Overhead at Sasquatch day four: Is he dead? No doubt the extended weekend of musical festivities and hard partying took its toll on some of the masses, but if you had any spark left, Monday proved that it was time to dance.
Day two of the 2011 Sasquatch Music Festival brought Death Cab for Cutie to the stage as a headliner. Earlier in the day, the outspoken “rap n’ roller” K-OS (born Kevin Brereton) gave homage to the band in his lyrics, as did Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes. Touring with Death Cab, Oberst gave the band praise for being “on top of their game.”
“They’ll sound fantastic,” Oberst said.
In what felt like a greatest-hits compilation, some of Sasquatch’s most impressive acts returned to the stage for the 10th anniversary of the northwestern music festival. Held during Memorial Day weekend at the Gorge Amphitheater, the festival was ripe with Sasquatch nostalgia. Saturday headliners Death Cab for Cutie, Sunday’s Modest Mouse, Cold War Kids, Flaming Lips, and Monday’s The Decemberists and Rodrigo Y Gabriela, among others, all returned to celebrate the birthday of the Northwest’s popular music fest.
The nation’s live music industry remains an unpredictable environment, with fears lingering of last summer’s unusually challenging concert season where artists cancelled tours and struggled to fill seats. Yet 2011 summer music festivals are experiencing record sell-outs.
Tickets to Bonnaroo, Tennessee’s annual music fest in June, are nearly sold out. It was less than a week before tickets for Cochella—Indio, California’s annual music festival taking place next weekend—sold out.
And the northwest’s ever-growing music fest at Washington’s Gorge during memorial Day Weekend, Sasquatch sold all its 100,000 tickets (25,000 per day across four days) just a week after the lineup was announced.
My Morning Jacket’s lead singer Jim James is not strange for the purpose of being strange. He is truly weird, a savant of music. Stomping around the stage in his moon boots, at one point donning a red-lined cape and pulling it across his face in vampire-esque fashion, James and band set forth a spellbinding set at this year’s Sasquatch Music Festival.
For two hours the band presented a stunning mix of genres and atmospheric sounds on the first of three nights of music held annually during Memorial Day weekend. My Morning Jacket took the fog-covered stage, threw on the black lights and strobes, and opened with the epic ballad “Gideon.” They rolled into the reggae groove “Off the Record” and continued playing music spanning the their discography, with a particular focus on songs from “It Still Moves.” Several songs rolled into elaborate, lengthy jams, including “Dondante.”
The day opened slowly. Those rushing to catch openers such as UK folk singer/songwriter Laura Marling or Minneapolis-based hip hop artist Brother Ali were caught up in a festival bottleneck with upwards of two hour wait times to enter. Anxious crowds broke down fences in an attempt to get inside the gates.
The distinct feeling that Sasquatch is growing is undeniable. With tickets long since sold out and overfill campgrounds full, and the massive amount of people at any given stage is staggering. Mumford and Sons, in a 2 p.m. time slot, drew tens of thousands of spectators. Minus the Bear, which performed to ~150 in Billings just weeks ago, took the main stage at 2:15 to a crowded hill—capacity 25,000—of spectators.
The headliners this year (My Morning Jacket, Massive Attack, and Ween) lacked the big name recognition that others have had in the past (Jane’s, Addiction/Nine Inch Nails, Flaming Lips, R.E.M., The Cure), but overall this year’s musical offerings held much weight.
The first day’s music was performed a mix of familiar bands including an impressive main stage lineup (OK Go, Broken Social Scene, The National, Vampire Weekend), and plenty of relatively obscure bands (The Middle East, Nurses, Portugal. the Man). Music genres ranged wildly, but included plenty of beards and the emerging neo-folk/bluegrass sound, centered on the banjo twang and anchored by harmonica.
Pop/dance band OK Go performed a short set of their hits, taking the stage in the mid-afternoon. Damian Kulash, lead singer, kept the crowd’s bubbling excitement throughout the set, asking at one point, “You guys wanna dance?” and launched into “A Million Ways to be Cruel” followed shortly by “Here It Goes Again.” Looking to the hill, Kulash commented, “I hope your picnics are going awesome.”
In their last show of their current tour, Broken Social Scene had the best time slot of the day, playing during the magical time of day where the setting sun casts long shadows and the Gorge begins glowing. Lead singer Kevin Drew shrieked, wailed, and delivered an impassioned performance complete with the National’s horn section and support from a guest cellist. Female vocalist Lisa Lobsinger and Drew displayed gorgeous chemistry, Lobsinger delicately balancing Drew’s rich baritone. When the two performed the ballad “Sweetest Kill“ there were few moments the followed the rest of the evening that were greater. Drew’s voice soared throughout the expansive venue, the lyrics drawn long across his tongue, the stage lights trembling above him.
