As you've no doubt already been beaten over the head with multiple times, Sub Pop celebrated their twentieth anniversary with a music festival last weekend. Science Girl and I were there for the second day – the first day having been mostly loaded with the sort of twee beardling stuff the label specializes in these days.
Before I jump into a quick rundown of the show, I'd like to take a moment and acknowledge the great job done by the King County Parks Department, King County Sherriff's Department, and, um, whoever ran the show. Outdoor shows can be a pain in the ass, to say the very least, so I was very pleasantly surprised by how well this thing came off. Security was present but relaxed, alcohol sales were sane (IDs checked and wristbands given, and after that if you wanted to walk around with your $6 beer, you could do so – drinking was not confined to the usual feed pen/"beer garden"), and the grounds were patrolled regularly by Parks Dept. employees picking up trash and recyclables. The switchover from one stage to the next was fairly seamless, the sound was amazingly good, and the food was really tasty (pulled pork sandwich, red beans & rice, and some of the best greens I've ever had). A tip of the Big Green House cap (available at the merch table) to all involved.
We showed up a little late – hey, it was Sunday, which is sleep-in day in our house – so we missed the first couple of bands. The somewhat somnolent Grand Archive was playing as we arrived. They weren't as dire as I'd thought they'd be, which actually brings up another point I wanted to make: although there were a number of bands playing the show that I really wasn't all that interested in, I'm happy to report that none of them (the aforementioned Grand Archive, Foals, No Age, Red Red Meat, and Beachwood Sparks) outright sucked. This may seem to be damning them with faint praise, and I guess it is in a way, but mostly I'm just expressing relief. There really isn't anywhere to hide from bad sounds at Marymoor Park, so it is indeed fortunate that we never felt the need to do so.
As for the bands we were there to hear: first up was Kinski. I was a little apprehensive as to how their sound would work in an outdoor setting. As it turns out, that really wasn't much of a problem, since they focused on tunes from the last couple of albums; the band seems to be heading in a somewhat garage-esque direction. They played a couple of the older, more space-oriented pieces, but on the whole the focus was more rama-lama (with some Sabbath-y bits) than the sort of ambient whale songs they used to do. Also, all three of the songs with actual Chris Martin vocals (!) from Down Below It's Chaos were featured.
French pop-punks Les Thugs were all business, slamming through a high-energy set (once they got the OK - they had started and were asked to stop for about five minutes; my best guess is that there was some sort of glitch in the video cameras recording the proceedings.) Once they were able to get under way again, there was no looking back. As a middle-aged guy myself, I have to say that it's always heartening to see a group of (what appeared to be) similarly aged men ripping the shit out of their instruments, and Les Thugs did not disappoint in the least. Their sound, if you're unfamiliar with them (and don't feel bad if you are - I'd never heard of them before I moved here) is what you might get if you welded the Buzzcock's punk energy and pop sensibility to the thick guitar sound of your average shoegazer band. The highlight of the set, for me at least, was "I Love You So" - mostly because it's the song of theirs that I know best, but also because it's really good. Truthfully, though, they never let up throughout their too-short set. Here they are in France, recorded on July 4:
Given the hard-and-fast 40 minute set rule in play, most bands we heard got through at least eight to ten songs. Comets On Fire, on the other hand, played four, maybe five. It's kinda hard to tell, since some of their pieces tend to flow into one another. At any rate, they got cut shorter than they'd planned, which was a real shame - especially since, depending on who you listen to, they're either on a hiatus or split up altogether. Their full-on sonic assault was in fine fettle Sunday, with scraps of psychedilia, "free" music and heavy-duty stoner rock duking it out for supremacy. While some folks seem to have found the experience frightening and disorienting, as far as I could tell everyone around us was getting their hair blown back and loving every moment of it. I saw Mark Arm, Steve Turner (Mudhoney/Green River) and Matthew Reid-Schwartz (Kinski) all banging their heads offstage, while Kinski bassist Lucy Atkinson bopped along right next to Science Girl. Fun for the whole family!
Hey, look – video!
Which brings us to Green River. Green. Fucking. River. The Unholy Grail of legendary Seattle bands, the originators of Grunge (if you overlook The Melvins and The U-Men), super-group in reverse (members of the band went on to form Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, Love Battery, and, uh, some band called Pearl Jam), blah de blah. Whenever one of these blasts from the past get back together, it's always fraught with the possibilty of fatal embarrassment. A bunch of guys who haven't played together in umpteen years (aside from a couple quick rehearsals to see if they can still remember any of the songs) rolled out onstage in a blatant attempt at separating the faithful from their cash, and ultimately leaving a bad taste in the mouths of all concerned. Plus you've got the famous Mudhoney (represented by Mark Arm, vox, and Steve Turner, gtr) vs Pearl Jam (Jeff Ament, bass, and Stone Gossard, gtr) feud, right? What a recipe for disaster.
If that was the plan, it didn't work.
I wasn't here for the band's original tenure, so I don't have the rosy glow of nostalgia coloring my view of their set. All I can tell you is that it was far better than I would have thought possible. Everybody onstage was loose and having a good time, and the music (loud thick sludge, for those of you keeping score at home) was all the better for it. A glorious thick wave of sonic mayhem with Arm's patented Iggy screech and goofy stage presence on top made for a really fun set, and the first stage diving I’ve seen in donkey’s years. But why take my word for it? (Aside from the fact that I'm musically infallible, that is.) Someone was kind enough to shoot some video (from almost exactly the perspective we had) and post it to YouTube. Dig in, kids, while the proto-grunge is hot:
All in all, a grand day out. I was sorta regretting having shelled out for the tickets on the drive over to Marymoor, given the deeply regrettable experiences outdoor festivals so often are, but I have to say that this one was most definitely the best such show I’ve attended. I've been wanting to see Comets On Fire for awhile, so when I'd heard that they had split up (or were on hiatus, depending on who you listen to) I was pretty bummed. Imagine my glee when I saw them on the bill. And Les Thugs reformed specifically for this show. This was my one opportunity to see them. (Well, actually, they also played a free warm-up show at Neumo’s that Friday, but Science Girl was indisposed that night so we couldn’t make it.)
That’s probably the case with Green River, too, although there have been the inevitable rumors of the possibility of further activity on that front. As Mr. Arm put it in one interview I read, “I can't imagine a tour that Stone and Jeff would quit their day jobs for. [laughs] No matter how good the money might possibly be for Green River, it would not be anywhere near what they're making.” Which is a good point, really. I might counter that, if they were having as much fun as it seemed like they were, they might just forego they payday.
I hope to have some of our pictures up soon, if I can find the time to clean them up a bit – for the sets by Kinski and Les Thugs, we were shooting into the sun.