Words by: Mike Bookey
Sasquatch! Music Festival :: 05.27.11-05.30.11 :: The Gorge :: George, WA
For the past decade, the best kept secret of the Northwest that is the Sasquatch! Music Festival has been harder and harder to keep quiet. Now having expanded to four days and drawing some 25,000 revelers, Sasquatch has become one of the most reliable bets for an early summer festival, largely due to an increasingly eclectic lineup that spans numerous genres and brings together a collection of acts that range from the obscure to mega-stars. This year, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, the festival brought back some memorable performers from over the years, added a day, and again welcomed a mix of Seattleites, Oregonians and a strong contention of Canadians for a dance-heavy weekend that somehow escaped most of the rain that enveloped the rest of the region. In terms of performances, it was a high point for Sasquatch – nearly everyone who hit the stage laid it all out for an adoring audience. Here are just a few of the acts that especially caught my ear.
|Foo Fighters by Kyle Johnson|
The Friday afternoon-into-evening addition of shows to this year’s Sasquatch proved to provide some of the loudest sounds of the festival, and much of it came from the Foo Fighters, who headlined the main stage to a massively swollen crowd who’d battled a long campground line to get into the venue on-time. After an ear-bleedingly loud (but nevertheless impressive) set from Death From Above 1979, the Foos came out with some new tracks from the recently released Wasting Light coupled with plenty of favorites from the band’s 15-plus years. Dave Grohl, flanked by prodigal (and original Foo) Pat Smear on guitar, rampaged around the stage for standards like “Break Down” and “My Hero.” His growl is as strong as ever but he may have showed his age just a bit during “Monkeywrench,” where he almost taunted fans with an extended break before the end of the song as the loyal following expected the song’s well-known one-breath rant. He eventually began shouting, “One last thing before I quit…,” but broke for air a few times during the rant. A few of the folks on the hill near me exchanged shrugs as if to say, “What do you expect?” But, by the end of the powerhouse set, all was forgiven and Grohl and the rest of the Foo Fighters showed why they’re still one of the greatest arena rock bands left in the business.
The Head and the Heart
|Sasquatch! 2011 by Kyle Johnson|
The crowd at Sasquatch isn’t known for its punctuality. While the music begins at noon, most festivalgoers are either still in their tents or perhaps perfecting their neon face paint when the music commences. But by 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, there were a few thousand enthusiastic revelers waiting for Seattle indie-folk darlings The Head and the Heart to take the main stage. And when they did – with “Cats and Dogs,” the opening track from their eponymous debut album – the sextet was greeted with a sing-along that lasted through much of its poppy, precise set. Songs like “Lost in My Mind” and “Rivers and Roads” showcased a young band with plenty to look forward to, thanks to the driving keys of Kenny Hensley and the vocals of Jonathan Russell. Clearly pumped to be playing The Gorge for the first time, which they said was a goal of theirs ever since some of the members attended as fans last year, the band gave the Sasquatch audience a nice start to their Saturday and set the bar high for the rest of acts to take the main stage throughout the day.
Jenny and Johnny
If there was an award for cutest couple at Sasquatch – and maybe there should be – Jenny and Johnny would surely take home the prize. But beyond the real-life couple’s cuteness were some excellently crafted indie-pop songs that reminded festivalgoers why we should always pay attention to anything Jenny Lewis (wearing a smashing red dress, by the way) puts out. Now, that isn’t to knock her boyfriend and now collaborator Johnathan Rice, who lends his own mystique to the duo’s easygoing sound, but as long as this duo is running it will be Lewis who will steal most of the attention…and the fact that the crowd was disproportionately on her side of the stage was a proof of that.
It’s time that The Thermals no longer be kept as a mere Northwest favorite, and the thundering set they let loose early Saturday evening on the Yeti Stage, the smallest of the four at the festival, was ample evidence why. The indie-punk-driven trio, anchored by the fuzzy guitar and punchy vocals of Hutch Harris, laid down a high-energy, hour-long set that attracted a sizeable crowd, regardless of the fact that Iron and Wine’s juxtaposed indie folk was attracting a plenty of onlookers over at the main stage. One of the only true trios at the festival – which leans a bit toward excessive instrumentation over the stripped-down configuration of a band like this – The Thermals raced through their set of mostly three-minute songs, including a version of “Now We Can See” that evolved into a boisterous crowd-surfing and sing-a-long inspiring scene.
