Bumbershoot 2017, Day One: The Spider Ferns

Bumbershoot, Local Music, Live Reviews
09/02/2017
Gabe Pollak
all photos by Morgen Schuler (view set)

Seattle duo The Spider Ferns don't make music, they create worlds. Each of their songs is like a new landscape. You may have heard the sounds before -- drums that seem to echo into infinity, bass lines that throb and pulse like they have lives of their own, electronic sounds that shimmer like a creek in the moonlight -- but you've never heard them combined like this before. To be honest, the result is slightly unsettling, like walking in on someone else's dream (or nightmare). Therefore, the fifteen feet of concrete flooring that stretches between Spider Ferns frontwoman Kelly Fleek, poised in black boots at the lip of the KEXP Gathering Space stage, and the crowd who came out at 3 PM on the first day of the Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival to bear witness to some extraordinarily unique local talent is entirely understandable. Perhaps it's even better this way. With this gap between onlooker and performer, there's plenty of room for a pair of dancers, friends of the band recruited for the show, to act as ambassadors to Spider Ferns' otherworldly sounds. The dancers, dressed in black and silver, with striking turquoise makeup, do an incredible job of giving physical form to the music. When Kelly sings of losing her soul, both become suddenly limp, bending at the waist and dropping their heads to the floor, as if something truly vital has been sucked out of them.

Behind the dancers, John Theroux (of the CTPAK film crew) uses twin projectors to shoot psychedelic images on top of textiles sewn by Kelly, who prowls the stage with mesmerizing charisma, either playing bass, drums, or simply singing. To Kelly's right, her husband Alton mans the guitar and laptop, peeling sharp notes, summoning soft chords, and generally running everything through an array of laptop filters. While grounding the Spider Ferns' sound in earthly comparisons proves difficult (and perhaps less-than-useful), if you need a word to explain the band to your friends, trip hop or avant garde electronic may be the best genre tags available. The set's last tracks, which Kelly announces are from a forthcoming album due out by winter at the latest, suggest Spider Ferns may soon opt for a more direct approach, however. "Halo," complete with a pounding four-on-the-floor beat, bumps like Jagwar Ma. Whichever way Spider Ferns end up taking their creations, you'd be wise to follow. Just don't expect anything familiar.

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