I'm perfectly at home in a crowded club or packed into the basement at a punk-rock house party, but there's something about overflowing festivals that just does me in. Bumbershoot is an impressive undertaking in terms of programming and coordination, and anyone who complains that it's too expensive isn't very good at math, but navigating the Seattle Center while dodging baby strollers, rude teenagers, and twirling hippies is truly a little slice of hell for me.
Seeing a band play inside the Exhibition Hall doesn't really help matters. According to the One Reel production hand I chatted with, there's an annual debate around the offices about discontinuing use of that particular venue. (My unsolicited advice: Stick the comedy stage in that space and utilize the pristine sound of the Vera Stage for bands, not comedians.) Watching fantastic, charismatic performers like Schoolyard Heroes being swallowed whole by the sound vacuum of the space is just disheartening. The only thing to do in that situation is to head to the Mecca for the comforts of a Bloody Mary, which is exactly what I did in the intervening hours prior to Roky Erickson's show.
Afternoon cocktails with friends will sweeten anyone's mood, but the sheer triumph of Erickson's set was the best attitude adjustment I could ask for. Given his well-documented history of mental illness and all-around instability, guarded expectations were requisite, but the guy delivered in spades. A spellbound audience that included local musicians Mark Arm, Peter Buck, and Otis P. Otis was visibly celebratory as it became clear that Erickson has managed to avoid the Syd Barrett–like fate he seemed destined for. The set list was entirely satisfying and included "Don't Shake Me Lucifer," "Two-Headed Dog," "Bloody Hammer," Starry Eyes," and, naturally, the 13th Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me." In a context like that, it's hard to begrudge the tie-dye set its exuberance.
Good vibrations continued over at the Sound Transit Stage when the Frames unleashed the anthemic spectacle that's made them legends in their Irish hometown. In what felt almost too cinematic to be true, frontman Glen Hansard took notice of a 31-year-old credit union employee, Joy Prendergast, who was singing along during his solo encore of "Falling Slowly," the song popularized by its prominent placement in Hansard's art house hit, Once. He wasn't even through the first chorus when he sent his manager down to the crowd to pull Prendergast up onstage, where she sang the rest of the song by his side. Heartwarming would be an understatement.
That certainly wasn't the only tearjerker moment. The Lashes took the stage on Saturday for the first time since Eric Howk's paralyzing accident earlier this year. If being onstage in a wheelchair (with neon green accents, no less) was an awkward experience, you wouldn't know it from the degree of confidence and skill the guy was demonstrating. Our own Aja Pecknold had this to say. "After only two practices since [Howk] returned from recovering in Alaska from the accident, the band was on point, and full of its usual tricks. He's such an incredible guitar player that I actually completely stopped thinking about the fact that he was in a wheelchair." If this is any sign of the Lashes' future, than I'd say they're more poised for success than ever before.
While what seemed like a good 80 percent of the city's population headed over to see the Wu-Tang Clan's festival-closing set at Memorial Stadium, I stopped into the Funhouse, where owner/booking agent Brian Foss was celebrating his two-year wedding anniversary with wife Cyndi, with help from Voodoo Organist, a bewitching trio fueled by theremin, organ, bass pedals, and trash-can lids. They sounded like an ideal band to preside over Tom Waits' funeral and were quite possibly the highlight of my weekend. They are from Los Angeles, but hopefully they'll head back our way soon.