Well folks, I did it. I spent the weekend in the tween-filled, EDM-saturated alternate universe known as Bumbershoot and I’ve lived to tell the tale.
Ok, so I’m being dramatic. It was mostly really fun and only ever got uncomfortable or depressing when I watched fourteen-year-olds doing drugs or something. That part did make me feel weird. The weather seemed unable to make up its mind all weekend, jockeying between light rain and sweltering heat, but overall it didn’t cause much real trouble.
There was also plenty of music. Unlike other local summer festivals, Bumbershoot doesn’t seem overly preoccupied with highlighting local acts. Considering the depth of talent in the city, that seems like a strange choice, but the upside the ability to catch acts that might otherwise be difficult to see in Seattle. Below, I’ve catalogued some thoughts–highlights, lowlights, general musings–on the weekend and some of the artists I saw.
Bless Us, St. Lucia
St. Lucia have cultivated a rarified kind of cheesiness- they ooze with cheese, it spills forth from their sticky-sweet synths, from band leader Jean-Philip Grobler’s baby blue guitar and especially from the fan that kept his hair blowing in non-existent wind at all times. They take the artificial, saccharine elements of 80s pop music and ratchet them up to level ten. It’s a risky move–songs like “Do You Remember” and “Closer Than This” could easily turn to shit–but somehow they manage to seem charming and fun instead of completely stupid.
Maybe it’s the raw charm of Grobler, or the fact that, Mariah-Carey-wind-tunnel hair or not, he cuts a pretty dashing figure, a beautiful, South African Simon Le Bon for the digital age. It could also be that, for all of the cheese, St. Lucia’s music rings with an earnest good nature that makes its hard to hate. They’re cheesy but they know they’re cheesy, and that makes all the difference.
Chastity Belt Is a Downer but a Good Downer
From hyper-caffeinated synth pop to meditative, bleary-eyed indie rock.
The four women who make up Chastity Belt played songs mostly off of their very good sophomore album Time to Go Home. “Drone” made an appearance, as did “Cool Slut.” They also played a new song–they didn’t tell us the title, they just called it “a new one”–from their forthcoming album that sounded similar enough to most of their output but felt slightly more aggressive and rhythmically driven. Hearing them live is always great. On record, the production tends to file down their edges, in person you remember that they are just as capable of jaggedness as melancholy.
Another perk of their live shows is the between-song banter. “This is our first time playing Bumbershoot,” intoned lead singer Julia Shapiro drily. “Love it. Love the festy life.” And later, describing the Dumbo Lounge inflatable chairs (sofas?) that seemed to be everywhere throughout the weekend: “We’ve been having a lot of fun with those banana sacks…they’re very vaginal.” Never change, Chastity Belt.
Halsey Makes Me Sad
Halsey has sold one million records. I know this because she informed us, all of us, crammed together in Memorial Stadium on Friday night. Standing onstage, amidst the set of a community theatre production of Rent designed in an MDMA fever dream, clad in a black tank, green cargo pants and black, knee-high boots that should have been burned in 2007, she screamed the figure like a war call.
From time to time, Halsey patted her crotch like someone absent-mindedly petting a dog. I imagine the intention was to give the impression that she is both deeply sexual and transgressive, but it mostly ended up looking like she had nowhere else to put her hands and settled on absent-mindedly tapping her genitals. She also constantly referred to the audience as “motherfuckers,” which seemed a little intense for hundreds of people you just met. And call me a pop vulgarian, but would it kill her to write a recognizable hook?
At least one million people like Halsey’s music, so that’s nice for her, I guess.
Corporate Sponsorships Are Annoying (Except Hi-Chews)
Look, I get it Bumbershoot. You’re not the artsy-fartsy, small-time kid you used to be, and that’s ok! Change is natural.
But come on, a Vita Coco booth? Who do you think you are, Coachella? Admittedly the Doc Marten’s photo booth was surprisingly fun, but still. Oh, and the Hi-Chew booth. I love Hi-Chews. Although maybe next time we can do away with the five-piece limit.
If there was ever a time when Bumbershoot wasn’t at least partially a transparent, corporate, money-grab, that time has long since passed. Sic Transit Gloria Bumbershoot, I guess.
