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Bumbershoot's highs, lows and backstage chatter
by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

Labor Day weekend was spent at Seattle Center once again, as I attended all three days of the Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival. My feet are in dire need of a pedicure and my fast food-lined stomach is crying for anything that isn't fried. But it was a lot of fun, and if I wasn't dashing off to France this weekend, I'd probably sign up for a second go-round. Anywho, here's a rundown of the best, worst, and very interesting things I got a taste of at Bumbershoot.

I scored a front-row spot for Band of Horses on Saturday, and watched them wind down their sound check before opening for Beck. Lead singer Ben Bridwell is a sexy piece of man, it turns out, and I really dug his edgy hillbilly look. And what a wild guy onstage, breaking fake beer bottles on his bandmates' heads and yelling "woo!" more times than Boss Hogg. If I'd known Bridwell was so uppity when I interviewed him last year, I would've asked more personal questions like the size of his favorite long instrument. I eventually gave up my precious real estate at the head of the pack, mainly because I now suffer from flashbacks of near-suffocation as a result of being squeezed like a rubber band during Jay-Z's set at the Pemberton Festival. Though, I found a great spot just a bit further back and challenged another diehard Beck fanatic to a sing-off. Apparently, I don't know the exact words to "Que Onda Guero" as I thought I did. Band of Horses gave an awesome performance, pulling songs from both of their Sub Pop-released albums, Everything All the Time and Cease to Begin, including "The Funeral," "The Great Salt Lake," "Wicked Gil," and a top-notch version of "No One's Gonna Love You." Beck was amazing, perhaps the best performance I've seen from him since a pre-Sea Change acoustic solo performance at the Moore Theatre. I was blown away by his revamps of "Hell Yes," "Black Tambourine," "E-Pro," and "Where It's At." Even better was his choice to open the show with "Loser," which set the pace for a highly energetic night of dancing, bouncing, and in my section, roboting.

Sunday found me hanging out with The Blakes following a terrific performance in front of their biggest local crowd this year. People kept coming and coming and coming, and they stuck around until the very end. The Seattle-based trio played the usual suspects, like "Commit," "Don't Bother Me," "Vampire" and "Pistol Grip," and they also threw in a new song called "Before" that I can't wait to download once it's recorded. "Two Times" was requested prior to it being performed, and when The Blakes finally pulled it out, the crowd ate it up like a Dick's Deluxe on a good buzz. Afterwards, I caught up with the band over red wine and more red wine. The new song "Before" was written inside a van in a post office parking lot, believe it or not. Garnet Keim shared a crazy story or two with me, of which I've conveniently forgotten as I'm typing this column, but I do recall him saying that he and brother Snow Keim and Bob Husak were treated to an Elton John concert overseas by the Gay icon himself. They didn't get to meet him, but were told that Sir E's favorite songs of theirs are "Run" and "Commit." The Blakes were easily spotted by fans throughout Seattle Center, as we made our way from the Exhibition Hall to a VIP Lounge - that wasn't much of a VIP Lounge - by the Fisher Green Stage. Drinks were six bucks for rock stars, music biz types, and those wishing they were either. The platefuls of Vietnamese sandwiches were yummy, so all is forgiven. Garnet Keim was sporting a pair of tight jeans (I didn't have to use my imagination) that he purchased in London, one of several trips these boys have made overseas in 2008, and they'll likely tour again in Europe before the year comes to a close. The Blakes play The Showbox Market on September 19, and they'd love it if you swung by.

I also met up Sunday with Sons and Daughters briefly after they shimmied on the Rockstar Stage. They, too, pulled a solid crowd to their show, and it soon became a bit of dance party in the pit. The Scottish quartet performed songs from their stateside debut This Gift, including the title track, "Iodine," "The Bell," "Gilt Complex," and the oh so lovely "Darling." I spoke with drummer David Gow first, who said the band would soon be taking a break in their native Glasgow before working on another album. Gow also told me the group wanted to scope out the festival, but they were staying at a hotel near the airport. I also spoke with lead singer Adele Bethel and cutie pie guitarist Scott Paterson, who said they'd be delighted to interview with Seattle Gay News when they return to the Emerald City. Paterson said he'd deliver a "hello" to Paul Wilson of Snow Patrol for me when he runs into him next in Glasgow, and I'm holding him to it. Bethel is so adorable and cheeky, I just loved her spirit. In fact, the entire band was peachy sweet - I'm definitely looking forward to interviewing them. Sons and Daughters are on the same record label as Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys, and a side note to Bumbershoot's performance is that the foursome received their first-ever request for a festival encore on Sunday night.

I bumped into comedian David Cross and gal pal Amber Tamblyn at Flatstock inside the Fisher Pavillion. Cross looks the same as he did four years ago, and he was polite enough to pose for pics and say hi to fans. Meanwhile, Tamblyn was brushed aside as no one really seemed to recognize her. Not everybody ignored the Traveling Pants film franchise or the short-lived TV drama Joan of Arcadia, right? Well, I felt bad for her and tried to start a conversation asking, "Having a good time in Seattle?" She said yes, and that was it. The two were later spotted - and when I say spotted that means I was aiming my camera directly at them - stageside during Superchunk's super-loud, super-obnoxious, super-hyped, and super-forgettable set. Cross was dancing like a madman, or, as the person next to me described him, apeshit. Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla also enjoyed Supersomething's performance, mouthing every word to every song - I know this because I watched him the whole time.

Speaking of hanging out stageside, various media sources apparently witnessed Stone Temple Pilots bad boy Scott Weiland misbehaving during Beck's show. As a result, it was rumored the reunited Grammy-winning band might not even perform the following night. But they did, and unfortunately it wasn't the great spectacle we'd hoped for. Weiland's once-gritty vocals are sadly not intact, and even though STP sounded okay, they just didn't have the oomph of a band that sold over 35 million albums a decade ago. Surprisingly, "Plush" sounded terrific. But the rest of the set list, such as "Creep" and "Wicked Garden," was uninspiring and kind of flat.

The mediocre appearance by Stone Temple Pilots had to be the only major letdown at Bumbershoot. A minor one was security allowing so many people to crowd surf at Memorial Stadium, something prohibited at every other festival venue. They should have a system to stop repeat surfers from entering the pit. And what to do with chunky crowd surfers, who have no business being on the second tier of a pyramid, let alone expecting to be mounted atop everyone's heads and carried to the front of the stage without being dropped? I think security should impose a height and weight limit for crowd surfing because my neck was almost snapped by a large rump.

Speaking of rump, I caught a portion of Ingrid Michaelson's set and she was talking about having a big butt and about men who wear pink panties at home, or something like that - she was asking the crowd to shut their eyes and imagine themselves as little girls. Anyway, her singing was impeccable and she attracted an enormous audience at the Starbucks Stage. Two Gallants gave a VIP performance at Eve Alvord Theatre on Monday, and while they're not my cup of green tea, I will say they're unique and fascinating to watch. Neko Case was sensational on Saturday afternoon, and mentioned that a new album is tentatively scheduled for a March release. She sounded terrific on "Hold On, Hold On," "Maybe Sparrow," and "Look for Me (I'll Be Around)." She, too, was funny, saying her 1 p.m. set didn't give her time to prepare and get wasted.

During the weekend I met writers, photographers and broadcasters from KEXP, The Stranger, Seattle Times, and Spin magazine, to name a few, and it was great to come together as press-media to support this cool festival called Bumbershoot. While we each cover different artists and shows throughout the calendar year, for one weekend our attention is focused entirely on the happenings at Seattle Center. Here's to 2009's festival!
 

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