Craig Young:  Ahh...Saturday. The busiest day of Bumbershoot, where the estimated number of festival goers pushes 100,000. Yikes! And in the midst of these happy Seattleites is the League to Annoy and Harass Craig. Yup. I'm convinced that there are a group of people who gather together to hunt down and annoy me while I am at crowded outings, doing my best to mind my own business and cause no one no trouble no how. They usually take the form of people stopped to talk in the middle of a crowded walkway and parents pushing their kids around in strollers trying to knee cap me at every available opportunity. This year they've gotten craftier. Dispensing with the kids, they've resorted to the full on stroller shin assaults without any rug rats on board. Over half the people I saw pushing strollers this year at Bumbershoot didn't have kids inside them. In fact, one stroller had a stuffed animal seat belted inside instead of a little tyke. Brrrr...they get more conniving each year. Fortunately for me I won't be much of a target as I've a busy day off of the walkways and at a number of stages soaking up the music.

The sun is smiling brightly and as people try to sneak around yellow jacketed security and into the Seattle Center water fountain to cool off, I make my way over the Mainstage to hear the old sounds of the Violent Femmes. The songs haven't changed much and neither has the band. Augmented at times by a brass section, the Femmes still have the basic formula that they started with: acoustic guitar, bass and drums. And alongside several thousand other noontime revelers burning under the hot sun, we shouted along together to the band's classics, screaming our lungs out with the words to "Blister in the Sun." Picture perfect.

[ violent femmes on the mainstage ]
photo by craig young

Leaving the Femmes I have a major encounter with an obvious League member. Walking along with the Mainstage exit line a man in front of me stops to reconsider all his Bumbershoot options. His companion, a short and overweight woman, stops dead in her tracks as well, oblivious to the fact that there could be anyone on the pathway but her. Doing my best to avoid a full-on collision, I turn my body sideways and try to squeeze between her large frame and the rest of the 100,000 or so people on the Seattle Center grounds. My backpack brushes against her and as I continue along she turns in my direction, gives me the Universal Salute of Disgust and yells, "Asshole! Why don't you watch where the hell you're walking!" Right. Cheers, lady!

Inside the Bumberclub, Generator are well into their set. These guys have obviously sent away for the "How to Be a Rock Star and Appear on MTV in 30 Days or Your Money Back!" paint-by-numbers rock kit. Or, possibly the: "How to Be Glam, Bland and a Band in 5 Easy Steps." They sum up everything I hate about the Seattle scene: just spend some money on looking hip and the rest will come naturally...or with a little more money. I'm amazed at how many follow this credo and how many more associate themselves with it in a very cool by proxy fashion. Generator have honed these principles to perfection. Yawn. Or, as Kathleen Hanna would say, "Like...Super Yawn!" Generator look like they immediately ran out to the fashion store after seeing Velvet Goldmine, donned the glam persona, added to the backbeat a little extra push with some electronic down beats and layered their extended pop song structures with a sample here and there. When all else fails they toss in the obligatory wah pedal "wakah wakah" sound, or just simply pucker up and look at the audience very smugly, as if to say: "We're going to be famous and on MTV." Know what? They probably will, too.

Thankfully that bad rock 'n' roll taste was washed from my mouth when Juno took the same stage an hour later. Humble to a fault offstage, their music is not. Onstage, both band and music are powerful and confident. As I've said before, with a three guitar attack akin to the neurosis of Pink Floyd having finally arrived on the dark side of the moon, Juno slowly craft their songs outside the conventional verse-chorus-verse approach. Building and intertwining dense layers of sonic dissonance, they do not play songs so much as paint a canvas, using emotion and intensity as the brushes to gauge where the subtle hooks and time shifts should be felt. From the set opener, "The Great Salt Lake," to the powerful closer, "Leave a Clean Camp and a Dead Fire" (both from their full-length debut This is the Way It Goes and Goes and Goes), Juno kept the crowd humble throughout. And rightly so. Their music deserves your attention. Something as genuine as this is a treasure to be shared.

[ juno's arlie carstens ]
photo by craig young

After Juno I took a short respite with friends at the Bumberclub beer garden and enjoyed a pint while relaxing to the sweet and gentle sounds of Pedro the Lion. However, my Bumbershoot compatriots, the Jachl and JuliEvil, were on a drink crawl that day and I had work to do, so we parted ways with me heading over to the Rock Arena to catch a couple of songs by indie faves Pavement and them off on an afternoon of alcohol-induced bliss. Opening up their set with the near-hit "Cut Your Hair," Pavement kept the crowd cheering throughout with their off-kilter songs and wry lyrics. Their mic stands and equipment were adorned with tubular lights that looked like prop extras from the '80s show Buck Rogers. The band was relaxed, obviously having a fun time to be playing to such a large audience.

