OUR AFFAIR WITH Bumbershoot is in knots. Based on love tempered by hate (and vice versa), each year we trudge along because, in amongst the obese Americans, rampant indigestion, and thunderous drum circles, there are some truly great moments.
At the EMP Sky Church on Friday, sci-fi metal geeks Bloodhag were about to light the fuse on "George Orwell" when a Lilliputian longhair in the audience squealed, "Paul Allen! Paul Allen is George Orwell!" This prompted an instant classic of an anti-Allen rant from vocalist J.B. Stratton, climaxing with "I know he built this giant silver ball sac for us to stand in tonight . . . and the guy loves music, but he's tearing down my house!" Bloodhag's brainy rhetoric was followed by an hour of delightfully sloppy sewer punk from Zeke, who announced, "Our job is to present rock and roll to you in this environment." Pause. "Whatever that is . . ." Hey, that doesn't smell like tie-dyed spirit! Earlier, Stratton and crew quipped, "There's plenty of other stuff going on outside. I'm sure someone's playing a fife somewhere." Fuck, yes, they were. And for a few too brief hours we could all feel good about kicking up major shit storms in our warm corporate egg.
That same night, down Memorial Stadium way, the Boys and Girls Club was in full swing as thousands of perkily beglittered young things and the saggy-pantsed suburban skatepunks who love them held down a social swingding nearly independent of those guys with the microphones on stage. To be fair, there were some enthusiastic crowd members, but getting seven digits before curfew seemed far more important to many in the 18-and-under crowd than watching Dilated Peoples, Jurassic 5, and Mos Def do their thing. They didn't miss much with J5, who were as blandly tight and syncopated as ever, without pulling out a single distinct moment. Only the skills of DJs Nu Mark and Cut Chemist made the set worthwile. Headliner Mos Def freaked out the masses by playing—gasp!--rock, complete with a full band featuring (so's the word) members of Bad Brains, Living Colour, and P Funk. The Brooklyn MC's papercut-sharp lyricism hasn't changed, it's just that the beats have gone live and gee-tar friendly, but the crowd didn't seem to know quite how to handle expanding their hip-hop parameters a little.
Saturday, meanwhile, was entirely sponsored by the song "Freebird." Cat Power's Chan Marshall first unhanded the Allman Bros. chestnut at the end of a bizarre classic rock medley. Previous to her Jagger/Richards/Skynyrd posturing, Marshall treated the Opera House to an exquisite set of her two-chord-plus- angel's-voice masterpieces. If ever there was a woman worthy of the moniker "songbird," it is Chan Marshall. Doug Martsch must've got wind of the morning reverie; when Built to Spill played the Key Arena later that afternoon, they, too, busted into the song of the day, and theirs was a full-on cover.
Later, after some amazing break dancing, Loretta Lynn grandstanding, and chicken gyro-eating, we headed to the Sky Church and got our minds blown by Kinski. We don't know exactly what denomination the Sky Church is, but for our money, Kinski ought to be their patron saints. We'd love to tell you about the Briefs and Carissa's Wierd shows that followed, but we had to watch the whole thing on the FREAKING JUMBOTRON outside. At least we were in good company; we counted roughly two million bitterly disappointed Bumbershooters alongside us. In what amounted to the Labor Day version of cock-blocking, Bumbershoot/ EMP staff members stood outside the coiled lines of eager beavers shouting something akin to "You ain't getting into this show, you poor, sad suckers." Hmph. Accounts we heard had the Liquid Lounge's crappy beat pop turned up so loudly you could barely hear Carissa's gorgeous and gentle din, anyway.
Many other sad faces were found outside the Key Arena as Ween, those princes of geekdom, pulled out the joke rock for a Key Arena full of scarily rabid fans and left hundreds outside to mourn their tardiness. With Rush-style bombast and true Spinal Tap style, Gene and Dean delivered classics like "Spinal Meningitis Got Me Down," "Waving My Dick in the Wind," and "Piss Up a Rope." The crowd, of course, ate it up with a spork and begged for more.
Chris Robinson didn't mention hemp a single time during the Black Crowes' set; he did, however, forget some of the words to "She Talks to Angels," so there's a good chance that he hasn't forsaken his pet cause. Mostly, the Crowes strutted their Southern-fried '70s rock stuff—Robinson showed off his Jagger moves while the rest of the boys and the backup divas let it all hang out. It was a lot like watching the band in Almost Famous. Where were you, Kate?
Loretta Lynn, meanwhile, delivered about what you'd expect from country's queen mother: a slickly produced set of new tunes and old standards, including "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "Don't Come Home a-Drinkin'," peppered with saucy chat between numbers. Loretta's son (he of the impossibly tight jeans) displayed the same gift for innuendo but got straight to the point with his invitation for the ladies to join him at the Best Western after the show. He then followed the lascivious proposition with a humble gospel tune about finding Jesus at the bottom of a bottle. Now that's country.
The big goal of Monday afternoon was to determine whether or not Henry Rollins was still a "punk rock renaissance man"—whatever the hell that means—or a stale, old cream puff, irreversibly softened by TV-hosting gigs, commercials, and Keanu flicks. Indeed, rampaging through an hour of bullheaded metal from the last two Rollins Band albums, Hank looked as fit and vicious as ever (despite the gray creeping in up top, making everyone feel that much older). Unfortunately, despite the laurels Rollins continually bestowed upon his backing band—in part for "treating the bass like an instrument" and "knowing how to play the drums"—they performed with the wanky abandon of guitar shop flunkies. But, shit, at this point Henry's entitled to a Thin Lizzy cover or two, right? We heard Guided by Voices was woefully underattended, and we were part of the problem not the solution, so that's all we can say about that. We're off to digest our pad Thai and elephant ears now— that should help fill the days 'til next Labor Day.