With ’90s nostalgia at an all-time high, the return of Luscious Jackson is aptly timed. Who better to rock the Bumbershoot masses—inevitably clad in acid-washed jean shorts and midriff-revealing tees—than the alt-rock ladies who brought similar crowds to their feet exactly 20 years ago at Lollapalooza?
The group’s re-emergence after more than a decade—it disbanded after the release of its third full-length, Electric Honey, in 1999—comes at an interesting point in the rock world. Here is a band that (in a track like “City Song,” in which the all-female group catcalls a NYC bike messenger) jumbled perceptions of what an alt-’90s female band could do—even though today, acts like Iggy Azalea and Beyonce are playfully flirting with masculine tropes in their music.
For one thing, its drummer, Kate Schellenbach—the original drummer in the Beastie Boys—helped connect the band with the Beasties’ Grand Royal imprint, which would release all its records until it broke up. For another, with its groove-laden urban soul, the group laid claim to a subgenre of alternative music not yet occupied by other alt-’90s girl groups. Bands like the Breeders took up the esoteric side of alternative, channeling the quasi-punk of its parent group the Pixies; Sleater-Kinney was in-your-face and fiercely Riot Grrl; but Luscious Jackson was a band of cool girls with a carefree lyrical style and a gritty attitude who projected effortless confidence.
“We thought we invented something with a song like ‘Daughters of the Kaos,’ ” says frontwoman Jill Cunniff of the track from the band’s breakthrough 1992 EP In Search of Manny. “Kaos” is the essential Luscious Jackson anthem: a hard-driving, Spanish guitar–looped track that sounds like a Beasties B-side. Now a mother of two living in Brooklyn, Cunniff says her band’s sound is still different than a lot of music out now. “That’s the main goal,” she says. “From the beginning, we wanted to make [the new music] modern but not lose our sound.”
Reconnected after collaborating on a children’s album (Baby DJ), the members—Cunniff, Schellenbach, and Gabby Glaser, (with keyboardist Vivian Trimble sitting the reunion out)—decided to finish some uncompleted Luscious Jackson songs. “When [the kid’s album] was finished, we were like, ‘Let’s do this,’ ” Cunniff says. The band then cut its fourth full length, 2013’s Magic Hour, through a huge crowdsourcing effort, and Cunniff recorded and produced it at her home studio in Brooklyn.
A party jam with bright harmonies and heavy, syncopated beats seemingly lifted from an Ill Communication–era playlist, “So Rock On”—co-produced with the Beasties’ Adam Horovitz—channels the burning energy of early Luscious Jackson. Another track brings Magic Hour into the sobering present: “We Go Back” remembers Adam “MCA” Yauch, the much-loved Beastie Boys rapper. Cunniff starts it with the words “We grew up together/Lightened up together/Running down dark streets deep in the past/We never asked will it last.”
“That was written when he died,” she says. “We knew him since we were teens. It was a very emotional period, when an artist takes up that much space for that many decades. It was a huge loss to anyone who grew up with the Beastie Boys, especially because those guys won’t be making any more music.”
Luscious Jackson, it seems, will be taking up that task, with experience to spare for young women looking to start their own bands.
“Just be true to what you are,” Cunniff says. “How do you want to present yourself? The sexualization aspect, that’s up for grabs. Be true to what you are, and don’t judge each other. It’s about what you’re comfortable with, and if you’re your own artist, you only have to please yourself.” Luscious Jackson Fisher Green Stage, Sun., 4:45 p.m.
Bumbershoot takes place Aug. 30–Sept. 1 at Seattle Center. $62 for single day pass, $175 for 3-day pass. Pick up Seattle Weekly’s print edition for a full schedule and map. Or go to bumbershoot.org for more information. And be sure to check out all our suggestions for music, film, and visual arts.