Sub Pop 20 started off with a gaggle of people in front of the main stage. Apparently the rest of Seattle was not as excited about this festival as I was. My neighbor Bryan and I got there a little early and walked in as the gates opened at 11:00, I guess most people couldn’t be arsed to roll out of bed for the first bands of the day. Marymoor park has regular concerts in the summer, but for this occasion they had added a second, slightly smaller stage to the left of the main stage, so that there was literally no down time between bands. Never having been to Marymoor park, I was surprised at how small the actual concert venue was. Not that I’m complaining, it made for a relaxed day, not too crowded, lots of shade, and pretty easy to get up as close as you wanted to see the bands. I also saw both Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt numerous time throughout the the day, not on the side of the stage watching the bands but down on the ground, just like rest of us.
All that I had heard about the Obits was that it was Rick Froberg of Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes new band. Thats pretty cool in and of it self, but when the band took the stage Saturday, I thought I recognized someone else in the band. I wasn’t sure at first, but a few songs in I was pretty sure that the other guitarist in the band was Sohrab Habibion formerly of DC band Edsel. For any Edsel fans out there, you’ll be happy to know that Sohrab took the lead vocal for one of the songs, and his distinct guitar sound was very present and accounted for too. The band knocked off the cobwebs from an early 6am wakeup and playing the Funhouse the night before to put in a solid set of what I would call punk with a twist. The angsty vocals from Froberg and the guitar interplay made me look forward these these new Sub Pop signing’s first record.
Toronto, Canada’s the Constantines were up next. Can’t say that I’m a fan, but their bassist is pretty animated. They had a couple guests come up and sing the final two songs of their set. First Julie from Eric’s Trip sang the Elevators To Hell (An Eric’s Trip offshoot) song Why I didn’t like August 93, which I thought was the best song of their set. Next they covered the Rolling Stones Street Fighting Man with Red Red Meat’s Tim Rutili. Rutili, hurried off stage before the song was even over, like he’d lost a bet or something.
The second Canadian band in a row and of the day were Eric’s Trip. They also hold the distinction of being the first Canadian band to be signed to Sub Pop. Back in the mid-90’s when they were putting out albums, I kind or ignored them. Not sure why, because their anthemic indie rock sounds pretty timeless. That was immediately evident with their set this afternoon. Bassit, Julie Doiron hit all the right buttons (even when she messed up her ohh, ohhs) with her backing vocals and Rick Whites catchy melodies over a bed of distorted guitar haze just sounded so right. White nailed it when he said, We sound really good, For not getting high.
Seaweed were the first band of the day to play on the smaller stage right. It seemed like all the bands playing that stage were the punks. Like a lot of the bands playing this weekend, they’re in semi retirement as a band. Though not broken up, this Tacoma band aren’t exactly active. They, like a lot of bands this weekend had gotten back together to play for Sub Pop. Apparently singer Aaron Stauffer’s daughter is big Helio Sequence fan and made it a point to say that her favorite song is their song Blood Bleeds. Helio Sequence took note of this and specifically played Blood Bleeds for her. It seems like, now that Sub Pop is 20 years old, kids, and I mean children are more a part of the scene. I noticed a lot of parents brought their kids with them to the festival. It was cool to see such a diverse crowd and mix of ages, old guys walking around with Rocket t-shirts and mom’s holding their hands over their kid’s ears while rocking out. I even spotted numersous youngsters sitting up on stage watching bands. Back the Helio Sequenc, who are a duo of drums and guitar with the aid of backing tracks. They seemed to connect with the much Marymoor crowd. I like the Helio Sequence, but live they’re kinda boring, stuck to playing against a pre-recorded backing track.
Pissed Jeans were Definitely not boring. These Pennsylvania hard core boys mosh to the beat of a different tune. Throughout the set the singer kept stuffing towels down his pants for no apparent reason, until he looked all lumpy. He also blew his nose into the mic, shot luggies out at the audience and smashed ice cream cones into the bass guitar. So, this must have been what the early days of Sub Pop were really like, except they had longer hair back in those days.
