For second half coverage of Sasquatch! please go here...
Words by: Jonathan Zwickel & Court Scott | Images by: Sean Pecknold
Sasquatch! Music Festival :: 05.24 - 05.26 :: The Gorge, Washington
Sweltering heat, pouring rain, huge views and tons of music: Sasquatch! is a three-day slice of Northwest
high life. This past weekend, 22,000 revelers converged on The Gorge, a natural amphitheater carved out of the Grand Canyon-esque Columbia River
Gorge in Eastern Washington. Sorry, Red Rocks. This is the most beautiful concert venue in America.
Sasquatch! 2008 - The Gorge, Washington
Something to be learned from headliners R.E.M. and The Cure: '80s alternative has become the classic rock of Generation X. Aside from
obvious sonic differences, the headliners were virtually interchangeable, flaunting their influential status and an
encyclopedic catalog of hits. To really impress a festival crowd, you gotta pull out the heavy artillery. The Flaming Lips showed up on
Saturday evening with an army of jumpsuited technicians to erect their massive "UFO Show" production on the main
stage for Sunday night's big finale.
Two writers, three stages, 72 bands - your reporters (with itchy texting fingers) hiked hill and dale in effort to cover
every corner of the festival. We navigated schizoid weather and a sunburned crowd of skinny-jeans-clad hipsters,
toned college bros shelling out $11 for tallboys of PBR, and boomers and their teenage kids. No Bigfoot sightings
but plenty of action to report, much of it on the smaller Wookie and Yeti stages. Here's what we found.
It's a wonderful thing to see a band you know from dark nightclubs surface into broad daylight at the Sasquatch!
main stage and own it. Fleet Foxes' fest-opening set brought early goosebumps on a hot afternoon. Bandleader
Robin Pecknold literally cartwheeled onto the stage, sat down in a chair and began "Sun Giant," the first
song of the weekend: "What a life I lead in the summer/what a life I lead in the spring..." The music this band makes
is beamed in from some other time and place; haunting and comforting at the same time, fraught with four-part
harmonies, strange tunings and archaic song structures. Midlake, Jim James, and Steely Dan come to mind, but
really these guys are onto their own thing, and it keeps getting better every time they play.
|Fleet Foxes - Sasquatch! 2008
The band returned later in the afternoon to fill a 4 p.m. gap left by The National, who were delayed by a border crossing gone awry and/or a broken-
down bus. In front of twice as many people, the Foxes seemed a bit timid, nervous, almost as though after nailing a
pristine opening set they started celebrating and were surprised to get called up for a repeat performance. And
there was Pecknold the weathervane, holding the front rows rapt all by himself, the rest of the band holding back:
"Oliver James, washed in the rain..."
Court to Zwickel: Morrissey on vox?
Court quickly realized where Beirut mastermind Zach Condon gets his hyper-romantic, swooning croon:
Morrissey. The band hit the main
stage as an instrument swapping eight-piece that consisted of at least one flugelhorn, upright bass, two mandolins,
fiddle/violin, accordion, a drum kit, more unidentifiable brass and Condon on ukulele. Even up on the main stage's
grassy hilltop the sound was pristine. Condon and the band waltzed through a beautiful set that married gypsy to
mariachi, intimate to mass-appeal. He's a sensitive soul, and he might have been a little homesick. "Washington
looks a lot like New Mexico," he said, and behind the stage cloud shadows checkerboarded the hills on the far side
of the river. The landscape matched the sepia tones of "Postcards From Italy," and the band played on.
|Beirut - Sasquatch! 2008
The Whigs are a garage band without a garage, playing air guitar with real guitars. They're serious about the rock
spiked with a whiff of southern soul. The Athens, GA trio wrapped up appropriately with a cover of "Get Off Of My
Michael Franti & Spearhead
Court to Zwickel: Is it the wind or is Franti off-key?
Cold War Kids
This is a band of multi-talents. Lead singer-pianist Nathan Willett sang at the top of his lungs without
yelling (an amazing feat, really), while guitarist-vocalist-percussionist Jonnie Russell bashed a cymbal with
a maraca until he smashed it off its stand. Willet is a singer in the opposite mold of a straight shouter like Isaac
Brock (Modest Mouse). Along the side of his neck, running from beneath his collar to the back of his right ear, a
finger-thick vein bulged into relief at every hard-worked chorus of "Hang Me Out To Dry." The Kids are all about
controlled noise, and that song distills it perfectly.
|New Pornographers - Sasquatch! 2008
Zwickel to Court: Juanny Cash?
