This weekend’s Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival is defined as much by what it isn’t as what it is. It’s not an indie rock fest, it’s not a destination fest. Set in the heart of Seattle, it’s easily accessed by foot or bus, making it a magnet for families and assorted city freaks, and its lineup is far more eclectic than most festivals its size. Now in its 40th year, Bumbershoot attempts to be all things to all people, and actually sort of succeeds, even in the rain. Below are 10 highlights of a wet and wild weekend.
Best Song Ever Written:If it were anyone else butchering “Tangled Up in Blue” during Saturday night’s headlining slot, the infidel would’ve been run off the mainstage by pitchfork-wielding fanatics. But it was Bob Dylan, and Bob Dylan gets to play whatever he wants, however he wants. And so he performed “Tangled” in fast-rhyming couplets that accelerated the song and gave it an entirely different feel. By the end the crowd caught on and the song became even more powerful through Dylan’s altered take on it. The entire set went this way, Dylan tweaking the cadence to “Just Like a Woman” or “Ballad of a Thin Man,” turning songs everyone knows into tunes only he knows. His band, lead by Texas guitarist Charlie Sexton, was whip-tight, part roadhouse blues, part David Lynch-esque country-noir burlesque. Memorial Stadium was packed to the rafters but only those up front witnessed Dylan’s unwavering smile, as if the whole thing-the songs, the band, the crowd, the concert-was his own private joke.
Worst Cover:”This song was written here, and we’re gonna bury it here,” Courtney Love said halfway through Hole‘s main stage set Sunday. “And I’m really bad at it.” “It” was “Jeremy,” Pearl Jam’s childhood-issues anthem, and Love was right: Her version was awful. And likely a piss-take, because she kept cracking up while singing it. The rest of Hole’s career-spanning set was surprisingly un-trainwrecky, especially given the circumstances. Last time Love visited Seattle Center was in 1994, two days after Kurt Cobain’s death, when she read the fans amassed there Cobain’s suicide note.
Best Drag Queen:Rivers Cuomo must be eating his Wheaties. The Weezer frontman ran laps around the mainstage and scaled the scaffolding during their Sunday headlining slot, sweating like a convict but never missing a note. From “Hash Pipe” to “Undone (The Sweater Song)” to “Beverly Hills” to a set-closing “Buddy Holly,” Weezer delivered what the crowd wanted, Cuomo playing the part of spazzy ringleader. The biggest surprise came when, during “Pork and Beans,” he somehow disappeared from the spotlight following him around and emerged in the nosebleed seats far from the stage. On his way back to the floor, he high-fived fans and leapt to the top of a Portapotty. At that point, the band veered into “Kids” by MGMT, which they played with Weezer-ish bounce. And then suddenly there was Cuomo back on stage in a platinum blond wig singing Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” Now that’s surreal.
Best History Lesson:You’re forgiven for not knowing about Seattle’s 1970s funk scene. Long before the coffee + grunge = Seattle equation was burned into popular consciousness, the Emerald City was a hotbed of soul music, superfly duds, and after-hours dance parties. Some 40 years later, members of that overlooked enclave have regrouped as Wheedle’s Groove, a rotating ensemble some 25-members strong. Now in their 50s and 60s, they’re still in prime form, and most were on the Fisher Green Stage at the same time on Saturday afternoon, erupting with the ecstatic chaos of P-Funk concert but buttoned-up in suits reminiscent of a showier Motown. In his on-stage introduction of the band, Seattle mayor Mike McGinn officially declared Saturday “Wheedle’s Groove Day.” Every history lesson should be this funky.
Best Split Personality:Seattle quartet the Moondoggies play the kind of cosmic American boogie perfect for moonshine-fueled hoedowns and front porch jam sessions. Frontman Kevin Murphy, however, is more about bummer than summer-despite the feel-good sound of the Moondoggies’ tunes, his lyrics are often relentlessly bleak. On a rainy Monday afternoon, the hometown favorites played well-loved songs from their debut as well as numbers from their upcoming sophomore album, Tidelands, set for release October 12. Their three-part harmonies were like warm syrup, riling up a hippiefied dance party oblivious to the sudden downpour going on around them.
Best Witty Comeback:There he was, the random knucklehead in the crowd during the Thermals‘ festival-closing set Monday night. His line, of course: “Freebird!” Without batting an eye, Thermals bassist Kathy Foster shot a middle finger at the dude, saying, “Here’s your free bird right here!” The Portland, OR, power-pop trio was the right band to wrap-up this year’s Bumbershoot-smart, cynical, and sincere, they were true Northwest emissaries, and songs like “I Called Out Your Name” and “Nothing You Can’t Learn” exploded with giddy energy.
Best Hair:His name is Black Wolf, he’s 55 years old, and he has a really weird haircut-a thick mat on top ringed with tiny dreadlocks, like fringe on a velvet curtain. Wolf is the lead singer-mascot for Kings Go Forth, a soul-slinging nine-piece from Milwaukee. With a neon-bright smile and androgynous voice, he led KGF through a slew of styles, from disco to jazzy funk to Fania-style, Latin-inflected grooves, inciting a buck-wild dance party in the rain on Monday afternoon.
Best Climax:Plants and Animals, a mind-expanding prog-rock trio from Montreal, knows how to surf a crescendo. During their early Saturday set, they stacked complex arrangements on top of each other and disassembled them just as easily, stretching out songs from this year’s brilliant La La Land to grand proportions. But the performance peak was the one-two wallop of “Bye Bye Bye” into “The Mama Papa,” two songs that reflect the band’s ambition, bolstered by unforgettable sing-along-able choruses. Even first-timers in the crowd were floored.
Best Metal:Baroness, you rock. But this weekend you were outdone by the band of 50-year-olds that played the Center Square Stage after you: Anvil wins the Bumbershoot award for most metal. The aged Canadian warhorses have finally scored fans around the world thanks to the acclaimed 2008 documentary about their history. And they’re making the best of it: Lead singer-mega-shredder Steve “Lips” Kudlow couldn’t stop beaming from the stage and doing Gene Simmons-like tongue tricks while drummer Robb Reiner demolished his double-kick-drum kit. In the midst of a Monday evening set thick with heavy cuts from the band’s 15 albums, he played a slide-guitar solo WITH A VIBRATOR. Yeah, they’re old, and they’re clowns, but damn if that isn’t as metal as metal gets.
Best Bet:“I got this bet going with Nas,” Jay Electronica told the crowd during his Sunday afternoon set. “He says all women like to be choked during sexual intercourse.” Electronica said he disagreed; the bet’s to be settled, supposedly, this December. This is the way the New Orleans rapper’s set went, start to finish-all gonzo, druggy, stream-of-consciousnesses rhymes done mostly a capella. From DMT to 9/11 to erotic asphyxiation, Electronica made it all part of his grand hip-hop cosmology, wrapping it up with the major banger “Exhibit C” to close the set. With 100 fans on stage and a 10-year-old guest rapper, naturally.