Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Black Crowes – Columbia Bank Concert Center, Western Washington Fair, Puyallup Fair, WA

On Monday, 8 Sept 08, I loaded up my mini-urban assault vehicle with lattes & Odwalla bars and with my favorite person in the whole, wide world as co-pilot, we cranked the MP3s and set a southerly course for the Puyallup Fair. We had tickets to see The Black Crowes, America's answer to The Rolling Stones. If you’re a regular reader of the blog/column (blolumn?) you’ll know this was the second time I’d seen the Crowes in the past twelve months. Plus I reviewed their new album, Warpaint as well as one of my favorite releases of 2007, Brothers of a Feather in earlier posts this year. What can I say, I love the Crowes!
The traffic was light thanks to a second bridge over the Tacoma Narrows. We were in Puyallup in less than 90 minutes. Berit and I had an hour before the show so we walked around the fairgrounds, taking in the sights, sounds and smells. We watched people stand in line and pay to be launched skyward in a chair attached to bungee cords, saw 35 million hot tub sales exhibits and nearly as many fried dough booths. We settled on some absolutely yummy scones with butter & jam and just before the show I got a giant Pepsi (basically a 5 gallon bucket with a handle) and some fried veggies. I should tell you that Washington State Code dictates all fair food must spend at least 3-5 minutes in hot grease prior to sale. The sole exception is scones.
As we entered the venue we discovered that the show was now free (I paid $62 for a free concert?) and we could sit anywhere. As Carney took the stage we found seats at the front of the Grandstand and settled in. The boys had a nice enough sound. A hard to pin down style of music, sometimes it was harder edged with a heavy blues influence, at other times it more closely resembleld Glam Rock, like New York Dolls or Queen. In fact the skinny lead singer sounded like Freddie Mercury. On the song Testify he channeled Robert Plant, man could he wail. The guitarist had great chops and the drummer didn’t play so much as attack his kit. Due to a slightly muddled sound mix it was hard to hear the bass player, but he looked like he was quite busy and having a good time. Carney played half dozen tunes and then the roadies began the transition.
The Black Crowes took the stage shortly after bundles of incense were placed at the front corners of the stage. They opened the show with two tracks from Warpaint; Wounded Bird & Evergreeen and we were on our way. The sound mix for the first couple of songs wasn’t good. The bass was way too high, you couldn’t hear Luther’s guitar or Chris’s vocals. By the time they got to the third song, Sting Me, they had sorted it out. Next came one of the evening highlights, Downtown Money Waster into an extended jam finished with Thorn In My Pride.
Chris, who’s been known to be chatty, excessively so at times, said nothing except “Thank you” between songs. The boys rolled from one track to another without delay. The energy was high and the crowd in front of the stage never stopped moving. To top it off it was a gorgeous summer evening with lots of stars overhead. Speaking of stars the boys offered stellar covers of Dylan’s Girl From the North Country and Clapton’s Poor Elijah Tribute to Johnson.
Some drunk cowboy beside me kept shouting for them to play Black Betty as he alternately spit his chaw into an empty beer cup and sipped from a full one. I was waiting for him to mix ‘em up. I knew Leadbelly wrote the tune way back when, that Ram Jam had recorded it in the 70s, but the best version was by Tom Jones. Do you suppose the wrangler thought he was at a TJ concert? If so, I’m glad he didn’t try to throw his undies on the stage. Sorry I digress…
The Crowes added Remedy & Soul Singing toward the latter part and had Jerry Miller from Moby Grape join them onstage for Hey Grandma. There was no encore.
The 90 minute set included 5 songs from Warpaint, a decent mix from their back catalog and three covers. It was a good evening. We followed the green line (the Fair paints colored lines on the pavement to get you back to the correct gate), put the MP3s on and set the compass north back to the island.
More to follow…

