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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 6 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 36
Live and local: Pacific NW artists help make Bumbershoot 2013 memorable
Arts & Entertainment
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Live and local: Pacific NW artists help make Bumbershoot 2013 memorable

by Rahul K. Gairola - Special to the SGN

BUMBERSHOOT
SEATTLE CENTER
August 31 - September 2


Bumbershoot 2013 was tagged with the slogan 'Art in the Great Northleft,' an allusion both to the Seattle region's geography and to its reliably progressive political leanings. If highlighting local musicians while articulating political sentiments and visceral emotions was the goal of this year's lineup, then this was one of the greatest Bumbershoot festivals ever to grace the city. The roster exposed attendees to a diverse array of talent while making abundantly clear why Seattle has an international reputation for left-leaning politics and world-class musicians. For a number of reasons, this year's festival did a particularly excellent job in paying homage to artists who call the Pacific Northwest home. Here are just a few examples of why this is so.

Heart's evening headliner performance undoubtedly crowned Saturday's lineup, but was also memorialized by the homegrown acts that preceded the Wilson sisters. Beat Connection, whose members were asked to take Icona Pop's place at the last minute, were onstage within days of moving and graduating from the University of Washington. Bandmate Reed Juenger exclusively told SGN, 'The UW was a great place to expose ourselves to a bunch of art/science/ literature/parties/cool people/shitty people/music, and sort of slam it all together. I did the DXARTS [Digital Arts and Experimental Media] program at UW so it was a lot of really experimental sound and video art that sort of served as a reverse affirmation of pop music. Some of the experimentalism I hope still shines through a bit.'

Juenger's hope was abundantly clear with the band's melodic performance, which included a horn section. Bellingham native Kris Orlowski, whose sets are also well regarded for diverse instrumentation, delivered a powerful and poignant performance of local indie folk rock. In another exclusive chat with SGN, Orlowski gingerly confessed, 'For local bands, Bumbershoot presents an opportunity to play a show that is uniquely Seattle. Getting to play right under the Space Needle during sunset was pretty unmatched for us, as was singing 'Time After Time' by Cyndi Lauper with 600-plus new friends.'

STUPENDOUS SISTER ACTS
Heart's stupendous performance also paid tribute to the city that put them on the map, as well as to classic rock juggernauts Led Zeppelin with riveting covers of 'Kashmir,' 'Stairway to Heaven' (featuring a local gospel chorus), and 'The Battle of Evermore.' Rock titans Ann and Nancy Wilson were exceptionally on their game: Ann's powerfully haunting vocals during 'Crazy On You' blew the lid off of Key Arena more ferociously than the top of Mount St. Helens blew off in March 1980, while sister Nancy punctuated the show with guitar riffs and scissor kicks that sliced through the sound barrier. Additional highlights of the phenomenal performance included an acoustic rendition of 'Alone,' an encore featuring guest drummer Jason Bonham, and the Wilson sisters' dedication of 'Dear Old America' to their father, a World War II and Vietnam veteran 'who came home in a lot of pieces - this song is for those of you who are trying to glue someone back together too.' Having just been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2013, the band closed the night on a poignantly earth-shattering note that questioned the violence of war and emotions.

Sunday's performances also drew attention to the brilliant musical talents of PNW artists, featuring additional bands who have sent tremors throughout the national rock scene. Tegan and Sara, identical twins with roots in Vancouver, B.C., set the tone of their impending show with a candid note: 'We're so excited to be in Seattle. You guys live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world - and you all are pretty good-lookin' yourselves!' Launching into a set full of toe-tapping dance tunes, the twins strived to shorten the gap between themselves and the audience. Following a breathtaking version of 'Now I'm All Messed Up,' Tegan addressed the audience with, 'Seattle has some of the best dance moves - I wanna see some great dancers. The best dancer is going to come with me on vacation to Hawaii & just kidding!'

