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Bumbershoot
September 2-5, 2005
reviews by Dagmar Patterson and Katie Sauro

Charming Snakes
Monday, September 5, 2005
The first band up for me on Monday was Charming Snakes, whose music is instantly lovable and accessible. And the band is indeed an extremely charming bunch, with Ruben on vocals/guitar, Lacey on bass, Joe on guitar and Kellie on drums. Ruben is a delightful front man and the entire band honestly seems to enjoy itself. The music swims and hops. Charming Snakes chose the film
Ghostbusters as their background of the stage – it was a great choice.  Ken Jarvey of The Can’t See joined them on sax for three songs, including the inspired “Rat Hotel.”  I particularly enjoyed “Too Much Ammunition” (“too much ammunition lately and not enough self control”) and when Ruben collapsed on the floor and laughed a crazy laugh for about two minutes it was the perfect ending to the show. Charming Snakes play Seattle’s The Comet on September 17th before heading to Oregon and California. DP

The Cops
Monday, September 5, 2005
The Cops had the distinction of being the only band at the Skychurch who literally tore up the stage—midway through their set the curtains of the section where guitarist John Randolph was dancing began to fall off. There is no doubt these guys put on a potent show and had the crowd hopping, nearly slam dancing, to “Don’t Take it Personal Dave,” the most excited I saw any audience at Bumbershoot besides the show later in the evening, Iggy and the Stooges.  The Cops are a pure joy to witness and always please their crowds. Their debut full length CD,
Get Good or Stay Bad, comes out in October with a release party on October 8th at the Crocodile in Seattle.  For current information check out http://www.myspace.com/thecops. DP

Elvis Costello
Sunday, September 4, 2005
It rained on Sunday. Fortunately Memorial Stadium had laid out tarp on the field so there was no mud, only puddles—and the damp. There are few acts I would see under these conditions, but Elvis Costello is one of them. The rain stopped about an hour before Costello came on and it was only Elvis onstage, alone with a changing set of guitars. He was captivating the entire show, talking easily with the audience between songs and the songs were marvelously chosen and performed: “Veronica,” “Peace, Love and Understanding,” “The Delivery Man, God’s Comic,” ‘Alison,” and the stunning “I Want You.” This was a radiant show and seeing Costello is an honor one should always accept.
DP

The Decemberists
Monday, September 5, 2005
What!?!? Portland-based indie band the Decemberists playing the mainstage at Bumbershoot, the same stage Elvis Costello performed on the night before, the same stage Iggy Pop would perform on that night?  It may have seemed strange to some, but doubts were expelled once the first few chords of their much-praised, but unfortunately oft-neglected, epic E.P.
The Tain swept over the extremely large crowd. The six-piece band (featuring an organ/accordion player and a fiddle player) played the E.P. in its entirety before launching into a song from their newest full-length, Picaresque, complete with a three-piece horn section.  Their set encompassed much of their impressive collection of narratives. Front man Colin Meloy was a creative writing major in college, which is put to good use here. Meloy weaves tales of love, lust, death, and vengeance, using invented characters and plot lines. The set included narratives like “The Infanta,” about a royal procession and a betrothed young princess, “The Soldiering Life,” about brotherhood and death in a war zone, and the stark tragedy of a mother giving birth to a baby and leaving her to die, told from the child’s perspective, in a song called “Leslie Anne Levine.”  Not only are the songs all unique and really quite different from one other lyrically, but musically they are as well. The Decemberists’ music is incredibly eclectic and ranges from the fiddles of Irish folk to acoustic country twang to flat-out indie rock.  The true high point of the set was the last song, Meloy’s classic tale of murder and reprisal, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” which tells the story of a young man avenging his mother’s pride when she takes in a stranger, who promptly takes advantage of her and gambles away all her money. The young man eventually meets up with the stranger when they are swallowed by a whale but somehow survive. This was the interactive part of the show, when guitarist Chris Funk got the crowd to scream like they were being swallowed up by the whale. Meloy sings, “It gives my heart great joy to see your eyes fill with fear…” as the fiddles and guitars get faster and faster until it suddenly stops, and the crowd erupts in applause and screams. KS

