Content warning: There are as many Bumbershoot recaps as there are Bumbershoot attendees. Here's another one to file in your memory banks/confirm your biases/boil your blood.
Wearing a golf shirt, ballcap, and yellow basketball shorts (sportswear mashup alert!), Tyler, the Creator opened up at Memorial Stadium with a monologue sprinkled with abusive language and compliments. “What's up, assholes? How the fuck are you doing? Y'all have the best city. The white people are so nice. Everything's so pretty.” Then he commanded the crowd to “jump like Jesus is right there.” The bass came in like an apocalypse, and lots of young people started jumping. Now Tyler's telling them to put their hands in the air, and it occurs to one that most rap shows are mainly about the artists power trippin', barking out commands to do this, do that, say this, say that, clap, put your hands in the air, make some motherfucking noise, etc. I said this years ago, but it's still happening in 2016: If your performance is great enough, you don't have to coax folks to do all of these things. It shows a lack of conviction in your own art if you need to constantly manipulate the audience.
Tyler, the Creator's music is 90 percent Richter scale bass, 9 percent gruff, hectoring rapping, 1 percent rinky-dink, high-end frippery. His music gives the crowd license to revel in pure id and un-PC wrongheadedness, which gratifies his ego. While I liked some of the production of those early Odd Future releases, most of their subtleties are lost in a live-stadium context. As it turned out, the most entertaining moments occurred when Tyler verbally taunted the crowd and sarcastically compared his voice to Beyoncé's. He should release a best-of double album of such chatter. “I thought this show was gonna be some soft-dick shit,” Tyler announced near set's end. “But it ended up being some ice-hard dick shit.” I dunno; it sort of came off as a half-mast chubby to this old man. Comedy might be a better career path for this young entertainer.
It's hard to imagine a funnier, more polarizing segue than going from Tyler, the Creator to Chastity Belt, but that's what happened. The four women of Seattle's wryest rock group took the stage at KEXP's gathering space and proceeded to charm the polite, swaying audience with some easygoing downer rock that jangled pensively in the manner of the Clientele and the Feelies at their mellowest. They played a lot of stuff from the Sean Nelson-approved Time to Go Home (“Drone,” “Cool Slut,” title track.), plus they did a new song from a just-finished album; it was not a great departure from their last LP. There was also some amusing banter about “banana sacks” (Dumbo Lounge inflatable sofas that appeared throughout the fest), a xylophonist on Bumbershoot grounds healing people with his instrument, and the greatness of grip picks.
I caught the last 25 minutes of Father John Misty's set at Memorial Stadium and immediately grokked strong James Taylor/Dennis Miller vibes from the band's anodyne, soft folk rock—despite the presence of a Moog. The best thing about FJM are the lyrics (“Love is just an institution, an economy based on scarcity” etc.). But I don't care if your verses are Shakespearean; if the music's tepid, we have serious problems. Between songs, FJM leader J. Tillman told the crowd he hoped they were having “a bacchanal of amazeballs” proportions, and enjoying “pure animal hedonism.” His tone was subtly mocking, carrying an undertone of “you silly kids and your Molly, gender fluidity, and whatnot.” Nevertheless, FJM did disrupt a forgettable folky ballad with a noise-rock explosion and bust out a hard rocker that had Tillman flexing and spazzing on his back like Iggy Pop circa Raw Power. More like that, please, Honey Bear.
I went into KeyArena for Zeds Dead with a lousy attitude, a prototypical “old man who got into techno on the ground floor” brand of elitism. That being said, I was hoping to have my presumptions destroyed. Instead, Zeds Dead ran through every clichéd trope in the EDM-festival handbook. Annoying and frequent shouts to “SEATTLE!” Repetitive commands to “Make some motherfucking noise!” and “Put your hands in the air!” Huge bass drops to make you think the Big One has hit. Airing 20 seconds of popular old songs, including Nirvana's “Lithium” and Jimi Hendrix Experience's “Purple Haze,” for maximal Seattle pandering. Randomly dropping in blips of Run D.M.C.'s “It's Tricky,” Eurythmics' “Sweet Dreams,” Dead Prez's “It's Bigger Than Hip-Hop,” and Darft Poonk's “One More Time.” Do millennials even care about any of these songs? I mean, I hope they do, because they're damn fine tunes, if way overexposed. Or are Zeds Dead just lazy selectors tossing in radio/club staples to “spice” their LCD EDM DJing?
I guess this Zeds Dead set was fun dance music for short-attention-spanned kids and adults who don't delve deeply into electronic music culture, but if you took away the spectacular lights and smoke and powerful speakers, it would be the epitome of mediocrity. Sitting in the upper deck (for perspective!), I noticed a security guy glance at me with pity. Soon after I exited the arena, went home, and put on Burial's debut LP to recalibrate.
I was hoping for a Reggie Watts comedy set, with a bit of music threaded in. Instead we got a Reggie Watts music set, with accompaniment by the accomplished band KAREN, spiked with some humorous comments squeezed in between songs. So former Seattleite Watts (now based in New York and leading The Late Late Show With James Corden band) delivered much buttery funk and soul, with flashes of CTI-like jazz while flaunting his hugely expressive pipes, which range from Prince to Billy Preston to Barry White to the Gaye-est of falsettos. The songs were solid, well-executed, tight, and all those musicianly superlatives, but they lacked the element of surprise—save for the Bad Brains-like thrash tune and the fusionoid Love Cry Want abstraction of the opener—of Watts's solo sets where he beatboxes, crazily loops vocals, and indulges in extemporaneous mind spasms.
