Bumbershoot day two: Tony Bennett, Sharon Jones, Lee Oskar, Mac Miller
A look at Day 2 of Bumbershoot 2012: Tony Bennett, Sharon Jones, Eldridge Gravy and Lee Oskar, plus the evening shows with Big Sean, Yelawolf, Mac Miller and Dirtbombs.
Writers wandered all over Bumbershoot on Sunday, taking in early, midday and late shows, from Tony Bennett to Lee Oskar to Big Sean. Their impressions, below:
Tony Bennett, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
If a tree falls at Bumbershoot and no fans hear it, does it make a sound?
Early Sunday, before the festival got under way, a crabapple tree — or at least a major branch of its trunk — crashed to the ground on the rim of the Mural Amphitheatre lawn. The multitudes of fans who arrived later were treated to the sound of buzzing chain saws as a crew made quick work of the branches. No one was injured and — also miraculously — the first act at the Mural, a gritty blues band from Texas led by Ty Curtis, took the stage on time.
The Curtis crew was just one of many pleasures taken in by an enthusiastic, multigenerational crowd dressed down in shorts and sandals and enjoying an unusually sunny Labor Day weekend. Among the afternoon highlights: a sterling set by Tony Bennett, a locomotive one by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, both during the afternoon at KeyArena, and a good-naturedly ironic tribute to Elvis Presley at the Seattle Center Pavilion, in honor of his appearance a half-century ago at the Seattle World's Fair.
Bennett, 86, must be taking sips from some secret fountain of youth. Though his voice rasps and he sometimes stabs at the high notes, Bennett managed to hold long tones in a rich, full voice on his big finishes — and, as always, there were lots of them, complete with extended, two-arm salute.
Wearing a white sport coat and black tie, the casually elegant singer said he and his jazz quartet — Lee Musiker, piano; Harold Jones, drums; Gary Sargent, guitar; Marshall Wood, bass — had just finished a long tour through Europe and Canada and he was happy to be "home." This was the last show of the tour, but he gave it his all, like the pro he is.
The concert was almost identical to the one he gave at the Paramount Theatre last December (minus the Christmas medley, of course), including stories about how Bob Hope gave him his stage moniker (birth name: Anthony Benedetto) and how Hank Williams called to say he hated Bennett's middle-of-the-road hit version of Williams' country classic "Cold, Cold Heart." But hey, they're good stories, worth repeating — never mind the songs, which are evergreens.
Bennett drew out the pathos on "Cold, Cold Heart" (pace Hank); swung the heck out of "The Way You Look Tonight"; nailed the finishes of "Once Upon A Time" and "For Once in My Life"; sang the seldom-heard verse ("introduction") to Johnny Mandel's bossa nova hit, "The Shadow of Your Smile"; and, amazingly, sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" for the hundred-millionth time with absolute conviction.
"I guess you can tell by now I like the old songs," he confessed, with that famously boyish grin, then segued into "I'm Old Fashioned."
The crowd liked those old songs, too, and it was gratifying to see 20-somethings to 80-somethings awarding Bennett multiple standing ovations.
Earlier in the day, another nostalgia act was in progress at the Key, as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings romped and stomped through the '60s soul territory they have helped to revive worldwide. Jones has one gear — high — and her stamina is stunning. There isn't a tighter soul band on the planet — we're talking James Brown's Flames level here (clearly one of Jones' inspirations).
But when the Dap-Kings first hit the national stage a few years ago, they sounded like a very good bar band, at least for anyone who grew up listening to soul music the first time around. But since writing and recording songs like "100 Days, 100 Nights," Jones' band has gotten a whole lot more interesting. The crowd adored that one and also a trip down memory lane through the dances of 1965, each of which Jones athletically demonstrated, from the Boogaloo and the Pony to the Jerk, Mashed Potato and the Swim.
Jones took the liberty of inserting a public request to Bennett to include her on his next "Duets" album — maybe he was listening.
Bumbershoot is about much more than music, and one of this year's visual arts delights was a room full of beyond-tawdry art called "Elvistravaganza," including a sacrilegious but culturally perceptive painting of the dead Presley as Christ in Mary's arms.
