As my colleague Rich Smith outlined yesterday on Slog, Upstream feels like you're being digitally tracked and prey for, as he put it, "data-mining bloodsuckers." YMMV, but to this citizen, that's not really a great feeling, unless you like the sensation of being a protagonist in a George Orwell novel. Anyway, on to the music, the thing we're here to celebrate and critique, all of which is possible via the largesse of Paul Allen.
Versing opened their set at Axis 1 with a minute of fuck-off feedback; they were speaking my language. They proceeded to grind out some swaggering, high-energy rock that boasts a rugged way with melody. Versing revel in coloring outside of the lines and brightening the corners in the grand tradition of Pavement, Polvo, and Volcano Suns—with a nod in their last tune to the bass and drums of the Knack's "My Sharona." Versing offer no real curveballs in their songs, but they do create satisfying, noisy rock, which is not an abundant commodity in 2017. If I were A&Ring for Hardly Art, I'd sign 'em.
When I caught DoNormaal at 2016's Capitol Hill Block Party, she looked like a superstar in the making. However, her slot at Upstream in the Court in the Square atrium somehow didn't hit with the same impact as did last year's Neumos performance. She even started with the same song, the one that opens, “Will you show off when your tits fall off?/And that is not far off.” Also, the energy level was lower and maybe DoNormaal's ubiquity on the live circuit is diminishing her very good music's novel punch. The inferior sound here didn't help matters. Nevertheless, her productions abound with oddly morose and warped tonalities and dubwise wooziness. One track even recalled the zig-zagging rhythm of PiL's "Poptones." DoNormaal's flow often reminds me of Sister Nancy's on "Bam Bam," and that's always welcome. If I wasn't blown away by this set, I do look forward to DoNormaal's next wave of creativity.
Over at the Main Stage, Flying Lotus came on 20 minutes late, due to technical difficulties. In the sub-50º rainy weather, this delay was excruciating, even if one could divert oneself by gazing at the regal presence of Upstream prime mover Paul Allen sitting under a blanket in his own tent with his lady friend. Once underway, FlyLo's set dazzled with massive projected holograms that made hallucinogens redundant (gaseous neural networks, metallic insects, Technicolor™ explosions, etc.). While I was expecting something of the mind-boggling beat science delivered at Bumbershoot two years ago, Mr. Lotus instead played it kind of safe. A remix of Julee Cruise's "Falling" was nice, some Kendrick Lamar-augmented joints were nice, some Dre and P-Funk were nice, but I wanted something deeper and stranger. About 15 minutes in, the LA beat sorcerer asked, "Can we go crazy now?" I was like, "YES! YES! DO THAT!" Then came some lysergic rhythmic detonations and electro-funk that triggered thoughts of Squarepusher's Go Plastic. But that didn't last very long, and I decided that FlyLo playing to the masses wasn't worth the encroaching chilblain I felt in my digits, so I headed to the Galvanize Basement to warm up for Gazebos.
At Galvanize Basement, it took the Upstream operative 20 seconds of undulating her cell phone over my wristband for it to scan. If I get wrist cancer, guess who's footing the medical costs? That's right—a local multi-billionaire bearing the initials PA. (Side note: It was funny how the old-school hiphop being played before Gazebos' set was more interesting than what FlyLo was spinning.)
Gazebos now boast two new members: bassist Kimberly Morrison (Universe People, Unnatural Helpers, dozens of other cool bands) and drummer Tyler Swan (Truckasauras, Radio in Tunnels, etc.). With these seasoned vets in the engine room, Gazebos' songs—at least last night—took on a more aggressive and unruly quality.
Drawing heavily on their 2016 debut LP for Hardly Art, Die Alone, Gazebos unleashed memorable, off-kilter melodies slathered in a garish glam coating. It's encouraging that their weird rock can get a dance floor full of freaks moving at this late date. There appeared to be some new songs, including one called "President" and another called "Therapy." (Or was singer Shannon Perry jesting? Possibly. Whatever the case, her feints and hauteur are totally justified. Plus, she flipped the gender of "Boys I Like," and who can blame her?) One unfamiliar tune steamrolled with the irrepressible adrenaline of the Fall's "Pay Your Rates," in keeping with Gazebos' vaunted insouciance and rambunctiousness. All in all, their show was worth the potential wrist cancer. I think.