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bumbershoot 2008

Day One
Saturday 30 Aug 08
Bumbershoot ’08 began for me way back in the late spring when I ordered my tix (40% savings on a three day pass folks if you get ‘em early) As soon as the schedule was released mid-summer I was thinking, “If I’m not an aging Gen-Xer or into Hip-Hop I just wasted $60,” I started listening to MySpace sites and reading about acts and quickly determined that there were some great artists coming. Needless to say, by Saturday 30 Aug 08 I had a handful of acts I wasn’t going to miss, a good idea about which artists I wanted to see and back-up plans for those that didn’t live up to the expectations.
I took the earlier ferry to allow for my carbon-neutral approach of walking up to Seattle Center. When I arrived I was surprised to see lines from the Broad Street entrance wrapping back around to the front of the Science Center. Evidently the handheld scanners used to read the ticket barcodes weren’t able to read at least 1/3 of the tickets.
It didn’t take long to figure out a way to bypass the mess and get to the music. Before I knew it I was sipping Rockstar from a paper cup watching Throw Me the Statue (mentioned in 18 May 08 article) I love their record, but their live show didn’t seem to exude the same energy. Add to that to a mediocre sound mix and it was hard to focus on the music. I listened to a few songs and headed for the Main Stage.
I arrived in Memorial Stadium and was able to sit beside my longest known Seattle friend John and his lovely wife Carol. We caught up on the comings/goings for each other and shared our plans for the next three days while enjoying the music of Neko Case.
Neko has an amazing voice, strong & confident. She reminds a lot of Grace Slick except Neko leans toward the Country side of things and appeals to my inner redneck. Her band was tight, nice harmonies, spare arrangements and she shared a wonderful sampling of her body of work.
From there I went to the Starbucks Stage for Joe Bonamassa’s show. This was a must see for me. Part Stevie Ray, part Allman Brothers, part AC\DC, part Zeppelin, a little Skynyrd and the rest comes from studying the masters who returned the blues to the US via the British Invasion. He was amazing. What stage presence! What licks & runs! Fantastic music and a great show!
I had some time so I made my way to Horn of Africa for some lukuul, red lentils and injera. Man oh man was it yummy. I sat by the fountain and watched the skateboarders while I ate.
On John’s suggestion I decided to go see Mono in VCF at EMP. I made my way around to the back of the venue, sat on the floor and began to catch up with my journal. The band came out. Five guys who look like the IT staff at your office came out with a very beautiful young woman. She had a lovely voice. The songs were slow and somber. The musicianship was quite good, vocal range wasn’t bad, the delivery was slightly stiff and many of the tunes had a similar sound. When they were done I moved up to the barrier and waited for my final must see of he day, West Indian Girl I watched them tear down Mono in VCF, set up WIG’s equipment and do the sound check, all in less than 30 minutes.
West Indian Girl is everything you’d want in a rock band; excellent music with passion & attitude, skinny guitarists and hot chicks with great pipes. They made it worth wading through the crowds, standing in long lines, and dealing with the occasional less-than-courteous fellow concert-goer. Anyway, I was completely ignorant of this band a month ago and now they are one of my favorites. I play To Die in LA and Trip all he time. The lead guitarist, a little on the scruffy side, was right in front of me and played a couple of threadbare Les Pauls. The drummer was equally scruffy but thoroughly adept at keeping time and backing vocals. The bass player could have been a double for Prince and held down the bottom end nicely. The keyboardist on the far end added her layer and backup vocals. The keyboardist closest to me was very focused. The other singer, a petite, gorgeous young woman with loads of talent and an amazing vocal range delivered her songs with passion and emotion. The set was spectacular. I came home and bought all three of their CDs.

Day Two
Sunday 31 Aug 08
The morning rain and another commitment caused me to get a later start. I was really hoping to see Ashleigh Flynn, a Portland Folk Rocker and Star Anna, Central Washington’s latest contribution to the wonderful sounds of Country & Western (John said she was great.) Alas, the best made plans…
I did arrive in time to see the Tripwires at EMP, due to a suggestion from John. I’d never heard of them, but they have a reputation as a bit of a Seattle supergroup (members have played with The Minus 5, Neko Case and The Young Fresh fellows among others) and the reputation was much deserved. The quartet, a couple of guitars, bass & drums, delivered a nice brand of Rockabilly and Pop flavored Rock with tasty licks and catchy hooks. They reminded me of The Knack who remind me of The Beatles. Not much to look at, but interesting harmonies and some great guitar work. I left before the end of their set to catch another of my must see bands.
As described in the Bumbershoot preview, Howlin’ Rain is a group of five bearded guys from the Bay area. They play authentic 60s psychedelic Rock, the real McCoy! The lanky lead guitarist/lead singer had a raspy, blues influenced, tenor and growled, howled, screamed, twitched, stomped and threw various forms of fits from the first chord to the last bit of feedback. The keyboardist was less possessed and taken by the music, only slightly. The rest of the band filled in the sound and mostly stayed out of the way as these two convulsed. It was brilliant.
Dale Watson was next at the Starbucks stage. Silver pompadour, mid-length, black mourning coat and a well-loved Telecaster, Dale presented a set of Country classics and original material with a rich baritone (think Randy Travis, Merle Haggard & Johnny Cash thrown into a Blendtec, the result: a smooth, velvety concoction that hits the spot.) The crowd loved his aw-shucks between song banter. He was the consummate professional.
After Dale I needed sustenance. I took my shortcuts to Horn of Africa for some injera, red lentils & lukuul and quickly made my way back to the Fisher stage to bask in the cool funk of the tail end of Orgone’s set. Great horns & percussion, shake-the-dust-off-your-bones beats. There was a hint of Fela Kuti to some of their stuff. It was hard to sit still long enough to finish my meal.
The Weakerthans, a Canadian Rock/Pop/Alt Country/Folk band, were next on the agenda. These guys were weaned on Punk, but came together more than a decade ago because they wanted a more melodic approach to music. Well, I’m here to tell you that they found one. They reminded me a bit of Toad the Wet Sprocket, one of my favorite 90s bands. Simply put, The Weakerthans are a tight combo of accomplished musicians playing and singing great tunes.
I have to say that the Exhibition Hall where they played is fairly claustrophobic, like being in a giant, underground cistern, cold, dark and not a soft edge in the entire venue. I understand why they put all the louder, more expressive acts in there. They can’t break anything.
My last commitment for the day, as well as the final must see, was The Black Keys on the Mainstage. I saw these guys at Bumbershoot a few years ago and they blew me away. Basically, The Black Keys are two guys from Akron who prefer old school approaches to creating huge sound. They made their first CD, Thickfreakness, in their basement over a 12 hour period. The Keys play traditional pentatonic blues and they play it well. Their music easily filled Memorial Stadium. They were the highlight of the day!
On the downside, just before the boys took the stage I bought some strawberry shortcake to ease my pangs of hunger. I busted a tine off the plastic fork while trying to cut the biscuit and damned near chipped a tooth. I’ve had hardtack that was easier to penetrate. They must have used drywall mud in the recipe.

