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Bumbershoot 2003 Recap

Posted by September 2nd, 2003 No Comments »

Letter From the Editor
Bumbershoot 2003 Recap
By Matt Ashworth

This year’s Bumbershoot, the annual festival of music and art that takes place at the Seattle Center grounds, saw both improvements and minor setbacks.

The Exhibition Hall was a nice addition to the choice of venues, hosting up-and-coming artists such as Ruby Doe and New Pornographers, but was so plagued by poor acoustics and bad sound engineering that local favs The Catheters quit after only twenty minutes. By Sunday, word had gotten round – many of our contributors overheard people waiting in lines outside the Sky Church and other venues say things like, "I was gonna go see The Supersuckers at the Expo Hall tonight, but the sound is so shitty…"

Crowds were down, meaning folks were in a good mood and managed to get in to most things on their Bumberagendas.


Letter From the Editor
Bumbershoot 2003 Recap
By Matt Ashworth

This year’s Bumbershoot, the annual festival of music and art that takes place at the Seattle Center grounds, saw both improvements and minor setbacks.

The Exhibition Hall was a nice addition to the choice of venues, hosting up-and-coming artists such as Ruby Doe and New Pornographers, but was so plagued by poor acoustics and bad sound engineering that local favs The Catheters quit after only twenty minutes. By Sunday, word had gotten round – many of our contributors overheard people waiting in lines outside the Sky Church and other venues say things like, "I was gonna go see The Supersuckers at the Expo Hall tonight, but the sound is so shitty…"

Crowds were down, meaning folks were in a good mood and managed to get in to most things on their Bumberagendas.

After a few unimpressive years, music performances were back in standard form. Basically, there were more great artists to see than its possible to see in four days. I didn’t, but busted ass all weekend to make it to the following eleven. Here, in order, are my favorite performances of Bumbershoot 2003:

11) Rhett Miller, Backyard Stage, Sunday night
Sans his Old 97s band mates, Miller was a bit underwhelming, but running through acoustic versions of highlights from his mediocre solo album as well as 97s classics like "Barrier Reef," "Rollerskate Skinny," "Salome" and "Buick City Complex" proved a good move. Bowie and Elvis covers did not. – (6/10)

10) The Catheters, What’s Next Stage, Saturday morning
We love The Catheters. We’ve done so unconditionally since interviewing them years ago on the strength of an early 7-inch and opening spot on a bill that included Mudhoney and The Supersuckers. I think the boys might agree with me that this wasn’t the best performance I’ve seen them give. Not that it was entirely their fault – the band displayed their typical energy and their rock star posturing seemed even more appropriate now that they’re…well….fucking rock stars. They also debuted a couple promising new songs and left the stage in an invigorating display of disgustedness, presumably due to the atrocious sound in The Exhibition Hall. A fellow contributor asked me if they "were really pissed off or just being rock stars." Hopefully a little of both. – (DNF)

9) The Thermals, What’s Next Stage, Sunday morning
Considering the almost embarrassingly low-fi production on The Thermals’ otherwise brilliant More Parts Per Million, even the sound in the Exhibition Hall was an improvement. Also adding to my enjoyment was the three, instead of four, piece lineup which tied singer Hutch Harris to his guitar. Instead of prancing around shirtless and uncoordinated, he and his band mates tore through most of their Sub Pop debut and several new songs, all of which indicated a progression from punk to rock. One even included a guitar solo. Really. – (7/10)

8) United States of Electronica, Sky Church, Monday afternoon
Part of the Bumbershoot experience has always been checking out performers we otherwise wouldn’t go see. Waiting in line to assure our position for The Long Winters, we got a glimpse of United States of Electronica on the giant screen outside EMP. It wasn’t until we got inside that we understood the band’s garage-disco energy. With guitar, bass and keyboardists who look like they should be listening to Whirlwind Heat rather than Gloria Gaynor flanked by scantily-clad disco dancin’ females all belting out dance-floor ready seventies grooves to a crowd ranging in age from 10 months to about eighty, it was hard not to feel. – (7/10; winner "Most Welcomed Surprise")

7) The Shins, Memorial Stadium, Friday night
I’d been longing to see The Shins since falling in love with their classic Oh, Inverted World a year after it came out. The band’s live performance offered little of the excitement I feel listening to their recorded output, and Memorial Stadium was a bit too much for the band’s largely quiet, melodic sound. But hey, it was still The Fuckin’ Shins (normally reserved for KISS and Limp Bizkit’, please note the first-ever use of the phrase "The Fuckin’" to precede the Shins’ bandname.) Highlights included "My Seventh Rib" and several tracks from the forthcoming Chutes Too Narrow, which hasn’t done much for me yet. That’s not surprising, though, as it took almost a year for its predecessor to grab hold of my attention. – (6/10)