The band had just traveled from Barcelona, where the performed with Pavement (one of Sunday’s main performers). Of being asked to perform at Sasquatch, Drew said, “I felt like I won or something.”
The performance led naturally to the The National’s set. The band opened with “Mistaken for Strangers,” but it took several songs for lead singer Matt Berninger to truly open up. He seemed aware of the expansive stage and appeared almost awkward as he navigated through the first few songs.
Once Berninger settled into the setting, he opened into a magnanimous set that mixed of the new album “High Violet” and plenty of tracks from “Alligator” and “Boxer.” The new album is one of their darkest, filled with brooding walls of sound and esoteric lyrics. Berninger closed with “Terrible Love,” the opening track from the new album.
Vampire Weekend followed, a band that is catchy pop at its finest. With only two releases, the band has gained a large following rather quickly. They performed a mix of new album material and old songs from their debut, but lacked the musical substance of the band before and the live intensity of the headliner.
Vampire Weekend fans, perhaps curious about My Morning Jacket, stayed to hear the headliner, but people began exiting the amphitheater rather quickly. With their musical intensity, My Morning Jacket is a jarring contrast from the pop grooves and afro-pop sounds of Vampire Weekend. In the pit area, My Morning Jacket fanatics mixed with people not fully aware of the musical prowess that would unfold. Unfortunately, many of them left before the set fully evolved.
For a band that is so superb, has such awe-inspiring talents, it is important that they were given a platform to perform in front of people who might not otherwise be exposed to their sounds. The performance in its entirety was mesmerizing and hypnotic at times. As bubbles floated by, their soapy circles glowing reflecting rainbows in the stage lights, the atmosphere was electric with talent, and there was a distinct feeling of time slowing. Cupping his hand to his ear, James absorbed the audience energy, thanking the remaining audience for “sticking around.”
“It is a God damned pleasure to be here with you on the main stage,” James noted before the encore. They returned to play three songs, including “Highly Suspicious,” and “Steam Engine.”
Sasquatch’s second day brought to the stage the rare stateside performance of England trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack. From hip hop artist Kid Cudi to London’s shoegaze/post-punk Xx to the legendary Public Enemy, the lineup for day two had an eclectic offering of bands.
The afternoon began to get tangible when Canadian indie rockers Tegan and Sara took the stage. Playing the majority of songs from their newest release, the guitar and keyboard playing twins made sure to throw the fans a few from “The Con,” as well. “The sight of all of you looks so gorgeous,” Tegan Quin said.
New York city dance-punk band LCD Soundsystem took the stage following Tegan and Sara’s set and dove into a set of their gyrating dance-fused tunes. The band’s lead, James Murphy, propelled the band through extensive grooves, including the calypso-inspired “Us V Them,” the frisky pop song “Pow Pow” and the catchy “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House.” Though his audience is majority composed of young hipsters, the 40-year-old Murphy is an musician that has been working in the scene since 1998. His age didn’t stop.
They Might Be Giants was touring on their new album, “The Else,” released nearly 20 years after their debut. The band known for their wit and catchy melody was also tired, their songs novel and the live performance forgettable. “It’s 2007 in our hearts,” lead singer Ian Wright said, and they truly performed like it was.
The excitement behind Pavement’s reunion eclipsed their group’s live dynamic. The expectations were high and the band failed to deliver. Though they played plenty of great songs, they appeared bored and lacked the charisma and mystique of old Pavement.
The last time the band performed the Gorge was during the 1995 Lollapalooza. The band reminisced about their set between Sinead O’Connor and Cypress Hill. “Sixteen years later we’re between LCD Soundsystem and Massive Attack. They squeezed us in,” Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus said. Celebrating his birthday that day, the crowd sang to Malkmus before Pavement began the set. Plagued by sound issues, the band was noticeably upset when they lost power during “Rattled by the Rush.”
Public Enemy also lost power several times during their set on an adjacent stage, but continued playing right through each outage.
Massive Attack, however, erased all sins of the day. The Bristol, United Kingdom electronica band has been together since 1988, known for pioneering the trip hop sound. The band rarely performs in the states, and on its first North American tour since 2006. Touring on the fifth album, “Heligoland,” the band wrapped up the six-city tour at Sasquach Sunday night.
3D (Robert Del Naja) and Daddy G (Grantley “Grant” Marshall) brought guests to the stage including Jamaica roots/reggae singer Horace Andy, performing tracks including “Girl I Love You,” the British vocalist Martina Topley-Bird, who took the stage in a pink ball gown, and the sultry soulful Deborah Miller, (the stand-in vocalist for Shara Nelson’s parts). On “Safe From Home” Miller’s inner-diva took hold, her soulful voice belting across the canyon. “You can free the world from harm, you can free my mind. Just as long as my baby’s safe from harm,” she sang.