Harvey Danger

Saturday, September 3, 2005
Harvey Danger played the Exhibition Hall in the evening and had one of the largest lines I saw at Bumbershoot. Their songs were melodic and the sweet voiced singer Sean Nelson was in fine form, doing the splits and absorbing the audience. “Cream and Bastards Rise” was perfection and “Little Round Mirrors” featured Jacob of the Lashes beautifully playing french horn. Two of their songs featured other guests including another member of the Lashes, Ben, on “Flagpole Sitta” and another song with Robyn Hitchcock. Harvey Danger have several shows coming up—check out their site,
www.harveydanger.com, for more information. DP

Headphones
Sunday, September 4, 2005
Just close your eyes and listen to Headphones, David Bazan’s new side project. The synth-and-drum combo creates danceable beats and rhythms, formulating the illusion that it is vastly different from Pedro the Lion, a la Ben Gibbard’s The Postal Service. But listen carefully. The same droning voice oozes out, the same dark themes emerge and reemerge. It is so unquestioningly, unmistakably Bazan, that you can hardly tell the difference between the two bands. Sunday afternoon, Bazan took to the stage, not with his regular right-hand man and backup musician, T.W. Walsh, but with a different drummer in tow, and opened with the first track on Headphones’ self-titled debut, “Gas and Matches,” a tale about an outcast’s frightening revenge, told from the bully-turned-victim’s perspective. Bazan went on to play a relatively short set that included much of the album, plus a new song, although with not much material to work with, the short set wasn’t all that surprising. With the new side project, Bazan seems to be taking a huge step back from Pedro the Lion, and focusing his energy entirely on Headphones. However, he is rumored to be writing songs and recording demos for a new PTL album, but it is unclear when it will be finished, as Headphones are set to soon tour with Minus the Bear.
KS

Idiot Pilot
Monday, September 5, 2005
The poet William Blake wrote that “Energy is eternal delight” and Idiot Pilot understand this.  They also understand P.I.L.’s words: Anger is an energy. On their own site’s front page they write “Create Something/Destroy Something.” Idiot Pilot is comprised of only two members, guitarist/singer/programmer Michael Harris and vocalist Daniel Anderson.  Said as a compliment, for two members they make an astonishing amount of noise. The fey Harris will gently sing and then Anderson will scream hysterically. The juxtaposition is a knockout. Girls were screaming for Harris as he sauntered and taunted.  “To Buy a Gun” shocked live. They are as undeniable magnetic as they are unique. This was an incredible musical experience. Next up this band headlines shows throughout September in the UK.
DP

Iggy and the Stooges
Monday, September 5, 2005
Iggy and the Stooges ended Bumbershoot. As soon as I returned to the stadium I could feel the aggression in the air. This was not something I had experienced the entire duration of Bumbershoot. The crowd was one of the most out of control audiences I have witnessed but I tried to concentrate on the show. The focus was of course on Iggy Pop, who wore little else than the lowest slung jeans (more tights?) I have ever seen. They were literally falling off. He looked like an avenging deity with flowing blonde hair as he shimmied and covered the stage with abandon. At one point he invited the audience up on stage and there was a mad scramble to jump the barriers. After he told them to leave the stage they obeyed, which was a surprise. The high points for me were “Dirt,” “T.V. Eye,” “1969” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” which they did once and then again as a closing reprise. As much as I love “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” why not do “Search and Destroy”? I am quibbling, as I faired better than some members of the audience whom I saw leaving with ice packs affixed to various body parts. There were reliable reports of other injuries and at least one guy bloodied—an odd way to end the weekend.
DP