Bright Eyes / Death Cab for Cutie
Not to be too stereotypical in lumping these two bands together, but given that they were touring together before the festival and tend to share plenty of fans, I figured it made sense. Also, there wasn’t much defection from the main stage after Bright Eyes wrapped up and Death Cab emerged to show off tunes from Codes and Keys, the album they would be releasing three days later. First up was Bright Eyes, which features Conor Oberst, who, if you’ve never seen him with Bright Eyes or one of his other acts, has an almost gangsta rapper ego about him that’s for some reason not at all off-putting. There’s nothing wrong with acting like a badass, but only if you are indeed a badass, which Oberst seems to understand. The band’s set featured cuts from this winter’s The People’s Key, but also gave the hypnotized crowd plenty of standards from the band’s 15 years as one of the banner carriers of well-wrought indie rock. Oberst also took some time to complain about “the pig,” which is apparently his term for the Internet, and scolded the crowd for their addiction to their mobile devices. I’m not sure what he expected from this tech-obsessed generation – especially in the Northwest – but that was hardly his most controversial rant. He also took aim at the people who “went out and drank 40s” after Osama bin Laden was killed, saying that there was no need to celebrate the shooting of an old man. There was some applause, but most were just waiting for the band to get back to the music.
Again, most of the crowd – which was as large on Saturday night as I’ve seen at The Gorge in the 12 or so years I’ve been seeing shows there – stuck around for Death Cab For Cutie, the beloved Seattle band that have shifted away from their previously mopey songs on their latest album. The songs from Codes and Keys were impressive live, even inspiring some casual dancing amidst the sea of swaying fans. Ben Gibbard, newly sober and married to movie star/She and Him vocalist Zooey Deschanel, has grown his hair out long and added some vibrato to his stage show. One of the most moving moments of the weekend was when Gibbard, equipped only with an acoustic guitar, providing a nice reprieve from the band’s surprisingly loud set, led the masses through a version of “I Will Follow You into the Dark.” Sure, it was a step backward for a band that many are saying is getting away from its emo roots, but that performance reminded us that this guy is one of the best songwriters around.
|Death Cab For Cutie|
You’d be forgiven for showing up at one of the festivals – Sasquatch included – at which Robyn is appearing this summer and having not much an idea who she is. That’s because you’re probably an American and wholly unaware that the Swedish pop star is one of the biggest acts in Europe right now, and has been for quite some time. There seemed to be a fair amount of blank stares when Robyn took the stage with her bowl cut, ridiculous leggings and (oddly) a West Point football jersey on Saturday night. While there was plenty of WTFing at the beginning of her raucous set, she had the place moving by the time she was done. Her song “Cobrastyle” had the place bouncing – both her legions of loyal fans and the many, many people who were still wondering what the hell was going on but were still mesmerized by her awesome hair cut.
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
|Sasquatch! 2011 by Sean Pecknold|
Sure, he had a mid-day, small stage slot and he could have been a bit peeved about that, but Austin’s Black Joe Lewis sure as hell didn’t show any signs of annoyance during his soulful dance-your-ass-of set on Sunday afternoon. Leading his eight-piece, horn-equipped band through something that had to have reminded more people than just myself of James Brown, Lewis had the crowd mesmerized for the entirety of his too-short set. So much so, in fact, that it seemed fans couldn’t help but run to the nearest portable outhouse, grab a roll of toilet paper and chuck it in Lewis’ general direction. This is, apparently, the highest sort of praise inside the Sasquatch grounds, but those who found their particular stall to be without TP were probably a little less enthused about this custom.
If there was one band on the Sasquatch lineup that would have given longtime fans of the festival pause it was probably Flogging Molly. The punk-infused, Irish-American band has long been a staple of the Warped Tour and frequently plays alongside more punk-centric acts, so there was a bit of curiosity going into this set about how they would be received by this crowd. Well, it only took about two minutes for all questions to be answered as frontman Dave King shouted out lyrics that tend to make anyone with even a drop of Irish blood (and many without) bounce around like idiots. Songs like “Drunken Lullabies” and “What’s Left of the Flag” were surging reminders that this is probably still one of the most fun live acts out there.
