Sub Pop 20 @ Marymoor Park, Seattle — Day 1

For my very first trip to the left coast, I couldn’t have chosen a better destination than the gorgeous and terminally hip city of Seattle, Wa., especially on the very same weekend that veteran indie label Sub Pop Records was hosting its 20th birthday party. This past weekend, Seattle was absolutely dedicated to the mini-major, going so far as to fly a huge Sub Pop banner from the top of the Space Needle, the city’s premiere landmark.

While atop the Space Needle, a young boy looked up at the flag flapping in the wind and asked his father, “what’s that flag for? What is Sub Pop?” Dad looked clueless so I interjected, giving the kid and his family a brief history of the grunge turned indie pop rock label, hoping to inspire them to check out the label and its stellar roster.

Sub Pop 20 officially kicked off on Friday night with a comedy show featuring the likes of Todd Barry, Eugune Mirman and David Cross (below, in a very Tobias Fünke pose) at The Moore Theatre in downtown Seattle. I was not present at that, but a secondhand account tells me it was wildly hilarious and that comedy show-goers were later treated to even more fun when Barry, Cross and company spent many hours after the show at a local bar fraternizing with legions of Sub Pop loyals.

Shawn Brackbill

David Cross, Photo: Shawn Brackbill

SATURDAY, JULY 12th
The next afternoon at 12PM sharp saw the beginning of the festivities at beautiful Marymoor Park in Redmond, Wa., not far outside of Seattle. Trekking past a softball tournament, tennis courts and several parking lots, myself and fellow Sub Pop fans found the birthday party tucked back in the park. Two stages were set against the back of the concert area with concessions off to the right and several tents of local national vendors lending support to Sub Pop’s 20th birthday blowout.

Eric's Trip, Photo: Brian Tamborello

Saturday afternoon, which had completely sold out long before the weekend approached, began at noon sharp with sets by non-Sub Poppers Obits and the Constantines, respectively. Unsure on the timing of the buses from downtown Seattle out to Redmond, I regrettably missed Obits (whom I hear was awesome!), but made it there to catch the last half of The Constantines’ powerful set.

One of the most extraordinary aspects of Sub Pop 20 was the number of former Sub Pop acts that rejoined and came out to perform for the legendary label, with Canadian 90s indie rockers Eric’s Trip being no exception. They played 40 minutes of mellowed out melodies yet also managed to rock hard, setting the tone for successor Seaweed‘s grunge punk sound. Seaweed front man Aaron Stauffer introduced the next band before his set was over, saying that he couldn’t wait to see The Helio Sequence because his daughter absolutely loves their song “Blood Bleeds.”

Shawn Brackbill

Helio Sequence, Photo: Shawn Brackbill

Portland duo The Helio Sequence was the first act to steal the show on Saturday. Front man Brandon Summers, who spoke with our Ed Roper just recently, reiterated that growing up, the first two cassette tapes he ever owned were Bleach and Mudhoney and that he dreamed of someday being on Sub Pop. Imagine living out your childhood dream and playing the 20th Birthday show for the label you admired growing up; just another day in the life of Brandon Summers. He and band mate Benjamin Weikel sent airy and ambient indie pop rock forth from the main stage with thumping bass lines coming from Weikel’s laptop.
Summers announced that even though he and Weikel hadn’t played “Blood Bleeds” in over two years, they relearned it and would play it that day for Aaron Stauffer’s daughter. The only thing that would’ve enhanced The Helio Sequence’s stage time would have been an evening set time. I closed my eyes and imagined the pair set in a cool breeze against the night sky with the stage lights overhead flashing bright colors and spinning in time with their energetic beats.