Behind the artists a screen flashed sobering statistics, a jarring contrast between the assaulting wall of sound. Contrasting hurricane renters vs. homeowners who have received federal funding, for example, or topical facts regarding volcano ash, and Sara Palin quotes (“We are all Arizonians now”), against trance-like music, the result was a sobering mix of intellectualism with electronic experimentalism.
The screen messages centered on America’s less desirable traits, including the recent immigration controversy in Arizona. Quoting the famous message that appears on the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore), the band squarely asked: “What the fuck Arizona?”
The intent of these messages never felt insulting, and the final song brought their message full circle, contrasting the evils of American corporations yet placing the British “Beyond” Petroleum brand squarely at the top of all social evils.
The musicians said few words. Applauding their audience, the group graciously bowed and exited.
The final day brought country rockers the Drive-By Truckers to the stage, followed by Boston synth/dance band Passion Pit. Northwestern band moved south Band of Horses followed, returning back to their roots.
Taking the stage, frontman Ben Bridwell said, “I’d like to take us back to the starting point, if you don’t mind.” They played a wonderful set of old songs from “Everything All the Time” and “Cease to Begin.”
MGMT, the apex of the festival for many, started their set with slower acoustic sounds. Without much fanfare, they attracted the largest crowd of the day, drawing only the dedicated away to watch The New Pornographers.
Neko Case and frontman A.C. Newman took plenty of shots at MGMT fans filing out of the stadium. The band, a powerhouse of nine talents, might have been offended at MGMT’s drawing power, but knew they were playing to the dedicated few.
Unusual for this wordy lady, I have few words for the final day’s headliner, Ween…If you like them, the show was delightful. If you didn’t like them, you still don’t.
Throwing on my Sonic Youth “100% Dirty” shirt had new meaning on day 3 of the Sasquatch music festival, day 4 of camping. I’m tired of “Honey Buckets,” am covered from head to toe in a thin film of dust, and ready for my own bed to crawl into.
A relatively quiet day in comparison to yesterday’s bedlam leading up to NIN and Jane’s Addiction, day 3 proved to be a perfect wind down to the festival. It was also a day of very powerful women to grace the stages, starting with Erika Wennerstrom of the Heartless Bastards.
Wennerstrom was a vision in a bright blue dress; her raspy voice sounded full and robust live. The first main stage act of the day, the Heartless Bastards played to a sparse crowd but the area quickly filled as Japanese noise pop band Deerhoof prepped to play.
Satomi Matsuzaki, the petite and quirky frontwoman and bassist for Deerhoof, sang in Japanese and English; the band was composed of two guitarists and a minimalist drum set with snare, bass drum and cymbal.
“Thank you very much. It’s very hot,” Matsuzaki said as the early afternoon sun beat down. For the band’s last song, Matsuzaki donned a lion’s mask and handed her bass off to close the set with an eccentric dance number.
Santi White, who goes by the stage name Santogold, was another captivating performer, charming audiences with her offbeat humor, including referencing the Burger King she ate before taking the stage.
“Let’s see what happens, see if I throw up,” she said. Projecting her voice, the Brooklyn producer/singer/songwriter was a bit rasta, a bit hip hop and a lot of energy. Touring for the first time with a band, the group was on its fourth show. With relentless energy, White inspired a dance party on the hill during “Unstoppable.”
She also performed a punky rock number from her former Philadelphia-based punk rock band Stiffed. She closed the set by hand-selecting her “best dancers” from the front row to join her onstage.
Erykah Badu , who performed the main stage directly before headlining act Ben Harper and the Relentless 7, was a sultry and calming presence. Dressed in a Public Enemy hooded sweatshirt, fetching shower cap underneath the hood, the soulful hip hop and R&B artist had massive stage presence. Serene and peaceful, she closed the show by stating, “One smile can cause a million.”
Following her concert, Erykah Badu signed albums for her fans. Her style was an apt lead-in to Ben Harper, who headlined the evening.
Harper’s new band is excellent, but it’s like getting into Jets to Brazil when you know Jawbreaker exists: You just wanted to hear some old songs. Instead, Harper played a Zeppelin cover and a Queen/Bowie cover, a slew of songs from his new band, the Relentless 7 (a four-piece). He did perform “Another Lonely Day” during the encore, but it felt odd that he didn’t deliver any more fan favorites.
Other notable bands of the day included the animated Gypsy punk band, Gogol Bordello, a nine-piece band that seemed like they could soundtrack a gypsy wedding during the sailing of the seven seas. The swashbuckling lead singer, Eugene Hütz, is originally from the Ukrainian, and his grizzled growl and energetic transitions paired with the multi-instrumental combinations made the band thoroughly enjoyable.
L.A. indie rock band Silversun Pickups had a sunset slot but a muddy sound (muddier than they already are on studio recordings) as they were projected throughout the venue. During the band’s hit, Lazy Eye, lead singer Brian Aubert appeared to have some technical difficulties during the song’s climax, and asked his band to improvise, leading them into an elongated jam session.