The Flaming Lips
|The Flaming Lips by Kyle Johnson|
The crowd at this show was smaller than expected, which would be a surprise for a typical glittery, confetti-equipped Flaming Lips festival show, but with many attendees knowing that the band was planning on playing only its 1999 album Soft Bulletin, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Nevertheless, Wayne Coyne came out, as usual, in his clear plastic bubble, rolled around atop the crowd for a few minutes, and then emerged to rip through the album, constantly urging fans (often with shouts of “Come on you motherfuckers”) to get in on the act, which the hardcore followers certainly did. The uninitiated, however, didn’t seem to care…until a cake was brought out and Coyne helped Sasquatch celebrate its 10th birthday with a song, followed by some cake slinging. Then, of course, there were some more confetti explosions.
Those who haven’t been to Sasquatch for a few years would likely be surprised by the increasingly significant and increasingly appreciated presence of electronic music at the festival. There’s actually an entire good sized tent devoted to DJs and other electronic acts. There were some great appearances at this stage, including the Glitch Mob and Bassnectar, but the 35 or so minutes I caught of MSTRKRFT (I’ll spare you the phonetics challenge by telling you it’s pronounced “Mastercraft”) was one of the most impressive dance acts of the festival. The group – made up of Al-P and Death from Above 1979’s Jesse Keeler – got an assist from some wicked light effects, but it was their heavy bass and sharp breaks had that entire tent freaking out…just like it had been for the entirety of the weekend.
|Sasquatch! 2011 by Sean Pecknold|
If Sasquatch attendees were fatigued by Monday morning after three days of hard-dancing, hard-partying fun, they sure as hell didn’t show it. By the time Montreal-based funky dance duo Chromeo (assisted by three straight-faced Robert Palmer style back-up singers) took the main stage early Monday afternoon, the neon-clad crowd was as large as it had been for any daytime show the entire weekend. As P-Thugg, the band’s keyboard player, guitarist and co-vocalist, began ripping Prince-like riffs, inflated animals from across the zoological spectrum bounced atop a hard dancing audience. All the while, the back-up dancers swayed in unison and Dave 1, the other half of Chromeo, made the sort of robot voice noises that the mostly young crowd appreciated. Chromeo’s set taught us a few things. First, young people are back into dancing like no one is watching, and that’s a very good thing. Second, this band should be booked to any and all outdoor festivals - no matter what time of day.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
After a set from the reunited Guided By Voices, those who really wanted to get their dance on were at the main stage for a much-anticipated appearance by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. As most know, Jones and company thrive in a festival environment, and Sasquatch proved no exception. Taking plenty of time to remove, replace, remove and then replace her shoes, Jones was enthusiastically wide-eyed as she made her way through a tight set of the sort of songs that have made the band a must-have for festival bookers for the past couple of summers. At Sasquatch, Jones was far and away one of the most dynamic and engaging performers and was a perfect balance against some of the more shoegazing acts on the festival’s lineup. Now, if only they could have put Jones and Joe Lewis & The Honeybears back to back, that would have made for the funkiest throwback dance party of the weekend.
After one rain shower hammered the assembled masses and another loomed in the distance – the first real precipitation of the weekend – Colin Meloy, fully bearded and looking every bit as Portland, Oregon as he could, led The Decemberists onto the stage with an aggressive version of “Infanta.” With guitarist Chris Funk in a full sasquatch costume (the head of which would eventually come off), the Northwest favorite then launched into “Down by the Water” and “Rox in the Box,” two tracks from The King is Dead, the band’s latest album which was the number one album in the country earlier this winter. Meloy was his sprightly self, recalling the band’s 2009 appearance at the festival during which a couple, as he said, “were in a coital embrace” during their set. On a more serious note, Meloy turned the mic over to keyboardist Jenny Conlee so she could address the crowd during what was her last show before undergoing cancer treatment. When Meloy’s guitar set up went down for a good five minutes, Funk led the crowd in a falsetto version of Leftfield’s “I Don’t Want to Lose Your Love” before technical difficulties were conquered and the band closed out the set with a remarkably theatrical version of “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” as lighting aptly flashed from the clouds above the Columbia River.
JamBase | Washington
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