A musical smorgasbord

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Because I’m old(ish), I can remember a time when Bumbershoot, Seattle’s longstanding music and arts festival that takes place at the Seattle Center every Labor Day weekend, was a more modest affair. Tickets were cheaper, parking was easier to come by and the whole thing was smaller in scale. Of course, the bands were smaller in scale as well, in keeping with the rest of the festival.

That has all changed, and now Bumbershoot draws top-tier entertainment that, in recent years, has included Bob Dylan, Weezer, Beck, the Black Keys, Jane’s Addiction, Skrillex, Wiz Khalifa, Mary J. Blige, and many, many more.

As well, because I’m old(ish) and have lived in Bellingham for a minute, I can remember a time when Death Cab for Cutie was also a more modest affair. Indeed, one of their shows could be seen for less than the cost of a pitcher of beer at a downtown bar, and if you happened to have a few extra dollars, you could go home with a cassette copy of You Can Play These Songs with Chords, in your pocket.

Needless to say, things have changed for Death Cab as well.

These days, what with their Grammy nominations and critically acclaimed, chart-topping platinum albums, Death Cab for Cutie is undeniably Bellingham’s biggest musical success story—by quite a long shot.

Now that Bumbershoot has become one of the Northwest’s biggest music festivals, it makes a certain amount of sense that it would be headlined by one of the Northwest’s biggest bands. Even better, Death Cab will play Transatlanticism—the album that catapulted them from being a band on the cusp to full-fledged musical force to be reckoned with—in its entirety. Lyrical and lush, Transatlanticism was a moment in musical history, an announcement of a songwriter—singer Ben Gibbard—in full possession of his considerable talent and a band coming into its own. It was also Death Cab’s last release on Seattle’s Barsuk Records before the band made the leap to a major label, and it is to celebrate Barsuk’s 15th anniversary that Ben Gibb & Co. are playing their much-lauded album at Bumbershoot.

But Death Cab for Cutie is far from the only musical act during this jam-packed weekend of entertainment action. As always, when presented with an all-you-can-see-and-hear musical buffet, I like to imagine what my personal smorgasbord might look like, should I decide to partake.

Although I’d like to believe myself capable of arising early enough to catch the synth pop of Flavr Blue when they play at 11:45am Saturday, I know such a thing is unlikely. But if I could shake off my laziness and gather my good sense, I’d make it to the Seattle Center in time to see Nacho Picasso during the early afternoon. After that, I’d wander my way from Grynch to Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, before making the tough choice between Kendrick Lamar, Icona Pop, and ZZ Ward (I have a feeling Icona Pop would come out the winner). I’d probably peek in on Gus + Scout if only to see what the offspring of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis might have to offer me, musically speaking. I’d hit up the hip-hop of the Physics, but would forgo seeing !!! on the pretense that their band name is confusing to the point of idiocy and someone needs to take a stand. Then, in order to banish such snark from my thoughts, I’d spend some quality time with the Total Experience Gospel Choir, who would be sure to put me back in my right mind again. Despite the fact that he’ll play the next night at the Wild Buffalo, I’d be front and center for Charles Bradley before closing my night out with Heart, Maceo Parker, or Crystal Castles, depending on what happened to capture my fancy in the moment.

Come Sunday, while bands from Kithkin to Ramona Falls will start the day out in song, I’m pretty sure I’d roll in slightly later, during the early after noon for Tegan and Sarah. I’d stop by and see road dog and bona fide legend Duke Robillard before continuing on with a day that I would like to say would next include David Bazan, but is actually more likely to feature fun (the band, not the noun) because it’s Bumbershoot and why not? I’m also fairly certain I’d spend a few minutes with Eric Burdon & the Animals before leisurely making my way to Bob Mould. If I timed things just right, I could catch the tail end of the Grizzled Mighty’s set. Then, I would take some time to rest and collect myself before planting myself in front of the Breeders before sneaking off to see if I could catch a glimpse of former Bellinghamster Rich Canut working behind the scenes with Beats Antique. All that, of course, is just a warm-up for the main event, Death Cab for Cutie’s aforementioned Transatlanticism.

Now it’s Monday. Frankly, at this point, I’m a little worn out (I believe I mentioned I’m oldish), but Bumbershooting is my business and business is always good. With that in mind, I’d get my day started with Anacortes band BellaMaine who, when last I mentioned them, it was because they were playing the Capitol Block Party. So, they’re having a good summer. After BellaMaine, I might hear the familiar sounds of the Maldives off in the distance and make my way to them, before checking out alt-J to see if I can discern what all the fuss is about. It seems likely that, despite my healthy skepticism, I’d find myself seeing MGMT—but if that happened, I’d be sure to cleanse my musical palate with some Baroness a short while later. Sol and Superchunk (not together on the same stage, mind you) would claim my time next, while Justin Townes Earle (sorry, Allen Stone) would not doubt rivet my wandering attention for the duration of his time on the Bumbershoot stage. The conclusion of his set also signals the start of a dance party courtesy of GTA and Bassnectar that I would be only too happy to watch, but unlikely to participate in unless some kind of music-induced delirium were to overtake me. The whole kit and kaboodle comes to an end with the Joy Formidable, at which point I’d either be deaf, dead—or willing to do it all over again next year.

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