Bumbershoot Bumbershoot, Day 2: “I am a madman, yay!”
posted by September 1 at 11:28 AMon
Random observation/newsflash: There are a lotta effin’ white people up in this piece.
Now on with our regularly scheduled B-shoot wrap-up.
Howlin Rain are first on my agenda today, and from song one, the northern California quintet unapologetically fling us all back to 1970 with rock so elemental and soulful they could be pushing a particularly virulent strain of Christian fundamentalism and I wouldn’t give a damn. Front man Ethan Miller (Comets on Fire) finesses out ululating, whammy-barred solos with lumberjack force while Joel Robinow’s Nord Electro 2 swells provide Howlin Rain’s crucial foundation and swirling embellishments. Punk never happened for Howlin Rain and the crowd’s quite all right with that.
Howlin Rain’s Ethan Miller pours it on. Photos by Corey Bayless.
Set highlight “Lord Have Mercy” climaxed with a deity-summoning raveup and feral, snarling solo from Miller, evoking what Blue Cheer would sound like if laced with the Allman Brothers Band’s DNA. Howlin Rain go right up to the precipice of masturbatory hard-rock excess, but peel back before plummeting into Spinal Tap-esque parody.
After the set, a white guy who probably hadn’t yet reached drinking age said, “I was waiting for demons to pop up. Man, that was loud. I got good hearing. I gotta save it for Stone Temple Pilots.” He was doing so well for a while there…
Over at Fisher Green stage, eight members of Orgone were laying down the kind of funk and afrobeat that keeps our species alive and vital. A particularly spirited, cowbell-intensive rendition of Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa” made me think that it should be adopted by Obama posthaste as his theme song. You know, for that extra push late in the campaign.
Orgone transitioned from song to song without pauses for a half dozen tracks, making seamless segues, as if they were their own DJs. It’s awesome. When vocalist Fanny Franklin entered the fray, things moved into a more conventional Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings soul-funk revue mode. “Seattle, are you on the grass?” Franklin asks with a double entendre so obvious I’m surprised I haven’t heard it before. It is established that, yes, Seattle is indeed on the grass.
Orgone percussionist Stewart Killen
Orgone are a well-oiled funk/afrobeat machine, ideal for outdoor summer fests (although it felt more like fall Sunday) and percussionist Stewart Killen was a motherfucker on his diverse kit. During one Fela Kuti-esque joint, a dad held his infant daughter aloft as if she were flying as he wove through the throng. (Don’t worry, she had headphones on.) Cutest thing at Bumbershoot… maybe ever. But pops should’ve waited till Orgone covered “I Get Lifted.” Just sayin’…
I was pumped to see Brother Ali, the greatest albino Muslim rapper of our time, but I mistakenly figured that Exhibition Hall would by now have solved its worst-sounding-venue-in-the-world issues. Not the case. All definition from all frequencies of the sound spectrum are lost in the vast rectangle of hard surfaces here.
Nevertheless, Ali had the large, largely youthful crowd (the power of Rhymesayers empire surely has elevated his profile) eating out of his very pale hands from jump. If Brother Ali had commanded his fans to piss into the mouth of the person next to him/her, everyone would be gargling urine within seconds. Ali’s stage presence is authoritative without being thuggishly macho and his voice has a confident, Ice Cube-like timbre to it. He fearlessly speaks truth to power and delivers affecting personal tales, too. What a shame that “Uncle Sam Goddamn,” one of the best tracks of 2007, was neutered in this nuance-nullifying box.
I bounced outta there to check Lee “Scratch” Perry at Fisher Green. He came on about 20 minutes late, donning a silver glitter hat with incense sticks burning on its crown. The 72-year-old dub-producer legend now emphasizes his crazy ol’ front-man persona over sonic invention. Perry’s backing band—the White Belly Rats—play their stadium dub with supreme competence, but much of the set tonight seemed dead in the ass (even the Bob Marley covers, brah) and Lee’s onstage patter and lyrics inspired more head-shaking than admiration.
Lee “Scratch” Perry: mad as a hatter
“I am a madman, yay!” went the refrain from one track. Other lyrics reflected on partying and young pussy, with “Pum Pum” containing this gem: “Pussy may come, pussy may go, but Jesus Christ remain”; whatever you say, boss. Check the video for the track on his MySpace for some serious creepiness.
The most cogent thing Perry said all night was, “Let’s ban cigarettes and legalize ganja in Seattle.” He exited the stage with, “We gotta have some peace.” Right?