Not much of a fan, I cut out after a few songs and headed back towards the Bumbrella Stage where Trilon were performing. Consisting of Brad Hauser (bass) and Skerik (sax) from Critters Buggin', Michael Shrieve on drums, Maktub's Reggie Watts on vocals and an additional percussionist, these five laid down some sweet, liquid grooves that had the packed flag pavilion shimmyin', shakin', laughin' and hangin' on their every move. It's always fun to watch Hauser kick out his trademark mercurial bass grooves, regardless of who he's playing with. Locked tight with Shrieve's drumming, they were the underlying current upon which Skerik and Reggie surfed. Those two were meant to play with one another and were simply amazing to watch! Playing a game of tag with each other's lines, Reggie would sing something and Skerik would blow the same line back at him through his tenor; sort of an ongoing musical knock-knock-who's-there. At one point Reggie started singing lines like he was calling out the rhythm to a tabla piece (in general, tabla players will sing the percussive lines they play before performing the piece on their tabla), and I couldn't help but wonder if he was aware of the practice. Memories of tabla maestro Vishal Nagar and his workshop at WOMAD USA came to mind [check out Earpollution's exclusive coverage of WOMAD USA 1999. --ed.] Reggie crooned, crowed, cockled and cackled, creating a large palette of monkey noises to amuse us. 100% improvisation, you could do nothing but smile and get down to the groove as Trilon held the crowd mesmerized with their performance.

[ pavement's stephen malkmus ]
photo by craig young

After Trilon, Marky Mark Teppo and I reconnoitered and headed over to the Kendall-Jackson Jazz Stage to find good seats for LAND's upcoming performance. We stepped inside the theater in time to catch the tail end of The Gone Orchestra. Sadly, the only thing I remember about the 11-piece ensemble was the old man with the long, long beard who was creating Theremin-like sounds with what appeared to be a short wave radio. Was he trying to tune a station? Contact the mothership? I don't know, but the short wave cacophony lulled me into a quick and much needed nap.

The final course of the evening for me was LAND, Jeff Greinke's jazz-ambient outfit that for this performance included musical luminaries Bill Rieflin on drums, Trey Gunn with his 12-string Warr Guitar (think one hefty bass), Lesli Dalaba on trumpet and Dennis Rea playing guitar. Their set consisted of polyrhythms from Rieflin and Gunn set against samples conjured up by Greinke's keyboard, with the music further emulsified by the heavy effects of Dalaba's trumpet and Rea's guitar histrionics. As much as I liked what they were conjuring, they suffered from being trapped in the same musical middle ground that I found with Son Volt on Friday. To me, there was no ebb and flow, no peaks and valleys, no tension and release to their music. They set up the song and grooved in and out of its crooks and crannies, but never lifted the pieces up to a climax or brought them back down to a gentle hush. Of course, this might not have been the band's fault entirely. Their set was marred by technical difficulties throughout and they get well-deserved kudos for being patient with the sound engineer and his stage hand, whose loud and rather unprofessional bantering and bickering back and forth between songs while attempting to reconcile the sound problems was a bit of surreal comedy. Being the consummate professionals they were, LAND quietly persevered these annoyances and played on. And regardless of my comments regarding song dynamics, I'm always wowed by Trey Gunn's amazing bass technique. He must have an extra pair of hands somewhere working the fretboard of his Warr Guitar. And I'm always thrilled to watch Rieflin play. Having been introduced to his playing in the late '80s and early '90s as part of Ministry, it's been a pleasure to be able to enjoy his musical prowess within other musical environs.

With Saturday under my belt, I headed home via the Nite Lite for a few hours of konk time before diving back into the madness of Bumbershoot Day 3.

[ the gone orchestra - sleepy time ]
photo by craig young

Mark Teppo:  Saturday promised to be the Big Crowd Day so I caught a moment to myself on the lawn beside the International Fountain before the crowds got so thick that you could drop a peanut and it would travel a hundred feet before finding enough space between bodies to drop to the grass. I perched myself and listened. There wasn't a whole lot of wind and the cacophony of voices hadn't become oppressive yet and, for fifteen minutes, Bumbershoot became this melange of flavors as musical styles echoed throughout the grounds. There was the rumbling thunder of the drum stage (of course) and, behind me, the echo of Pearl Django from the Bumbrella Stage, sounding as if it were being piped in Frontierland at Disneyland. Floating throughout this was the saxophone player from the Violent Femmes on the Main Stage--a tantalizing ethereal ghost which seemed to be coming from every direction. It was like being at the picnic table at a family reunion barbecue. I was getting assaulted by stimuli from every angle and it all seemed to be equally choice.

