Sasquatch! | 05.23-05.25 | The Gorge

Words by: Court Scott & Lindsay Colip | Images by: Sean Pecknold, Christopher Nelson & Jackie Kingsbury

Sasquatch! Music Festival :: 05.23.09 - 05.25.09 :: The Gorge :: George, WA

Sasquatch 2009 by Nelson
It's official: festival season is underway in the Pacific Northwest with the three-day Sasquatch! Music Festival held each Memorial Day at the breathtaking Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington State. With 80 bands and a dozen comedians, there was a considerable buffet for your two JamBase reporters to sample and consume. Yet with the crowd at-capacity, it was as tough to navigate the grounds as it was to stay on schedule.

Three stages – the Main Stage overlooking The Gorge, the high on the hill Wookie Stage, and the more intimate Yeti Stage – were this year augmented by a colossal manta ray-meets-clam looking white tent. Hailed as the Dance Tent, the clam revealed itself to be a prime piece of real estate, providing respite from each day's heat and unrelenting sun, a home to comedians by day and DJs and dance oriented bands at night. Regardless of time of day, the clam was shoulder-to-shoulder, nuts-to-butts all weekend long.

The stylistic diversity of the bands was matched only by the range of concertgoers - electro-oriented dance bands, DJs, hip-hop, techno/industrial, rock, bluegrass, gypsy, folk, mope-rock, beard-rock, punk-rock and straight forward rock-rock, all bound together by their (mostly) indie and (mostly) Pacific Northwesty beginnings.

Sasquatch! has always appealed to a broad swath of people. A large part of the crowd was younger than 21, as evidenced by their lack of alcohol wristbands and their penchant for neon, a good segment was Canadian (based on license plate research) and most were Caucasian given the high percentage of sun-pinkened shoulders, backs and noses.

So there we were. Spectacular vistas, blue skies, and many, many bands on four stages with a few hundred feet of elevation gain and loss between them. And about 20,000 of our closest weekend buddies. So, let's get on with it, shall we? (Court Scott)

Saturday :: 05.23.09

Blind Pilot

Passion Pit Sasquatch 2009 by Pecknold
Day One, Sasquatch. Around 1:30 p.m. everyone finally had their beer buzz on, the sun was high in the sky, neon body paint had been applied and Urban Outfitters shades were out in full effect. The first stop of the day was the Wookie Stage for Portland-based Blind Pilot. Israel Nebeker and Ryan Dobrowski have picked up a collection of talented musicians for this tour, giving their sound a wonderfully twangy boost. They kicked off with a new song, "White Apple," and then went straight into hits from their first album, Three Rounds and a Sound. "The Story I Heard," "Oviedo" and "One Red Thread" were definitely crowd-pleasing sing-and-dance alongs. It was great to see this band, who literally started off on a bike tour (trailing their instruments behind them) last summer just to see if they could do it, and have amassed a strong, loyal fan base along the way. Their album makes you want to get into a hammock with your Arnold Palmer and smile the day away. Live, they don't disappoint, however, it's definitely different from what you hear on the album. As I mentioned before, the sound was definitely more twangy, more country. It'll be interesting to see if they continue down this road on their next album or stick to their perfect formula from the first album. Either way, what a great way to get into the first day of Sasquatch. (Lindsay Colip)

Passion Pit
As soon as the Blind Pilot crew left, hoards of body painted, American Apparel wearing teeny boppers flooded the Wookie Stage for Passion Pit. It was a bit of a shit show, but it was entertaining to watch. Frontman Michael Angelakos and company are getting a lot of hype, so I was really keyed to see them. When the guys took the stage, the crowd went completely wild and I couldn't help but wonder why on earth this show wasn't at night... or in the dance tent? People wanted to rock out and they did, but it was hard to do at 2:30 p.m. in major heat. Now, I love their first album, Chunk of Change, and I'm just getting really into their latest album, Manners, so you know I'm going into this as a fan. But, I have to say I was disappointed. Angelakos didn't have much of a voice at all. Maybe he had screamed it out the night before in San Francisco? Maybe the dust was affecting him? At any rate, he wasn't hitting all of the notes and the screams weren't as charming as they are on the album. That being said, the beat was there and that was all the crowd seemed to need. They played hits "Sleepyhead" and "Smile Upon Me" but spent most of the show playing songs off the new album. Overall, I was a little bummed at the performance, but because I'm a fan I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and go check them out at another venue, preferably an inside venue and hopefully at night. (LC)

