Beards, Blazers and Bumbershoot Day 1: The New Pornographers and Spoon
Okay, so there weren't any beards at Bumbershoot and you'd have even been hard-pressed to find a cheap pair of black plastic spectacles on any of the festival-goers faces'. It seems the hipster/scenester/jeepster scene hasn't made it's way out to Seattle. Perhaps this is why I consider Seattle the most underrated of all major American cities.
In fact, the crowd at Bumbershoot was markedly different than any show I've been to in a long time. First of all, it was young. Really young. As in if I were a betting man, I'd say that half the crowd that gathered to see The New Pornographers and Spoon didn't even have Driver's Licenses. Of course, the next logical statement is: where were these girls when I was 15 years old.
Judging from the youth of the crowd and the fact that they seemed to know every word to both bands' songs, my best advice to any man reading this blog is to head to Seattle in about six years. The girls might still be a tad on the young side, but compared to most of the girls that I've met in my twenty-something years in Los Angeles, I imagine they'll be a vast improvement.
After all, this is Los Angeles, home to 3,000,000 Justin Timberlake fans. Most of the girls I went to high school with would probably tell you that Spoon is nothing more than dining utensil (albeit a very useful one) and the New Pornographers are an incipient adult film company that recently launched in Chatsworth.
The New Pornographers: Because Old Pornographers Are Just GrossI didn't end up making it to any of the shows prior to the New Pornographers 1:00 p.m. set on Sunday afternoon. Sure, there were shows on Saturday, but catching a 30 years past their prime Blondie didn't really strike me as being all that appealing. Nor did catching the emo trifecta of Hawthorne Heights, AFI or Yellowcard. Of course, I woud've liked to have caught some of the other acts that played that day, most notably Rogue Wave, but there were more important things to do on a Saturday night in Seattle, like take back-to-back-to-back shots of Tequila, Jagermeister and Vodka, and then attempt to drink the rest of the town's supply of inexpensive alcohol. Needless to say, I discovered two things that Saturday night. 1. Hot Dogs with Cream Cheese are surprisingly delicious and 2. Mixing Whiskey, Tequila, Jagermeister, Vodka and Beer together will give you one of the most savage hangovers of your life
So this was the state I was in on Sunday afternoon, my brain feeling like each of its synapses was embroiled in a screaming knock-down drag-out brawl and my contacts having picked a wonderful time to break (particularly outstanding considering I hadn't brought a replacement pair).
Luckily if there was any band on earth designed to palliate the sorrows of a skull-crushing headache it would be the New Pornographers. I'd never seen the Pornographers before, but had probably listened to each of their albums at least 50 times each. And for good reason. You can search far and wide for better pop albums, but you won't find anything finer than Electric Version, Mass Romantic or Twin Cinema. In a just world, Timberlake would be scorned and maligned and A.C. Newman and the gang would push "Sexyback" where it belongs, as the soundtrack to a lower-rung of purgatory.
As I was half blind, I had to manuever to get a good spot to see the band, which was quite easy, as Bumbershoot might be one of the most user-friendly festivals I've ever been to. Despite my close proximity, I wasn't able to see the obvious fact that Neko Case didn't travel with the band to Bumbershoot, nor did Destroyer. Nonetheless, the set was transfixing. Watching the New Pornographers live is like watching Greg Maddux pitch in his prime. They might not rock the hardest and they might not have the most amazing stage presence, but every note and transition sounds clean and perfect, the sound large and clarion. It all comes down to the fundamentals.
In spite of the fact that they didn't have Case, the band ran through her songs anyway, including soothing note-perfect renditions of "The Laws Have Changed," "July Jones," and "The Jessica Numbers." Whoever they've got playing the Neko Case role did a damn fine job.
Naturally, the AC Newman songs were the stand-outs, if nothing else for the fact that he was the only songwriter in the band who showed up to play live. This was fine with me, as AC Newman might be the most underrated songwriter in music today. It's not that critics don't give the New Pornographers enough respect, they do. It's just that you don't hear AC Newman mentioned in the same breath as Sufjan Stevens. Ever. And while his songs may not carry the same emotional depth as Stevens, that same logic never stopped anyone from comparing Brian Wilson to John Lennon.
At any rate, Newman ran through his own songs with skill and aplomb, including "Twin Cinema," "Use It," and the closer, "Sing Me Spanish Techno." All in all, The New Pornographers might not have delivered the most electrifying set I've ever seen, but they definitely delivered one of the more entertaining ones. I've been long convinced that the band doesn't have the capacity to write a bad song, and seeing them live only deepened that conviction.
Download The New Pornographers--"Use It"
Britt Daniel and His Friendly Goblin-Friend Performing a Cover of "The Beast and Dragon, Adored"
If someone told me that Spoon was the best working band in the world I probably wouldn't disagree with them. After five full-length albums and several EP's, I've come to the conclusion that Britt Daniel is clearly a genius. No other band other than maybe Wilco has been as consistently brilliant as Spoon. As far as I'm concerned Series of Sneaks, Girls Can Tell, Kill the Moonlight and Gimme Fiction are certifiable classics and Telefono is a lot better than most people give it credit for. Sure, it sounds a lot like a Pixies album, but if you pretend that it's Frank Black on vocals, it's still probably better than Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde.
But despite the fact that Spoon has been on a Cal Ripken-esque streak of greatness since at least '98, I've never seen the band live. Chalk it up to my stupid names theory. Honestly, who'd have thought that a band named after an eating utensil would turn out to be so damned good (Knife fans get angry).
So needless to say, despite being halfway blind, hungover and sweating in the baking mid-day sun, I was amped to see one of my favorite bands, and in no way did they disappoint. Blasting out with "My Mathematical Mind," from Gimme Fiction, Britt Daniel and his gang immediately exploded into blistering waves of spiky sound spreading out across Seattle's Memorial Stadium, The stadium is built more for arena-rock acts like U2 or Radiohead, but Spoon had no problem filling the air with noise, as Daniel rifled off fierce and jagged riffs that could be heard outside the festival grounds. Meanwhile, Jim Eno kept a sturdy and thudding beat that revealed him to be the band's unsong hero.
From "My Mathematical Mind," the band launched into an explosive version of "Everything Hits At Once," as the energy of the set and the crowd continued to rise from the already high level that The New Pornographers had left it at. Other high points of the set included a raucous rendition of "Two Sides/Monsieur Valentine," and of course, "I Turn My Camera On," which along with "The Way We Get By," predictably drew the biggest reaction from the crowd.
Most festival sets are abbreviated and are often rushed as the band tries to sneak in as many songs as possible. Yet Spoon's set was one of the most impressive I've ever seen at a show of this stripe. Alloted a full hour and fifteen minutes, the band took up each second with cuts from all of their last four albums. During "The Beast and Dragon,Adored" Daniel even introduced comedian David Cross who did a hilarious pantomine to the words of the song, jumping, mincing and writhing across the stage, as though he were Tobias Funke. At one point, he even mooned the crowd.
By the time the band played its encore, "Small Stakes," they had proven their merit many times over. If you've never seen Spoon live, you're missing out. Full of charisma and prodigious guitar chops, Britt Daniel is one of the few front-men in indie rock that can be called a legitimate rock star. If they aren't the best band in the world, they're pretty damned close.
Download Spoon--"Change My Life,"