Bumbershoot is the biggest music festival in my new home city of Seattle. Sure, Washington State boasts Sasquatch Festival on Memorial Day Weekend, but that’s two and a half hours to the east, and our other local festivals, like Decibel and Capitol Hill Block Party, are smaller and often draw more low-profile and local artists – awesome for discovering new music, but not the best if you’re looking to see bands who play the more large-scale festival circuit. So Bumbershoot’s the biggest, but it’s also run by a nonprofit, which means the bands are great, the tickets are cheap, and festivalgoers come from all around to hang out and watch a ton of bands under Seattle’s iconic Space Needle. My roommate and I slathered on our sunscreen and traipsed around Seattle Center’s lawns this Labor Day weekend to see some of our favorite acts, and lo: the promised recap, in the form of PMA’s old standby, the superlatives list.
Best Last-Minute Replacement – Katie Kate
We were looking forward to catching a set from goth-pop Londoner Charli XCX, but we hadn’t realized she’d been forced to cancel her Bumbershoot set. Disappointed but curious, we decided to see what her replacement, Seattle’s own MC and producer Katie Kate, had in store, and were frankly wowed. Backed by a super-talented duo of musicians that included a hyper-impressive multi-instrumentalist, Katie’s music reminded us half the time of Robyn and the other half of Iggy Azealea or any number of take-no-shit, take-no-prisoners female rappers. And, with a performance presence that ranged from dreamy to in-your-face intense in seconds flat (and some masterful bantering skills), Katie kept a crowd of confused Charli fans riveted. We’re excited to hear more from her – hopefully, she’s on her way to making a splash outside the Northwest.
Best Crowd – Superchunk
I pushed my way up front for Superchunk’s 7pm set at the Fountain Lawn Stage Monday night mostly because I wanted to get a good spot for Deerhunter, but within seconds of the Chapel Hill quartet’s taking the stage, I knew I was in for a treat. Not only was I surrounded by a crew of super-excited Superchunk fans – honestly, I hope I have those guys’ passion about music when I’m older – but the band’s ceaseless energy matched that of the crowd, who danced, fist-pumped, and sang along throughout the band’s effortlessly fun, hour-long set of both new and old material.
Worst Crowd – MGMT
We’re psyched as hell for MGMT’s upcoming self-titled third record, but by the looks of the crowd at the mainstage on Monday, we’re among a select few. Maybe this was just by virtue of our incredibly distant seats (serves us right for choosing to see the Men over getting in line early to guarantee a good spot inside Key Arena), but it looked like the band’s set suffered three mini exoduses – after “Time to Pretend,” “Electric Feel,” and penultimate track “Kids.” Those who left early missed stellar performances of the band’s new singles “Alien Days” and “Your Life is a Lie,” the latter with a lucky audience member named Laurel on giant cowbell and both accompanied by creepy, excellent video art. Whatever – watching MGMT play “Alien Days” in a slowly emptying arena was the kind of trippy, apocalyptic experience the band’s music best accompanies, and those on the floor looked like they were having a good time, or maybe that was just the cloud of weed smoke that almost completely concealed them.
Best Legacy Act – Death Cab for Cutie
One of Bumbershoot’s biggest draws this year was local boys Death Cab for Cutie playing the entirety of their ten-year-old breakout record Transatlanticism to celebrate their onetime label, Barsuk’s, 15th anniversary. Many things contributed to the incredible awesomeness of this moment for me personally – I somehow snuck my way into the guest and sponsor section directly at stage right, I was allowed to sit down after a long day that had been hell on my knees, a massive, whole-crowd wave circled Key Arena at least fifteen times before DCFC started and probably would have continued as long as the interim period lasted, the band played silhouetted against a golden backdrop of the album’s iconic cover, Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla kept adorably smiling at each other, and I was within ideal viewing range of the sign language interpreter guy, who had an excellent gesture that seemed to indicate “long, drawn-out, reverby Walla chord,” as well as a couple who salsa danced to “Tiny Vessels.” Mostly though – I don’t remember the last time I sat down and really listened to Transatlanticism, and I remembered every word to every song, as did the rest of the crowd.
Best Comeback – Baroness
If the name of the Savannah, GA band Baroness sounds familiar to you even if you’re not a metal fan, it might be because the whole band was involved in a devastating van crash in England just about a year ago. Despite suffering horrific injuries, the band’s frontman John Baizley and lead guitarist Peter Adams recruited a new drummer and bassist and started playing shows again in March of this year. Watching the guys lay down a wash of sludgy noise over a psyched crowd who were ecstatically breaking the Northwest’s unspoken anti-moshing code, I couldn’t believe I was watching the same band. That’s rock and roll.
Best Cover – FIDLAR
We caught L.A. punks FIDLAR’s cheap-beer-inappropriate 2:45pm set at the Tune-In stage wondering how they were going to fill up an hour’s set time with the handful of two-minute pop-punk fist-pumpers they have to their name. Turns out the band were wondering the same thing, according to frontman Zac Carper: “Our sets are usually 20 minutes long,” he exclaimed partway though. “This is exhausting!” They managed to fill time by playing pretty much every song they’ve ever released, which was fine by us because we like pretty much every song FIDLAR have ever released, and an awesome cover of Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” which, at least in our minds, was a shoe-in for best cover of the weekend. Bassist Brandon Schwartzel took vocal duties as the rest of the band laid down a scuzzy staccato groove and everyone within earshot screamed along all the words they knew, which for most were just “… and his red right hand!”
Best Jam – Deerhunter’s “Desire Lines”
We lucked out into a front row spot for Deerhunter’s Monday evening set, the final performance on the Fountain Lawn Stage of this year’s Bumbershoot, so we were expecting awesome things. Kicking off with a riveting “Earthquake” and closing with a barnburning “Monomania,” the Atlanta quintet pretty much exceeded our expectations, but one song was particularly special – the band’s extended version of PMA’s collective Favorite Deerhunter Song, Halcyon Digest highlight “Desire Lines.” During soundcheck as the band’s sound guy checked levels, he said of Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt’s monitors something along the lines of “these guys need each other” – purely functional, yeah, as in they each need to be able to hear what the other’s doing, but when you watch Cox and Pundt stare at each other through plenty of pea-soup-thick stage fog sliced up by trippy lights as they coordinate a truly epic, hallucinatory, mesmerizing outro to one of the best songs their band’s released, you realize that sentiment might just be what makes Deerhunter so good in the first place.
Most Appropriate Sunset Set – Tamaryn
Tamaryn’s eponymous frontwoman took the stage just after the rest of her band holding a tambourine and a bouquet of slightly wilted pink roses. The reason why she had the former immediately became apparent as she kicked off with “Mild Confusion,” but we were wondering if the roses were just for stage décor until the band’s closing performance of “The Garden,” when Tamaryn scooped them up like they didn’t have thorns and waltzed around the stage with them as though they were burning sticks and she was a daredevil juggler. She tore off petals and let them go in the breeze, tossed whole flowers into the audience, used them to conceal her face. It was a mesmerizing performance, one of the best of the festival, and, bathed in the golden light of Seattle sunset, utterly apropos.
Well, until next year for Bumbershoot, guys – in the meantime, keep it here for more festival fever, because we’ve still got a bad case and it’s only going to get worse as we wind down into the autumn (think CMJ, Fun Fun Fun Fest, and, dare we invoke its name, SXSW). Stay tuned!