Animal Collective

Animal Collective Sasquatch 2009 by Pecknold
I love these guys. As I've said before, they are from the future for sure. If you don't like these guys or don't get it, it's okay. I understand. It's because they're not from this time. It should become apparent in like five years that these guys are unbelievable. Talking with a lot of fans on the campgrounds, this was one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend. How would they sound live? Would their rad new album translate? They played the Main Stage (read: GORGEOUS) and for the first half of the set, kicked ass. They opened with "Summertime Clothes" and followed right up with "My Girls." The crowd was dancing, singing, shaking, twirling, convulsing, flailing, all those wonderfully futuristic moves people do. The only drag about "My Girls" was that they never really got it going. They built and built that song and then never delivered the punch. After those two openers, they went a little more indulgent and honestly, I spaced out a bit. I think had I been in the mix down front it would've been mind blowing, but experienced a little ways away something was lost. I was lost. People around me were lost. Maybe I'm not as future-forward as I thought. Again, I'll be seeing these guys another time to really get the vibe for their live show. I feel like they're more of a light-show, crazy TV screens, Daft Punk-esque, props galore type show, and playing in the daytime where lights and screens don't really translate, well, it didn't blow me away. (LC)

Animal Collective
Sorry guys, you lost me. In the weeks leading up to Sasquatch! peeps were coming unglued at the prospect of this show, but in the moment it just felt really unfocused to me. They opened with their singles – nice – and then got all ambient. I don't dislike ambient at all, but I was unsure about what kind of statement they were making. I don't think they meant to come out and get all wussy, and I suspect in another (smaller) venue this sound would have filled the room, seeping into every space and coloring the experience beautifully, but at the vast Gorge it was less than dynamic. I know there is talent there, but I think this performance can be chalked up to a lesson in learning. (CS)

Ra Ra Riot
Back on the Yeti Stage, Ra Ra Riot was ripping it up. They are such a genuinely happy band. They all dance, smile and look like they're having a grand ol' time up there, which makes you feel like you're having a grand ol' time as well. Lead singer Wes Mile sounded great live. He has an incredibly beautiful voice and hearing it echoing through the venue was chill producing. Nothing was lost from the record The Rhumb Line to my delight and surprise. It was a great late in the day performance, playing hits like "Oh La," "Dying is Fine" and Kate Bush's "Suspended In Gaffa." The sun started to set as they finished up and everyone walked away with smiles on their faces, hand in hand, arm in arm. (LC)

Mos Def

Mos Def Sasquatch 2009 by Pecknold
One of the names most commonly associated with underground hip-hop, Mos Def is perhaps better known in recent years for his acting. He's released a number of albums on several labels, his latest, The Ecstatic, scheduled to drop on June 9. In the meantime he's done guest spots on tracks with The Roots and Talib Kweli, among others. At Sasquatch!, bolstered by two DJs spinning records behind him, it was clear that he was in his element as a musician and performer. He came out wearing a Mardi Gras mask and long Japanese jacket, both of which he soon discarded. Mos Def seemed wildly impressed by the scenery, repeatedly telling the audience, "The dream is real. Look around!" His flow wasn't seamless – he paused a lot – and there was zero freestyling, but he's got a nice singing voice that he fell back on. And when he launched into "Rapper's Delight," the Wookie Stage's crowd went bananas. It was just a really fun, playful set to break up the afternoon. (CS)

The Decemberists
Having just seen their show last week in San Francisco, I was curious to see if they'd be playing their new record, The Hazards of Love, from start to finish, or if they'd come out and play a bunch of hits. To my surprise, they went with their brand new album. Because this record is so new, not many people knew any of the songs. And, it's not like these songs sounds particularly 'Decemberists-like,' so fans around me were definitely confused. To quickly refresh, this new album is a disturbing, dark folk tale about love, starring a woman named Margaret and her finicky shape-shifting lover. Because it's so musical-like and because they didn't have the benefit of power lighting and a sexy venue like the Fox Theater in Oakland to support them, it was a ballsy choice, but in the end it turned out to be a good one. Singer-songwriter Colin Meloy and company, including female vocalists Becky Stark and Shara Worden, ended up wowing the crowd. This is a good time to mention that either out of inspiration or boredom, two Sasquatch! attendees decided to drop their pants and make sweet, sweet love in front of everyone during this show. Meloy actually saw this act of love and pointed to it while laughing during one of the songs. Unfortunately for them, they were stopped by some employees, but not for a good while. Nice highlight to the day. (LC)

