd. “The white people are nice here!”
Well okay, then.
Back at the Key, breakout singer, songwriter and rapper Bryson Tiller played to a small but enthusiastic crowd, despite his album “Trapsoul” going platinum earlier this year. His music echoed the smooth, synthed-out sounds of early nineties R&B, with the auto-tuned vocals of modern hip hop and electronica.
There were pleasures to be had on the medium-sized stages, as well. On Fisher Green, violinist-singer Andrew Bird brought more age diversity to the crowd, as families with small children, teens and grandparents enjoyed his dreamy, pizzicato-driven pop-folk songs. Seattle’s own Ted Poor held it down on drums, while Bird looped lines and overlaid his vocals, like waves lapping against a shore.
Earlier in the day on Fisher Green, Australian band Atlas Genius attracted an enormous crowd. Lead singer Keith Jeffery and his group recalled the commanding polish and musical precision of Sting and The Police, though one of the highlights of its set was a cover of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
Since AEG took over the festival last year, its target audience has gotten younger, but at the Mural Amphitheatre, the old soul and crowd of Bumbershoot carried on, with spirited acts like The Blind Boys of Alabama and vocalist Zella Day playing to a usually older — and often small — crowd.
During the Blind Boys infectious, sanctified set, fans were “baptized” by one of Friday’s infrequent, misty showers, as the eight-piece gospel veterans reminded them that “God Put A Rainbow in the Cloud,” a timely and appropriate message.
Arizona vocalist Zella Day, a sprite of a thing with an earth-mother presence and willowy moves, hit a high note with her early hit, “Sweet Ophelia,” but her enthusiasm at times got the best of her intonation.
(Early in the day at the Mural, at the end of a dynamic set, Seattle band Naked Giants front man Grant Mullen collapsed and had to be taken away by medics. According to the band’s Facebook page, he is recovering.)
More of the color and whimsy of the old Bumbershoot was in evidence this year, as well. Buskers roamed the grounds again, the colorful Lieu Quan Lion Dance Team playfully harassed bystanders as it paraded along the walkway past the Fountain Lawn, which was cheerfully decorated, with a gigantic striped umbrella hovering at the corner by the Bagley Wright Theatre.
A less pleasant aspect of the new regime was its overpolicing of the crowd. The serpentine fencing guiding patrons into KeyArena is annoying — and clearly what angered the massive crowd trying to get into Fetty Wap. Conversely, the production staff should have the good sense to shortcut this very long journey when attendance is sparse.
Also annoying is a policy that prevents fans from entering Memorial Stadium from the stands, even after they have already been “clicked” into the venue with their wristbands. Do they really need to be monitored a second time at the bottleneck that occurs at the top of the stairs?
On the positive side, a new alcohol policy allows one to secure an ID bracelet each day, then roam many areas of the grounds, beer or wine in hand, eliminating the need for “beer garden” ghettos.
As has become the custom, Bumbershoot ended the night with EDM in the big venues. At the Key, the moody, sometimes dark Zeds Dead offered trance-like beats and lasers galore.
At the stadium, Norwegian DJ Kygo was refreshingly playful, even innocent, with percolating marimbas, falsetto vocals and a world music feel. At one point, video projections that bled to screens beside and above the stage made it look like he was floating on a roiling sea, perched on the bridge of Rimbaud’s drunken boat.
There’s much more to come, including hometown heroes Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Saturday and Death Cab For Cutie Sunday.