Sweltering temperatures didn’t stop the parades from flocking to the middle of Washington for the first of three days of concerts at The Gorge. Sasquatch, typically the smallest of the summer festivals, has erupted into a full-blown spectacle.
The festival this year seems larger, the sun hotter, and the lines longer. Adding a fourth stage, the dance and comedy tent, has added plenty of diversity to the lineup, and this year the Wookie Stage is larger and has a video monitor suspended above the stage.
The first day featured performances by some excellent musicians leading up to Kings of Leon’s first performance at the Gorge, including Brit gloom pop rockers The Doves, guitarist and musical collaborator M. Ward, “gypsy punk” band Devotchka, and actor/hip hop artist Mos Def.
M. Ward, dressed in all black, must have been roasting onstage, but didn’t display any discomfort. A talented musician that has worked with artists ranging from Conor Oberst to Zooey Deschanel, Ward performed during one of the hottest portions of the day, but rocked his guitar as the sun beat down upon him. He also invited DeVotchKa’s accordionist/violinist Tom Hagerman to strum a tune with him.
The first large act of the day was the highly anticipated band Animal Collective. Blowing trance/electronic pop rock across the Gorge, the band spurred a few impromptu-dance groups, but didn’t appeal to the masses, brushing some concertgoes the wrong way. A hardworking band, their trance noise pop didn’t come without a lot of talent, and I could appreciate the effort the band went to and the surreal aspect of seeing them in such a large venue, though they were probably better suited for a smaller stage.
The Decemberists followed, which I opted out of to catch Mos Def (thankfully missing this). Admittedly, I was star struck, having come to know Mos from his HBO Series, Def Poetry Jam, which he hosted with Russell Simmons. The Ani DiFranco of rap, Mos took the stage in a Mardi Gras-esque mask and launched into an unconventional and socially conscious hip hop set.
Stopping to reflect on the surroundings, Mos asked the audience to turn around and catch the setting sun, putting emphasis on how beautiful the world around us was. Some feedback from the sound system threw him off, but he recovered and wrapped up an engrossing set in time for us to catch the Yeah Yeah Yeahs opening number.
When Karen O sang “Maps,” it was one of those amazing moments at Sasquatch where the sun was just beginning to set, highlighting the river winding through its channel. The wind was blowing slightly, cooling off the skin of 20,000 spectators, and the rosy clouds just below the horizon picked up subtle colors as the night descended.
When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs wrapped their set, we caught the last few songs of Bon Iver. The secondary stage, plagued by sound problems all day, proved problamatic for Justin Vernon, who apologized to the crowd for being unable to performs some of his planned set.
Kings of Leon capped the night, and it was the last show of their current tour. The band rolled into a slew of hits from the latest albums “Because of the Times” and the Grammy-nominated “Only By the Night,” including the fan favorite, “Sex on Fire.” The band’s brawny frontman and rhythm guitarist Caleb Followill, wearing a red flannel and sporting a beard, elicited several squeals from his followers.
Unfortunately, the band was disappointing live. Followill missed some lyrics and the band as a whole stumbled on parts of their songs and had difficulty transitioning from between songs.
Looking out to the audience, Followill expressed his awe with the Gorge, performing for the first time on its stage.
“It’s our first time here and I had no idea how beautiful it was,” he told the crowd. It was satisfying to hear the power of “Cold Desert,” the yelping “Charmer,” and the ambiance of “Knocked Up,” but the band seemed dislocated. Perhaps fame came too quick for the gritty southern charmers.
However disappointing one of the headliners was, today is only Sunday, and the weekend’s apex happens tonight when the original lineup of Jane’s Addiction takes the stage.