The third day of Bumbershoot was, thankfully, a brilliant one. Dry and sunny, it was fit for a celebration of arts and music and fried foods.
Nonetheless, it was cast in darkness early on for me. As editor in chief of this publication, I was troubled by a mistake we had made. Last week, in our Bumbershoot coverage, we had published a band preview that was, I think fairly, called out for being weirdly inconsistent with the rest of our preview package, and, most distressing, sexist. It was—as is so often the case with insidious, latent prejudice—intended to be a lighthearted joke. And I trust that the author’s intention was not to offend. But the preview did offend, and it has been made clear over the course of the past week that we had hurt that band, La Luz, as well as a number of our readers.
It was with this on my mind that I opened my day, catching La Luz on the Fountain Lawn stage a little after noon. This was something I was planning on doing anyway—I am a music journalist by trade, so I had earlier volunteered to cover this day for the paper (see the rest of my highlights below)—but now the event had a crushing gravity to it that made me feel like I was going to puke. The band did everything it could to alleviate that feeling, playing the kind of set that helps you forget your worries.
Wearing sunglasses to ward off the blazing midday sun, La Luz’s four members played their surf rock songs with a casual authority, the reverb of leader Shana Cleveland’s guitar washing over a decent-sized early-day crowd as Marian Li Pino’s drums set limbs in motion. The band is a bit of a throwback, fitting for Bumbershoot, where millennials checking out one of the city’s ascendant acts bump up against boomers beckoned by a sound deeply reminiscent of the ‘60s. But there are a few things that set La Luz apart from its forebears: The band has vocals, delivered in tight harmonies; it exudes a very modern dark growling energy that is unleashed in a few feral moments; and, most impressive, it features the inventive Alice Sandahl executing long, intricate organ solos, allowing us to imagine a past where Ray Manzarek was a member of the Ventures.
The band played three new songs that will, I imagine, find their way onto the follow-up to its strong debut, It’s Alive. These new numbers included an aching, slow-burning ballad with the apparent titled “True To You,” and another rumbling instrumental that, after polling the audience, Cleveland jokingly titled “Cheesecake Car Chase.” The band was loose and fun, but also sharp after a year of touring. The overall effect was one of cool elation, a fitting start to the more relaxed final act of a three-day festival.
Still, when Cleveland sang “All these creeps, they gathered ‘round” on “Big Big Blood,” I felt like one of the creeps. The fact that La Luz is a great band is really beside the point—even shitty bands should not be viewed differently based on their gender—but it sure drives the point home. This feeling would not subside until a couple hours later when I was able to personally apologize to a couple of the bandmembers. I’ll tell you what I told them: I should have spiked the blurb, and Seattle Weekly will strive to do better in the future to identify, disarm, and discard content that promotes sexist views.
And with that, I was finally able to get out of my head and enjoy the final day of Bumbershoot. Here are a few highlights:
DakhaBrakha at Fisher Green Stage
It wouldn’t be until later in the night that hip-hop actually graced the Fisher Green stage, but this Ukaranian folk quartet brought a very rhymesayer sensibility to its performance. While performing songs in native folk styles, the group delivered a performance that was, at times, percussive, banging, and aggressive. At one point Nina Garenetska, while holding a festively decorated cello in one hand, delivered a searing rap. I had no idea what she was saying, but it’s meaning was clear: Do not fuck with Nina.
Shaprece at The End Zone Stage
The first thing you notice about The End Zone stage is that there is a wall of green behind it, a small forest that under Bumbershoot’s old Memorial Stadium format, was obscured by the stage. Now it acts as a refreshing proscenium, and on the stage on this midafternoon was Shaprece, the young Seattle soul singer who is, herself, a refreshing presence on the scene. Armed with a clear and commanding voice, she has in the past been underserved by her accompaniment—a little too spare sometimes, too messy at others—but not for this performance. Along with the glitchy beats of trusty producer IG88, Shaprece was accompanied by a string quartet (featuring members of Hey Marseilles and Tennis Pro), and a trio of back-up singers, including her sister and Kimo Muraki, a musical journeyman who makes whatever he touches better. Such was the case toward the end of the set when he opened a cover of Kanye West’s “Lost in the World.” Shaprece quickly joined in and took the song over. The crowd was modest, but the moment was huge. “I’m lost in the world, I’m down on my mind,” she belted. “I’m new in the city, and I’m down for the night.” The trees seemed to shiver.
