Every room you walked into in Pioneer Square during Upstream Music Fest + Summit, it felt like it came with some sort of musical accompaniment. Whether it was the grandeur of the Embassy Ballroom Suites or the brick walled charm of The Central Saloon, you couldn't escape running into a longtime favorite a new act that you were sure to fall in love with. KEXP was on the scene to document it – well, at least part of it. With over 250 acts on the lineup, there was a lot of ground to cover. We'll be rolling out recaps all week, starting with highlights from Friday's performances, including Miguel, Little Dragon, Charlotte Day Wilson, and more!
Charlotte Day Wilson and band opened the KEXP stage at Upstream Friday night with a confident set of seven numbers that drew from material across her 2 EPs. Wilson’s mellow, muscular R&B blanketed the slowly building crowd in soulful sunshine. Dressed in a Dolly Parton t-shirt and an oversized black button down, the Toronto-based artist emanates a unexpected kind of cool—a self-assured, socially conscious, and quietly stylish presence. Her keyboardist’s gracefully funky vibes shone in the band’s rendition of “Where Do You Go,” but the set highlight was definitely the last song, “Work,” which had served as an unofficial anthem of the 2017 Women’s March. - Kaitlin Frick
The Moving Pictures is the project of Olympia fixture Hayes Waring, typically in collaboration with Lilian Maring (the great Grass Widow) and Charles Waring (Milk Music). Hayes was the sole Waring who appeared at the Upstream set, playing an intriguingly dischordant set that alternated between guitar, synths, and tape loops, all filtered through a blur of feedback. Despite the late start to the set, due to venue alcohol regulations, Waring proved a quite intriguing start to the K Records Stage. He also brought plenty of merch from the always exciting Perennial Death label, which he runs. - Matthew Howland
Nordo's Culinarium serves absinthe, which seemed like a fitting accompaniment for a film with the visual tone of Torrey Pines. The opening scene is a long shot of coasting, green waves followed by thunderous rage (both accompanied by guitar static), followed by Charles Peterson in a past life unsuccessfully flushing a parakeet down a toilet and dissecting a frog.
A good portion of the movie's first act found the musicians onstage watching the rolling, hallucinatory images of the movie (mostly) as intently as the audience. The ephemera of extinguished cigarettes and puzzle pieces, Wheel of Fortune on the television, boredom, alcoholism, the Starship Enterprise floating through a black sky, spotty with stars. The full band kicks in around the film's midpoint, where the long road trip begins.
Road trips are as interesting as they are dull, a lot of time spent sitting down and watching the weirdness pass you by. The live score of Torrey Pines was as interesting as the film itself, segueing from Lori Goldston's soaring cello as a bird flies and the musical changes as the car moves from California to Texas to Memphis to Nashville to Arlington, Virginia. After a number of moments covers the film in darkness, peace is eventually restored and the film ended where it began, with the crashing of green waves.
Music festivals are mostly about sampling as much as you can, but it's tough to get up in the middle of a film (with accompanying music) as engrossing as the journey of Torrey Pines. - Martin Douglas
Little Dragon delivered a 75 minute-long set of their reliably fabulous avant-pop to a packed crowd at the KEXP stage Friday night. The band took the stage looking downright fantastic in their coordinated white and orange patterned pants and tees, lead singer Yukimi Nagano donning a strikingly shimmery costume resplendent in its orange tassels and purple pom poms. Though the band struggled through some sound issues in their first song, they hit their stride by their second number “Sweet,” a more mature rendition of the 2017 track that sounded markedly sweeter and than its coin-winning Mario Brothers-inspired recording.
The band mostly played material from their 2017 album, “Season High,” transforming many songs to dance party proportions. A rendition of “Celebrate” was given an acid house treatment as keyboardist Håkan Wirenstrand’s analog synths clattered away. The audience responded enthusiastically. “Strobe Light” was another highlight, played late enough in the set that actual strobe lights were actually put to use on stage, cutting through the murky darkness that had descended on the festival grounds, with a beautiful ultraviolet blue. - KF
While other Seattle acts are writing songs to sell for television spots (for the record, I respect the hustle), the music of So Pitted is delightfully unmarketable. The band's music carries a grit and not-exactly-reverent approach to formal songwriting that conjures the spirit of the delightfully unmarketable bands of Sub Pop's past.
To see them, as part of the Sub Pop curated stage at the pretty darn classy Embassy Suites Ballroom is both a winking joke and kind of fitting.
The three-piece assaulted the increasingly growing crowd with screeching feedback while Liam Downey bleated bleak lyrics wearing a patent leather space dress with a sparkly eye patch. The band thrashed through choice selections from neo as glass chandeliers hung above them (almost precariously given the mass of volume).
Downey and Nathan Rodriguez switched between guitar and bass at nearly the same rapid pace of their songs while bassist Jeannine Koewler kept her position, rocking dark shades and retaining a cool hard to match amidst the chaos.
