If you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past 20 years, it’s possible you haven’t heard of a little music label called Sub Pop, which started the careers of bands such as Soundgarden, Nirvana, Mudhoney and more recently Band of Horses, Postal Service and The Shins. After 20 years, Sub Pop co-founders Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt decided it was time to throw a birthday party for their little project gone big. Fortunately, it wasn’t too exclusive and Consequence of Sound managed to take a peak for ourselves.
When I arrived at the beautiful Marymoor Park, the festival was already underway, with Obits playing their own brand of grungy rock (Think Jet and The Strokes and you got it) and the Constantines thriving on a Springsteen sound with raspy vocals and bluesy rock. Taking in the scene, the first thing I noticed was the unusually beautiful weather, which for everyone’s sake was blue skies in the 80’s.
To keep the music running, there were two stages with names “This” Stage and “That” Stage, much like Bonnaroo. This made for an easy going festival experience, giving time to discover other non-music related festivities, such as the merch and food selection, where the beer gardens featured 10 different kinds of domestic beers and microbrews. Something worth noting is all of the money made from the festival went to the charity of each performer’s choice; furthermore, the fest served as a “green” event, enlisting security guards to make sure festival-goers put their trash in the right spot (paper, compost and garbage).
Oh right, the music…
After getting a Snoqualmie Wildcat IPA, I watched Eric’s Trip, which reminded me of an aging version of The Thermals. Seaweed was the first band to play on the “That” Stage and they rocked! They had a tight grunge/punk sound with great vocals and energy. Shortly after at the “This” Stage, the Helio Sequence brought out their electronic indie pop into a solid and dream-like set. In a sweet moment the band dedicated the song “Blood Bleeds” to the daughter of Seaweed’s vocalist Aaron Stauffer, both could be seen in the crowd dancing to it. This comes as a pleasant surprise as earlier in his own set, Stauffer mentioned that his daughter loved the song so much that she had stopped listening to Feist, for which he was grateful for.
Unfortunately cameras were not allowed in the event to catch moments like these; however, a documentary of the weekend is in talks, so keep on the look out for that. Though, a great band for the cameras would have been Pissed Jeans, if only for the maniacal lead singers antics, which included jump roping his mic cord, stuffing things down his pants, blowing kisses at the crowd and putting ice cream on his mic, and that’s just naming a few. They definitely had a Black Flag feel to them, with scream/spoken lyrics that channel Henry Rollins and hard punk guitars and drums. They should also be credited for the first mosh pit of the festival.
Considering I’ve lived in the Northwest all of my life and grew up through the grunge era, it’s painful to admit I had never seen Mudhoney beforehand. God, I wish I had jumped on their bandwagon about 15-20 years earlier. As I listened to Mark Arm and the gang pump out original grunge classics to perfection, I wondered why these guys never became a Nirvana, Soundgarden or Pearl Jam. Then I was calmed by the thought that it was probably better for them not to have all that “success” and stay true their sound for 20 solid years.
After Mudhoney, it was finally time for the band I was most excited to see, The Vaselines. Although not quite as epic as I had hoped, they had great humor (singer/songwriter Frances McKee offered free dry humps after the show) and fun pop songs. If you are not familiar with the band, it’s okay, considering they’re from Scotland and with the exception of this summer, they had never played in the U.S. Not to mention, they only had one album back in 1992. Nevertheless, they were adored by Kurt Cobain, who chose to cover songs: “Son of a Gun”, “Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” and “Molly’s Lips”.
The next two bands were definitely odd choices for Sub Pop to pick up on their label, but ultimately fruitful as they are the reason Saturday sold out. Of course, I’m talking about Iron and Wine and Flight of the Conchords. The brainchild behind the former band, Sam Beam, came out to an acoustic guitar with no one to follow. It was great, although he was quite rusty, forgetting how to play a song and forgetting the lyrics to The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights”, fittingly another famous Sub Pop band. Despite the cracks, the crowd was gracious helped him sing the lyrics. Sub Pop was smart in signing this guy, a great songwriter and guitar player with a lot of charm.
Speaking of charm, the Flight of the Conchords are about as charming as they come. They closed the show with their humor and wit, proving they were actually good musicians, and even comedian Todd Barry came out to play bongos during “Business Time”. It was definitely a fun way to end the first day of the festival and at only 10pm there was plenty of time to rest up for day two.
My favorite performance of the festival came on day two with the Grand Archives, who put on a great show with spot on harmonies and excellent stage banter, both of which were nothing short of captivating. It doesn’t hurt that, in my opinion, they’ve put out the best album of 2008 so far. Definitely keep a look out for these guys. Nearby, Kinski, a mostly instrumental post-punk garage rock outfit, had the only flute solo of the festival, while Oxford, England’s Foals issued some herky jerky guitar work and danceable beats.
Soon after, things went by fast: after some technical difficulties French band Les Thugs played some true old school punk that would have made The Buzzcocks and The Sex Pistols proud, aging Chicago band Red Red Meat played forgettable alternative rock, though on the other hand, Comets on Fire brought some awesome psychedelic hard rock, mostly due to lead singer Ethan Miller who exuded tons of energy with vibrato laced screams and amazing guitarwork.
Finally, it was time for the band that many had been waiting all weekend to hear, Green River. If Mudhoney was exceptional, then Green River was out of this world, with Mark Arm on lead vocals flailing about like Iggy Pop. He was joined by bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard from one of the biggest bands on the planet, Pearl Jam. Not to mention Steve Turner from Mudhoney, Bruce Fairweather from Mother Love Bone/Love Battery and drummer Alex Shumway. During the course of their fast and furious set, little was said by the band, though Mark Arm told a story about how “Leech” was written in 1984. The song had been passed around as a demo and to their friends the Melvins who recorded and credited it to themselves. Nice, huh? At the end of the set, the band threw out some t-shirts that read “Green River, Death on Ten Legs” on the front, with a picture of the band and “Ride the Fucking Six Pack” on the back alongside cans of Green River soda.
The final band of the festival was Wolf Parade. It’s easy to see why Isaac Brock likes these guys, as they’re definitely in the same vein as Modest Mouse in that quirky indie rock sense. While most of the bands had only played 40 minutes, Wolf Parade played for an hour and ten minutes, with an encore announced by comedian, Eugene Mirman. Personally I was disappointed, as I wanted a surprise headliner like Soundgarden or at the very least The Shins.
But with the wave of a stage hand, we all knew it was over and went home.