Mira is a bit of a novelty, but the lure lies in the fact that this is a 15-year-old kid that sounds remarkably like
Johnny Cash. His intonation and phrasing are actually unsettling in their similarity to the original "Man In Black" but
it doesn't cheapen Mira's efforts. He was supported by the rockabilly Roy Kay Trio and the set featured
both Cash covers, naturally, and some original numbers. He had by far the largest crowd at the Yeti Stage all day
Saturday and though he's been referred to as "Juanny Cash," his delivery of Cash's lyrics en Espanol is a new take on
The New Pornographers' main stage gig suggested that they're the Broken Social Scene of Western Canada. The Vancouver collective is a supergroup
led by A.C. Newman on guitar and vocals and, along with a solid rhythm section, features Dan Bejar
of Destroyer and Neko Case switching off on vocal
duties. There's no denying their perfectly tuned pop songs, but their best were with Case or Bejar on the mic. Case
in particular looked and sounded beautiful; Bejar added a dangerous, lounge lizard skeeze that complimented
Newman's pop choirboy style.
Zwickel to Court: They r just fuckin w us.
|The Breeders - Sasquatch! 2008
Crudo held off the imminent rain, freaking freely with theatrical flair for a rowdy crowd. Fronted by DJ-producer
Dan the Automator and
Mike Patton, the band was
dressed in bloody butcher aprons and rubber gloves. Automator's melody-heavy samples led live drums, bass,
guitar and synth. Patton flaunted his signature nasal pitch, sharing vocal duties with Automator, Tajai of
Hieroglyphics and a bad-ass, 22-
year-old beatboxer named Butterscotch. The set was essentially Patton and Automator fucking around
onstage and letting the others do most of the heavy lifting, and Butterscotch more than pulled her weight.
Playing their second show ever, Crudo is already a tight ensemble, mildly experimental in the prototypical Patton
style: beat-heavy, vocal heavy, metal samples tempered by ABBA samples and the occasional Bee Gees reference.
It's loud, engaging and none-too-serious. Yes, they are messing with the crowd, but that's always the fun with
Patton and Crudo delivered a great set.
Court to Zwickel: Breeders, meh. Stale.
|M.I.A. - Sasquatch! 2008
Zwickel to Court: It's really, really, OK.
The Breeders mostly weren't worth sticking around for. "Cannonball" is "Cannonball," though, and not surprisingly
that was the highlight of an otherwise disappointing set. That and a cover of "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," a
guaranteed crowd pleaser that felt just a little like pandering.
M.I.A. delivered the highlight of the day when she pulled a couple hundred fist-pumping kids onto the main stage to
chant along with "Boys." Her late afternoon set was all neon, fluorescent and DayGlo, her cherry-red wig a bobbing
beacon. Hers is a full visual package: Rather than just track her face, the Jumbotrons exploded with pixilated video
and a cut-n-paste digital collage.
Ozomatli has one goal and that is to get the audience off. This band is built for a good time. You've got a DJ and
bassist laying down the substratum, layered tight Latin horns, hip-hop flow and hook-heavy choruses. It's proof
that you can't go wrong with high-energy and major chords. Ozo played a number of older tunes, "Como Ves"
among others, but also a bunch of new stuff from their last album, Don't Mess with the Dragon. The
audience, from the top of the hill to the sardines in the pit, did indeed get off.
Court to Zwickel: Mediocre rain rock.
|R.E.M. - Sasquatch! 2008
Zwickel to Court: It is what it is, which is cool, I guess.
R.E.M.'s rain-soaked set was better than Court allowed. The band was charged, energetic, and wire-tight. Like The
Cure would go on to do Sunday, they went for a lot of the hits in favor of new cuts from their fourteenth album,
Accelerate. The new stuff all sounds kinda similar, which is okay because it's good. It was hard to get
passed the legacy of the band, and it seemed even Michael Stipe knew it: "We are R.E.M.," he said to close
the set, "and this is what we do."
Sez Court: The Cure's Disintegration figured significantly in my middle school years, and hearing so many
Cure songs at once was whiplash nostalgia. Their mopey-ass goth schtick never resonated that deeply with me, but
Robert Smith's wounded vocals certainly did. That feeling was still there. The band looked the same, right
down to Smith's eyeliner. Rather than giving him that so-precious forlorn look like back in the day, now the makeup
just elicits concern.
Unlike their steeped, dense sound of yore, the Sasquatch! set was all aggressive, straight-ahead rock. A lot of rock:
two and a half hours, in fact, with very little banter. Somehow the music was void of the personality that makes The
Cure, well, The Cure, coming out almost as paint-by-numbers alt-rock. They busted out a number of their hits early
on with "Fascination Street" and "Pictures of You" split by new tune "A Perfect Boy." By the time "Boys Don't Cry"
ended, the set was as good as done for me. This show felt like a show. It was tight and well rehearsed, but it
probably doesn't change much from night to night and the monotony was apparent in the music.
For second half coverage of Sasquatch! please go here...
|R.E.M. - Sasquatch!
JamBase | The Gorge
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