Apparently 107.7 The End believes that the current state of “alternative” music is this: the bands most deserving of promotion are a) almost exclusively made up of white dudes; b) nearly indistinguishable in sound and/or style, and c), not from anywhere near the Pacific Northwest. This year’s Summer Camp lineup was lacking in diversity in nearly every sense of the word. But this didn’t seem to matter, as the one-day festival sold out well in advance and fans packed into the fabulous venue at Marymoor Park. Surrounded by tall evergreens and strung throughout with lights, Marymoor’s ambiance was an easy fit for a “summer camp'” vibe, and the cloudless, sunny sky made for a generally perfect day for listening to live music.
The first half of the day’s performers were so similar, they served as background chatter. Frankly, The End could have been taking the same four or five scruffily sexy young white men, ruffling their hair up differently between sets, and regurgitating them back on stage for several hours with no one noticing. It was really a shame, because none of the bands were bad on their own. The blame belongs solely on the shoulders of whoever curated the lineup.
Thankfully, the energy changed for the better with the band SKATERS. These four white guys seemed to be sharing parts from a couple of red Adidas track suits, which lent a bit of a Beastie Boys vibe to this New York band. SKATERS played with a harder punk edge, lyric-checking both Pixies and Violent Femmes to the delight of the crowd.
The Orwells then proceeded to perform an implosion of some sort, leaving what was surely the most lasting impression on attendees that day. Frontman Mario Cuomo exuded rock and roll attitude much in the way that the crowd was sweating: simply and without effort, by turns loving and hating on the crowd (“Nirvana and coffee! Nirvana and coffee! I’m in SEATTLE!”). Cuomo rolled around on stage, on the ground in the photo pit, and in the crowd, with the grand finale of mooning the entire audience, getting smacked by his buddy’s axe, and falling over himself with his pants down, all of which was immensely entertaining. By the way, The Orwells sounded pretty good, too, Cuomo’s voice standing out in the sea of sausage with a ragged swagger of its own. The rest of the band kept to themselves and their hard-edged rock (except for the guitar-meet-ass-smack). The day finally got interesting.
According to the posted schedule, the period after The Orwells’ set was designated as “Camp Fire Sing-Along” time, and The End’s best-beloved DJs gathered around a fakey-fire before announcing that they couldn’t sing, so they had Portugal. The Man come to fill in for them. Surprise! Marymoor Park experienced a sudden stampede as fans stormed the stage. It’s a miracle nobody was hurt. Portugal. The Man was a huge draw at Sasquatch this year, so the excitement was to be expected. Yet here we are again – boys, boys, boys. Was Portugal. The Man an unexpected and awesome guest? Indeed. Yet they were not a significant departure from the theme of the festival.
Bleachers didn’t do much to veer from the set path, either, although Jack Antonoff’s shorty-shorts were a step in the right direction. Antonoff’s more androgynous look belied the tub-thumping sound of Bleachers’ biggest hit, “I Wanna Get Better,” and even an adorable cover of The Cranberries‘ “Dreams” wasn’t enough to offset the overt, pissy testosterone of The Orwells’ earlier set.
Ah, Phantogram. The latest super moon of the summer presided over the deserving headliner as temperatures cooled and the mass of people in front of the stage ballooned obtrusively into the grassy areas. The flickering, epileptic stage lighting was annoying, but nothing could detract from the voice of Sarah Barthel and electronic/guitaric noodling of her band mate Josh Carter. Their performance was arresting and sexy and was exactly what had been missing for the entire day . . . could it possibly be a woman’s touch? Phantogram was danceable, melodic, and full of nuanced emotion. “Fall In Love” was perfect. Comments abounded on just how on point Barthel’s voice was that night. All too soon it was over, and the place seemed to clear out beneath the twinkling tree-lights in no time. It was still a warm, lovely night, perfect for lingering over a drink, but it had been a long day. Looking forward, it behooves The End to form a lineup with more variety. But in “the end,” no one can declare Summer Camp 2014 anything but a success.