Greg Gillis, the creative DJ behind Girl Talk, drew the largest crowd on the secondary stage. The mash-up artist drew a spectrum of people, from small children to a crowd surfer dressed as Green Man. It’s nice to seem Gillis on the video monitors, as his shows are typically packed tight and Gillis is hard to see. Because he can’t make a lot of money off selling his music, he’s bound into delivering live and consistently good shows. Propelled into the spotlight for his unusual skirting of copyright laws, Gillis has and is slated to perform at most of the country’s major festivals.
After three days of music, we’re “tired and wired” and have hundreds of miles to go before we hit our own beds. On the trip home we lament about how special the Gorge is and how stunning it appears each time we see it. As we blast some of the biggest bands of the summer on our iPods, the long haul home feels just a bit shorter.
It took all night, but when Perry Ferrell belted out “Jane says…” for the final song of the night, I felt like all was right in the universe.
Ferrell must have felt the same way, because he reveled in the fact that his band Jane’s Addiction is back together after so much has passed. Performing with the original Jane’s Addiction lineup, including Dave Navarro, Stephen Perkins and Eric Avery, Ferrell hadn’t shared a stage with his band in nearly 17 years.
“In this beautiful night of darkness, let us celebrate death,” Ferrell announced. He mentioned that Jane’s Addiction’s first time on stage at the Gorge was 17 years ago, and “It doesn’t seem like we’re going to stop,” he said.
Ferrell closed the set with “Jane Says,” and though he referenced being enamored with the surrounds, shouted “goodnight Seattle.”
Nine Inch Nails took the stage before Jane’s Addiction, their set timed with the setting sun. The stage began glowing with late afternoon sun mixed with fog drifting across. Trent Reznor brought the audience to their feet when he began, the only band I’d seen to do so on the main hill.
“This is my favorite place in the world to be,” Reznor said, and given the occasion, he seemed sincere. After an energetic set with Trent running from sound station to sound station, the band closed with what has proved to be their biggest legacy, “Hurt.” Pegged as the last tour for NIN — their “Wave Goodbye” logo for the tour fueling rumors that they’re calling it quits — and the first of many for Jane’s, both bands closed last night with monumental milestones in their careers.
Performing at the same time on the secondary stage was Of Montreal, which I am only vaguely aware of from Volkswagen commercials. I had little idea how popular the band was. Their fans are quite wild, and Of Montreal packed plenty of them onstage for one song, and I swore I saw some dancing pink bunnies. Debauchery at it’s finest.
The highlight of my day — aside from the headliners — was the Airborne Toxic Event, a relatively unknown band this year. Violinist Anna Bullbrook stole the show with her dramatic moves, arching over speakers while stringing her violin.
The band’s hit “Sometime Around Midnight” was recognized, and lead singer Mikel Jollett admitted they were just a “new band with a homegrown record and we have no idea what’s happening in our fucking lives right now.” His humbleness was charming, the bands talents excellent.
They closed their set with a elongated version of “Innocence.” Chanting “Oh my God, oh my God,” Jollett’s enduring vocals soared through the crowd.
French rocker Anthony Gonzalez, performing with a few others under the M83 moniker were also an amazing live band. Gonzalez performed with a female vocalist/keyboardist and drummer. Their sensual hypnotic pop was trip the light fantastic and kept people dancing, even in the line for the bathroom.
Monday brings headliner Ben Harper and the Relentless 7. The campground is clearing but thousands are still milling around, prepping for another day of music.
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.
I can almost feel the sunburn, smell the grass, and am crawling out of my skin to get on the road, which means Memorial Day weekend is imminent, as is Sasquatch, a three-day music festival at The Gorge.
The amphitheater located along the Columbia river in southern Washington has a 20,000 person capacity and is host to a wicked lineup of bands this year, including the gritty southern rock band Kings of Leon headlining the festival Saturday evening. On Sunday the original lineup of Jane’s Addiction, featuring Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Stephen Perkins and Eric Avery performing together for the first time in nearly 17 years. On tour with Nine Inch Nails, the band and their touring partners are recreating their final Lollapalooza tour, circa 1991 (NIN performs directly before Jane’s on Sunday).
Performances by the Yeah Yeah Yeas, TV on the Radio, The Decemberists, Silversun Pickups, Girl Talk, Airborne Toxic Event, Mos Def, Animal Collective, among others, will take place during the three-day festival.
The popularity of this music festival has been unprecedented, perhaps because of the consistently excellent lineup or the gorgeous scenery, so unfortunately, tickets are sold out for both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets for Monday are still available, featuring Ben Harper and the Relentless 7.
I’m hitting the road with some friends in the morning and plan to drive straight through. Check back this weekend to see updates and photos from the shows.