Damien Jurado
Sunday, September 4, 2005
Generally a stoic, serious performer, folk singer-songwriter Damien Jurado took to the stage Sunday with all the fervor of a teenage punk guitarist, jamming on his acoustic guitar and flailing his arm up in the air after every chord played. He is usually a solo artist, just he and his guitar playing small Seattle clubs and bars (he doesn’t like to tour), so when he showed up with a backing band, it was quite a surprise. Jurado’s set focused mostly on a few of his many albums, including his newest,
On My Way to Absence.  Highlights of his set were “Like Titanic,” and an extended version of “Never Ending Tide,” replete with guitar solos and a dancing Jurado. Keep in mind, this is a big football-player looking guy who is not usually one to get up on stage and shake his money-maker in front of a large group of people. It was really cute. Then Jurado asked for a chair, the band left the stage, and he performed the remainder of his set the way we know and love him—just him, his acoustic guitar, and his beautiful voice.  He played crowd favorite, and my personal favorite, “Ohio,” a heart-wrenching folk song about giving up the one you love, as the last song of the set. Someone in the crowd behind me said he likes Jurado better with a full band, and while I would have to disagree, he did an impressive job.  However, the stripped-down, bare versions of his songs are so undeniably haunting and brilliant, there can be no comparison. KS

M. Ward
Friday, September 2, 2005
Portland-based guitar wizard M. Ward put on an incredible show Friday night, opening with the obligatory—at least for him—guitar solo, before bringing to the stage his stellar three-piece backing band, including ex-Decemberists drummer Rachel Blumberg, whose pounding rhythms were amazing all on their own.  Sounding more like an old bluesman from the south than a thirty-something singer-songwriter from California, Ward emits a deep, murky growl that seems to float over the top of carefully arranged acoustic-based songs ranging from pure folk to blues to country. He played several from his newest album,
Transistor Radio, including “Fuel for Fire,” but his set seemed to span much of his catalogue, especially his third and most critically successful record, Transfiguration of Vincent, including such songs as “Sad, Sad Song” and a quicker-paced version of “Undertaker.”  Despite a plea from one fan, Ward did not play his cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” but nevertheless, had the crowd up and dancing along in front of the stage, young and old alike. They enjoyed his incredible guitar work and his unique voice so much, cheering and shouting for more, that Ward actually did come back out for two more songs, “Poor Boy, Minor Key,” minus the piano solo at the beginning of the song, and “O’Brien/O’Brien’s Nocturne” from End of Amnesia. KS

Mercir
Saturday, September 3, 2005
The Skychurch, with its changing light display behind the stage, was a lovely place for Mercir to play. The venue may not be as intimate as the songs would generally better suit, but nonetheless it was an exquisite performance. A trio (Zadok, vocals; Colin Johnson, mixing and Joel Eby, keyboards) for some time, they have now added Neal Vickers, who plays guitar and bass in the band. While Mercir has retained its elegant and electronic sound, Vickers magically contributes to the overall tone. Standout songs for me were “God’s Hands” and “The War Room.” Vocalist Zadok is plaintive when he needs to be and always convincing. Mercir’s next local show is on September 24 at Chop Suey.
DP

The New York Dolls
Friday, September 2, 2005
The New York Dolls had the misfortune of playing Memorial Stadium, a dilapidated structure of concrete.  One nice touch for the stadium was the padded barriers for those in the front –at least you could rest your arms somewhat comfortably.  I think I was too distracted by the conditions to appreciate the show fully and it is not the Dolls’ fault they couldn’t reach out far enough into the audience scattered far and wide.  “Personality Crisis” was the best of what I caught.  I also found myself concentrating on singer David Johansen’s outfit more than anything else as he appeared to be kitted out in a black battlefield loincloth that hung over his pants.
DP

