Bumbershoot Bumbershoot, Day 3: Battles Rule Seattle
posted by September 2 at 8:03 AMon
You know the deal with Dan Deacon, right? He’s not so much a musician—though he’s quite a fine one, when he gets around to it—as he is a summer camp counselor with power-drunk tendencies and control-freak issues. Deacon’s shows largely consist of him instructing his minions to sprint around, hold hands with audience members, slap high 5s, make random, whimsical gestures, form human tunnels through which others dance, and to generally break out of the conventions of a typical live musical event. At this he succeeds (kids will do anything he says), although the shtick can become tedious after about 15 minutes, and one wishes he’d focus more on his exceptional musical talents.
As usual, Deacon set up on the floor and immediately drew the mostly 21 and under Bumbershoot attendees around him, so he was obscured unless you were smack up against his gear. He began by chanting the Offspring’s famous chorus, “You gotta keep ’em separated” as if it were a sacred mantra. (The Offspring had just finished playing Memorial Stadium and Deacon mocked them sporadically throughout the afternoon.)
“Okie Dokey” started the set proper with some toytown Suicide à la “Rocket USA.” A small lime-green stuffed dinosaur was tossed around; you know the drill. Then came some more kiddie-punk Giorgio Moroder-esque/Martin Rev-like throbbing electronics, de-eroticized for the safety of minors. A new song was aired, sounding like uptempo bubblegum Neu!, a fab, percolating soundtrack to inspire incredible bursts of energy. It did the job.
(Spotted in the audience: a 40something guy with a looonnnggg curly mullet and a 20something dude in a tie-dyed onesie.)
After more “you gotta keep ’em separated” mockery, Deacon unleashed some of the most effusive electro pop ever, something so joyous it would’ve been too much for Mardi Gras and the Fourth of July combined. The track gradually slowed until it seemed like it was being sucked into a black hole, and then it was resurrected into a gruesome brown tone before transforming into a Boredoms-on-Ecstasy flourish. Jesus should be so lucky to have the Second Coming scored by this piece. (By the way, Deacon’s music somehow can thrive in Ex Hall’s abysmal acoustic environment, much more so than Brother Ali’s hiphop the day before.)
I needed some mundanity after Deacon, so I walked over to J. Boogie’s Dubtronic Science thing for some Latino funk and jazz, replete with flute, trombone, decks, and congas. Amid the feel-good jams, I was shocked to hear the theme song to ’60s TV show My Three Sons surface. Does anyone else remember that? Good, good.
On to the EMP Skychurch to catch a glimpse of Seattle quintet Feral Children. They packed the place and their surging, sinewy rock, with its memorable hooks and vocal quirks, triggered thoughts of Mission of Burma and Pixies. Feral Children—keep an ear on them.
At the Wells Fargo stage, Arthur & Yu eked out solemn, pensive folk non-rock. It was kind of dozy, marked by laggard mallet hits on the drums and sedate guitar strums. I felt an urgent need for Battles and some Rockstar Energy Drink, so I strode over to the stage bearing that brand name.
Battles cause Space Needle to genuflect, by Blush Photo
No contest, Battles ruled this Bumbershoot. Bassist Dave Konopka and guitarists Tyondai Braxton and Ian Williams all hold their weapons high on their chests, and somehow this adds to their nerdy übermenschen appeal. The first song started with Konopka’s momentous bass solo, before the other three joined in to instigate a hard, staccato clamor. Drummer John Stanier sounded way funkier than I recall him ever being. The next track used the sound of a car engine backfiring to create a hypnotic rhythm. Guitar riffs came at us like Taser zaps. Stanier proved himself time and again to be more precise and powerful than any drum machine. I wrote “vital and apocalyptic” in my notebook, the first time those adjectives have been scribbled so close together in my 25 years of music journalism.
Battles’ Tyondai Braxton: “Atlas” slugged, by Blush Photo
Battles’ guitarists also play keyboards and both finger their instruments with the sort of pointillist finesse that makes me think of King Crimson’s Robert Fripp and Soft Machine’s Mike Ratledge occupying the same body. (That sound you just heard was all the world’s prog-rock aficionados having multiple orgasms.) They generated thrilling hairpin dynamics and radiant textures, resulting in music that’s paradoxically lean and excessive (in all the right ways).
“Atlas,” of course, provoked the greatest crowd response. A “Rock & Roll Pt. 2” for an advanced alien race, the song is a strange new hybrid of glam, techno, and math rock. Braxton’s heliumized, loop-da-loop vocal acrobatics and a naggingly gripping keyboard motif that inverts the Get Smart theme make this a template for the future of… I’m not sure yet, but it’s damned exciting.
Battles ruled this Bumbershoot with awesome musicianship in the service of innovative ideas. It was as simple—and as complicated—as that.