Day Three
Monday 31 Sept 08

We arrived just in time to have lunch. I say we because Berit, my favorite person in the whole wide world, was with me (sorry girls Esion’s taken!) We got our Death Cab for Cutie passes, just in case and headed for Horn of Africa for some injera, lukuul & red lentils. Unfortunately the sea of humanity sweeping on from the Mercer gate prevented us from making it past the Chutney’s where Berit opted for some fine Indian cuisine and I enjoyed a mango lemonade. We moved back to the Fisher stage and a Lebanese booth caught my eye. I grabbed a lamb gyro and we settled in for the tail end of Choklate’s performance. I’ll be honest, she wasn’t on the list because her MySpace featured some of the slower, heartfelt appeals for love that crowd the FM dial, but her live show was great. She can sing and her band is tight! Neil Young was right when he said, “Live music is better. Bumperstickers should be issued”
We finished our food and set course for the Wells Fargo stage to hear Joshua Morrison, but we saw someone else instead. I still don’t know who it was and no one was able to tell me. There was a mix-up in the schedule, either way she was good. A folky, her voice was pleasant and strong and her accompaniment on guitar was quite adept although a bit ambitious with his leads. Great harmonies.
Somehow I overlooked Blitzen Trapper at the Rockstar stage. Bummer. I’ll not make that mistake again.
My first must-see of the day was Bedouin Soundclash, three lads from Canada, eh, playing and singing absolutely fantastic, mostly original, Reggae tunes. I love this band!!!! I was blown away by their show. The lead singer’s has a bit of a raspy tenor, nothing fancy about his guitar work, minimal effects, but it’s perfect for their repertoire. The bass player and drummer hold down the bottom end with such synchronicity that they must be communicating on a sub-atomic level. Berit & I were on the barriers for the beginning of the show, but it was a tad loud. We moved to higher ground for a bit, but could not stay away. We ended up right back on the barriers. I bought both of their CDs immediately following the show and they have been playing constantly at home, work and in the Scion. Check this band out now!
We hustled to EMP to catch the Maldives but the doors were closed (it’s a small venue) so we strolled back through the Center grounds, listening as we went.
Not much tickled our fancy until we got back to the Fisher stage. Cheb I. Sabbah & 1002 Nights was starting up. Simply put, Cheb is a DJ mixing techno bass & drums under traditional Central Asian music. He had two percussionists, a dancer dressed in traditional garb and the occasional singer and musician who would come on stage for a song or two, the result, infectious beats that had a multi-generational crowd (my 17 year-old son was there with his friends) dancing non-stop for an hour. Unbelievable!
We moved quickly through the crowd to the Starbucks stage for the last few songs of The Old 97s to once again get in touch with our inner redneck. They did not disappoint. It was a fine delivery of some of the best in Alt Country. These guys have been at it for a while and it shows.
One of the many wonderful things about Bumbershoot is that it’s not limited to food and music. Berit and I used to look forward to the Independent Publishers & the One Reel Films. This year we spent more time watching performance art (the group from Oz doing a bit on flexible poles in costume was something else), checking out the artisan booths and Flatstock, the poster exhibit. No shortage of talent and imagination at Flatstock. We wandered the aisles being alternately awed, shocked, amused and entertained while listening to the strains of Hip-Hop phenom Del the Funky Homosapien. Del was playing on the Fisher stage next door to Flatstock. Nice grooves and lyrics with some substance, not just base & drums talking about bitches & hos and popping caps in asses. More than once Del appealed to the crowd to vote and make a difference.
Our last must-see of the festival, Xavier Rudd, hails from Australia and plays some interesting stuff. Once again we were next to the barriers and had an excellent view of what I would refer to as Xavier’s command module, a seat surrounded by various percussive instruments, some of which I’ve never seen before, as well as several didgeridoos. He took the stage and was accompanied by a gentleman on a conventional drum kit. Xavier plays an acoustic lap style slide guitar inside his module while hitting a stomp box and blowing a harmonica or didgeridoo. Occasionally he plays the harmonica through the didgeridoo. Regardless the music was great and had the whole crowd moving.
Overall I’d have to say it was a great festival! Well done!