Sasquatch! | 05.24-05.26 | The Gorge

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

Sasquatch! 2008 - 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.

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.

Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes - Sasquatch! 2008
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.

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..."

Beirut

Court to Zwickel: Morrissey on vox?

Beirut - Sasquatch! 2008
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.

The Whigs

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 Cloud."

Michael Franti & Spearhead

Court to Zwickel: Is it the wind or is Franti off-key?

Cold War Kids

New Pornographers - Sasquatch! 2008
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.

Vince Mira

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 familiar.

New Pornographers

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.

Crudo

The Breeders - Sasquatch! 2008
Zwickel to Court: They r just fuckin w us.
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.

Breeders

M.I.A. - Sasquatch! 2008
Court to Zwickel: Breeders, meh. Stale.
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.

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

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.

R.E.M.

R.E.M. - Sasquatch! 2008
Court to Zwickel: Mediocre rain rock.
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."

The Cure

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.

R.E.M. - Sasquatch! 2008
For second half coverage of Sasquatch! please go here...

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[Published on: 5/26/08]

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Comments

1048 starstarstarstarstar Mon 5/26/2008 09:31PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

1048

looks dope, thanks for the review

CaptColorado starstarstar Tue 5/27/2008 02:17AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I enjoy the brutally honest reviews cuz even if I lived next door to the Gorge this festi's acts would not have even gotten me out of bed...

Muffinman1 Tue 5/27/2008 04:08AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Muffinman1

This is a good review even though I really dislike these bands. I like the honesty and it sounds like a fans review, which is what we need more of. Great article.

1048 starstarstarstarstar Tue 5/27/2008 10:46AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

1048

Have you guys listened to these bands? Fleet foxes are easily the best new band around. Beirut, New Pornographers, Flaming Lips, The Cure. Come on don't be stupid, listen to more music.

Conjugal Burning starstarstarstarstar Tue 5/27/2008 12:06PM
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Conjugal Burning

beirut would have been nice to catch. I am just itching for some words and pics on the VOLTA set though....

Muffinman1 Tue 5/27/2008 04:51PM
Show -3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
Danimal Tue 5/27/2008 05:20PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Danimal

^^The fact that your screename is Conjugal Burning in conjunction with the fact that you are "just itching" is hilarious.

freekfreely star Tue 5/27/2008 05:28PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Sorry Gorge but Red Rocks is a much better venue and a lot more beautiful. The security inside and the cops in the parking lot are total Nazis. The place is way to big, RR is much more intimate. You cant even drink a beer and see the show, you have to stay in the "beer garden". This whole show looks pretty horrible.

1048 starstarstarstarstar Tue 5/27/2008 06:07PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

1048

"Fleet Foxes are MMJ ripoffs. Not original whatsoever."

If you honestly think Fleet Foxes is an MMJ ripoff then you have no business listening to music. Get your fucking ears examined.

jesposito Tue 5/27/2008 06:32PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

jesposito

awesome review! i didn't realize that the flips were there sunday. i saw them saturday night at jam on the river in philly. thats a hell of a trek!

freekfreely Tue 5/27/2008 07:05PM
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There were 72 bands at this show and you managed to give us decent accounts of about seven bands. Great review. You didnt like the Breeders ?

The Deal sisters rock.

daveapaug star Tue 5/27/2008 10:47PM
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daveapaug

"Covered Hill and Dale" and managed to give me 12 words about Spearhead. Nice review.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Wed 5/28/2008 05:23AM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

I would not have attended this, even if I had been given tickets..

Conjugal Burning Wed 5/28/2008 07:44AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Conjugal Burning

^^ you obviously havn't witnessed the most epic live show available at the moment... The Mars Volta

1048 starstarstarstarstar Wed 5/28/2008 10:15AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

1048

I love how people say they wouldn't go to this even though they haven't listened to half the bands. This festival looks a lot better than a festival littered with second and third tier jambands.

dgerlach720 starstar Wed 5/28/2008 10:20AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Hey there guys. Solid review minus one part.... Either you guys and Rolling Stone both have amazing telepathy or one of these publications plagiarized the other. Your summation of the band "The Whigs", "The Whigs are a garage band without a garage, playing air guitar with real guitars."

This looks eerily similar to this:

This came off the RS site: "The Whigs will always be a garage band without a garage, an air-guitar band playing real instruments.

So who ripped it from whom?

http://www.rollingstone.com/photos/gallery/20947257/sasquatch_2008_rem_the_cure/photo/10

flygolf Wed 5/28/2008 12:29PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

flygolf

Plagiarism is far too common in album, band and show reviews. The first reviewer's comments generally get digested, reused and regurgitated by countless followers. That, and Rolling Stone has a hefty law firm so forget any kind of law-suit for copyrights...

The Gorge is an unique venue with decent on-site camping, bring a basketball.

philipnavarre starstar Wed 5/28/2008 03:05PM
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philipnavarre

Franti & Spearhead were spot on in Eugene on Saturday night so not sure why there Sunday set at the Squach was off