Sharon Jones and Tony Bennett Turn Back the Clock, and Other Sunday Observations from Bumbershoot

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Renee McMahon
Tony Bennett -- with drummer Harold Jones -- played Bumbershoot's Mainstage on Sunday, September 2.
If anything has characterized the past few years of Bumbershoot, it's been how it has adapted to the realities of being a music festival in modern times: slimming down its scale, offering reduced ticket prices, and booking acts that encapsulate of-the-moment trends. So it was a bit counterintuitive that the first two acts to hit the main stage Sunday--Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and Tony Bennett--were throwbacks in the truest sense of the word.

Around the time of Capitol Hill Block Party, there was a lot of talk in this space about the authenticity of groups that dredge up old genres, but unlike, say, Fitz and the Tantrums, there's nothing retro about the soul music Sharon Jones plays. Jones and her 10-piece band, The Dap Kings, were raw and propulsive, riding out a hard-earned groove during each song in her set. In the hands of a lesser performer, Jones' fantastic set of pipes and forceful stage presence might come off like some sort of female James Brown impersonator, but she absolutely (and authentically) owned the venue.

Tony Bennett's trademark croon has lost a bit of its luster over the years, but the 86-year-old still commands the attention of a room, in this case a nearly full Key Arena. And even if the mood at the show felt like something you might catch at a casino--Bennett's pastel-yellow blazer, his nostalgia-baiting anecdotes about hanging out with Rosemary Clooney--he's a consummate performer. With the help of his four-piece backing band, featuring legendary jazz drummer Harold Jones, Bennett worked his way through 60 years of standards. Plus, the way he can still absolutely belt it, as he did at the close of nearly every song, would be impressive at any age.

Other observations from Saturday:

--Even for a festival as diverse as Bumbershoot, it's hard to overstate the cognitive dissonance of wandering into the sun after Tony Bennett's paeans to young love and into the weed smoke and casual misogyny of Yelawolf's late-afternoon set at the TuneIn Stage. Signed as of last year to Eminem's Shady Records, the Alabama rapper can certainly spit, as evidenced by several impressive a capella freestyles, even if his Dirty South-aping beats are as generic as they come.

--And speaking of cognitive dissonance, nothing says "Tony Bennett" like the live stream of aggressively mundane tweets about Tony Bennett that were displayed on the big screens in Key Arena before his set.

--I only managed to catch a couple of songs from The Young Evils, whose boy-girl power-pop was melodic, competent, and completely unremarkable. It might have helped, however, if those boy-girl vocals were actually audible from the front of the stage.

--Fruit Bats played a professional, solid set of propulsive folk-rock that drew heavily from their last two albums. The songs from last year's Tripper especially benefitted from the band's louder live setup.

--Reverb darling Jessica Dobson's Deep Sea Diver was on point for the majority of its evening set at the Promenade Stage. The band's fractured pop songs sounded muscular and fussy, with a surprising proggy edge and a "Psycho Killer" cover thrown in for good measure.

--In case the world needed proof that there's only one Kanye West, there was Big Sean's set at Key Arena. The Detroit rapper's underdog, workingman ethos seems genuine, but his music is the worst sort of formulaic, ego-by-numbers hip-hop that is so predominant on top-40 radio. It's also wildly popular--by my estimate, every high schooler in Seattle was at his set last night, enthusiastically responding to Sean's constant inquiries about whether the crowd was ready to party. (They were.)

 
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