Brian Tamborello

Fleet Foxes, Photo: Brian Tamborello

Following some indie pop feel goodery was the loud, fast and massively energetic Pissed Jeans. They ripped through a hardcore totally grunged out which couldn’t have been more at odds with the sound of successors Fleet Foxes. Their super mellow, Renaissance-inspired pop sounds left the crowd loving them in a totally different way than they’d been able to also love Pissed Jeans. The subdued tones were welcomed after the noise assault that Pissed Jeans launched, but also wanted for energy. The pounding beats returned as The Fluid rocked out through a decent set.

1990s shoegaze trio Low followed with a moody set drenched in a heavy ambiance. Though pulling off a mostly dynamic and solid set, Low’s sound at times was meek enough to pacify the many Sub Tots running to sleep as the midday lull hit. Any napping was immediately brought to a halt as veteran grunge rockers Mudhoney electrified the crowd beginning precisely at 6:40PM. If anything, Sub Pop 20 was meticulous about sticking to its scheduled times, a welcome change from many festivals which run upwards of hours behind.

Mudhoney’s high-energy rock and throat destroying screaming reached out across Marymoor Park for 40 minutes, much to the old school Sub Pop fans’ delight before the delightfully naughty Scot pop rockers The Vaselines took to the main stage. They played infectious indie pop gems rife with the same A.D.D. modern rockers Tokyo Police Club possess, leaving the crowd wanting more after every song. The crowd had anticipated their performance all day, noticeable by the storming of the main stage once Mudhoney’s set had finished.
The Vaselines, in between stage banter about dry humping (mostly thanks to the ultra adorable vocalist/guitarist Frances McKee), played the songs which made them a cult hit, though that cult fame is thanks to Kurt Cobain who had Nirvana cover a few Vaselines’ songs (“Molly’s Lips,” “Son of a Gun” and “Jesus [Doesn’t] Want Me For A Sunbeam”].
Despite some dry humping overshare, I definitely could’ve done with more of The Vaselines’ sunny pop rock.

Shawn Brackbill

The Vaselines, Photo: Shawn Brackbill

Next up was Sub Pop folk crooner Iron & Wine. Though his albums have been growing more ambitious, Sam Beam (Iron & Wine mastermind) played a striped down and intimate set causing one to forget that the venue was a huge outdoor stage rather than the basement of the First Unitarian Church (or whatever Seattle’s equivalent would be). The resounding alt-folk that emanated from the stage was the most complimentary transition of sounds throughout the day.

Shawn Brackbill

Iron & Wine, Photo: Shawn Brackbill

Beam’s set was both beautiful and entertaining, the latter especially when he covered The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.” A gorgeous song he’d covered for the Garden State soundtrack, Beam forewarned the audience that he hadn’t played it in quite a while so he’d need some help. The audience sang along with every single word and overpowered Beam when he forgot the words in several places, helping him along. While the crowd (myself included) could’ve no doubt swayed and sang along to Iron & Wine’s emotionally moving indie folk, a buzz filled the park when Beam left the stage in anticipation of the night’s headlining act.

At 9:19PM, the stragglers on the lawn rushed the main stage to be on time and as close as possible to Grammy Award winner Flight of the Conchords, set for a 9:20PM start. The crowd went nuts as the New Zealand musical comedy duo, comprised of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, walked onto the stage and sat down with their guitars on either side of a turntable. Their satirical lyrics coupled with McKenzie’s Barry White-esque vocals had the audience in stitches.

Shawn Brackbill

Flight of the Conchords, Photo: Shawn Brackbill

The facetiously sexy “Business Time” seemed a bit over-the-top but the binary solo of “Robots” was nothing short of wildly hilarious. The jaunty plucking of the fellas’ acoustic guitars was delightful when audible through the crowd’s laughter. The only disappointing bit about Flight of the Conchords’ set was the lack of an encore, although I really do admire Sub Pop’s commitment to the schedule. What followed the duo instead of a musical encore, was a short display of fireworks, a beautiful end to a fantastic day of great music.

…check back for Day 2!

Happy Birthday, Sub Pop!

Sub Pop Records: website | myspace | SP20 photos

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