As Dave and Leilani noted earlier this weekend, the crowds at Bumbershoot seemed thinner than recent Bumbershoots. Maybe it's because the music fest bubble is bursting, or because ticket prices are out of hand, or—most likely—because Bumbershoot banned re-entry for murky reasons this year (which, it seems to me, was a ploy to get people to spend more on food and drinks and fancier ticketing packages, but instead resulted in most Bumbershooters arriving late in the evening). Maybe there were more people but they were all at the Cardi B laser show. I don't know. But, at least based on observations from everyone here at The Stranger, crowds seemed down.
And it made for a better festival. It's strange to say, especially after last year, but I had a great time at Bumbershoot this year. AEG nonsense aside, there are few line-ups better than Kelela, Blondie, and SZA. Seeing SZA by herself would've been a substantial experience, but seeing SZA after Blondie after Kelela felt greedy. Too lucky. Spoiled. But I'm not complaining.
First Thing's First: Kelela's Whistle Register Is a Blessing
Kelela is the coolest. I'd pay to see her just come onstage and stand in one of her many looks (like this diamond cowboy hat, or this milkmaid odyssey, or this metallic orange pantsuit fantasy), but her sets are consistently transcendent, dynamic, and cathartic, and blending, as Stranger contributor Larry Mizell Jr. has already pointed out, "her badass 1990s R&B voice with this decade’s sharpest club sounds." Kelela has quickly established herself as one of the most unique voices in R&B, and her debut studio album Take Me Apart, released last October, was loved by critics.
At her embarrassingly low attended 6 pm set at the Fischer Green Stage (Bumbershoot's fault, not Kelela's), Kelela avoided projections and pyrotechnics, which were common this year, and opted for a dressed-down stage and dressed-up look. (She appeared to be wearing the Maison Margiela Tabi split-toe boot, a shoe so popular it's inspired people to get tattoos of it.) But while the crowd was small and quiet, Kelela's sound was lush, loud, and, at times, her whistle register appeared to summon an early career Mariah Carey. Were this played to a packed house at Neumos (like her show last year, which I missed—a serious mistake), it would've been one of the best shows of the year. That said, the comfortable gathering of Kelela fans was an intimate treat.
See Kelela any chance you can.
No One Rocks a Shake-N-Go Wig Like Debbie Harry
44 years later, Blondie is still pushing out good rock albums. It's remarkable. More than a legacy act, Blondie's recent effort, Pollinator, is Blondie's 11th album (!!) with tracks I've been playing on repeat since its release last year. I particularly love "Already Naked," a sexy, driving anthem that sounds like it ends with RuPaul's iconic cackle (does anyone else hear that?), and "Gravity," a fun synthpop bop written by Charlie XCX, one of the many famous collaborators Blondie nabs for the album.
The Bumbershoot crowd, packed by Blondie's 8:15 set at the Fischer Green Stage, was a mix of older fans, their kids, and exceptionally horny/distracted teens (the typical Bumbershoot mix). I'm 95% sure two teens in front of me were fully inside of each other, but they pulled out by the time Debbie Harry hit the stage, as fun and pouty as ever. Wearing a blacklight-ready ensemble with "STOP FUCKING THE PLANET" written on the back, Harry bounced around the stage with the mischevious, devil-may-care energy that's defined her career. She wore a Shake-N-Go lime green wig that resisted any styling—were there no queers backstage with brushes and hairspray? Maybe one of the only ways to be punk when you've released 11 albums and toured the world is to wear a shitty wig. Very of-the-people, Debbie! I liked it.
Harry's vocals on Pollinator seem heavily processed (she is, after all, 73), and that's clear when seeing the band live, with Harry often holding the mic out to the crowd when the notes got tricky. But the set was fun, really fun, and made up of Blondie's hits and tracks from Pollinator, as well as multiple keytar spotlights, an umbrella joke ("No bumbershoots tonight!"), and show-making projections and direction from artist Rob Roth.
Near the end, during "The Tide Is High," Blondie called out to the audience, "I'm not the kinda girl who gives up just like that... are you?", and a whole row of bros in front of me exhaled hits from their joints then responded with the lyric, "Oh nooooo." Unforgettable.
SZA!!!!! AND FIREWORKS!!!!!
SZA, aka Solána Rowe, is one of the biggest stars out there, sporting collaborations with Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and Cardi B, and a debut album, Ctrl, that's won over pretty much everyone. As Stranger contributor Kathy Fennessy aptly pointed out, Ctrl is the musical equivalent of HBO’s Insecure. They're both punchy, vulnerable, funny pieces of work that articulate what it's like to be a twentysomething, specifically a twentysomething black woman, right now.
Closing out the festival, SZA walked on to the Bumbershoot Main Stage with unteachable poise and charisma. She's able to make a festival stadium feel intimate, like a house party between friends that happens to include thousands. It's hard not to see something of yourself in SZA, who speaks to the audience with a directness that cuts to the heart. "You guys ever wake up sad?" She asked the crowd. "I woke up sad today. As fuck." The crowd cheered. Her band launched into Ctrl's hits, playing through "Go Gina," "Broken Clocks," and "Drew Barrymore," as the venue's epic screens projected images of teen girls crying in the audience. The entire set was tight, with SZA's voice remaining powerful and clear throughout all of it.
SZA finished the night by yelling, "Thanks for coming and being with me on a sad day and making me feel happy. I hope I can do that for you! Forever!" She then launched into euphoric scatting and dancing and fireworks—big, spectacular, hot fireworks—shot off right as she yelled, "My name is SZA! God bless you!"
I was crying. Teen girls were crying. Bros were crying. Thank God for SZA.