But I had to get started. There was a lot to see today. I was the only one who came off Friday with a good day of music. While the other eP lads had come away with slightly lower results of their first day, I had had an excellent time and was ready for day two. Unfortunately, my choices on day two weren't as stellar. I hit a slump during the early part of the day. Let's cover them quickly so that we can get back to the good stuff.

Alien Crime Syndicate. I shouldn't really lump them in this bunch. I missed most of their set and, unfortunately, can't distinguish them in my notes enough from Generator (who followed them on the Bumberclub Stage), so they're getting slagged by proxy. Sorry, boys. The only cable station that comes in on the TVs in the homes of the Generator gang is MTV and the only movie in their VCRs is Velvet Goldmine. This was a bunch who saw Orgy as the future of rock and roll. There is only one existence more soul-leechingly empty than that of a band which sees their raison d'être as covering New Order songs with an infinitesimal drop of emotional sincerity and a two fuzzed out guitar attack of fin de millennial angst and that is aping that sound.

[ another warm day at bumbershoot ]
photo by mark teppo

With Yoka Enzenze, I began to realize one of the flaws of Bumbershoot. All the information in the press packets and newspaper inserts for Bumbershoot lay out these blurby paragraphs about the bands in such a way that you think to miss one, you'll miss the Second Coming. Press releases are written to entice you. They're written to seduce you into spending your time with this band. However, with such a proliferation of talent around you, you can build your own musical thermometer, you can build you own scale by which to measure an "irrepressible rhythm." And what you are able to do is stand in the back of an audience and realize that one publicist's definition of "engaging stage antics" is another audience member's perception of what it must be like to have your feet nailed to the floor of a stage.

However, the flipside beauty of Bumbershoot is that you don't have to stay in one place. And, even though it does ruin your ability to actually stand still long enough to hear an entire performance, being able to nod your head once or twice and then get the hell out of a stage area is simply exquisite. Call me culturally deficient in the idiosyncrasies of the rhumba and the Soukous music of Zaire, but I was batting zero and Yoka Enzenze wasn't helping.

Neither did Lo'Jo. Statements heard and read about Lo'Jo: darlings of Womad '98; "Arabic melodies, Jamaican cross-tempos, Bohemian violin, African rhythms, and funky beats." Sensation felt while watching one of several shows that Lo'Jo put on during the weekend: an artifical memory of wandering down the narrow streets in Paris and hearing the sad sound of an accordion drift down from a window. And that is a stereotype because I don't think I ever saw a single accordion during the entire time I was in France. But all Lo'Jo did was remind me that I wasn't in Paris and that is not a thought that'll pull you out of a nose-dive.

I was saved by Juno. They were starting a tour the next day; the Bumbershoot stop an opportunity to blow out cobwebs and tighten their live act before taking to the road. Not that they needed the practice. Soaring and crashing, their thick blanket of guitar sound filled the Bumberclub and blasted apart the funk I had fallen into. Tender? No. Brutal? No. Some caressing combination in between? Yes. Arlie Carstens has left his immobilizing accident behind him and, though not as Pete Townsend-y limber as the rest of the band, he matched their frenzy with the strength of his voice. Juno is a band that reminds you that a couple of guitars, a driven rhythm section, and the caustic heartbreak of a man losing an argument with himself at the microphone is still the reason that kids these days aren't interested in classical music.

[ skerik gives it up during trilon's set ]
photo by mark teppo

Outside, in the daylit world, the Seattle Center began to groan with the presence of so many feet. Big Crowd Day was in full swing. Whereas prior, you could just drop in on things, you suddenly had to consider the possibility that some shows were only going to be accessible if you were amenable to standing in line for an hour or more. Suddenly the casual act of "checking out the music" became this studied examination of the schedules to see what you were going to miss in order to catch some other act. And the last minute decision makers? They and I stood around a lot that afternoon, scratching our heads, wondering what to do with ourselves as the Andrei Codrescu/Anselm Hollo poetry reading was sardine packed before we even got there and the One Reel Short Film Festival line sprouted like a string of taffy expanding in the summer heat. Hey, I just wanted to see "Johnny Bagpipes" again. I didn't want to stand around for an hour so that I could sit for another hour so that I could see a fifteen minute short. Just wasn't going to happen. Cut your losses. Move on.

