After having made it through two days of "holy shit, so much music," Upstream Music Fest + Summit ended up a climactic finale. The spectacle of The Flaming Lips, the soulful grooves of The True Loves, and the fiery punk energy of Seattle's own Murder City Devils was just the tip of the iceberg for everything Sunday had in store. Read our recollections below. Make sure to check out our day one and day two coverage as well.
As rain began to fall on the Sound Lot late Sunday afternoon, The True Loves took the KEXP Stage. The seven-piece instrumental band, fronted by Seattle-born guitarist Jimmy James, however, was undaunted. Dressed in sunglasses and suits and saturated with swagger, they began. “One, two, three — HIT IT,” exclaimed James and on came the funk in which to bask.
James’ guitar tone, clear and recognizable, reverberated through Pioneer Square and could be heard clearly even if you were running the bases at Safeco Filed. As the rain hit, so did the band’s rich music, bringing people in flocks to the area despite the dampening Pacific Northwest drizzle.
Half-facing the audience and half-facing his group, James led the band, weaving familiar licks into the songs — like that of the melody in Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” — before ripping off his own original psychedelic guitar solo, part-George Harrison simplicity, and part-Jimi Hendrix epic.
The True Loves played hits from their most recent LP, including the boisterous, “On The Spot,” during which James held up various fingers to indicate how many times the horns should hit in the break. And the group also debuted a new, restrained tune, aptly titled, “Sunday Afternoon.”
The set provided an artful bridge into the festival’s final night. The songs celebrated music and magic within a bustling city. And, just before 7 PM, as the sun began to shine again onto Seattle, James, with a swift and direct wave of his hand, ended the set, each member stopping in perfect unison. — Jake Uitti
Memphis native, Valerie June, is a wondrous musical amalgam. Her songs, for example, can’t be described in any simple way: they are not just country, just roots, rock or blues. They are a mixture of all those things, bound together seemingly by a unique exuberance that comes through each tune she sings.
For some, June is their favorite and a must-see. But for others, she’s a discovery. Whether hearing her high-register, southern singing voice for the first time or fortieth, her unique twang consistently charms and cajoles. If a comparison had to be made, one might say her voice is part-Dolly, part-Hank, and part-sparrow.
Strumming a jangly acoustic or picking a bouncing banjo, June offers life lessons between her music. While some songs pushed along like locomotives, others were simpler, moments of storytelling. All were held together by her fluttering voice. “The sun will come out tomorrow!” she even bopped as a giant light burst through clouds.
But beyond the music (or weather), June encouraged her audience to shine as “brightly” and “fiercely” as possible. “We have to figure out how we share the light inside,” she said. “As we grow up we start to feel a weight coming down. We dim our little light and say, ‘They already have me, I don’t need to shine as brightly as I thought I should.’ But every being must shine.” — JU
"Let's bring the rock!"
These are the semi-joking words of Zander Yates, clutching a bass guitar before the Seattle three-piece launched into their "What Are You Doing?" More than a few heads were bobbing along while Alaia D'Alessandro energetically and emphatically sang and played guitar, even showing a little fancy footwork.
While drumming, Ulises Mariscal took the vocals on a gloriously cacophonous tune whose sound favored Thee Oh Sees, probably the greatest live band your humble correspondent has had the pleasure of seeing in the past decade. There is a gleefully shambolic quality to seeing Tres Leches live; some of the best bands to see are the ones who can keep things a little loosey-goosey while simultaneously not allowing their songs to fall apart or sound like they're held together by a frayed thread. This fact is evidenced greatly by their spirited cover of "Blitzkrieg Bop."
The band's members played musical chairs with their instruments, with D'Alessandro standing at the drum kit with Yates on guitar and Mariscal on bass, adding to the fun, unpredictable atmosphere of their set. During the left turn that takes "Get Off (My Back)" to another level, D'Alessandro went offstage with her guitar and played it in the crowd. Soon, the bobbing heads turned to full-blown dancing bodies. You can't beat a band playing gleefully blaring music while sitting on amps and screaming into a cracked globe.
Mariscal humbly dedicated a slinky, slow, bass-heavy tune (with an outro that vaguely reminded me of Jim O'Rourke-era Sonic Youth) to "all the immigrants and refugees all over the world," duly exemplifying a notion dear to the hearts of people who stuff venues to see bands perform: music as one of the world's great uniters. — Martin Douglas
Dressed like a disco Captain Hook and supplying energy like a young Peter Pan, The Flaming Lips frontman and principal songwriter, Wayne Coyne, showed on Sunday that he knows how to put on a transcendent party. Within the first few minutes, the band had already brought out a giant inflated silver “Fuck Yeah Seattle” sign to accompany the two-dozen, or so, five-feet-tall balloons they’d unleashed on the audience.
If Seattle’s Sunday crowd was out for a rush, they got it. And it makes sense: if you’ve been in the concert game as long as Coyne, who founded The Flaming Lips in 1983, you’ve learned that big, live shows like those at Upstream are part-musical experience and part-theatrical onslaught. Thinking about it this way, the balloons almost seemed like literal endorphins bouncing along the outstretched arms of the audience.
Raising up his own hands to enliven the fans at each opportunity, the directorial front man wasted no time getting into the sonic hits. And as the band began, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part. 1,” a literal giant pink robot started to inflate behind him. Soon after, Coyne stopped the singing crowd for their sub-par karate chop! sound effect. And, in that moment, he assumed the role of Seattle’s own personal conductor. Everyone, of course, sang that much louder and that much better because of it. — JU
"We follow love wherever it takes us."
After traversing the eerily empty streets of Pioneer Square — I get it, it's a Sunday, the Sunday of a weekend-long with stellar groups and bustling nightlife — I stumbled into the Ninety and the dance party of Mirrorgloss, once again coming dangerously close to cutting a rug.
