Day two of the Sub Pop festival was an abbreviated one for me, so I missed the reunited Green River and Beechwood Sparks as well as Wolf Parade. Sacrilege, I know, but having kids puts a dent in my rock and roll lifestyle. Even having missed those bands, my day was still pretty good. Once again I got there early enough to see an empty Marymoor. This time though I walked in only a few minutes before the Ruby Suns were about to play. The band, if you can call them that, are down to two people. Not sure what happened to the third member, but Ryan McPhun alluded to this being he first time they’d played as a duo. I had seen them a few months back and been disappointed in their live show, so my expectations weren’t very high for them. The fact that their set seemed to be marred by sound problems with their backing tracks took away from any momentum they could muster with double drum attack. The sound problems weren’t audible to the small group of people watching, so they should have just played instead of making faces to the sound guy the entire set. The double drumming parts were good, but again it comes nowhere near their albums. What they need for their live show is a drum core, horns, strings, guitars and bass. Go buy their albums so they can afford to bring all that on their next tour.
In between Ruby Suns and Grand Archives I made my way to the beer garden for another tasty Snoqualmie Wildcat IPA. I know there were some complaints about the “expensive beer” but $6 microbrews at a festival is not expensive. People in Seattle don’t know how good they’ve got it, anywhere else you’d be paying $10 for crap beer. Oh yeah, Grand Archives. They look a lot tougher than they sound , but that’s not meant as a put down, it’s just that front guy Mat Brooke looks a bit like a kick-ass Hell’s Angel which belies the sweet melodies that come out of his mouth. I should have already seen these guys live, them being from Seattle and playing here a bunch, but this was actually my first time seeing them live. Until this day, I thought the album was a little underwhelming, but now having seen them live it puts it in a different light. Their set was so good it totally changed my opinion of them, and I’ve gone back and listened to their album three times in as many days. I’ve seen where they do Left Banke and Bee Gees covers in their set. The connection is a no brainer when you hear their songs up close, the melodies and backing harmonies are direct descendants of those bands. There weren’t any covers in their set, but they did include a couple new songs. Grand Archives’ set made me not so bummed to have missed the Beachwood Sparks later in the day.
Blitzen Trapper are the third band of the day and finally a few people are starting to arrive at Marymoor. It seems like the second day attendance is a little off from day one. I know that Saturday had sold out a week in advance, but Sunday still had tickets available. Hailing from down the I-5 in Portland, Blitzen Trapper signed to Sub Pop about a year ago, they have three albums to date, none on their current label, and none that I’ve actually heard. They seem pretty earnest, with their Dylan crossed with Creedence indie rock.
Seattleites, Kinski opened the smaller stage with a little shock and awe. Their rollicking garage jams have few lyrics, but none are really needed. Their (mostly) instrumental cowboy space rock was kick in the pants after a mellow morning and got the adrenaline flowing.
Foals didn’t let the energy created by Kinski drop even a little. In fact, the Foals came to play, and the totally lit it up. The band are just as tight as the first time I saw them back in February at Chop Suey on their inaugural visit to Seattle, except now they seem to have everything down a bit better. A much more confident band strode on stage Sunday allowing them to inject a looser feel to their wound up highly synchronized rock. Right from the start, Yannis Philippakis had a manic energy about him, grabbing the mic and bouncing it off of his drum, and then lashing out at his amp at the end of the French Open, slamming his guitar neck into his amp leaving a gaping hole in it. He then turned to the mic and smirkingly said This is the third time we’ve been to Seattle, and every time we come here, shit breaks. That’s why we like it here! He wasn’t kidding either, because a few songs later the drummer broke his snare drum. This kind of stuff would normally kill a band’s set, but they seemed to feed off of it. Later in the set guitarist Jimmy Smith hunched over, which is the way he normally plays, and blew chunks of vomit on the stage. Philippakis mocked him after the song, with some quip about stinking up the stage, but Smith persevered and the band seemed to kick the energy up another level. Their album is good, but live, these guys are playing at another level. The guitars ping-pong around the stage and the precise song arrangements are executed as if the band are in some kind of mind meld. Bruce Pavitt seemed to be impressed, because I saw him lunging through the crowd with his camera to get some shots of the clinic Foals were putting on. The Foals set could be summed up by saying shit broke, the band rocked, the guitarist puked and more shit broke!
My friend Jim in Albany has a funny story about Les Thugs. He was at a CMJ Convention in New York and Les Thugs were on the bill, he overheard someone ask who was the next band to play, and the answer was (in heavy American stoner accent) It’s Less Thugs dude. Well as I turned to head over to the second stage I heard a guy telling his girlfriend Less Thugs is next. Poor French band, nobody can say their name right. No matter, after all these years they can still rock, even after minor technical difficulties at the start of their set. I always liked the songs where they would get into these long repetitious Can-like jams, that’s when they really clicked. They did that a few times in their set Sunday, seemingly putting everyone, myself included, into a French style punk induced trance.
No Age are the latest in a lineage of guitar and drum duos on Sub Pop. But unlike the Spinanes new wave and the Helio Sequence’s moody miasma, No Age are more akin to the SoCal school of punk mixed with needels in the red, shreds of noise from bands like Times New Viking. Their sound is geared more towards someone’s garage or basement instead or the huge outdoor setting of Marymoor. It seems like these guitar and drum bands always have a few really killer songs and the rest is filler, or maybe the dynamic wears thin over the course of an album making you just scream for a bass guitar by the end of it to fill out the sound. No Age don’t really prove any exception to this, their set was ok, and drummer Dean Spunt has kind of a goofy smart ass persona. He came out from behind his kit at one point and just sat on a monitor dangling his feet over the edge of the stage. I half expected him to do something crazy like kick a photographer or jump into the crowd, but he just casually got up and went back behind his drums. It’s kind of analogous to their music, you can see the potential for great things just under the surface and you keep waiting for it, but it never really arrives.
After No Age, I had to get back home, but even missing the last part of the day on Sunday, what a great weekend of music! I didn’t even mention the other extracurricular activities affiliated with Sub Pop’s 20th that were happening around town all weekend. You can read a couple Seattle and Sub Pop insiders’ run down of the weekend over at Blurt and General Bonkers. The Marymoor two day festival was just about perfect as far as festival go. The weather was perfect, not too crowded, beer wasn’t too expensive and you could actually walk around with a beer, you weren’t relegated to fenced off beer garden. The music was an excellent representation of the old Sub Pop and the new Sub Pop. The sound of the music being released by the label may sound different from 20 years ago, but the ideas and philosophy haven’t. People this weekend embraced both the old and the new from a label that looks like it’s never been better. So really, not much has changed, only now Sub Pop is 20 years old.