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September 2009

Profane/Sacred

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After a long, meandering Sunday out in Seattle's damp, fall-like weather, my Bumbershoot closed with a trio of memorable acts, bookended by No Age's lo-fi intensity and MSTRKRFT's rave-like dance party. But Toronto's Holy Fuck, who played the outdoor stage on Broad Street, was something else altogether. They have a drummer (Matt Schulz), a bassist (Matt McQuaid) and a pair of multi-instrumentalists (Brian Borcherdt, Graham Walsh) who play a variety of keyboards and tabletop electronics. The only lyrics are occasional and nonsensical, sung through distorted mics (something they share with their UK namesakes Fuck Buttons.) From the minute they hit the stage, they were a bundle of energy, jumping and twirling around to their self-made beats. 

But, there was something else going on here. The music was complex and well-built, closer to electro-acoustic than indie-electronic. At quieter points, their sound bordered on experimental; at others, funky groove. For all their onstage dancing, it was clear that these are some serious musicians, after much bigger game than your typical indie kids.

They closed with their soaring anthem, "Lovely Allen," which begins with a simple, synthesized theme before the drums and bass come crashing in, sending everyone into ecstatics. They let the music die out, then built it up again to an unbelievable crescendo, filled in with layer-upon-layer of sound, too many to decipher in a single hearing. It was so pretty and profound, it was almost impossible not to tear up. Simply put, one of the most transporting musical experiences I've ever had - including those I've had in concert halls.

There is something curious about the fact that a band with the name Holy Fuck is capable of these sorts of transcendences. No doubt they've been told by countless record company execs/father figures that their name is an obstacle to success, that they should call themselves something more family-appropriate and cash in. (To wit: they were denied a Canadian arts grant because of obscenity laws.) Is it that they just don't care? Or, are they arrogant enough to believe that what they've tapped into is so deep and powerful that eventually people will have to start saying their name? And that, by so doing, we'll all be a little less uptight and self-restrictive?

Say the name. Say it. Again. 


Under the Umbrella

Bumbershoot, which is happening this weekend in Seattle, may be the most eclectic music and arts festival in America. Spread across downtown's Seattle Center - home of the Space Needle and the Experience Music Project - there are comedy stages, theater and film presentations, visual art shows, and no fewer than seven music stages, featuring everything from indie, to roots, to straight-up jazz. The organization is of a generally high quality, though I did get harassed and eventually booted trying to bring my camera into Memorial Stadium to see Cold War Kids. No matter: all the good stuff can be found out on the perimeter stages. Like Seattle's own Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band (pictured) who played a dark, apocalyptic set of off-kilter rhythms and quirky chords invested with extreme energy that made me sit up and listen. Other highlights so far have included Hey Marseilles (gypsy and swelled strings), The Duke and the Duchess (dark lyrics with a silver lining), and Extra Golden's sunny Afrobeat, led by a beaming Kenyan singer who was like the gentler version of Fela, magically making everyone dance in the sun and the rain, of which there are plenty of both. IMG00265.jpg

North by Northwest

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Greetings from Seattle, where it's cloudy, wet and about 15 degrees cooler than it was when I left New York on Friday. Fortunately, the residents of the Emerald City have plenty of indoor diversions to keep themselves occupied - not the least of which is a vibrant music scene, primarily centered around the clubs on Capitol Hill. Last night, I ended up in the Comet Tavern on Pike Street, one of Seattle's oldest bars with $3 beers and an $8 cover for a bill of 60's-sounding garage that seems to be all the rage out here on the left coast. (See Oakland's Thee Oh Sees.) San Francisco trio Ty Segall combine trippy chords with off-kilter beats, while Tacoma's The Fucking Eagles brought a full-on rock revue, complete with a pair of tambourine-wielding backup singers and an absolute beast of a drummer who had more energy than the rest of the band, combined. 

More crappy weather today, but I'm still psyched to be headed out to Bumbershoot this afternoon, Seattle's premier music and arts festival, now in its 39th year. After this soggy summer, I'd almost be disappointed if weren't raining. (More pics below.)

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Orchestral Maneuvers

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D.C. post hardcore band Shudder to Think reunited after a 10 year hiatus this past Wednesday at Bowery Ballroom, performing two sets from their 80's and 90's catalog. In between, lead singer Craig Wedren performed a set of new songs he's written with NY composer Jefferson Friedman, accompanied by the entire membership of ACME (American Contemporary Music Ensemble). As far as I know, this was the first time a new music ensemble has performed at a Bowery Presents venue; guess places like LPR have shown that, done right, it isn't as scary as it might seem. (More pics below.)   

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