This was my first experience with Seattle's largest arts festival, so I'm not really qualified to talk about the event's gradual incline in price (free to under ten dollars to today's $35 a day) and decline in talent (Modest Mouse, David Cross, Wilco, Sonic Youth, to this weekend's Panic! at the Disco, Fergie, +44, Sean Paul, and Joss Stone). There were, however, some good names at Saturday's installment of Bumbershoot, and I tried to see what I could catch.
I began at the Exhibition Hall, sponsored by MySpace, where things started out fucked up. There was a station with computers to check your MySpace while you waited for the Receiving End of Sirens to take the stage, but if you weren't doing that, you had to be seated. Security was walking around, telling people to sit down until the show started -- and when the music started, they were in the crowd to ensure that no one moved. The band started out with "Planning a Prison Break" and brought plenty of energy -- almost enough to compensate for the crowd's enforced lack of it. I only caught half of their set, during which they played "The Rival Cycle," "Smoke and Mirrors" and another track off of the new album, but they sounded great and looked like they were enjoying themselves.
Having already seen the Shins this year, I decided to skip the obscene line leading to the main stage. For those interested, they opened with "Sleeping Lessons" and "Australia," closed with "So Says I" (I think), and played pretty much all the songs you expect them to.
One of the highlights of Bumbershoot was Flatstock, an exhibition and sale of concert posters. Several rows of dozens of tables and artists displayed incredible work, all of it worth checking out. I walked away with two by The Decoder Ring.
Local pop act Lillydale played their last show in the EMP Sky Church. It was disappointing and not worth further comment.
Menomena took the Sound Transit Stage with a choir dressed in matching robes. The percussion-heavy, relatively stripped-down style sounded great under the two vocalists, but I didn't really see the point of the background singers. I didn't know much about this band beyond their name, but I walked away impressed -- although the choir seemed entirely unnecessary. They added very little to the first four or five songs I saw before leaving to see the last half of Head Automatica's set.
I walked into a crowded house during one of the tracks off of Popaganda. Daryl Palumbo sang and leapt around the stage with boundless energy, but the band's power-pop sounded awful in Exhibition Hall. To their credit, the sound problems were the venue's, but I also can't shake the feeling that this band just isn't as good as I thought they were when Decadence first came out. After "Beating Heart Baby," half of the crowd left as Daryl led the band through "Please Please Please (Young Hollywood)," "The Razor" and set closer "I Shot William H. Macy."
Local act Aqueduct put on the most fun set of the day. I was only familiar with a few songs, but the three-piece keyboard/synth-pop act kept my interest for the full hour or so of stage time. Their frontman couldn't stop talking about how much fun he was having, how excited he was about their new record, and his enthusiasm rubbed off on the crowd. The band played "The Suggestion Box," "Heart Design," "Hardcore Days and Softcore Nights" and plenty of songs off of new album Or Give Me Death, including "With Friends Like These," "Just the Way I Are" and "As You Wish," introduced as a song about The Princess Bride. After playing through their set before their allotted time was up, they let the crowd's applause determine whether or not they'd give us a few more songs. The simple and beautiful melodies combined with the singer's visible joy made Aqueduct simply the most fun band of the day. Oh, and their rendition of R. Kelly's "I'm a Flirt" (introduced as "the festival cover of the summer") was a highlight of Bumbershoot.
The end of the night left me with a difficult choice, as four acts were playing more or less simultaneously: Gogol Bordello, DeVotchKa, Grand Archives (ex-Band of Horses / Carissa's Wierd), and Rodrigo y Gabriela. Although I heard great things about Rodrigo y Gabriela, I stayed for the entirety of DeVotchKa's set. The Denver-based four-piece brought out an interesting variety of instruments, including a sousaphone (covered in red Christmas lights), accordion, and theremin. The crowd thoroughly enjoyed the variety of genre-blending, from mariachi-style flourishes to oft-mentioned gypsy folk foundations to anything else the band could throw in. Singer Nick Urata's voice was unreal, accomplishing notes and wails that complemented the band's stomping bridges or gentle violin-led moments. The only song I recognized was "How It Ends" (from that one movie everyone loved), which sounded wonderful. The band followed their set with a brief instrumental encore, much to the audience's enjoyment.
I wish I could score Bumbershoot based on DeVotchKa and Aqueduct alone and call it a 5-star day, but from absurd ticket prices to bizarre security to sound problems to fucking ridiculous headliners, the festival was -- as a whole -- a disappointment.
Note: Apparently, +44 cancelled and local horrorcore pop-punk act Schoolyard Heroes filled in for them.