Saturday, September 3, 2009
By Tyson Lynn
Winners of this year’s EMP Sound-off competition, Dyno Jamz (pictured above), was one of the first announced acts for Bumbershoot. Part of the prize package. Another piece, generally understood and unstated, is confidence in the fact that if you’re judged best once, twice is easy. So Dyno Jamz, even in an opening slot on the first day, had what you’d call a casual swagger.
Working a classic melodic tip, the backing band (the Jamz?), I’m pretty sure the lead guy is not professionally known as Dyno) reflected oldschool Sly and Stevie with tight grooves and slinky breakdowns.
MC Zac Millan ably kept pace, flowing underneath bars like pressganged honey. None of them act young—although they are; Sound-off, remember, requires all musicians to be under 21—with stage presence and general poise at a level above their (y)ears. The result was swinging fire, a sweet smoky taste without censor, and an audience response on par.
When I lit out—before their set was over, which was basically my m.o. throughout the weekend since there’s a lot to see and schedules are unforgiving—the boogie had infected the crowd, the band, and my step, which had a little half hitch on the 2 and 4, giving my gait a slight bob.
Which reminds me to remind you that the 2010 Sound-off competition is accepting applicants. If you’re under 21 and think you’ve got what it
takes, click here for entry information.
If you weren’t turned on (or tuned in) to KEXP’s Secret Music Lounge, you missed out. Featuring an intimate stage, good acoustics, and a mighty line-up, the Lounge was a sure bet throughout the weekend.
Telekinesis benefited from this format. Their singer is the drummer, one of their guitarists is chair-bound with a broken hip, and the other two keep within their monitor boundary. There’s a great deal of physical stasis for how fast the songs peel the quarter mile.
And they don’t monkey with the formula: quick, accessible, easily hummable pop songs that get in and out in under three. Stop, reset, repeat. Toss in some light banter to taste and BAM you’ve got yourself a set. I missed their evening slot so I’m not sure how well that recipe scales to twice as long and four times as big, but as an afternoon nosh, it was delicious.
Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head
NPSH may be young, but they know how to move a crowd. By the time I arrived, the gathered crowd was being firmly steered by the nautically-inspired NPSH, hands up and swinging from starboard to port. Every so often one of the Heads would come out from behind a keyboard to rock solo on the mic, giving as much energy as the crowd was kicking up.
Overthinking Natalie’s music is a sisyphean effort, oodles of signifiers without signifieds. That is, they’re saying a lot, but it doesn’t really connect or build. And, honestly, I don’t think that’s their point. Does it move? Is it evocative? Will the audience fill the absence of meaning with mosh-steps and woos? The answer to all of it is yes. I mean, lookit:
You can’t argue that.
Attending comedy at Bumbershoot is always a scattershot affair. Are you willing to wait in line, only to be disappointed when capacity cuts you off before you even see the door? Will you show up at 11 a.m. to get a pass (a wonderful addition this year, actually, a paper guarantee for the average festivalgoer so they don’t have to schedule their entire day around standing in a line)? Well, turns out, a press pass gets you the same privileges a comedy-pass does, so I squeaked into the afternoon showcase of Braunger, Barry, and Watts.
A veteran of Upright Citizen’s Brigade, Braunger opened by declaring Taco Bell a sanctuary from police action against drunk driving and closed on Texas in the ’70s. Approachable, open, your next bestmate at the sports bar, Braunger easily riled the crowd for Barry.
Where Braunger was broad and jocular, Barry was meditative and subtle. Insular and pointed, Barry’s humour requires a certain investment from the audience. We were ready. The ripples of laughter weren’t the giant splashes of Braunger, but smaller, regular, rhythmic.
And then there’s Watts, who is a force all to himself. Mop-headed and wild-eyed, he’s a giant muppet, pivoting from shaggy stories that studiously avoid punchlines towards musical interludes that underscore and undermine Watts’ musical background. He’s not telling jokes, so much as inviting us to watch what he’d probably be doing on a Saturday afternoon anyway.
In booking it from one side of the festival grounds to another, I caught a few acts without actually being able to settle in and enjoy the set. Cordero was one of these. This is unfortunate; because I have a feeling I would really enjoy the warm, Latin-tinged 50s pop sound they have dialed in. As I passed, no one was dancing, which was a damn shame. At the same time, I didn’t see a lot of dancing anywhere, so I’m not terribly surprised.
Iglu & Hartly
If Andrew W.K. were to ever take himself seriously, he’d be Iglu and Hartly: overblown riffs buoyed on synthesizers and outsized personalities, an experience more than a band. They probably take that as a compliment.
