EVERYBODY KNOWS what controversy does to pop stars—we're talkin' mega-media coverage, skyrocketing sales, intensifying scrutiny, maybe even an episode of Nightline. So the Experience Music Project opening weekend should be nothing short of a spectacle, given that two of the main acts, Eminem and Metallica, are currently standing in notoriety's spotlight. (Not to mention the ubiquitous MTV and VH1 cameras that'll tape the weekend's festivities and air them during the coming week).
EMP Grand Opening
Seattle Center, Friday-Sunday, June 23-25
Seattle Festival of Free Improvisation
Multiple venues, begins Friday, June 23
I won't delve into the myriad charges facing the mercury-tongued Detroit rapper or philosophize about the Bay Area hard-rock mainstay's struggles with Napster—which are beginning to take on comical, Elmer Fudd vs. Bugs Bunny proportions—but suffice it to say that their presence in Memorial Stadium this Friday will focus the world's eyes on Queen Anne. And putting aside the brouhahi (that's the Latin plural), EMP's really big shoo kinda rocks, what with chart-topping Eminem teaming up with hip-hop pioneer Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, and with the energetic performance blitz of silly Kid Rock. Red Hot Chili Peppers and Filter, who round out the bill, seem one-dimensional in comparison—and to think Flea used to be shocking.
Friday's adult-alternative shows lack such star power, but the prospect of two pop iconoclasts sharing the Bagley Wright Theater stage deserves at least a raised eyebrow. Rickie Lee Jones and Joe Jackson epitomized the free-spiritedness of rock at the start of the '80s, recording albums without regard to genre and songs that snubbed the fashionable disco/new wave nexus. Both quickly retreated to jazzier terrain with mixed results, and recent years have found Jones dabbling with trip-hop while Jackson flirted with opera and classical, though both seem to realize the importance of pleasing fans with their "hits."
Previous to all this high-priced hubbub—tickets for the above shows range in price from $25-$59.50—EMP offers noteworthy free performances. Patti Smith headlines a stellar Mural Amphitheater lineup (starting at 4pm), which includes Dave Alvin and his prot駩, local singer-songwriter Christy McWilson of the Picketts. (Alvin produced her terrific new disc, The Lucky One.) Also gratis are shows with Junior Brown, Bob Mould, and Pedro the Lion, and a diverse emerging artist showcase with local dance hero Donald Glaude, indie-rock crew 764-HERO, and hard-rockin' Botch.
Given the in-your-face attraction of Friday's Memorial Stadium bill, you'd have to expect Saturday's follow-up to feature the opposite (and more vapid) end of the pop spectrum, with teeny-boppers like Britney Spears, 'N Sync, and maybe Christina Aguilera. No such luck. Instead, EMP's assembled a rag-tag collection that looks like an Endfest reunion: matchbox twenty, No Doubt, Alanis Morissette, Beck, and Eurythmics. An electronic music showcase brings Iceland's Gus Gus Sound System, Montreal's Heavyweight Art Installation, LA's Supreme Beings of Leisure, and our own Nasir. The weekend's most eclectic event takes place earlier Saturday, with a 1pm free show featuring the world music trio of Michael Shrieve, Airto, and Zakir Hussain; Bay Area indie-pop stalwarts Imperial Teen; Seattle's funkafied Maktub; the sharp-edged C&W of Neko Case & Her Boyfriends; and the groove-seeking IQU.
On Sunday, another headliner who scraps with the law frequently, James Brown, finishes off a day that'll see an odd assortment of punk, hip-hop, regional oldies, and soul. At least one reunion of note, that of Screaming Trees, will take place, and some variation of Heart will appear. The day's lineup comes closer in spirit to that of the host enterprise, the well-hyped EMP, but it'll probably fall short of the energy level promised for Friday's opening gala. (R.A.M.)
ON THE SAME NIGHT EMP hosts its all-star lineup of corporate-backed rock and hip-hop acts, an obscure Seattle music festival also gets under way, with musicians who perform not only sans corporate interest, but, for the most part, sans chords, rhythm, structure, or plan.
The 15th Seattle Festival of Free Improvisation is a multi-evening showcase for musicians from Seattle and the world whose playing is guided by nothing but their own passion, creativity, and inner sense of musical form. Free improvisation is "people exposing themselves, putting themselves at risk," says guitarist Dennis Rea, one of the lead festival organizers. "It involves an element of danger that can be very rewarding."
Thanks to a circle of devoted new music practitioners, Seattle has developed one of the most fertile free music scenes in the country, and a festival that began in 1985 as a single evening of mayhem in a Belltown loft has evolved into an annual event that runs nine nights this year at a half-dozen venues.
Organizers have scheduled their series to coincide with the du Maurier jazz festival in Vancouver, which brings to the Northwest some of the most progressive European performers, a few of whom will make a side trip south. British saxophonist John Butcher, for example, a renowned creator of unclassifiable sonic threads, headlines the festival's opening night. Belgian keyboardist and composer Fred Van Hove performs on Tuesday with German trombonist Johannes Bauer. Several of Seattle's great forward thrusters, including saxophonist Wally Shoup and bassist Fred Chalenor, will also be debuting their perpetually new works.
"The health of this sort of music in the US has never been better," Rea says, "and that includes the '60s, the height of the free jazz movement." Even with all the moaning over corporate dominance of music— indeed perhaps because of it—the hazards and joys of pure improvisation are looking more appealing than ever. (M.D.F.)