From the hard core sounds of Pissed Jeans straight into the pastoral harmonies of Fleet Foxes took a bit of adjusting. I can’t imagine hearing these two bands back to back any other place. The Fleet Foxes have been crowned with the next big thing status, their album has been getting gushing reviews nearly all around. I agree that the record sounds great and has some good songs, but these guys have about zero stage presence. Front man Robin Pecknold insists on sitting on a chair while playing in front of a few thousand people, and then there were the uncomfortable long silences between songs. Things livened up a bit when drummer Josh Tillman got into a drum off with the Fluid drummer setting up on the stage next door. You could tell the band were visible annoyed by the drums and guitar blasts coming from the Fluid setting up. It almost seemed like Fluid were doing it on purpose, which wouldn’t surprise me since the these Denver punks were raging against bands that sounded like the Fleet Foxes back in the 80’s.
You never would have know that The Fluid were reuniting for the first time in 15 years. Their set was as tight as a knot boasting big crunchy guitar hooks, and choruses that reminded me of the Buzzcocks, and early Nick Lowe. Singer John Robinson looked smart, sporting a pink shirt, blue vest and striped tie, these colorado guys know how to dress, and rock. Robinson also made the day’s first foray into the crowd to test the crowd surfing. He was successful!
By this time of the day I was starting to detect a pattern between the stages. A kind of a slow-fast-slow -fast thing with the smaller stage sporting the early punk/grunge/hardcore sound of the label and the larger stage showcasing the Sup Pop of today, a little more mellow and understated. Providing no exception to this rule, slowcore specialists Low were next up on the main stage. Low’s minimalist and at the same time extremely intense sound filled the outdoors. I’ve always avoided seeing themlive thinking that they’d put me to sleep, but the music has an intensity that makes them very engaging. The highlight of the set for me was their song Canada one of their was more upbeat songs. The band ended their set inviting everyone to come visit them in Duluth, Minnesota, because according to singer Alan Sparhawk it’s always beautiful in Duluth.
Mudhoney packed it in. In a forty minute set they pretty much played all the hits and everyone pretty much went crazy. I think the band were just as excited as we were, with both Steve Turner and Mark Arm breaking strings from their intense fuzzed out guitar playing. There was much slamming and crowd surfing throughout the set, and for a brief moment it felt like it was 1992 again. Mark Arm still has that slithery Iggy like thing going on, the only difference was that the band weren’t back bending in those contortionist poses that were immortalized in Charles Peterson’s photography from the early Sub Pop days.
If you were looking for Eugene Kelly based on the old album photos of him with long hair, you’d never recognize him today. He’s an older looking fellow, with short hair, and actually has a very ‘dad’ look. Francis McKee, on the other hand, doesn’t look like she’s aged a day since the Vaselines called it a day back in 1990. The duo were backed up by the Belle and Sebastian rhythm section and guitarist Stevie Jackson. With this stellar set of ringers (Jackson’s guitar on You Think You’re a Man was simply perfect), Kelly & McKee seemed totally at ease playing their songs that they hadn’t played in more than 18 years. To say that the Vaselines are about sex is putting it mildly, and their stage banter wasn’t about to change that impression. Kelly introduced Monster Puss as being about McKee’s pussy and then Francis feeling bad for not having any t-shirts for sale, offered dry humps for $20. The songs, you ask? They sounded pretty damn amazing. What more can I say really. It was such an honor and pleasure to be able to see the Vaselines live. Everyone else seemed to feel the same way with smiles all around and tons of people singing along to the songs from this little band from Scottland. Something like this never would have happened if it wasn’t for a little label that could from the Pacific Northwest and a guy from Aberdeen.
The Vaselines were easily the highlight of the day and worth the price of admission alone, but the day wasn’t over yet. Sam Beam or Iron and Wine as he call himself came out all by his lonesome and filled the night air with his wistful acoustic pop. I can’t help but think that he’ll be playing Marymoor by his lonesome in the years to come. It was just about perfect music for the clear night sky and the moon hovering over the stage. Flight of the Concords were the closers this evening, but we opted to avoid the mad rush for the exit.