Better were his witheringly sarcastic observations about negative changes in Seattle's cityscape. He praised incoming computer programmers for inquiring about the history of Capitol Hill's little shops that gentrification was eradicating, encouraged citizens to support policies that bring in more steel and glass structures that replace the old ones with character, so Seattle would look more like Vancouver. “I can't wait till they knock down the Space Needle,” Watts deadpanned. After closing with a high-stepping funk romp that nodded to Prince's “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” Watts dispensed loads of advice, espousing art and science as the most important things in the world and goading people to learn about the history of drum & bass, especially the work of LTJ Bukem and Roni Size. Words to live by! “We'll be back here with Coldplay on Tuesday,” Watts concluded.
The original plan was to write about Run the Jewels, but an hour before their set I changed my mind and instead went to the Starbucks Stage for Hinds. That might be the best decision I made all weekend. I just can't anymore with live hiphop and its attendant time-wasting, crowd-participation rituals. I mean, I like bombastic rap by and for Bernie Bros as much as the next liberal; I was all in for Sanders until the corrupt motherfuckers who run the major political parties crushed our dreams, but my mind craved slashing, sassy indie rock played by Spanish women more. Sorry/not sorry.
Hinds came onstage to the strains of Hot Chocolate's “You Sexy Thing,” which was a genius strategy. It's impossible not to feel great after that. And Hinds kept the ebullience flowing with their trebly '80s British indie-pop guitar tones and effusive dynamics. Anyone who's heard the NME's C86 cassette or its subsequent reissues couldn't help being charmed by Hinds' sugarspun vocal harmonies and unison jangling, chugging guitars. Their cover of Thee Headcoats' “Davey Crockett” (itself a homage/rip of Don and Dewey's “Farmer John”) was off the charts adorable, as were the high number of gray-haired folks dancing to the youthful Spaniards. Thirty minutes of Hinds live were enough to prove that they should be topping charts worldwide—even if that doesn't mean much in 2016.
The Texas rock quintet Explosions in the Sky have one trick, and it's served them well for almost two decades. Basically, they alternate heroic, firmament-filling crescendos created by three guitars and one bass (and sometimes keyboard), then transition into tintinnabulating, meditative passages. Then they rev up to the loud part, then they downshift to the quiet bit. Repeat until crowd is ecstatic with the predictable roller-coaster of tension and release. Proceed to pick up soundtrack gigs and 8.2 ratings on Pitchfork. It's not a bad way to live.
But there's something in Explosions in the Sky's collective DNA that prevents them from ascending to the grandiloquent spirituality of Popol Vuh or the savage gravity of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Explosions' majestic clangor is devoid of danger—save for the shattering climax they summoned at the close of their performance. They may not be my bag, but I respect any instrumental-rock band that can still draw big numbers this late in the game. It must be said, theirs is very good chilly night music, very apt for the windy 57º weather at Fisher Green Stage. However, the fireworks that went off toward the end of Explosions in the Sky's set was a little too on the nose. Come on, Bumbershoot.
Erik Blood's set at KEXP began with a solemn orchestral overture as four dancers in black hooded robes arabesqued their way to the front of the stage. Stranger Genius nominee Blood and his guitar-wielding/singing partner Irene Barber appeared in white/black and red/white face paint, respectively, with the former donning that kind of hat Alejandro Jodorowsky's character in The Holy Mountain wore.
All six performers elevated us out of mundane Bumbershootdom with a gorgeous, angelic shoegaze attack that sounded like a mythical collab between Cocteau Twins (Barber's voice, ye gods!) and My Bloody Valentine (Blood is Seattle's Kevin Shields): sighing dual vocals, bell-toned guitars, wistful synth miasma. Blood's swoon toons and expansive rock noir—as exemplified on the new Lost in Slow Motion—are geared to freeze time and dilate your sense of wonder and eros. Yes, it is a kind of genius.
Whoever scheduled Tame Impala to overlaps with Kamasi Washington effed up my program. So I only saw about 20 minutes of the former. It was enough time to ascertain why music consumers and industry powerbrokers have decided to anoint Tame Impala as Earth's biggest psych-rock band. They have seamlessly blended aerodynamic and funky rhythms with sky-strafing, yearning melodies that tap into a well of melancholy optimism—all topped by auteur Kevin Parker's dissipating, John Lennon circa “Number 9 Dream” voice. We want airy bombast, and we want it on 70mm screens! Tame Impala are stadium-psych-rock band we deserve; I mean that in the most ambivalent way possible.
Technical issues delayed master saxophonist Kamasi Washington's set by 15 minutes, but when he and his two drummers, standup-bassist, trombonist, keyboardist/Moog Liberation operator, and vocalist Patrice Quinn eventually commenced, all heaven broke loose. The relatively small crowd at Starbucks Stage were totally absorbed by the triumphant, gusty, hard-grooving fusion of “Change of the Guard.” The Moog Liberation dude bust out some flamboyant Bernie Worrell-esque funk (recalling “Flash Light” freakitude), which seemed to be part of the creator's master plan to make jazz at once accessible and challenging. Washington's jazz is infused with a soaring spirituality that can appeal to most, if not all, denominations. His compositions are deceptively intricate, bolstered by subtly uplifting melodies, with much attention devoted to motivational rhythm. Kamasi Washington and company are bringing adventurous spiritual jazz to the masses. In this, one may find a sliver of hope for humanity.
After a zesty version of “Re Run,” featuring a ferocious standup-bass solo by beret-wearing Miles Mosley, Kamasi had the grace and gratitude to bring on his father, woodwind specialist Rickey Washington, to help the ensemble do a superbly funky cover of Ray Noble's “Cherokee.” During this number, I had to exit to see Demdike Stare at the Crocodile. After three days of Bumbershoot, I needed immersion in the most infernal music of our godforsaken times. I hope you understand.