Bon Iver

Bon Iver Sasquatch 2009 by Pecknold
Justin Vernon makes beautiful music. His songs are sweet, sad, sweeping, gorgeous and full of angst, love and drive. People who love his sound usually fall asleep to it, cry to it, make love to it, but probably not rock out to it. His Sasquatch! performance, however, was an absolute rock & roll show. It was unbelievable. He came out with an electric guitar (what?) and jammed out the whole time. He had two drum kits on stage, multiple guitars, keys and more to amp up his sound. It was also impressive to see that every member of his band sang along with him. They all had gorgeous voices just like Vernon, slightly reminiscent of Fleet Foxes with all of their beautiful harmonizing. Vernon started the set with "Flume," and had Shara Worden from The Decemberists sing with him. She has an unreal voice - low, haunting and powerful - and combined with Vernon's high vocals produced ahhhs and chills. Apparently something technical was off and he wasn't able to play the set he had originally intended, but he did manage to play "Skinny Love" and "The Wolves (Act I and II)," both of which were amazing. The best part of the performance was during "The Wolves" when he had the audience sing, "What might've been lost," at the top of our lungs. It was so beautiful that people were going nuts and I thought there were going to be fireworks behind the stage, it was that powerful. This was definitely my vote for show of the day. Check out our exclusive feature/interview with Bon Iver from this week here. (LC)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
With a brand new album, It's Blitz!, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are back in fighting form. Their sophomore effort, Show Your Bones, was less well received than their 2003 debut. A fan of their music, I'd never seen the Yeah3 live, but I finally get it. I totally get it. This is one of those bands that really give you a show. Vocalist Karen O is a physical powerhouse. She shimmies, kicks, struts, howls and coos with personality. Noted as a fashion forward dresser, O is the stylistic embodiment of her vocalizations - well conceived and polished, yet fun and confident. This is one of those instances when instead of being a singer, the lead vocalist is really a crucial part of their trademark sound (think Robert Plant or Eddie Vedder). The Yeah Yeah Yeahs play pretty straight ahead rock songs with fairly simple structure. The addition of guitarist Nick Zinner's new penchant for synthesizers creates a perfect electro-layer, complimenting and oddly softening their overall sound. Drummer Brian Chase's kit was positioned in front of a giant inflatable eyeball tuned on the audience. The mix on the Main Stage was great despite a little wind rolling off the Columbia River, but the band sounded primed, tight and excited to play for the large crowd assembled. The four college aged girls next to me helped me understand the draw of the band, too, as they pranced around, sang loudly to one another, interpreted lyrics and generally raved on in their leggings, DayGlo sunglasses and in-the-moment smiles. O is this generation's Madonna (without the sour disposition and batshit crazy control issues). She's a safe bet for longevity, equal parts sex symbol and smarty and a genuine talent, which you just can't fake. For that, Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs get my MVP award for Saturday. (CS)

Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles Sasquatch 2009 by Nelson
I had heard the hype about this electro-disco trio from Toronto and so immediately after the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the Main Stage, I hauled ass up the hill to the clam. I scooched my way into prime location atop the VIP riser 20-feet from the stage, flanked front and back by two speaker stacks. When the music started -a drum machine and synth track amplified by live drums - I literally thought it was the end for my eyes and ears. Thumpcrunch, thumpcrunch, thumpcrunch went the bass and snare as the crowd roared and seizure-inducing strobes pulsed at random intervals without actually providing any illumination. A sea of outstretched, flailing arms supported teenage bodies that surfaced as quickly as they'd submerge. Girls were repeatedly helped out of the mess across the stage. Saber-like light beams seemed to breach the integrity of the tent's taut casing, and the riser I was on with 40 other people shuddered. And all that was before vocalist Alice Glass made a peep. Glass, a slight woman dressed in black with hair to match, has a helluva set of pipes on her. Somewhere between singing, moaning and shrieking, she plays the tormented lead to the letter. As the strobes were increasingly replaced by patterned LED panels, she writhed onstage, leaning forward to let the audience support her, climbing on the speaker stacks as she strutted and whipped the mic cord like a dominatrix. All of it was a bit much, like they were just trying too hard, and there was just something unoriginal about it. The sonic frenzy didn't let up and I wasn't really enjoying myself so much as marveling at the scene. Finally, when I couldn't shake my sense of impending doom, I climbed down the scaffolding to escape into the relative quiet and dark of the night. (CS)

Continue reading for Sunday coverage of Sasquatch!...

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