It's all about bouncing back

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bumbershoot Wrap Up: Maron, Garofalo, Human Giant, Miller, TSOYA and a Different Type of Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day weekend has always been magical for me. When I was younger, I would usually spend this warm August holiday at Burning Man. It was a great escape and a unique opportunity to bond with my friends, enjoy the outdoors and experience art on a cellular level. But there is an age, my little chickadees, past which that sort of hippy pagan love-fest behavior becomes unseemly and inappropriate. When you reach this age, you need to find a different way to celebrate the end of summer.

So that's how I ended up spending this past weekend at the Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival. While walking from the ferry terminal to the Seattle Center on Sunday, I was excited by the potential parallels of Bumbershoot to the Man. There would, after all, be a wide variety of art to explore and experience -- visual, performing and otherwise. There would still be a chance to spend a great deal of time outdoors -- lounging on the lawns and listening to local bands, watching the fountains and talking with friends. Also, on the plus side, very little chance of naked strangers approaching my picnic table to tell me their life story. Yes, I thought, this could be good.

And it was good. In particular, the performances I was lucky enough to experience were excellent. I caught the Sound of Young America which included performances by and interviews with both Human Giant and Rhett Miller. The Human Giant gang opened with a great parody of an inspirational basketball team that promoted cloyingly upbeat "life coach" methodologies ("Put your hopes and dreams into the ball -- and then pass it!"). Very funny stuff -- I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. They stayed behind afterwards to chat with Jesse. The discussion was less of the usual TSOYA style -- they didn't delve much into technique or how they create their work. Instead, the conversation had an improv session feel to it which was relaxed, funny and, surprisingly, very charming. The next TSOYA performer was Rhett Miller who gave a totally exciting, high energy performance of two songs that completely won me over. Apparently, he had literally run to the show from the airport as his plane had been delayed. You would never know it, though -- he was fully engaged and the audience was enthralled. It was a brief but exciting set. It's always a wonderful feeling when someone takes your breath away unexpectedly. And based on the reactions of friends and others in the audience, I wasn't the only one left gasping.

Later in the evening I was lucky enough to catch the Satiristas show with Rep. Richard Martin, Tom Rhodes, Janeane Garofalo and Marc Maron. Martin was a much stronger opener than I had expected. His "Ask a Republican" show -- performed in character as an imagined Republican Congressman from Ohio -- takes questions from the audience about politics, culture and the election. In a way, this has the advantage of somewhat limiting the world of questions likely to arise since I would bet that most audiences focus on the same hot button issues; but that doesn't take away from his mastery of the material or the style and confidence with which he presents it. He uses the stereotypical dress and demeanor of his character (right down to the flag pin on the lapel) to create a sickly sweet faux charm that had me laughing even before he answered his first question. Timely, effective, funny.

Rhodes was second and took a bit of a while to get going, but eventually delivered a solid middle performance that definitely got the crowd on his side. I hadn't seen him perform live before, would definitely seek him out again.

Garofalo followed with her own typical firebrand review of the events of the day -- warming up with a biting hit at Sarah Palin and the RNC's cynical attempt to reach former Hilary supporters. ("Oh look! Another lady! I have to vote for the lady!") I haven't seen her in years, and nearly all of the material was very fresh, current and new to me. The only surprise was in my own mind -- she looked older than I remembered. I suppose that happens eventually when you follow a comedian for nearly 20 years. I felt the same when I saw Maron -- as though he had aged about 10 years since I last saw him perform in the fall. What happened here? Weren't all my heroes supposed to be ageless and timeless? Aren't they all going to live forever? Please?

Maron closed and was pitch perfect as usual. Since I had seen him perform more recently, I had actually heard much of the material before, but that didn't dilute its appeal. Myself and those nearest to me laughed till we were in pain -- the best kind of pain. His material -- despite the name of the show -- wasn't political. And I didn't mind that either. We all exited happy -- just in time to watch the evening sun light up the fountain at the center of the festival and turn it into golden sparkling droplets. It was truly a wonderful evening.

The only downside for me, really, was that it is somewhat tricky to transition one's brain from the atmosphere of no-cash hippy free-for-all to a highly commercial festival with long lines, loud barkers and unbiquitous cell phone advertisements. Bumershoot is a blur of vendors, product giveaways, and long lines. Make no mistake: this isn't art brought to you by the masses; this is art brought to you by Samsung. On the upside: free Starbucks pumpkin spice latte for everybody! And those things are powerful tasty!! Yum.

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