Upstream Music Fest + Summit 2018: Day Two Recap

Upstream Music Fest + Summit, Live Reviews
photo by Morgen Schuler

With the first day behind us and the whole of Pioneer Square warmed up, Saturday at Upstream Music Fest + Summit continued the theme of the weekend: "how the hell am I supposed to see everything?!" There was definitely a sene of guilt walking into any venue. Seeing one band meant you weren't seeing another. It's a good problem to have, essentially ensuring you were going to see something great no matter which fork in the brick-laden road your chose. Do you go see Jawbreaker reemerge at the main stage or go see a beautifully intimate set from Lushloss? Great Grandpa or Hot Snakes? You really couldn't go wrong. Check out a few of the acts the KEXP team saw on day two. Take a look back at our day one coverage as well.



Tacocat // photo by Melissa Wax


TacocaT kicked off the Amazon Main Stage on Saturday with their ode to the city, “I Love Seattle,” and of course, brought an abundance of glitter and sequins to go along with it. Tacocat’s catchy hooks and high energy got the crowd bouncing, and tracks “Men Explain Things to Me” and “Crimson Wave” got a few giggles from the bunch too. In between tracks from their last two albums, TacocaT debuted two new tunes, which hopefully means new music from the band soon. And naturally, the irony of playing the Amazon stage wasn’t lost on the Seattle quartet. “This one goes out to all the rock n’ roll themed apartment buildings that are going up and displacing actual musicians,” said lead singer Emily Nokes with a grin, before bouncing their way into the last song of their set, “I Hate the Weekend.” - Anna Kaplan

Zola Jesus


Zola Jesus // photo by Melissa Wax


Zola Jesus proved equally successful as her memorable live performance at Little London Plane on Day 1 of Upstream, starting off Day 2 of Upstream at the KEXP Sound Lot Stage. Performing similar tracks off Okovi, as well as other choice cuts from her discography, Zola Jesus seemed remarkably at ease on the quite large Sound Lot Stage. While one could wish she had been greeted with an equally enthusiastic crowd, the artist nevertheless performed an excellent set, in spite of a frequent reverb issue. She notably dedicated Okovi ballad "Witness," to her uncle who had attempted suicide, a touching gesture that was not lost on the crowd. - Matthew Howland




Music festivals are full of surprises. I thought I was pretty familiar with the music of Strawberry Mountain, but watching their set made me realize I had been listening to their music at more of a distance than I initially realized. Not only is their work full of rich, sparkly texture, but there is a sense of rhythm uncommon in bands of their milieu. Just when you think you're a pretty observant person, you encounter a band you didn't expect to have an upright bassist, a drummer with a Beat Happening setup rather than a traditional kit, and songs far prettier than you remember. - Martin Douglas

Noel Brass Jr.

Noel Brass Jr // photo by Dusty Henry


After the loads and loads of huge-sounding bands I've witnessed so far this weekend, it was refreshing to duck into the Buttnick Building and watch Noel Brass Jr. take to his synthesizer alone onstage, dressed to the nines and playing his wayfaring ambient jazz.

(Of course, Brass being dapper has nothing to do with the music, but not many artists this weekend took the stage in a jealousy-inspiring porkpie hat, suede shoes, and pinstriped pants, so it was a pleasant sight.)

The astral pieces he played with tremendous avidity and skill were woozier than the ones I remember from Broken Cloud Orchestra (he later explained these were sketches built from parts of the album), but the dizzy drone certainly enhances the experience.

As the room — with spaces to sit on the floor and take it all in — started to fill a little more, Brass rose out of his chair, using a second keyboard to take his celestial compositions to different peaks. At equal turns pensive and gushing and even a slight bit aggressive, he incorporated vocal samples, piano riffs, and of course, futuristic tones (including what I refer to as the "g-funk synth") to eventually bring the audience to a rousing ovation. The applause was just as much appreciation for the journey we'd been taken on as the music itself. - MD


Great Grandpa


Great Grandpa // photo by Melissa Wax


I don't think I'd be able to imagine the feeling of playing to a packed house. I'm sure there is the visceral charge of all that human energy a person doesn't quite receive from, say, painting on a canvas or writing in a notebook while people are feverishly nodding their heads and bumping into one another.

Great Grandpa played to an AXIS 2 that was so full I could barely see the band onstage. Theirs is the kind of rock music that is equally hard-charging and melodic, a 50/50 split that is a lot harder to pull off than it sounds. It is so pitch-perfect in both regards, I tried to think of an appropriate musical reference and came up way short. (Maybe a less noodly Built to Spill? That's as close as I'll be able to get.)

