The women of Bumbershoot came ready for battle on Saturday. One stage after another showcased a powerful chanteuse on sonic warpath mode, no caffeine necessary. Accordingly, our top three picks of day one featured female dynamos that tried their damnedest to pierce through the Seattle cloud cover via song.
The rest of the ‘shoot, however, was caught with its game face half on. A will call pick-up system designed by FEMA had crowds antsy even before the first guitar was strummed. And it seems four decades isn’t long enough for engineers to rig up a consistent sound system for the Memorial Stadium Main Stage (perhaps they were all busy at the neighboring Penny Arcade Expo this weekend).
But entering its 40th year, Bumbershoot may be forgiven for its more pronounced wrinkles and sluggish awakening, provided that Courtney Love and Weezer don’t spark a midlife crisis Sunday night (on second thought, oh no). By the day’s end, though, stadium-wide singalongs proved that you can never go wrong with bullfrog Bob Dylan harmonica-ing his old heart out.
A few recaps of Saturday’s highlights after the jump…
Los Angeles unobjectionable-pop band The Submarines warmed up the early-risers at the Broad Street Stage, convincing watchers to get off their butts with a well-timed xylophone solo. Rattling a lemon shaker and daintily tapping out one-handed melodies with her daisy-adorned xylophone, blond Blake Hazard kept an appreciative smile on through the breezy, if indistinguishable set. The blonde’s cutesy factor may have attracted people’s attention, but it was guitarist John Dragonetti’s stronger /backup vocals that added the oomph on songs like “Symphonika” and new bass-happy tune “Birds.”
The dusky chops of Americana Star Anna & the Laughing Dogs were an alt-country blast in the early afternoon. Blistering through heartache, Star Anna had the older crowd nodding then getting their dance on as her full voice cracked over the repeated refrain “And she’ll love you the most” in The Only Thing that Matters’ “All Her Ghosts.” The Laughing Dogs lent some charismatic edge to her all-business demeanor, and guitarist Gary Westlake’s handiwork added a bluesy touch to new song “For When I Go.” Westlake was upstaged, though, when Pearl Jam’s guitarist Mike McCready, a longtime supporter of the band’s, shredded across the stage in a not-so-secret guest appearance. Rock on.
Another Mike took to the… mike to introduce The Maldives after the Laughing Dogs departed the stage, but this time it was Seattle Mayor (and music-enthusiast) Mike McGinn who welcomed the nine-member beard band from Seattle. The wide cast demanded drawn-out songs, but the rock-country outfit kept the appreciative fans engaged with banjo-love.
Under afternoon gray-white skies, attendees wandered through the expected craft market, pedaled to power the snow cone machine and enjoyed acoustic bonus sessions at the Toyota tents (where we wrangled Hey Marseilles’ Jacob Anderson for an interview). But as lines into the stadium’s mainstage began to thicken, the buzz made it obvious that everyone and their grandma was there that night to get a look at anchor headliner Bob Dylan, going so far as to camp out for bleacher seats through full mainstage sets by The Decemberists and Neko Case.
Longtime folk pop heroes The Decemberists drew a sizable crowd in their own right for one of their rare shows this summer, playing the same mainstage they’ve rocked before. But the band that has sparked thousands of soul-gazing imitators was off that day, despite the familiar outfit’s comfortable stage presence and Colin Meloy even commanding applause for his mother who was attending the show. Vocals intact, Meloy couldn’t rouse more than syncopated nods from the dazed audience, who didn’t seem to know how to react to a harmonica on stage that wasn’t wielded by Bob Dylan. The band gave their best live renderings of upbeat “The Engine Driver” and “16 Military Wives,” but the mood was prematurely killed by an instrumental bass monster that was the first victim to the dirge-like acoustics. An exodus before the show’s end must’ve thrown the band off, who cut the set short by 15 minutes with no calls for an encore.
For those with the less-snazzy Economy Ticket, Texan Bob Schneider threw a funk-folk dance-a-thon like no other at the Starbucks Stage. The bluegrass veteran commanded the stage with his aviator cool and scraggly vocals, but it was keyboardist-guitarist Oliver Steck that dazzled on stage with both musical talent and some suave spazzing. The high energy set had fans shouting out the “Bum, bum, bum” on “Tarantula,” soaking up the good vibes as Steck high kicked his be-mopped head around the stage.
With the most impressive pipes of the night, redheaded Neko Case, the voice behind The New Pornographers gave the couples something to cuddle over back on the mainstage. Befittingly as the sun set, her sensual, throaty melodies off Middle Cyclone ricocheted off the upper rafters as a warm blanket of romance—further heightened by some raunchy between-song banter. After a crowd-swaying “People Got a Lotta Nerve,” she voiced what everyone was thinking: “Yeah, this is gonna be pretty fucking awesome right here… No, I’m serious.”
For people wondering where all the crowds were on Saturday, they had to look no further than the stockyard-packed Broad Street Stage for Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes. Even the stage looked crowded for the caravan of performers that make up the LA band, and their spectacle of a performance showed that singer Alex Ebert and crew were robbed of a headlining spot (although there was a questionable parenting decision with a baby on stage the entire set). While some cut out early to queue up for Dylan, Ebert and the impossibly-beautiful voice of Jane Castrinos gave the true fans a present with megawatt “Home.” Organizers should take note next year.
And then there was Dylan. Pushing 70, he sounds like an anti-nicotine commercial, his tenor register was blown out by his backing band and the stadium could have used some video screens. But he’s still the Bob Dylan, one of the greatest songwriters (if not the greatest) of all time, and the crowds duly sung along to “Just Like A Woman,” the older members off remembering previous shows and the younger set glued to their digital camera video setting. Dylan, busting out his trusty harmonica, transported the stadium to earlier times. We’ll let the old man sing.
Treeswingers’ Top Three
Star Anna & the Laughing Dogs-All Her Ghosts (download)
Neko Case- People Got a Lotta Nerve (download)
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes- Home (download)
A version of this review appeared in The Stanford Daily on Sept. 9, 2010.