The duo closed with the synthesized beats of 'I Feel It in My Bones' and the karaoke-inspired 'Closer,' setting the stage for an energized performance by their tourmates, the NYC-based fun. Lead singer and provocateur Nate Ruess appeared onstage with his peers dressed in a tuxedo and quickly shed it while exclaiming, 'Seattle! There's a reason I'm day-drinking - it's you!' If Ruess and company had indeed been imbibing, this was not reflected at all in their performance. Ruess was sincere yet frenetic, shifting from a cover of the Rolling Stones' 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' to informing the crowd, 'Seattle, one of the first shows we ever played was at Chop Suey - the crowd was so crazy and the show was insane.' After a confetti thunderstorm and a string of singles including 'We Are Young,' 'Carry On,' and 'Why Am I the One,' the trio closed its set with the grandiose crowd-pleaser 'Some Nights.'

DEATH CAB'S SONIC TRIBUTE
I would vouch that Death Cab for Cutie's performance of the 2003 album Transatlanticism was one of the finest live performances of an entire album that I have ever seen, and ranks in quality to Pink Floyd's Pulse tour (which featured the band playing 1973's The Dark Side of the Moon in full). Ben Gibbard's awkward social persona gave the performance a naked tenderness that is impossible to intuit from the band's studio albums and was more discernable than usual since the band played Transatlanticism without pause. With no interruption of a seamless melodic masterpiece that compelled the audience to reflect on memories from a decade ago, the band ultimately delivered a superb sonic experience punctuated by colored lights and wisps of smoke rather than spoken words between songs. The lyrical drama of 'Expo '86' melded into the optimistic 'The Sound of Settling,' then returned to darker waters with 'Tiny Vessels' and 'Passenger Seat.' As if trying to control the somber, operatic aura of Transatlanticism, Gibbard said, 'I was wearing this exact shirt in 2003 - we keep it real, we don't change, we don't mold to fashion's dictates.' The band then understandably played its most mainstream song, 'Soul Meets Body,' to an audience reluctantly relieved to break the hypnotic spell of Transatlanticism in favor of a few upbeat closing numbers.

Like their predecessors, however, Death Cab for Cutie was intent on giving props to the community that has nurtured it. Before closing the set with '405,' a reference to the area's highway loop around Seattle, Gibbard softly disclosed, 'We are here to play for all of you wonderful ladies and gentlemen, but 15 years ago we were brought up by the most wonderful family and friends. This song goes out to them.'

Two of Sunday's highlights were MGMT and Kinky. MGMT seemed to visually advance the Led Zeppelin theme by projecting psychedelic orbs of color moving through tree-shaped silhouettes of white light and other dreamy images. After a digitally charged 'Electric Feel,' lead man Andrew VanWyngarden introduced a fan from the audience named 'Laura & [who] will be playing the cowbell.' The single 'Kids' began with VanWyngarden requesting the audience to 'count down from five to one,' and ended with thunderous applause. MGMT's net goal, however, seemed to deliver a Kafkaesque visual show that made one wonder if they were drunk on mushroom tea - certainly the image of a bug-headed lobster heavily trudging in the foreground of flickering black and white lines was intended to compel concertgoers to question the link between perceptions of sound, reality, and the visual.

LATIN BEATS
Finally, Kinky, a band that combines Latin music (with mainly Spanish lyrics) with techno and industrial sounds, offered a collision of genres that was both refreshing and pleasing to the ears. The five-piece band's mixture of accordions and trumpets against a backdrop of hard industrial beats for a cover of 'Mexican Radio' was an especially notable introduction of the Monterrey, Mexico-based outfit's performance on Bumbershoot's InTune Stage, as was the previous night's excellent performance by The Breeders.

The overall impression left by Bumbershoot 2013? That the PNW has not passed its golden days of delivering quality, poignant music to the rest of the world, but has only just begun - and can simultaneously boast its offerings in an environment that is at once urban and marked by natural beauty.

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