[Ed. Note: Well, this is embarrassing. Pete "Vanifest Destiny" Cottell managed to get his van all the way to Seattle to relive his grunge-addled childhood at Sub Pop's 25th anniversary bash, and filed this report a day or two later, but we're only now getting around to posting it. Our bad, not Pete's. We promise we'll be on time for the label's 50th anniversary.]
I spent my 25th birthday drinking cheap beer at a scummy bar that smelled like bleach on top of urine. Some weird townies and leftover friends from college put me in a stupor by midnight, making it tough to recall if there were any children present. I’ll go out on a limb and guess there weren’t, which made it that much stranger when I took the van up to Seattle for Sub Pop’s Silver Jubilee to find the event lousy with ‘em.
The venerable indie label celebrated it’s own quarterlife crisis with a massive street festival that was free to all, which must explain the amount of aging hipsters with their newly minted families in tow. Why pay for a babysitter when you can pack up the clan in the Astrovan you used to transport your sludge metal band from one college town to the next and see Mudhoney play for free in a parking lot under the I-5 overpass? Wholesome fun for all!
Upon approaching the Georgetown neighborhood, an industrial concrete jungle located a few miles south of Safeco Field, I encountered a clusterfuck of people waiting to get in to the stage behind Elysian Brewery. Police became agitated as throngs of confused concertgoers spilled into the middle of the street, assuming this was the main point of entry for the show. While taking a picture of a poster hanging on a fence, a skinny dad with dyed-black hair and a faded Sonic Youth T-shirt barked at me and covered his face like I was a tabloid photographer. Rather than wait for his blonde-haired kid to get out of the shot, I took the photo while pretending to fiddle with my phone for other reasons. Judging by the neon Nike outfit and the bored look on the kid’s face, he probably would’ve rather spent the day shopping at Whole Foods with mom back in Bellevue than with his cool dad who was there when it all happened, man!
While en route to the Sub Stage to catch what was left of Pissed Jeans set, I saw a depressed-looking clown at a crosswalk under a bridge making balloon animals for no one in particular. The Gen X offspring of Seattle have far more sophisticated ways to stay entertained while their parents relive the ‘90s than balloon animals, and the clown remained sad and alone as the WALK light prompted the herd to move along. Pissed Jeans made a beautiful mess of angry noise for the few songs I caught, which had a select few younger guys towards the front working themselves in to a frenzy by the end of the set. If only these guys were around when Jesus Lizard and Shellac were perfecting the craft some 20 years ago.
Toronto’s METZ flew through a brutal, tightly wound set that struggled to draw blood until the opening riff of “Get Off” corralled what was left of the reckless hesher bros that started mayhem during Pissed Jeans’ set. For material that hits with such a bludgeoning economy on record, the lack of the tick-ticking intro noises that queue up each track made the dynamics fall flat towards the beginning of the set. Singer Alex Edkins politely goaded the crowd into acting like they were at a punk show, which eventually received compliance before the sweat stopped raining from the stage. If METZ schedules a date in a dark, dingy club any time soon, I’ll gladly forget this ever happened and accept a rewrite.
Shabazz Palaces drew a congested crowd at the awkwardly placed Pop Stage, which may have been more a byproduct of bottlenecked foot traffic in transit to the bars down the street than sincere interest. Enough people up front were nodding along to the duo’s sample-heavy grooves that brought back some of the best elements of the early ‘90s underground hip-hop scene, but the low-end kept cutting out of the speakers in ways that could not have been on purpose. A drunk girl in a Gary Payton jersey was grinding on anyone within five feet while the beats rolled on, only to go limp like a noodle when the bottom dropped out at random intervals.
After a quick layover for some grub at Smarty Pants, I wiggled back towards the front of the Pop Stage to catch former Afghan Whigs/Twilight Singers frontman Greg Dulli. Supported by a conscripted gang of fedora'd LA session players, Dulli left no stone of his extensive catalog of transgressive soul-rock unturned. Opening the set with a cut from “Jesus Christ Superstar” was a cheeky move that drew a warm response from the tame contingent of middle-aged spectators gathered to remember what baby-making music for white people sounded like back when the proletariat was discovering boy bands and nu-metal for the first time. “My Enemy” helped me appreciate not being old enough to despise this band for arbitrary reasons during their first trip around the block like most critics do in the context of “overrated bands of the ‘90s.” I’ll take the Whigs over Third Eye Blind any day, that’s for sure.
As rumors of an impromptu Soundgarden reunion began circulating, the Sub Stage reached critical mass in anticipation for local heroes Mudhoney. For the weathered indie-rock lifers and their offspring, this was clearly the main attraction. Soccer moms with bad tattoos and librarian glasses wrangled spastic 2 year olds while their dads shrugged off responsibility to bro-out like they had just snuck in to the Crocodile Café with fake IDs for the first time. After a guy smoking a one-hitter handed me a warm can of Heineken from a brown paper Target bag, I asked him what he did with his kids for the day. “Fuck that!” he scoffed. “My girlfriend and I adopted a second cat named Lovebone and decided that was enough. Look at Kurt [Cobain]’s kid. There’s no way that chick is in her right mind!” As the opening chords of “Touch Me I’m Sick” incited a riot amongst a pair of toddlers to our left, the guy downed his beer and wandered off with a disgusted look on his face.
“I keep smelling cigars up here,” singer Mark Arm screamed during a brief pause between songs. “Weed is fucking legal here! Come on!” With the exception of my friend with the Heineken and a few lost-looking teenagers hovering near the sound booth in Obey tanks, marijuana culture severely lacked delegates at the celebration of a label whose sludgy seminal releases were fueled by an unfathomable number of bong rips. Mudhoney was remarkable in their fidelity to a sound that rewrote the book on punk and metal over two decades ago, but the young kids hoisted on their parents shoulders with giant 3M earmuffs may have to rediscover this on their own terms in the coming years. Let’s just hope the post-grunge parental movement stays true to its roots and keeps these kids away from sellout rock like Candlebox and Bush.
Soundgarden never showed, but I was too busy floating in space with Built to Spill’s headlining set to care about hearing “Black Hole Sun” live for the first time in my life. I have fond memories of escaping the summer heat and watching MTV until my 8-year-old eyes were red, and I don’t think the child in me would be completely satisfied with the geriatric revival of a band I loved a decade before I knew what a fuzz pedal was. The actual 8 year olds in attendance certainly didn’t care. Someday they’ll remember when their parents dragged them away from their computer screens and into the streets on a hot day in July to witness the celebration of something that meant so much to so many once-young devotees to independent music across the planet, and someday they might appreciate it.