Let's just say it takes a lot for a writer to dance by themselves in front of other people with their face in a notebook, but Mirrorgloss definitely did it for me.
As the venue started to fill, the basement soiree vibe was deeply affirmed; bodies moving in sync with the Tacoma trio's extraordinary blend of R&B, house, and electro-pop — party-starting songs about duplicitous, callous lovers and all the problems being in love brings.
While I'm not sure if the Flaming Lips — playing the main stage while I'm watching a lanky dude with a fanny pack bust out dance moves I wouldn't even think of trying this late in the weekend — still utilize Wayne Coyne walking atop the crowd in a hamster ball, but a huge balloon was briefly tossed around right before a brief instrumental which sampled "Axel F" (which you might know as the theme from Beverly Hills Cop) was queued up and really got the crowd going. — MD
Based in Portland, Little Star played a tight set to a sparse crowd in the historic Central Saloon venue. The three-piece, fronted by Daniel Byers, released an excellent self-titled record in 2017, and have followed it up with two EPs thus far in 2018, all on the vital Good Cheer Records. Little Star's performance demonstrated their propulsive energy and balance as a live act, Byers's voice an alluring and melodic center. Frequently played on Audioasis and Larry's Lounge, KEXP listeners should become acquainted with Little Star's back catalog by the time they next play Seattle. - MH
"We follow love wherever it takes us."
I don't know how effective it is to get to a rap show early, but here we are. I've certainly been to more than my share of rap shows where the DJ was spinning music that wasn't nearly as good. Call it the blessing of the Street Sounds stage. Greg Scott and Eff is H eventually took the stage along with DJ Crescendo, leading the crowd into a bass-heavy bounce leaning into choice selections from this year's excellent 2KFG. The energy of the songs (and the rappers onstage halfway-maniacally reciting them) bled into the crowd in a big way, everyone shaking off the Sunday night doldrums for one of the livest sets of the festival. Scott and H traded the prom suits and gold balloons of the 2KFG for seafoam green locks and a Beyonce Formation Tour tee, but a party is a party regardless of the dress code. Hometown legend-in-the-making Nacho Picasso joined the duo for "Risin'," arguably the most turnt moment of the turn-up, and possibly the entire weekend. — MD
I'm going to say something potentially sacrilege in Seattle. Bear with me...
I didn't ever really "get" Murder City Devils. Growing up just far enough away to not have access to wonderful spaces like the Old Firehouse in Redmond (who curated the stage MCD played at Upstream), they weren't on my radar until after the zeitgeist had already happened. But I knew their "importance" and that they meant a lot to a lot of people. As a forever lover of Pacific Northwest music, it felt like the right thing to do to go see them during Upstream. And that was the best choice I made all weekend. Just walking into the room, I immediately saw the faces of people who've been playing, booking, promoting, and attending PNW shows for years with perma-grins plastered on their faces in giddy anticipation. The venue was all ages (of course, this is the Old Firehouse putting it on after all) meaning that there was a quartered off 21+ bar area in the back. But unlike other all-ages stages where I'd find people stacked on top of each other near the booze, all of the excitement was in the all-ages mosh pit.
Once the band started playing, all of that built up energy exploded in a cacophony of joyous screams and some seriously gnarly punk organ – the band's trademark. Spencer Moody's devilish vocals powered through the room like a Mad Max excess parade. The crowd bounced, no, more like stomped, throughout the entire set. The speakers on the side of the stage were shaking back and forth and the floor felt like it could give at any minute. Even if logic told me that everything was safe and up-to-code, I couldn't help but give in to the fantasy of danger. Suspending your disbelief, you could imagine the floor caving in and going all the way to hell – the band still playing and the crowd not even noticing that they were about to become Belzebubs' barbecue. It's a testament not just to the band's adoration from their fans, but to a community that won't stop loving something that holds significance to them.
I think I "get" Murder City Devils now. — Dusty Henry
Protomartyr proved a quite effective closing act on Day 3 of Upstream Music Festival, although no-one could characterize their set as an upbeat finish. Playing a number of tracks from the recent Relatives In Descent LP, Protomartyr is an invigorating live band to watch. Each musician's parts are in close conversation, reacting to the diatribes of vocalist Joe Casey as he spits his way through another set. Casey's suit was in attendance, as was an obligatory Elysian Fields beverage, which was held in whatever hand was not currently grasping a microphone. The band also played Agent Intellect highlights "Why Does It Shake" and "The Devil In His Youth," as well as "What the Wall Said" and the great "Come and See," from Under Colour of Official Right. While one had to question how the avowedly antisocial Protomartyr got booked at Upstream, it was a lovely excuse to see one of the best live bands currently going. - MH
It should be common knowledge by now that the after party is always better than the party. Kamaiyah didn't headline the final day of Upstream, but she sure as hell closed it out. As one of the final acts to play the festival, she sent everyone one with the infectious afterglow of someone who just "had the best night of their lives." Backed by DJ Vision (if you forgot who he was, don't worry — he played his DJ tag numerous times throughout the set), the Oakland rapper made sure everyone in the room was dancing to her new school reinvention of west coast rap with hints of g-funk and hyphy thrown in to boot. With the stage so low to the crowd, Kamiayah really felt like she was part of the same party we all were having. By the time she played her hit collaboration with YG "Why You Always Hatin?" the room was positively combustible. After her set, the whole room felt like it could've gone for a fourth day of the festival. — DH
The final day of Upstream Music Fest + Summit ended up with a bang, featuring sets from local heroes Murder City Devils and Kung Foo Grip, rising stars Valerie June and Kamaiyah, and – oh yeah, The Flaming Lips.