The band closed their set with a huge musical and emotional climax -- and bubbles. It's hard to think of anything more crowd-pleasing than a finish like that. - MD



Lushloss // photo by Niffer Calderwood


Lushloss is the moniker of Seattle-via-Virginia musician Olive Jun, who released her gorgeous debut full-length record, Asking/Bearing, in 2017 on Hush Hush Records. Jun's set weaved together gentle electronics with vocals concerning details of personal and familial relationships. Amidst the rush of a music festival, Lushloss required audience members to slow down and listen closely, which is an admirable goal for a musician. Though she deserved a far larger audience, it was lovely to watch Jun continue to come into her own as a performer and transform her recorded material. - MH

Y La Bamba


Y La Bamba // photo by Niffer Calderwood


There's a lot you can learn about music with lyrics sung in a language you do not speak, such as how well the vocals augment the music, the study of the vocals on their own merits. The whole of what was being sung was threatened to be drowned out by their clanging, melodic, soaring brand of bilingual, poppy garage-rock, a much different flavor than the Portland group Y La Bamba's recordings. Not to mention a sense of rhythm completely uncommon in the normally four-to-the-floor genre.

I had an epiphany during their set that made me realize they're the first garage-rock band that has REALLY made me want to dance.

The band has a sleek, haunting slower number that speeds up and gets weirder, and there is something about the song being sung in Spanish that heightens that haunted quality. There was also an arresting ballad near the end of the set that made me emotional to the point where I couldn't tell if the lyrics were in English or Spanish. — MD



Jawbreaker // photo by Morgen Schuler


"For those in the tech community, we’re a carbon-based life form that’s been the terrestrial realm for 25 years,” Jawbreaker lead singer Blake Schwarzenbach told the crowd at the Amazon Music Main Stage. For those worried the recently reformed emo heroes were going to put their punk cred aside for the reunion gig money, the band was here to disway any such notion. But it's not like they really ever cared about punk cred – even opening with "Boxcar" from their classic 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (featuring the opening line: "'You're not punk and I'm telling everyone' / Save your breath, I never was one"). 

The band was just as full of zingers as they were of heart-on-sleeve, guitar rock classics. As one of the most hyped acts going into the weekend (a 20+ year hiatus will do that for ya), expectations were certainly high. At this point, Jawbreaker could coast on nostalgia, cash their check, and buy a house or something (maybe not in Seattle, though. Who can afford that?). Instead, they barrelled through their catalog with gruff attitudes and a barrage of guitars. Schwarzenbach hammed it up too, announcing a faux run for president in 2020 and shouting out the "one percent" in VIP. We could use more reunions where the band has something to say. God bless Jawbreaker. - Dusty Henry

Jean Deaux


Jean Deaux is a name I was unfamiliar with proceeding Upstream, or even ten minutes before her set. However, with over twenty-four thousand followers on Soundcloud, she clearly has a quite established fan base, and the tracks to back it up. Deaux immediately proved an infectious vocalist and performer, playing many tracks currently available for streaming on her Soundcloud, including highlight "Wikipedia." Based in Chicago, Deaux said onstage she has already been to Seattle several times. Let us hope she continues to return, likely to bigger audiences every time. - MH

Tiny Vipers


Tiny Vipers // photo by Morgen Schuler


Just as I saw Jesy Fortino perform alone with one instrument back in her days as a Sub Pop artist — then with an acoustic guitar — the "one musician, one instrument" approach was this time supported by a Roland synthesizer (along with pedals and a mixing board, but those are just apparatuses rather than instruments). Keeping time with her foot and looping in chord progressions to play over, the group of us assembled were engrossed by Fortino's musicianship and songcraft.

The remarkable thing about the music of Tiny Vipers is how Fortino is able to construct sparse, achingly beautiful songs regardless of the instrument. Laughter is more of a sonic excursion than a collection of songs. But there were songs played here, with the same instrumental approach as her 2017 album, and as gorgeous, expansive, and heartbreaking as anything Fortino has ever recorded. — MD


Seattle-by-way-of-London duo FKL graced the stage at the Lower Quarters at 13 Coins, the cozy underground portion of the famed 24-hour diner. The duo began their set with “Eliott,” a ricocheting menage of synths, keys, and drums centered around lead singer Sage Redman’s vocals. The electronic duo then moved into a few house and techno inspired tracks off their latest album Out of Tune. Redman’s voice glimmered on “All I Got” and “1-800,” two powerful bass-heavy tracks that clash and clang more intensely every second. FKL’s set culminated with “A Different Street,” a fantastic roar of clinking synths and distorted keys. - AK

Visible Cloaks

Visible Cloaks // photo by Morgen Schuler


Based in Portland, Visible Cloaks have grown a following for their inventive, exploratory ambient compositions. The duo of Spencer D and Ryan Carlile played an evocative set in Upstream's Buttnick Stage, aided by an electric wind instrument and hallucinatory backing visuals. Seemingly inspired equally by cultural images of Japan, post-colonial theory, and ambient trailblazers Pauline Oliveros and Brian Eno, Visible Cloaks felt fittingly out of place at Upstream, even though they provided a necessary space for tranquility halfway through the music festival. A reasonably-sized crowd sat engrossed on the floor, although a contingent of drunk festival-goers sat chatting by the exit as if to boldly state that one could not escape the festival even amidst Visible Cloaks's sanctuary. - MH

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