6) Modest Mouse, Memorial Stadium, Friday night
I love Modest Mouse. Friday’s performance was perhaps the least exciting of those I’ve seen, plagued by technical difficulties and staged in the far from intimate Memorial Stadium. However, Modest Mouse is still the greatest band in the world` as evidenced by set-closing versions of "Trailer Trash" and "Cowboy Dan." – (7/10)

5) Wilco, Memorial Stadium, Monday night
Having been relatively disappointed with Wilco’s mid-afternoon Memorial Stadium performance at Bumbershoot 2002, I wasn’t all that excited about the return engagement. Luckily, this time they opened the festival-closing R.E.M. show instead of crawling out of bed for a noon headlining gig. Jeff Tweedy and pals seemed a little more excited about things, and treated a capacity crowd to a fantastic set. Opening with "Box Full of Letters" and closing with "Outta site, Outta mind," studied fans couldn’t help but pause a moment and mourn the early-nineties demise of the legendary Replacements, but wedged in between were spot-on recreations of most of Wilco’s generation-defining Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Highlights included "Poor Places" and "Misunderstood," two songs so overwhelming brilliant I still fail to comprehend their existence, and a loving rendition of "California Stars," taken from the band’s collaboration with Billy Bragg, Mermaid Avenue, which features the lyrics of the late Woody Guthrie. – (8/10)

4) De La soul, Memorial Stadium, Sunday afternoon
Hip-hop’s greatest group ever stayed with the theme of the day – the "Hip-Hop 101" showcase they shared with Black Eyed Peas and Common – by giving fans a very interactive, greatest hits type performance. Watching the group’s genius in action was a first for me. Seeing how effortlessly they move from the "smart-guy-east-coast-innovator" status of their recorded output to the "is-the-party-over-here" vibe characteristic of the form’s live setting was a subtlety lost on most of the sideways baseball hat wearing crowd (I counted 119 for the day), but that’s just the point. You don’t gotta think to like good hip-hop, you just gotta wanna throw your hands in the air and wave ’em like ya just don’t motherfuckin’ care. We did. And we don’t. – (7/10)

3) Bobby Bare Jr and the Young Criminal Starvation League, Backyard Stage, Saturday afternoon
Bobby Bare Jr proved Saturday that he’s the coolest man alive. I’ve suspected this to be true since interviewing him shortly after his fantastic late 2002 album Young Criminals’ Starvation League came out, but couldn’t be sure until seeing him perform. With his patented mop of curly hair fully intact, sporting a pair of dark shades, and backed by the most diverse and charismatic band I’ve seen in a while, Bare’s unique voice and songwriting talents filled the outdoor air on the most enjoyable day of the festival. At one point I lay on my back, propped up on my shoulders to enjoy the amazing weather, music and view of the space needle, and I noticed I need only tilt my head about 15 degrees to see the full stage from my position on the sloped grass surrounding the Backyard Stage. Paradise. – (9/10)

2) Kinski, Sky Church, Saturday afternoon
I should hate Kinski. It’s not much of a stretch when I claim Sonic Youth did everything this amazing Seattle band does ten years ago, but with more style and charisma. But Kinski are just too amazing. This, the fourth time I’ve seen the band this year, was by far my favorite performance. The Sky Church’s otherwise annoying 1980’s, Tron-ish light show was improved and served as the perfect setting for the band’s intricate, noisy and largely instrumental sound. A set-closing "Tremelo" was perhaps the greatest live concert moment I’ve had this year (excluding, of course, Polyphonic Spree live at Graceland, heretofore known as "The Show.") – (10/10)

1) The Long Winters, Sky Church, Monday afternoon
I like When I Pretend to Fall, The Long Winters 2003 album. But even after the band blew me away earlier this year at the Crocodile with their amazing live set and hilarious on-stage banter, it just never seems the same, and I have trouble trusting my memory. So I was a bit nervous heading into my second Long Winters show. Doubts were immediately erased as they opened again with "Bride & Bridal," an otherwise above-average album track that, when heard live, kicks my ass. The local heroes then ran through most of the recent album and highlights from The Worst You Can Do Is Harm like "New Math." John Roderick is Philip Seymour Hoffman (Nada Mucho’s Fav Son, mind you), yet he somehow looks, breathes and just plain oozes with "rock star cool" no matter how much he tries to leaven it with nerdy stories about wearing boat shoes and having "interchangeable feet." Sean Nelson is the eccentric, big-haired keyboardist who sets a nice contrast for Roderick and the rest of the band visually while musically filling out the band’s Raspberries/CCR-tinged sound ("Shapes" would fit beautifully on Chronicle I swear.) The unarguable highlight was the single "Cinnamon," during which the band seamlessly intertwined Neil Young’s "Cinnamon Girl" before returning to finish their last chorus. Sometimes it’s hard to describe how something so familiar can come across as so original. I can’t figure out what it is about The Long Winters that puts them at the top of my 2002 Bumbershoot heap instead of relegating them to status of "boring 70s classic rock wannabes," but whatever it is, I like it. A lot. I won’t miss a Long Winters show in the Puget Sound area the rest of this year. You shouldn’t either. – (9/10)


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