Upstream Music Fest
Pioneer Square in Seattle, Wash.
Saturday, June 2, 2018
By Todd Terry
Tacocat was the first act of the day and their sarcastic / feminist pop punk gems sounded great from the main stage. The Seattle band has always had a somewhat conflicted view of the Emerald City. They love Seattle, despite the threat of natural disaster, but they hate the weekend, because of the huge influx of “tech bros.” This dichotomy was never clearer than when lead singer Emily Nokes announced “This one goes out to all the rock n’ roll-themed condos that are going up and displacing actual musicians,” while playing a Paul Allen sponsored music festival. Visually, Tacocat is all about color and sparkle. Their aesthetic can be succinctly described as Rainbow Brite meets Riot Grrrl and accessorized with novelty sunglasses. Vibrantly colored hair, fur vests, red lace finger-less gloves, tie dye vests, and purple sequins tops were all in play.
My biggest discovery of the day was the amazing young new wave psychedelic band Strawberry Mountain, who recently appeared on Nada’s yearly list of bands to watch #41for2018. Their songs, which were always just on the edge of a full on jam, were filled pop melodies, electronic sounds, and a whole lot of youthful energy. They were semi-finalists in MoPOP’s Sound Off! competition earlier this year and they were all definitely born long after the last Dukes of Stratosphear album came out. When they played their self-proclaimed ‘80s prom song, my heart broke for Duckie Dale all over again. How the hell could Andie have picked Blane? Damn test screen audiences.
Visually the band was striking as well. Lead singer / guitarist / keyboardist Carter Prince reminded me a bit of a younger and hipper Weird Al with his faint mustache, Hawaiian shirt, and suede penny loafers. The rest of the band included a second guitarist, standup bass, two drummers / percussionists, and a super glam keyboardist. More on that glamour in the MVP section below.
I wanted to support the band immediately, so I ended up buying a light blue t-shirt with an upside down strawberry on it. They had music available as well, but it was on the mystifyingly resurgent cassette tape format and unfortunately my Walkman was retired a long time ago. I am looking forward to hearing much more from this talented new band, though.
Misundvrstood and Gypsy Temple
Together, the combined forces of rapper Misundvrstood, and hard rock and soul group Gyspy Temple produced a high energy set of life affirming rap rock. Guitarist Cameron Miles Lavi-Jones played like the he was rocking the Greek Theatre instead of playing on the AXIS 2 stage. The crowd waved their hands like they did not have many cares, while Misundvrstood spit fire and told them to follow their dreams. The genre has really come a long way from when Limp Bizkit incited massive property destruction at Wookstock ’99. Positivity, diversity, and a cello: what’s not to like?
I have already written too many words about the power and the glory of Hot Snakes in my review of their show at Chop Suey last November, so suffice it to say they rocked my lame ass in a parking lot. Guitarist John Reis called attention to the austere setting for their show and I immediately flashbacked to seeing Rocket from the Crypt, one of Reis’ many other musical projects, play in the Tacoma Dome parking lot on The Warped Tour in 1996. Songs from their new album, Jericho Sirens, sounded great, and the band did not make any musical compromises to appease the festival crowd. The music was unrelenting and the vocals were scathing. The crowd was GOING to like it.
When their set was done I was left with two questions. Did singer / guitarists Rick Froberg and bassist Gar Wood coordinate their outfits brown button down shirts and black jeans ahead of time? Why was there only one drummer? Jason Kourkouni is amazing but I want to know where his brother in percussion was? Where in the world is Mario Rubalcaba? #whereismario?
I was a big Jawbreaker fan when the band was initially active, but somehow I never managed to see them live. They played some of my favorite songs at Upstream and the young people sang along to them all. The crowd seemed to be mostly filled with passionate 20-something women who knew every word, and 40-something guys who talked about how they saw them back in the day.
Lead singer / guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach took the microphone between songs for some rambling and, at times, confusing stage banter. He introduced the band by saying that they were Candelbox from Renton. On other musical topics, he explained the benefit of playing a Drop D tuning through Super Fuzz / Big Muff pedals and gave a shout out to Redmond’s Old Fire House teen center where the band played on the 24 Hour Revenge Therapy tour. On the political front, he announced that he would be running for president in 2020 and wished that the president, his cabinet, and all of their spouses were homeless. Especially their spouses.
The band sounded great, the setlist was definitely solid, and the crowd was enthusiastic, but I still couldn’t help but feel that the set was somewhat lacking in energy. I just got a sense that the band was not completely into it and were giving a workmanlike performance. It must be a little hard to reconcile playing the biggest shows of your career but exclusively playing songs that are over 20 years old and that you wrote when you were in your 20s.
Drink of Choice
Fort George IPA at J&M Café.
Whisky and ginger ale at the Buttnick stage.
Zwick’l kellerbier at Altstadt.
There was a lot of great people watching at Upstream, so it was difficult to single out a particular individual. When all was said at done I have to go with the first person who caught my attention, which was the very very enthusiastic guy front and center at the barrier during Tacocat’s set. It seemed like he had been waiting there for days, even though they had only let people in to the main stage area about 30 minutes earlier. When the band started playing he went absolutely bananas. This shit is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S! He was also rocking a light pink tank top, red sunglasses, and white Union Bay shortalls. It was quite a look and he was pulling it off.
Runner up has to go to the sullen Workaholics-looking guy standing right next to me during Hot Snakes. I have previously mentioned him in my reviews for Superchunk and Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, and there he was, leather jacket and all, on this sunny Saturday. For a second I thought maybe this was some sort of Nada Mucho stalking situation, so I was sure to give him some space. Apparently we have very similar taste in music, so hats off to you, Workaholics guy.
Most Valuable Player
Picking a favorite individual contributor at a music festival is not an easy task, but after much consideration and introspection I had to go with the keyboard player from Strawberry Mountain. With his blonde hair, white turtleneck, black faux fur coat, and constant sunglasses, his look was classic cool. He would have just as easily fit in at Andy Warhol’s Factory in New York the 1960s or at The Haçienda in Manchester in the 1980s. Plus he rocked that keyboard like he was Nick Rhodes on the Sing Blue Silver tour.