Hurray for the Riff Raff at The Starbucks Stage
It is one of the great miracles of pop music that something as ugly and unwieldy as war or murder or injustice can somehow be transformed into something as clean and predictable as a little pop song without losing its gut-punch power. Alynda Lee Segarra was putting on a brief clinic to show anyone who didn’t realize as much. First was a song called “The Body Electric,” which challenges the murder ballad, a hoary trope of country music that has long been fetishized. Segarra and her band played the song as dark and stormy as its target, before delivering the last line, which stuck like an arrow: “Tell me what’s a man with a rifle in his hand gonna do for his daughter when it’s her turn to go?” Next was “Here It Comes,” a song about Hurricane Katrina, which was 9 years ago now, Segarra reminded the audience. It was in New Orleans that the leader of the band learned to play banjo, she said, and it is where she found her musical footing. Next was “Ode to John and Yoko,” a powerful song about two artists that were better at transforming grief into great art than anyone else. “I have a tattoo of John Lennon’s glasses on my arm,” Segarra said before launching into the song. “Everyone asks me why I have a Harry Potter tattoo.”
Bomba Estereo at the Fisher Green Stage
This band is great. Liliana Saumet is a force. When you have the chance, you should really go see them. What is also worth mentioning here is that during their performance, filled with the Columbia band’s propulsive electro cumbia, the massive crowd danced its collective ass off. This wasn’t the only time all weekend that this happened—thanks largely to the continuing efforts of the Bumber Buddies. At least three times I had people say to me some variation of, “Wow, people in Seattle are dancing,” with the same surprise they might express at seeing a cat eat a hamburger. I say, ENOUGH! People in Seattle dance. It’s a fact. Let’s move on.
Nada Surf at the Fountain Lawn Stage
Last year, Bumbershoot helped Barsuk Records celebrate its 15th Anniversary by dedicating a full day to the local label. Thankfully, the festival did not feel its crowds had OD’ed on the hook-heavy indie pop the label delivers and invited Nada Surf to perform this year. Matthew Caws, whose hair still fills me with wonder, made Seattle feel all warm and fuzzy when introducing “What Is Your Secret?” “We’d like to play a song from a record we recorded in your fair city, which one of your fair sons sang on,” he said as Long Winters leader John Roderick took the stage to harmonize with his labelmate. Then, “Thank you to John Goodmanson, who mixed our songs and is over there on the side of the stage. Talented town. Holy crap!”
Neon Trees at Fisher Green
The sing-along of the day was, far-and-away, “Animal” by this Provo, Utah, band. Now, I am inclined to dislike this song because I first heard it on a commercial telling me I should vacation in Las Vegas. But it is undeniably catchy, and I do believe I saw lead singer Tyler Glenn wearing a Husker Du t-shirt at the Replacements show the night before, so I gave it a chance. As the song ended, a daisy-chain of teenage girls flowed seamlessly past me and into the crowd. “This next song is called ‘Text Me In the Morning,’” Glenn told the crowd. I was lost.
Jonathan Richman at the Starbucks Stage
What to say about Jonathan Richman. The pure joy emanating from the former Modern Lovers leader and Something About Mary balladeer was infectious. As he ended each song, he walked away from the mike (in the middle of the final line) and thanked the people in the front. He sang a song about battling his ego while trying to meditate and then another about Keith Richards and his contribution to the pop music world, “those internal melodies and minor 6th harmonies.” Then he closed the show by singing some “party songs,” which were essentially songs in different languages with essentially the same lyrics: “Let’s have a party.” “If it sounds like I did that last one in Arabic and Hebrew on purpose, I did,” he said as he strummed his guitar somewhat erratically. “Things don’t have to be that way over there.”
Real Estate at the Fountain Lawn Stage
“This is the most Seattle gig we’ve ever played,” said Martin Courtney, lead singer of New Jersey guitar pop band Real Estate, while staring directly at the lit-up space needle in front of him. “I can’t imagine it being any more Seattle. We love Seattle.” The feeling was mutual. The band was capping a long day with some dreamy, sad pop balladry, swaying their attendant crowd. “This next one is about how much we love playing in Seattle,” another member of the band said. “True story.” Just then a booming pulse could be heard in the distance. “Is that Foster the People?” Courtney asked. No one answered. No one cared.