“This is my new project,” says the female back-up singer of Campfire OK as she whips out her throwaway camera to take a picture of the crowd. It reminds me of something that might have happened a decade before the trend of bands taking pictures on their iPhones to share immediately on Twitter. The lead singer, after announcing his love for and friendship with Pickwick, said he made the mistake last year of announcing his home address on Capitol Hill. Thus, a barrage of mail. So far, Campfire OK has the best stage banter.
Campfire OK has a The Head and The Heart feel + The Moondoggies with a rockier, sometime bluegrass feel. They were a good crowd opener encouraging clapping–the kind of band Seattle seems to embrace right now after the surprising Billboard success of The Head and The Heart. And of course, this show gave light to the first “character” of the festival. Some festivals have the ever present beach ball (which later made its appearance) or people in crazy costumes. This year, it is a man in a costume dinosaur head.
Tomten is the winner of the 2011 EMP Sound Off Competition. If you’re not familiar, Brite Futures (previously named Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head) won the competition years ago. The Bumbershoot program description was right; Tomten sounds a lot like a more modern version of The Kinks and T. Rex with lots of dead pan stage talk.
If you’ve ever seen the keyboardist of Keane, he is a maniac at the keys. He bounces around, wags his head and dances like he’s controlled by someone in the audience with a video game controller. The lead singer/keyboardist was like that but with significantly more amazing synth breakdowns.
CALEB KLAUDER COUNTRY BAND
The Caleb Klauder Country Band was fitting for festival-goers already ready to relax in the sun and eat. It was a pretty passive audience, but it was refreshing seeing a bluegrass band with such young members. “Innocent Road” and a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Rockin’ Years” brought the most energy from the crowd.
This year, Bumbershoot moved its Mainstage acts from Memorial Stadium to the Key Arena. Despite all the local attention Brite Futures has received in the past six years, I never gave them a listen until today (that’s not necessarily a bad admission for a reporter, right?). The Key Arena change seemed like a good one. On the two big screens hanging from the ceiling on both sides of the stage, twitter feeds with the Bumbershoot hashtag were uploaded live. One tweet was, “tweeting #Bumbershoot to see if it will show up on the Mainstage.” Success. Once the concert started, the screens displayed the band but it was reminiscent of 80s Blondie concert footage.
Brite Futures looks and sounds like a pretty ridiculous band, which may be why they are loved by Seattleites. Reminds me of !!! and STRFKR except with more pop influence. Most memorably, there was a song about facial hair entitled “Beard Lust.” Of course, it was preluded with sexual innuendo. What was remarkable to me about Brite Futures is that they even talked to the beat. End chord/”thanks”/pick-up note/play song/”grandma said…”/play chord/talk more/beat/song. Good flow+good energy+plus shiny, colorful outfits+new songs off their new album coming in November=nothing short of a good time.
THE GREAT MUNDANE
This is the first year that Seattle’s Decibel Festival has partnered with Bumbershoot to host a stage and an after hours electronic event called After Dark. As Decibel Festival has grown, it’s about time that the Bumbershoot audience gets exposure to electronic music since it has been largely absent from the festival in years past.
That being said, the audience just didn’t know how to deal with The Great Mundane. The majority of the audience was sitting down when I entered the EMP Sky Church. It took a security guard 20 minutes into the set ordering everyone to stand up while laughing at them before the crowd began to show expression, appreciation, anything to show they cared. The Great Mundane deserved so much more. I wonder what it’s like for an electronic artist used to playing clubs to play a third of his set with his audience sitting down. But I guess everyone has the right to experience music in their own way.
The Great Mundane played a lot of dubstep infused electronica with reggae, jazz and glitch influences. It was a thumpy, happy, ambience-heavy set but The Great Mundane, a one-man artist, made sure to “lighten it up” every few songs. Lightening it up tended to mean more tom drums, processed bongo drum-like sounds, twinkling sounds, and remixing an Emancipator song (also playing today at Bumbershoot).
STRFKR (plus brief interview)
STRFKR played twice today, the first at the KEXP sponsored Bumbershoot Music Lounge. It was a small recorded session holding a couple hundred people at most. I’m so glad KEXP does these shows. As a result of the smaller size, they are much more casual shows. Plus, everyone in the room tends to be an overly excited fan as opposed to a public show where people are discovering the band for the first time. At first, STRFKR seemed a bit fragile and reserved, mostly because they were concerned with getting their sound settings just right. Plus, they played a high energy show later in the day, and you can only be that amazing so many times in a day. But then as they played “Jupiter,” everything changed. Energy level went up, sound settings were perfect, and they rocked on and on in their indie-electronica, dance music world.
Upon finishing their set, a third of the audience rushed to the stage for autographs. One girl wanted an autograph on a dollar bill to add to her collection (she already has one with Tim Gunn). A guy in his 20s begged for a hug from a band member. In the midst of the loving crowd, I approached a band member about why they change instruments so often (in a typical show, the drummer may play three different instruments. All musicians play all instruments). He said that in the beginning of the band, each member’s primary instrument was completely different then what it is now. The truth is that they all love playing all of the instruments so they try to mix it up as much as possible to maximize band member happiness. Definitely one of the most fan friendly bands I have encountered.
I wanted to really like Beat Connection: they went to the University of Washington (I’m a recent graduate) and they’re touring with STRFKR. Their venue was overcapacity and the audience was so receptive to the band’s energy. The more the band moved and jumped, the more the crowd copied. Considering their opening slot for STRFKR and the fact that other artists like Brite Futures were in the audience watching them, things are moving fast for Beat Connection.
For the first half of the set, they weren’t too memorable–just solid indie chillwave. I kept thinking, “I liked their album better.” But then everything changed. Then I started seeing them smile. You could tell they still get off on their success and aren’t taking a minute of this for granted. Suddenly, I found myself drifting into a groove that I didn’t want to end and I got it. A steel pan player myself, I got a kick out of hearing beats that sounded like manipulated steel drums layered in the music. Their set closed with a guest singer and a cover of Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion (Lies).”
FREE THE ROBOTS
Free the Robots was hands down the most amazing performance of the day. Chris Alfaro is the man behind Free the Robots and also the man who swore the most today. He was amazing because he was so expressive. He squatted behind his table, danced, played air drums, and in any spare second stepped away from his laptop to dance.
It was his performance that really cemented the success of the Bumbershoot and Decibel partnership. He started the show by saying let’s hear some “bedroom shit” and he continued to keep it “dirty.” And by dirty, I think he meant gritty, raw and powerful. Later on he incorporated some 8-bit infused hip-hop while robots paraded around the visual display behind him. At one point, Alfaro said, “I know I’m getting really weird but you guys enjoy some weird fucking music because you’re from fucking Seattle!” *crowd roars* Free the Robots made the speakers feel like fans (sorry ears), but it was the perfect show. Thank you Free the Robots for making Saturday for me and the rest of the full house.
See you tomorrow for more reviews and interviews!