Erik Blood Elevates Us
I was hungry and tired when I arrived at the KEXP stage, having staunchly refused to spend fifteen dollars on a pulled pork sandwich. My mind was overwhelmed with festival fashions and vape smoke. Good god, please no more face glitter. Put an end to the Free People bra-lets and the denim shorts and boys in bucket hats and crystal necklaces.
But from the first moments of Erik Blood’s performance, when four dancers in masks and black cloaks began moving wraithlike among the audience, I was reminded that, despite the aggressive corporatizing of the music festival as an entity, it’s still occasionally capable of depth.
After a brief instrumental debut and the dancers’ entrance, Blood and musical partner Irene Barber appeared onstage in black and white outfits and face paint that split their faces in half and swiftly spirited us all away on a cloud of shoegaze-y dream pop. Barber’s voice (omigod what a voice) soared overhead as Blood’s lush musical landscape shifted tectonically beneath. As evinced by the performance, and his newest album Lost in Slow Motion, Erik Blood is the musical auteur Seattle needs.
Pony Time Is No More
Woe to Seattle music fans everywhere! Tear at your hair, smear yourselves with ash and wail unto the heavens because Saturday, September 3rd, Bumbershoot 2016 marked the final performance of Pony Time. The delightful duo will be remembered for their rollicking tunage, their genius album titles, and this final, parting line from drummer Stacey Peck: “Um, we’ve got some, uh, compact discs for sale. I don’t know if anyone remembers those, but they’re pretty easy to carry. You can put them in a tote bag.” RIP Pony Time. You were always too good for us.
Seeing Anderson .Paak, followed directly by JoJo is like freebasing happiness.
Paak is the hip-hop James Brown, savagely manic and smiling. Armed with a languid flow and a drum kit, he marched the enormous crowd at Memorial Stadium through a set that spanned much of Malibu and “Glowed Up,” his fantastic collaboration with producer Kaytranada. Running spasmodically across the stage, shooting the shit with his band mates, Paak seemed to be having more fun than anyone in attendance, though we were loving it too.
And JoJo. Like a princess returning from exile she descended upon the audience who Ate. It. Up. Have you ever seen people openly weeping at a JoJo concert? I have. It’s bizarre and also strangely sweet. Mostly bizarre though.
In a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt (she took the award for the most subtle hometown pandering of the entire festival) and skinny jeans, JoJo blazed through a brief half-hour set that included her newest single, “Fuck Apologies,” and of course her two massive breakout hits “Too Little Too Late,” and “Leave (Get Out).” Her voice is serviceable, neither huge nor particularly flexible, but she did manage a few nice runs, and overall the songs were well-delivered. Her stage presence is VERY DIFFERENT than that of the thirteen-year-old girl she once was, at least from what I remember. I don’t recall her ever grinding on her mic stand like a stripper pole, but I could be wrong. And to be clear, I’m not complaining.
Kevin Parker Does What You’d Expect
Tame Impala were very good. Their music sounds entirely appropriate in an enormous stadium, and strikes the requisite balance between musical density and being really great to listen to high. It’s no wonder they’ve seemingly played every festival ever. Lead singer Kevin Parker stood on an ornate rug and played a host of synthesizers and danced around barefoot. It was pretty much exactly how you’d imagine a Tame Impala show. Pretty cool, I guess.
Billy Idol Looks Great
When Billy Idol screams, it is with the raw, primal strength conferred only on those who have weathered decades of touring, depraved sex and doing metric fuckloads of cocaine. It’s so awesome. At around nine o’clock on Sunday night, he ran onstage and proceeded to show that, yes indeed, Billy Idol has still got it. Trust me, I know because he never really wore a shirt.
Billy Idol’s success was founded primarily on his ability to inject punk with an infusion of glitz, and it turn make it marketable to a pop audience, and on Sunday he demonstrated that he hasn’t lost his signature blend of punk bravado and showbiz razzle-dazzle. All the hits were there: “Mony Mony,” “Rebel Yell,” “Dancing with Myself” and of course “White Wedding” (the fairly predictable encore). Since, even in his prime, he was never a particularly impressive singer, his voice is still completely able to handle all of his older material. He struggled a bit with the high bits on “Can’t Break Me Down,” off his 2014 album Kings and Queens of the Underground, but he managed to get it together in time for the second chorus.
Towards the end of the set he addressed the audience. “Thank you all for helping to make my life so fucking GREAT!” he screamed. No Billy, thank you.