There’s nothing subtle about their approach and the kids in the crowd appreciated it.
Heated enjoinders to scream louder, rock out, and party harder (whoops) were met with the exuberant cheers of the assembled. Did it matter that in the Exhibition Hall, the songs sounded like a flat, consuming roar? No! Did anyone care if lead guitarist Simon Katz took two solos per song? No! Was anyone worried that frontmen Jarvis Anderson and Sam Martin would catch a chill what with wearing no shirts? Hell no!
As an excuse to scream at people, Iglu and Hartly are a prime concoction. Like Jimmy Buffet, jaeger bombs, and frat parties before it, I’ll leave my share for you.
Another set I saw in passing. I wasn’t even around long enough to watch Rodriguez shred on her violin, something I’ve been told is well worth seeing. Next time, Carrie?
Matt & Kim
Oh, Matt & Kim. You are very cute, perhaps adorable, even, what with your marriage and youth and energy. You were obviously having a great time on stage and the crowd, well, the crowd loved you.
Here is my problem, Matt & Kim. In a live setting, your songs are not…let’s say unique. Pounding drums, relentless synth, and every now and then some vocals, but nothing to hang a hat on. Excuse me a moment, I’m going to top off my glass of haterade. Would you like
some? No? Ok!
Anyway, it occurred to me that after five songs, you could have started from the top of your set list and no one would have been the wiser. It’s not a bad thing, no, please don’t misunderstand, it’s just that what was selling the crowd was your charisma and personality, not the lack of hooks. I was standing in a crowd listening to the thumping white noise of a dreaming roland and knew it wasn’t for me. Anyway, that’s what I wanted to tell you. Thanks for stopping by. Kisses to your mums.
The Whore Moans Present: The Black Atom
Supposedly, this was a project for The Whore Moans, one with a thesis that went more or less thus: What if we appropriate the trappings of an underground soul band whose souls are damned for eternity and instead of it bumming us out, we get more badass?
A measured silence ensued.
Well, asked one Moans, absently shotgunning a tallboy, is that even possible?
Why yes it is.
For the past four years, The Whore Moans have steered a hot rod into the sun. This is not a metaphor. They’ve built a ramp and everything. Practitioners of amped-up, punked-out, honest-to-god rock and roll, The Whore Moans have made a nice little place for themselves in the local music scene and trash it from time to time.
For Bumbershoot, the decision was made to move outside their comfort zone (aka: the danger zone) and flesh out their act with oblique back story, bleaker narrative, and eight extra hands (well, two members of The Hands and two from The Cute Lepers.)
The resulting fracas had something of the fuck-it vibe, i.e. we, The Moans, are going to burn things to the ground, but if we get a little lost and stumble, well, fuck it. We’re going to keep rocking. Are you going to keep up?
If you could, their set delivered in spades. Burnishing their chops with dabs of soul, 50s pop, and Baptist evangelism, songs never simmered for long before boiling. I don’t think anyone was saved, but there might have been a few converts. Plus, there was glitter.
What can be said about Os Mutantes that hasn’t in the past 40 years? I don’t wanna pull a Klosterman over here or nothing, because the rehab on that is intense, but OM have been reference cliché for the average world-music writer (pot, kettle) since they arrived on the scene. And that scene has changed considerably in the intervening years.
To their credit, OM hasn’t gone chasing trends. Though, to be fair, there was that years-long hiatus, and nowadays most of the original members are no longer with the band, replaced with young, respectful ringers. The result of which is note-perfect revamps of those old faves. This is also the downside. Like many “comeback” tours—a callous term, but accurate—the band is not stretching much and, by focusing on a pale new album, largely missing the point.
Still, it’s cool to say you’ve seen them as long as you don’t specify when.
Kay Kay And His Weathered Underground
It’s unfortunate that I missed the bulk of this set—work called, said it missed me, what was I to do?—when in the 20 minutes I saw, there was a birthday serenade with a cake and fuzz guitar solo, and it wasn’t even a high point.
Even with about 35 friends (estimated conservatively) on-stage beside him, lead singer Kirk Huffman radiates a subtle alien/transient energy from beneath his coonskin cap. The band passes around the eye, cracking wise behind the microphones, slightly goofing; Huffman, however, is focused, oblivious.
If it affects the songs, you’d need a delicate balance to know. They fly into the stratosphere, one glorious pop moment after another; sumptuous arrangements showcasing members and sections in turn without ever becoming repetitive or self-aggrandizing, just deep fixation on the particular dazzle one view of a diamond gives.
They play next at the Reverb festival on October 3rd. It’s gonna be a fabulous fete.