Bumbershoot 2014 – Day 1 – SZA, Cumulus, Poliça

Bumbershoot 2014

Saturday August 30:

muno and bumbershoot credentials

The press room was quiet, most of the snacks gone, when I arrived a little after 1:00. I got my credentials from the desk and found a table where I booted my laptop and looked at the schedule of bands and other events for the day. A lot of the names were unknown to me, but that’s part of the point. These kinds of festivals are as much about finding new stuff as they are about seeing bands you love get a little more exposure. I noticed an artist by the name of SZA was playing the Fountain Lawn Stage at 2:00. Perfect. That would give time to make some preliminary notes and maybe fetch the last bagel from the snack table. SZA’s description on the Bumbershoot website described her as an “Electo-soulstress” inspired by the likes of “John Coltrane, Satchmo, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, and Björk.” I was curious.

When I got the stage just before 2:00, they were still setting up on stage. Drums, keys, and bass all checked their levels. The bass player plucked out a few cool grooves. It gave me a good feeling. After about ten minutes, a guy came out to check the vocal mic. “Check, check, check. Waiting for Sizza.” Ah, that’s how it’s pronounced, Sizza. “Check, check. Need a high pass on this if you could. Check, check, check. Yeah, man, cool. That’s perfect. All right. We’re a little late in getting here, but let’s give it up for Sizza!” There was applause, and there was SZA on stage as the music started. A mellow R&B groove, not bad, but not great, very nondescript. Her voice was the same. It just didn’t move me.

SZA seemed nice enough in joking about being late because of the traffic and rain and apologizing for how her hair looked. She was eager to get on with it, to kick out the jams so to speak. “Let’s get on with this shit.” And they did, but for me it didn’t go anywhere. The grooves were decent, but the mix was muddled and bass heavy so I left after the second song thinking that I might well be missing her best stuff, but there was too much happening in the day to worry about that.

Cumulus, playing the smaller Pavilion Stage, was next on my list. They’re a Seattle band so I was curious as I’m always looking for good local bands to write about. With my book coming out this November, I’ve had the idea proposed to me that it should be a series, two, three, four volumes all about Seattle music. That wasn’t the idea originally, but if I find the right bands, who knows? With the first song Cumulus played, I thought that might possible. It was a slow, building groove, a little spacey, open, nit not empty, open in the sense that it’s inviting, one can crawl into it. There was a break, some reverb-laden guitar, a slow build back in. Two chords over and over, but it wasn’t just two chords. Music is great that way. Something simple can be expansive, can grow and leap and twist into an almost galloping drum ending over some deceptively soft vocals, “ooh hoo woo hoo ooh ooh.” It was very cool Listen to the first track they played on SMI Radio.

But then they changed. The second and third songs took a different turn, more pop-like, more upbeat. They lost their sense of space. I wanted a whole set of that first song and its like. That was their sound for me. It reminded me of when I wrote about the Pink Slips. They weren’t bad in their more rocking elements, but they did an acoustic thing on KISW that I love. That should be their sound. And for Cumulus, it was that first song. That’s their element. I made note of that and left after the third song with the same thought I had when leaving SZA’s show. Maybe I’m missing their best stuff. With Cumulus though, they had one tune that struck me, that drew me in, so I’m open to seeing them again. Maybe a second show will pull me in all the way.

I figured to catch one more show before heading back to the press room so I headed over to the KEXP Music Lounge to see Poliça (pronounced Polisa). Like SZA, I knew nothing about them, but I like the shows in that smaller room. The sound is good there, as is the vibe from the live radio aspect. I sat in the front row with the other writers and photographers as the band members were setting up and was intrigued by the singer’s vocal set up, She was running her mic into an onstage pedal board and setting delays and reverbs and such, and heavily so. It reminded me of some of the vocal effects on Jane’s Addiction’s “Three Days” where the delays go on and carry through phrases and measures and solos.

But this was more so. I couldn’t make out a word she said, and so when the music started, her voice was more like a rhythm instrument in some ways for all the space it covered, but still, it was the lead. Another thing about the band was the lack of guitar. They had two drummers, a bass, and some samples. That was it, but it wasn’t lacking. The bass was spot on, tight with the thump of the drums, blended well with the vocal layers but carving out its own space in the mix, and I never once wanted for guitar, especially with the distorted-guitar-like samples used in their last song, ‘Amongster,” my favorite.

With two drummers, the rhythmic possibilities opened up. The drummers didn’t duplicate each other. They layered things much like some bands with one drummer might add samples to fill in some rhythmic spaces. Poliça had samples too, and when it was all over, I didn’t want it to be.

Good music is orgasmic in a sense. It drains me. I need a rest afterward, a break, time to recharge. So I went to the beer garden and then back to the press room, and then home, even skipped Elvis Costello and the talk that the writers from the Simpsons were giving. Instead, I sat on my couch, glad to be away form the crowds, and listened to Poliça with a Blue Moon in hand and my finger poised on the replay button.

Verdict for Bumbershoot 2014 Day 1? Success.


Dave O’Leary is a writer and musician living in Seattle. The Music Book, his second novel, was published by Booktrope in September 2014. In addition to writing for Northwest Music Scene, he has also had work published in The Monarch Review and on Slate.com. Visit his website at http://www.daveoleary.net. Photo by Stacy Albright, stacyalbrightimages.com.

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