It was amusing to watch a teenager haplessly try, at his boomer family's request, to approximate an Elvis sneer for a phone photo. At one point, a couple of fellows did a passably good rendition of "Don't Be Cruel" on a conveniently provided karaoke stage.
The festival also offered an hour of films called "Face the Music." One of them, "Choros," with music by Steve Reich and special effects that captured the movements of a dancer as a continuous, sculptural flow, was splendid.
Paul de Barros, Seattle Times music critic
Eldridge Gravy, Lee Oskar
Bumbershoot made it tough for funk-lovers when the schedule pitted the hot-stuff Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings inside KeyArena against the local contingent Eldridge Gravy and the Court Supreme outdoors. Jones drew the larger crowd, of course, but Gravy and company held their own in a tough time slot. With Gravy wearing a purple top hat and fronting a dozen-piece retro-soul group dressed in (what looked like) thrift-store finery, this band ain't exactly slick. But the backup singers and horns are tight, and the baby-faced, curly-maned Mr. Gravy can wail, shout and moan with sweaty force. They're a little ragged, a little rough, but when the Court was in session, they got people moving.
Any aficionado of the blues harmonica can be glad there is a Lee Oskar. Not only does his Duvall company make highly regarded harmonicas, but this original member of the band War remains a superb player himself. For Bumbershoot, Oskar's shifting band boasted a blistering sax and (unusually) three electrified violins. They all were cookin' up a mess of tasty blues, but the sweet spot in their set was Oskar's gorgeous rendition of Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood." The harmonica man can really blow, but he can croon, too.
Misha Berson, Seattle Times theater critic
Big Sean, Yelawolf, Dirtbombs
"Every day of my life I get to do what I want. If you do the same, well, then let's gangbang."
That brought big cheers for Detroit rapper Big Sean, a Kanye West protégé, the major hip-hop star this year at Bumbershoot. Apparently the two-thirds-full KeyArena crowd was ready to murder for hedonism on Sunday night.
"Gangbanging" means rounding up the gang to go out and kill a rival gang member. But Sean was talking about hanging out, which is a prime example of how shallow he is. A whole echelon of mainstream hip-hop currently preaches a sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll platform fueled by a middle-class "Why not?" — and Big Sean is a lieutenant in this movement (Drake is the king, with his YOLO motto — you only live once). And it's fine in small doses but for a whole concert it's too much, too cheap, too basic in its avoidance of reality. Sean even wore an adjustable snapback baseball hat like they used to in the '90s, and it was as if gangbanging — a term that entered the mainstream during the Rodney King era — was only more 1990s fashion for him to play with.
Thousands of party people who looked to be teenagers threw their hands up for radio hits like "Mercy," currently ubiquitous on KUBE 93.3 FM. "Burn" also went over screamingly well. Both came to light through Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music label, and have hypnotic and thrilling beats behind their raps. But Big Sean's raps are so-so, focused on sex and marijuana — which is fine, except Sean has no sense of humor to make that fun. Instead, he just drones on and on. The audience did not appear to notice this drawback.
After Sean, KeyArena's hip-hop finale was Mac Miller, a carbon copy of Wiz Khalifa, who played the Key last year — and who is also a carbon copy of Snoop Dogg. It seems hip-hop is experiencing a lack of ideas right now. Earlier in the day, Yelawolf from Alabama rapped impressively quickly outside on the Fisher Green stage. He told interesting stories about being briefly homeless in Seattle at 18, and sleeping underneath the Space Needle. Then he accidentally addressed the crowd as San Francisco. It was forgivable. But he devoted a sizable chunk of his set to karaoke-ing other rappers' songs, especially the Beastie Boys', who he said were great influences, and Eminem's, the rapper who signed Yelawolf to his Shady Records label. And that was not as forgivable.
It's not a problem when rappers acknowledge their heroes. Hip-hop is built on sampling, after all. Making new records from old records is part of the game. But, Yelawolf who is multiethnic, looks completely white, and because of that, people are quick to compare him to the Beastie Boys and Eminem. It would be nice to see him go outside the perceived white rapper gimmick.
Better was the rock band Dirtbombs earlier on the same stage, who took music from other artists and actually did something with it. In the middle of their loud, growling set, they borrowed the nursery tune of "Frere Jacques," and gave it new life through a dark, electric guitar arrangement.
Andrew Matson, special to The Seattle Times