Bumbershoot 2016, Day 2: Run The Jewels, Anderson .Paak, & Radiation City

Bumbershoot, Live Reviews
Casey Dunau
photo by Brittany Feenstra

The instrumentation in Radiation City tends to add up to more than the sum of its parts, so if the droves of passersby drawn towards the Fisher Green stage early in the Bumbershoot afternoon weren’t sure of the cause for their attraction, that might’ve been why. Instead of screaming guitar solos, convulsing vocalists, and over the top PDAs (Performer Displays of Affection for the audience), Radiation City operated on the allure of everything working in its right place. Drums? Firmly in the pocket. Bass? Walking out a sure groove. Guitars? Flittering through funky rhythms. And synth? Laying down tasteful leads.

Of course none of that takes into account the wild card: vocalist Elisabeth Ellison’s subtle but crystalline voice. Like all the other pieces in Radiation City, nothing Ellison sang was overly showy, and yet her talent couldn’t help but show through. In moments of peak emotional energy, Ellis puts the “oooo” in croon”, belting out rounded notes with finely tuned accuracy. Mostly though, the lead vocalist is content letting the songwriting do the work. That team-oriented style also set up fellow vocalist Cameron Spies nicely when he tookover for a song. Spies's voice is a little more rough and tumble, but still contains a similar element of sweetness as Ellis’ that helps tie the music together. It would be trite to say the band radiated a welcomed sunny energy across the Bumbershoot lawn—but it would also be true.

all photos by Alex Crick (view set)

There are two-sides to Andersan .Paak the musician: the emcee and the drummer/producer. Both are professionally skilled and accomplished, neither feels totally whole without the other. Paak played into that dichotomy smartly, entering the stage first as an emcee and rapping alone over a prerecorded beat before introducing his band The Free Nationals to the stage. Once flanked by his fellow musicians, Paak’s inner auteur started to show as the ease with which he flowed and ad-libbed over every note pointed to an artist who’d helped create them all. When he finally sat down at the drums a few songs later and continued rapping without missing much of a beat, his journey felt complete.

That level of high-frequency changeover might’ve come off as unsettling at best or braggadocios at worst, but as the rest of his set flew by, it became clear that Anderson .Paak was simply performing the works of a high-octane mind in the most natural way he could. From the bombastic and industrial “Milk n’ Honey” to the analog boom-bap of “Come Down”, Paak’s music has never felt particularly grounded, but by the time the dust settled from one of the most fun sets of the festival, one couldn’t help but wonder: why stay on the ground when you can fly?

photos by Brittany Feenstra (view set)

Similar to Friday performer Father John Misty, Run the Jewels are wrapping up a tour cycle for an album that launched them into new stratospheres of fame and adoration. As such, they’ve played the same hit songs to the same eager festivals countless times over the last two summers. But as a hip-hop group with a notoriously punk rock mentality, mailing it in has never been an option. The duo hit the Bumbershoot stage with the same snarling ferocity and war-ready beats that launched their careers to new peaks starting around 2012 with their solo releases and continuing on through their two collaborative releases as Run the Jewels. With middle fingers firmly outstretched in the direction of corporate greed, racial inequality, and police brutality, Killer Mike and El-P’s performance outlined another strong proof for why politically minded music doesn’t have to be corny.

They also took a page out of Fugazi’s handbook in reminding us that perhaps the most punk thing an artist can ever do is care about their fan’s safety. The duo took time between multiple songs to urge cascading fans to take a step back so as not to crush those in the front. Though the visceral intensity of the music may have periodically trumped their urges, the sentiment was pure class. Towards the end of the set, in introducing a new song from forthcoming RTJ 3, EL-P breathlessly explained his excitement for the new album to come out. The feeling is mutual.

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