Bumbershoot: Reveling in Revivalism

My favorite thing about Bumbershoot are the Revival Acts: the aging bands you missed out on the first time around because you were too young, too dumb, too stoned, too broke or too lazy. Over 11 summers—some, like this one, that actually merit the term—I’ve seen just about every band I’ve ever wanted to see, musically speaking. As our editor in chief wrote in her September editor’s note, “we’ve got more entertainment than we could possibly need” in the Great Northwest. So even those years when nothing on the Bumbershoot lineup blows me away (last year I opted out of the music altogether to sample readings and performances instead), there are always, comfortingly, the Revival Acts. 

This year, that meant Heart, Maceo Parker, Gary Numan, the Zombies, the Breeders, Bob Mould, Superchunk, and Death Cab for Cutie playing the whole of their 2003 album Transatlanticism. I love the extreme eclecticism of Bumbershoot lineups, just like I love watching stoners, soldiers, suburbanites and in-character zombies mingle with fit old hippies in their Bumbershoot T-shirts from decades past. And all of them wearing glowing neon jewelry and eating Shishkaberrys. Instead of “something for everyone,” the takeaway seems to be “everything is for everyone.” 

I missed a major opportunity to rejoice in collective wish fulfillment when Heart played Bumbershoot for the first time ever on Saturday night. Following Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, the sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson and their band were reportedly joined on the Key Arena stage by Bonham in a crazy-good rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” and a few other Zep tunes. The Total Experience Gospel Choir also guested. And I heard they played all the hits, all of which I deeply love. Complacency at festival time and Fall Arts Season is the curse of living in this vibrant city for too long. 

Gary Numan? I heard him playing live on KEXP from their private stage, and sounding pretty fresh and modern for a dude who is synonymous with an extremely dated synth-pop hit (“Cars”). A friend who witnessed the live performance praised his healthy physique and remarked, “Gary Numan is Trent Reznor’s older brother.”

Bob Mould? As daylight was slipping away on Sunday, he played an excellent, continuous recounting of his hits and a few Husker Du songs, by the major fans’ accounts. For the minor fans, it was a perfectly propulsive ’90s indie rock set for an idyllic day of beer gardening and people watching. The ’90s revival dudes went on in midday and early evening, and then acts like Matt and Kim, Beats Antique and an EDM DJ of the Moment (Bassnectar, this year) appeared after 9 p.m., when the kids are ready to party and everyone else has gone home. 

Death Cab? If you arrived at showtime, you were greeted with a message from security: “We’re at capacity.” I’m not sure how I feel about Key Arena having been the mainstage these past couple of years, versus Memorial Stadium. In the past watching revival artists like Blondie and A Tribe Called Quest in the massive outdoor stadium could feel empty no matter the caliber of star performing—but at least everyone could always get in.

The tough decision of Sunday night was whether to split time between the Zombies and the Breeders, who were playing on stages too far apart to encourage bouncing back and forth, or just stick to one or the other. After two Breeders songs, part of my group left for the Zombies and never came back. They reportedly loved what they saw. But my companion and I were so entranced with the Breeders, who played every song from Last Splash and some from Pod, that we were rooted in place. As a teenager of the ’90s, I love the Breeders, but I remember most vividly their hit “Cannonball” as a novelty song, with meaningless lyrics and a video fit for Beavis & Butthead-style skewering.

They got that fun-but-underwhelming song out of the way fast and proceeded to demonstrate how thoughtful, intricate and multifaceted their weird brand of indie rock is/was. Here’s a song with a fantastic surf rock influence. Here’s a sweet country two-step with a kick-ass fiddle solo. Here’s “Divine Hammer”—how the hell could I forget that one? Sexy without trying to be, the heavenly voiced Kim Deal (who we saw a lot of during the Great Pixies Revival of ’04-’05) thanked the crowd a few times for the opportunity to perform. It was neither depressing nor phony. Her band’s good vibes radiated outward on the lawn of Fisher Green, reminding me of that time when you could hear the Breeders, Weezer, Hole, Mazzy Star, Smashing Pumpkins and Beck on mainstream radio. None of it made any sense put next to the other, but if you had a sense of humor, you loved it all. Having open ears for what might come next made music exciting. Kinda like Bumbershoot. 

Photo of the Breeders by Victoria VanBruinisse