Bumbershoot 2016, Day 3: Erik Blood & Kamasi Washington

Bumbershoot, Local Music, Live Reviews
09/05/2016
Casey Dunau
Erik Blood // photo by Melissa Wax

To call Erik Blood’s set at the KEXP stage during Bumbershoot "performance art" might be to accidentally imply a lack of pop music value. This would not be true. And yet, to call it anything else would feel like a disservice to the meticulously planned and beautifully executed art direction of the show. Of course, it’s not the job of creatives to make easily categorized works. In fact, it should be the opposite, and by that measure, Blood’s performance was nearly flawless.

Musically, the Seattle based artist’s show was a healthy blend of prerecorded orchestration and electronic drums mixed with live guitars and near constant vocal harmony from Blood and fellow guitarist/vocalist Irene Barbaric. That combination created viscous swells of sound that crashed over the audience in slow motion but with inevitable intensity. Never allowing listeners to get too comfortable, Blood would break up moments of hypnotizing drone with a crunchy yet rounded guitar solo or four-on-the-floor dance beats. Similarly Blood and Barbaric’s faces, which were painted solid in bold shades of red, white, and black, would alternate between stony stillness in moments of silence and exultant expression in moments of cresting melody. And then there were the dancers. Though difficult to see if more than two rows back from the front, the four performers skirted the floor below the stage with movements both primal and elegant. All of this added up to a thrilling show experience unlike any other at the festival. Breaking character only at the end to reveal t-shirt messaging "Block the Bunker" and "Black Lives Matters", along with an exhausted expression of a job well done, Blood was met with raucous applause from the packed house.

photos by Melissa Wax

At the Starbucks Stage, where most other artists had dolled out high-fructose pop in three to five minute portions, Kamasi Washington delivered a near album’s worth of ideas in each individual tune (most lasting around 10 minutes). With that in mind, it’s easier to think of Washington’s set in moments rather than songs. And moments there were. From a lengthy keytar solo that put those in the first few rows in serious danger of having their faces permanently melted, to a repeated melodic reference of the underground level music from the original Mario Bros., to a dueling drummers showdown, to stratospheric range displayed on vocals, tenor sax and trombone, to a blazing bass solo that featured every technique from bowing to playing only on the neck, to Washington’s dad joining the band and shredding on the clarinet to… well, you get the idea.

With Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat collaborations under his belt, it’s hard to say if Washington and his West Coast Get Down compatriots fought their (and by extension jazz’s) way back into pop consciousness, or if the group’s emergence was inevitable due to the cyclical nature of music and of talent rising the top. Either way, with performances this engaging, don’t expect Washington or the genre as a whole to go away anytime soon.

photos by Sarah O'Connor

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