Saved again by Trilon. Composed of Skerik, Reggie Watts, Brad Hauser, and Michael Shrieve with Michael Carbello sitting in on the congas, this cluster of innovative musicians was a joy to watch. Heavy on the improvisations, Skerik and Watts took turns elating and charming the audience with their back and forth rapport while Hauser and Shrieve kept the background tight with their rhythm section. I have to admit that I caught some version of this group when they opened for Meridiem back in January and wasn't moved. I'm chalking it up to naiveté and I'm telling you now so that you can avoid the embarrassment of missing these guys play. Tight, funky, groovy, elastic. Oh, the adjectives are endless. Just see them play. Hell, catch any of them singly.

An aside: I'm missing Maktub--Reggie Watts' other band--tonight to write up this review. The only consolation is that I caught Maktub on Sunday. Somehow it isn't consoling me all that much. And Jude Bowerman is playing in Olympia tonight as well. Kids, this is what happens when you procrastinate. Don't end up like me, home writing on a Friday night two days past a deadline while fantastic music is being played in town. I'm going to start drinking in a few minutes. [mark. you missed a great show! maktub were furiously sexy. --ed.]

Gone Orchestra: Aging Kesey aficionado wiggles hand over oscilloscope. Ten piece "orchestra" improvises "inventive, original, and playful" song structures behind. Single song lasts one hour. Film at 11. Entire show rebroadcast on local cable access at 4 am.

[ land on the kendall jackson stage ]
photo by craig young

Fearing the scourge of lines, Editor Man and I scoped seats during the Gone Orchestra's improvisational recreation of the heyday of swing and early Cold War utilization of short-wave radio transmissions so as to not miss LAND. One of the treats of living in Seattle is the cross-pollination of groups, disparate artists finding parallels in their interests and getting together to simply explore the opportunities of each others' expression. LAND is the brain child of Jeff Greinke, local ambienteer (that's "ambient pioneer" for those who are wrestling with my predilection for inventing words), and for this incarnation he pulled in Trey Gunn to augment regular members William Rieflin, Lesli Dalaba, and Dennis Rea. They spent an hour weaving exotic hazy landscapes of sound and rhythm. It was a welcome break from the distaff mob outside. We were safe behind doors, draped over seats, having our noggins expanded and taken to distant planes of existence through the ambient window of Greinke's compositions, propelled by the sonic chicanery of Rea's Frippertronic-inclined guitar work, grounded by the persistent click of Rieflin's drum work, called upon by the distant bugling of Dalaba's treated trumpet, and humped across the flickering landscape like a load of bison by Gunn's insistent and throbbing Warr Guitar. (No peaks, no valleys. Sheesh. You can always spot the ones with the 3 minute punk song mentality in the audience.)

I ended Saturday in the photo pit at Mojo Nixon. The One Reel staff had been having a wee bit o' fun with me earlier and, although I wasn't sure of their admonition that all photographers for Mojo Nixon were required to shoot in the nude, I did pace my caloric intake accordingly. If I was going to have to strip to the bare, I didn't need that poochy, post-Rita's Burrito stomach to knock Mojo off his game. I needn't have worried. About the naked thing. Nor about knocking Mojo for a loop. The alterna-Y2K apocalypse (that would be the black hole coming out of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in NY when scientists use the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider to spang together a couple of gold ions so as to get a glimpse of glark-gluon plasma (read Big Bang stuff)--you know, that apocalypse) couldn't even knock Mojo out of the zone. The ceiling tiles from the Kingdome and most of the overpriced hot dogs from Safeco Field would be getting sucked past the Schwarzschild radius ("event horizon" is so last year's science) and Mojo wouldn't even be ruffled; he'd call out for an "Amen!" and launch into the next verse of "Debbie Gibson is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child." Mojo is a wild combination: part spitfire country preacher, part hillbilly rocker, part spokesperson for the National Association of Artists Insistent on Using Words and Phrases that Would Not Get Them Invited Back Next Year. Backed by the Toadliquor rhythm section, he spun into an hour and a half of social commentary and hysterical lyrics that required repeated listening--only because you were laughing so damn hard the first time around. Most of the audience weren't Mojo virgins, belting out the choruses and turning the lawn in front of the Blues Stage into a revival meeting sure to rock the foundations of the Pacific Science Center.


[ mojo nixon preachin' the good word ]
photo by mark teppo

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