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Bumbershoot's top five performances

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

Despite the cool temps and sudden downpours, Bumbershoot 2009 drew large audiences to its mainstage performances and managed to keep the kiddies out late on the eve of the new school year. Historically, the three-day event on Labor Day weekend has featured a better overall lineup; there seemed to be a lot of filler acts this time around, mainly uninspiring local bands that play routinely at down-the-street bars. But my biggest rant is the main floor section at Memorial Stadium, which is a lawsuit waiting to happen - terrified concertgoers pulled from the over-crammed "pit" complained to security that they couldn't breathe, and they weren't kidding. This doesn't include the ridiculous amount of unruly teenagers allowed to crowd surf throughout each show - personally, tasting someone's shoe during a Jason Mraz concert is not what I signed up for. That said, here are the top 5 shows I attended at this year's festival.

1) Franz Ferdinand
I've been loving Franz Ferdinand since 2004, when they whipped The Showbox Market with a high-energy, bounce-'til-you-drop performance that melted five pounds of excess fat from my waistline. Since then, I've seen them six times in concert, both indoors and outdoors, but they haven't come close to repeating what they did at the Showbox concert - that is, until last weekend at Memorial Stadium. The Scottish foursome sounded vibrant, polished, and remarkably confident when they opened with "No You Girls," a track recently used for an iPod Touch commercial. "Take Me Out," "Ulysses," and "The Dark of the Matinee" featured sizzling guitars and punchy drumbeats, while "This Fire" and "Outsiders" were streaked with electro-club undertones and twinkling keyboards. This was an innovative Franz Ferdinand that appeared at Bumbershoot, a group finally taking risks to separate themselves from the glam rock copycats - not only were the quartet's songs catchy as usual, but they were recharged with more voltage, sounding bigger and better than ever. I'm not sure why the band refuses to play "You're the Reason I'm Leaving," but it's the lone number greatly missed from their set list. Backed by an illuminated, square-shaped panel the length of the stage, Franz Ferdinand banged away for 75 minutes and left concertgoers sweat-drenched and literally gasping for air in the main pit. A wicked 10-minute keyboard-drum solo, infused with a rave party-like vibe, proved how multi-dimensional they truly are. Whereas many top acts choke on a grand stage as opposed to a small venue or medium-sized theater, these guys rose to the occasion and sent 15,000 fans home with sore shins.

2) Katy Perry
I won't say Katy Perry is an incredible singer - quite frankly, she sounds wobbly during her live concerts - but the pop princess knows how to work a stage, and boy, she really worked that Bumbershoot stage! Dressed in a tie-dyed swimsuit-ballerina outfit that showed off her never-ending legs, the Grammy-nominated star dazzled afternoon festivalgoers at Memorial Stadium with a performance that was both sassy and sweet. She was spunky on "Fingerprints," bubbly on "Hot N Cold," and adorable on a cover of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" - her enthusiasm brought out whatever sunshine was hidden behind a spontaneous pillow of clouds. Before lunging into her mega hit "I Kissed a Girl," Perry asked the crowd if they were hungry and then tossed out two huge inflatable strawberries to fans in the pit. I wasn't crazy about her acoustic run-through of "Thinking of You," though I give her props for busting out a guitar. She looked absolutely stunning with dark locks draping over her creamy skin, and those long legs are worth a second mention. Her playful attitude and uncommon stage props, such as scattered pink flamingos and a white picket fence, complimented her witty, good-time persona.

3) Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Karen O is a weird cat who periodically drives me batty; I just never know if she's being funny, or if she's truly that insane. Did I mention the time she nearly swallowed a microphone at White River Amphitheatre as part of EndFest several years ago? It scared the shit out of me! But what I admire about this punkish diva is her spastic, uninhibited energy that adds more fuel to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' fiery songs. During "Y Control," she spun around in circles and danced wildly in her interesting, colorful get-up (don't ask me to explain what she was wearing), and right before launching into a mellow version of "Maps," she screamed to the crowd, "It's time for an Indian summer love song for Seattle!" - and who knows what she meant, but she occasionally shouts things out to audiences and then dives into another bouncy number, like the awesome "Zero," which was cradled in a retro keyboard background and joined by a jumpy guitar and booming drum. The New York-based trio mixed in songs from their new album, It's Blitz, with cuts from their previous works, Fever to Tell and Show Your Bones, both Grammy-nominated.

4) Jason Mraz
When it comes to giving funky, fresh performances in front of big crowds, Jason Mraz is all over it. He's a festival veteran, having played center stage at Outlands just two weeks ago in San Francisco. But his headlining gig on Sunday night at Bumbershoot was longer and more stylish than what he did in the Bay Area, featuring a great list of favorites from "Bella Luna" to "Butterfly" to a smooth cover of Lionel Richie's "All Night Long (All Night)." His energy level was high, kicking his feet in the air and shaking his hips from one song to another. Plus, he appeared onstage before his actual start time, helping to close out Michael Franti & Spearhead's opening set. Yes, his shows do feel a bit more rehearsed these days than when he played smaller venues like The Crocodile or 5th Avenue Theatre, but Mraz can still charm audiences with interactive sing-alongs, an operatic verse, or a modern twist on a classic ("Everything is Gonna Be Alright"). His renditions of "The Remedy (I Won't Worry)" and "I'm Yours" were fun and catchy, and you gotta love a guy who unloads a three-member brass section and bongo set onstage.

5) Michael Franti & Spearhead
This was my first live experience of Michael Franti & Spearhead, and I guarantee it won't be my last. From the second he and his band walked onstage and jammed to "Little Bit of Riddim" to the closing number "Say Hey (I Love You)" with Jason Mraz, the San Francisco native was in good spirits and delivered a pulsating set of reggae-pop tunes. Franti told everyone that he visited the White House the day prior to his Bumbershoot appearance, joking that he'd distribute toilet squares to the crowd stolen from the national landmark. "Hello Bonjour" provided concertgoers with upbeat momentum to shrug off the evening chill, while "Everyone Deserves Music" and "Everybody Ona Move" saw people leaping off their feet and raising their fists in the air. His slower material was also quite good, such as a ballad dedicated to his son who embarked on a cross-country journey via Greyhound and the soft, acoustic "Hey World." Franti's cheery set was the perfect warm, fuzzy blanket on a cool late summer night.

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