Pretty Girls Make Graves
Sunday, September 4, 2005
Despite the torrential downpour earlier in the day that left people tired and rain-soaked, the horrible acoustics inside the Exhibition Hall, and the jam-packed beer garden, Seattle’s own Pretty Girls Make Graves pulled off a fun, entertaining set of indie-punk that left the crowd wanting more. Andrea Zollo and company brought down the house Sunday night, playing songs from their critically-acclaimed debut full-length,
Good Health, their follow-up The New Romance, and a few new songs from a forthcoming record that eager fans will be happy to hear is almost complete. While Zollo’s strong voice was weakened by the sound system inside the venue, her unique half-sing, half-yell vocals were still able to break through—and all the kids singing along didn’t hurt either.  Highlights of the set included “This is Our Emergency,” and “Speakers Push the Air,” a semi-duet and fan favorite that had the crowd chanting the song’s theme, “Do you remember when the music meant something?” With fast, punk-inspired rhythms and vocals ranging from sweet and pretty to yelling and screaming, Pretty Girls put on an amazing set, a perfect balance of old and new for hardcore fans. And for those in the crowd who just happened to wander inside hoping for a respite from the rain, the band successfully hooked them with their catchy melodies and guitar-driven punk rock. KS

Razrez
Friday, September 2, 2005
Razrez had no problems filling an hour set, evidencing awesome stage presence and musical talent.  Girls were actually shrieking, especially when singer/guitarist Aykut Özen ventured closest to the end of the stage. The captivating “Baby” and “Your Party” were especially strong live—the lyrics may not always be romantic, “Telling me what to do will destroy me and you,” but the music is sexily crafted.  Not all front men share the stage as generously as Özen does with the significant and rapturous skills of his band mates.  They are all compelling—a dream band.  Razrez has earned a spot opening for Pretty Girls Make Graves at the end of October in California.  Their new web site is up, for more details visit
http://razrez.com/. DP

The Ruby Doe
Friday, September 2, 2005
I hurried back to the Skychurch to see the last four songs of the Ruby Doe, who according to the Bumbershoot schedule came on at least forty minutes early. Again, this is not the band’s fault. What I saw was a band with terrific charisma and gorgeous sounds. When I talked with guitarist/singer Aaron Ellh he said there were several technical difficulties I had missed, but I would never have guessed. They are an accomplished and cohesive band. “Trap Her Keep Her” was one of the new songs I heard and it is a hot number.  Simply put “Red Letters” rocked. Good news from the Ruby Doe is that their debut CD,
The Flame and the Fury, will be re-released shortly. They next play the Funhouse in Seattle on September 16. DP

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Monday, September 5, 2005
Most of the songs on Ted Leo’s albums are replete with punk rhythms, hard-driving guitars, and pounding drums, but are modestly tame in comparison to his live performances. It’s almost as if he is breaking out of his shell when he plays live; his high-pitched vocals turn to angry screams and yells, his heavy guitar gets louder, the rhythms pound harder and harder. The band threw in a few power ballads here and there throughout the set, but it mostly consisted of gut-busting punk rock at its finest, with underlying hints of reggae and ska on several songs. The set was mostly a showcase of Leo’s newest album,
Shake the Sheets, but also included a few songs from previous albums, including an incredible version of “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?” and one of his biggest hits, “Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead” from Hearts of Oak.  At times it is hard to understand what Leo is saying in his songs, even on the albums, and many people ignore the lyrics and just dance along to the beat. But he is a talented, artful songwriter, penning songs about love, death, and politics—unfortunately the songwriting in punk music is usually dismissed as clichéd.  In many cases, this is true, but in the case of Ted Leo he is an undeniable talent, both musically and lyrically. KS

Viva Voce
Saturday, September 3, 2005
In what appears to be black tape, the phrase “We got game,” is scrawled on the front of Kevin Robinson’s acoustic guitar—and that is exactly what this band has. Robinson and his wife, Anita, better known as the indie-pop duo Viva Voce (Italian for “by word of mouth”) create sweet, lush melodies with a twist, or more precisely, a kick in the ass. Within the first few moments of their set, it is clear that this is no cutesy husband-wife pop band, as an onslaught of Anita’s loud metal-esque electric guitar riffs rip through the air and drummer/keyboardist/acoustic guitarist Kevin pounds away on the drums as hard as he can, all culminating in dark and eccentric melodic pop that makes for one hell of a live show. They played much of their new album, entitled
The Heat Can Melt Your Brain, with Anita taking lead vocal for much of the set and Kevin adding wistful harmonies as needed. Though sounding a bit rough at times, the sharp edges and grittiness of their live sound just add to their endearing charm. KS