Toward the end of the set, Downey brought out a box made of what looked like aluminum foil and electrical tape, and broke into "feed me," their most lurching, most robotically intimidating song to date. Those in attendance were invited to touch the box, and it was briefly tossed around like a beach ball.
In pure punk fashion, the band ended with ten minutes of set time remaining. - MD
American Nudism is the moniker of the handsome Gabriel Gutierrez, who is a part of noted Olympia groups Vats and Lysol. Under the American Nudism moniker, Gutierrez has perfected a blend of antisocial, droning dance music and punk, releasing a very good full-length in 2016. His new single "Future 5-0" is available on Bandcamp. Gutierrez's set at Upstream's K Records showcase, while ending quite early, was a satisfying taste of his musical approach and understated talent as a performer. - MH
One of the most unique things about Upstream in contrast with other festivals is how you can walk into a room and instantly feel like you've teleported completely out of the festival world. Stepping into 13 Coins to see Grace Love was like being transported into a lounge scene from a noir classic. Love stood at the edge of the stage, reveling in her moment. There's hardly a better place to hear her than crooning classics with people sitting at high tables with whiskey and wine in hand. She even threw in a few modern classic tunes to match the vibe, including Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and the traditional song "Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby" – Love attributing her version to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. - Dusty Henry
Is there a cooler person than Colleen Green? Honestly, I don't know. Clad in a leather jacket and sunglasses, Green blitzed through her set of guitar jams with pre-recorded drums tracks. Her charisma was so vivacious that the band wasn't even missed. She even managed to squeeze in a few new tracks, including the short and to the point "Maybe I'll Get Hit By A Car Tonight." Seeing Green play in such a grand and massive room as the Embassy Suites Ballroom felt strange at first, but with sharp-witted songs like hers maybe the room wasn't big enough after all. - DH
With pop melody cloaked in scores of feed back, distortion, and volume, the Portland quartet threatened to crumble the brick walls of Central Saloon within seconds of their first song. While their recordings are full of texture and dreaminess, their live set shoulders a heaviness which augments their sugary harmonies. Singer/guitarist Maggie Morris allowed her Fender to rip immediately after sharing some lighthearted banter about being a short person on a tall stage. To be fair, the massive sound of Genders dwarfed all of those in attendance, present company included. - MD
Miguel looked positively like a superstar headlining the main stage on Friday night. With a full band in tow, the R&B crooner excited a packed out crowd. The fringe on his mic stand evoked Steven Tyler and his energy rivaled the same 70s arena rock attitude. The crowd was completely in his grasp (present company included), willing to jump, dance, and scream on command. As if we all didn't know Miguel was great, he continued to prove song after song just how much he deserved the headlining spot and set the bar incredibly high for every act that would take the stage after him. - DH
Mirah flew out from her current locale of Brooklyn for this set at the Calvin Johnson-curated K Stage, performing tracks from across her lengthy career. This included songs to appear on a forthcoming full-length record out this September, her first since 2014. Mirah was warmly greated by a full crowd, the largest that graced the Axis 2 space that evening, which felt like a homecoming despite her speedy return to Brooklyn. - MH
10:30pm. This is the point in the night of a man who is rapidly circling middle age where he is drunk enough to start really having a good time.
The singer/songwriter glam of Kyle Craft -- his songs about heartbreakers and the shards they leave behind -- translates very well to a live setting. The selections from Dolls of Highland and Full Circle Nightmare inspired the almost full crowd at Embassy Suites Ballroom to sway and nod their heads along with the slightly swaying chandeliers (maybe the latter were swaying because I had just enough to drink, but that's neither here nor there).
Couples danced along to Craft wailing through "Lady of the Ark," and there were more than a couple twentysomethings trying to act cool in the throes of Craft's crowd-pleasing set.
Craft's last number was described as a protest song; he debuted it in London days ago and hoped aloud he didn't fuck it up. The song was played solo, just Craft and his Nashville-style acoustic guitar, singing of the alienation of being separated by income. There were lyrics of picket signs in front of the White House, folks eating trash, and people "dodging bullets in American dreams." As he humbly left the stage, the crowd gave him a rousing ovation.
Selector Dub Narcotic, the persona of the always essential Olympia heartthrob Calvin Johnson, closed out the K Records stage at Axis 2, delivering a quite memorable performance. Accompanying himself on pre-recorded tracks, Calvin danced, bobbed, and crooned through the set, much time devoted to his excellent dance moves. However, a small crowd largely was unwilling to join in and dance, a fate that seemed unfare given Calvin's genuine love of a collective show experience. While Johnson certainly gave it his all as a performer, he certainly deserved a far larger audience than that provided to him, a fate that is a hallmark of a lengthy career. - MH
From the much anticipated Jawbreaker reunion, main stage sets from Zola Jesus and TacoCat, and sets from up-and-coming locals like Great Grandpa and Lushloss; the fest has proved to be an embarrassment of riches for talent.
Featuring sets from Miguel, Zola Jesus, Little Dragon, Colleen Green, Sol, and more.
Little Dragon play KEXP's Live Broadcast at Little London Plane, as part of Upstream Music Festival & Summit 2018