Yoni-obscuring amatuer shot of Why? (pro photos of Keane available in SW's official slideshow)
For me, Bumbershoot Sunday was entirely about anticon. indie rock rap


Bumbershoot Sunday: Emo Feelings and '90s Teen Nostalgia with Why? and the Promise Ring

Yoni-obscuring amatuer shot of Why? (pro photos of Keane available in SW's official slideshow)
For me, Bumbershoot Sunday was entirely about anticon. indie rock rap act Why? and '90s emo pop punk band the Promise Ring, with a stultifying four hour gap in between. These bands have a few things in common: both sing (and/or rap) about potentially embarrassing levels of emotions, both have songs concerned with age and aging, both use place names in songs to signify specific identities or longing distances. Both you could reasonably classify as "emo" in the broader, non-mallrat sense--but while Promise Ring are decidedly "cute" emo, Why? are something more like "icky" emo. Makes sense: Why?'s Yoni Wolf is singing the songs written by his 30-something year-old self; Davey Von Bohlen, singing for the just this year reunited Promise Ring, was singing songs he'd written as early as age 19. The gap between 19 and early 30s, that's enough time to turn even the cutest of us icky and sour.

For the Promise Ring, though, yesterday evening's set in the Exhibition Hall (indoor stages for indoor kids) was an pure, unadulterated nostalgia fest, without an ill feeling to be had. Davey did his little goofy-footed dancing and duck-walking while playing guitar leads that, in retrospect, sound really painfully, playfully simple. He handled hecklers--the too-enthusiastic, can't-contain-themselves kind, not the mean kind--with affable aplomb, gently making fun of fans for their non-Milwaukee Brewers baseball caps, their ultra-specific song requests, and one guy's way of screaming fond sentiments in an angry-sounding voice, which Davey mimicked with pro wrestling-ready fake shout. They played songs spanning their entire career, from "E. Texas Ave" (off the Texas is the Reason split 7") to jokey wood/water sorta swan song "Stop Playing Guitar." (Note to self: parts of wood/water may be better than I gave them credit for at the time, investigate further; "Make Me a Mixtape," conversely is way more embarrassing than I remember.)

Davey repeatedly joked about the lyric in "Jersey Shore" about turning 25, as though that were actually old, about him still being 24, about people in their late 20s being "old people" and not knowing any of them personally, that sort of thing. Cute stuff. "This for me is the really terrifying part of the set list," Davey said at one point, mistakenly thinking he was introducing a string of early songs. "Oh, it's not? Oh, this is easy. There's a part later that's all 19 year-old screaming and yelling when he shouldn't be screaming and yelling." Early tunes played included: "A Picture Postcard," "Red Paint" ("you sound like young love" to be screamed by audience), "Everywhere in Denver," and--I think! correct me if I'm wrong--"Scenes From France?" (My full attempt at set lists below.) Later, Davey told the story of how a fan told him he'd lost his virginity to one of their early songs ("Red Paint"?), to which Davey observed that this meant the fan had lost his virginity to his song before he had himself. Yeesh.

Now, for contrast, put an emotionally vulnerable 19 year-old in front of Why? frontman Yoni Wolf--or at least the version of himself that he plays onstage in song--and he'd probably seduce them (then feel awful about it afterwards).

For as much as Why? is driven by Yoni's voice--both in the lyrical and physical/acoustic sense--the first voice you heard on stage yesterday afternoon (also indoors) wasn't his, but rather belonged to the band's two new female members. They sang a version of Oaklandazulasylum song "Dirty Glass" (more Texas!) without Yoni even onstage, the five-piece band arranged in a semi-circle: drummer Josiah Wolf at one end of the stage, facing (and furiously dueling against) another drummer/xylophonist across from him; Doug McDiarmid in rear center, standing with guitar; and flanking him, two ladies on keyboards (the bass guitar, when needed, got passed from Josiah to keyboardists/vocalist Liz Hodson). Soon enough, though, Yoni was out in front, rocking seersucker shorts, rapping the sad sack lines to "Good Friday," and doing his own goofy dances during their songs' instrumental parts (including a little light kickboxing on one song, and, on another, his squat-hopping impersonation of Bald Bull from NES classic Mike Tyson's Punch Out).

Yoni joked about our festival's terrible name ("Bumberclot"); he noted that Seattle was a second home for the band as Doug lives around here and second drummer Ben goes to "Seattle Washington University"; he chided the crowd for being so quiet then asked how many of us had been to church that morning (very faint response); he said the band had come here straight from Summer Stock in the Northeast, where the band had been doing "Othello," misidentifying band members as characters from other Shakespeare plays before saying "Ohpelia? Oh-feel-ya nuts," a pun which another band member suggested Shakespeare would have enjoyed.

The set was a well-balanced mix of old classics ("Crushed Bones!") and new songs from the forthcoming Mumps, Etc., and the band's new line-up made for some pretty thrilling deliveries: the thundering dual drums on "Good Friday," the band humming and whistling the instrumental parts on new single "Jonathan's Hope." A couple lyrical turns from new songs are already worming their way into my personal Why? canon, one about "when you find yourself in your late 20s/wanna make money," another that goes "you will always thirst like that," and then the awesome/awful self-loathing white rapper boast "I don't wear rubbers and I don't wear sunscreen" (Yoni is a bad role model, kids).

All right, my attempts at set-lists, please chime in with corrections:

The Promise Ring

1. "Size of Your Life"

2. "Happiness Is All the Rage"

3. "Emergency! Emergency!"

4. "Jersey Shore"

5. "Red & Blue Jeans"

6. "Make Me a Mixtape"

7. "A Picture Postcard"

8. ?? (something off wood/water)

9. "Skips a Beat"

10. "The Deep South"

11. "Why Did We Ever Meet?"

12. "Stop Playing Guitar"

13. "Nothing Feels Good"

14. "Is This Thing On?"

15. "Perfect Lines"

16. "E. Texas Ave"

17. "Tell Everyone We're Dead"

18. "Red Paint"

19. "Everywhere in Denver"

20. "Forget Me"


1. "Dirty Glass"

2. "Good Friday"

3. "These Few Presidents"

4. "Jonathan's Hope"

5. "Strawberries"

6. "Waterlines"

7. "Brook & Waxing"

8. "The Hollows"

9. "Sod in the Seed"

10. "Bitter Thoughts"

11. ?? (new)

12. "Fatalist Palmistry"

13. "Crushed Bones"

14. "The Vowels, pt 2"

15. "Simeon's Dilemma"

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