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Towards the end of The XX‘s set, Kim woke up confused. She was half asleep and must have still been lost in a dream, because she was talking nonsense. She tried to prop herself up and people were stomping and moving all around her, so she had to make like a recently birthed giraffe and get to figuring out how to walk with the quickness. I got her up and we started moving out of the crowd, but it seemed like she was doing even worse. She was having some trouble breathing and, as is often the case with panic attacks, it was difficult to figure out if she was actually physically sick or if it was just an anxiety issue. It was clear that she wasn’t feeling well, but didn’t want me to miss the festival. “We are going back to the tent, now. I don’t want to talk about it… c’mon.”
We reached the turnstiles and it hit me that I might just be able to pay for that re-entry fee that I’d heard about. I figured that I was going to miss everything that I wanted to see that night but, we had a couple of hours and there was a chance that Kim would still be able to see Massive Attack. Fuck it, we still had tomorrow. While Kim waited off to the side, I asked some kid working on the staff how and if I could hook up one of these $10 re-entry situations. His answer was that, although they actually had instituted the re-entry policy, I couldn’t pay for it anymore because it was after 7. I made it clear that I needed this fiasco worked out and they pointed me towards the woman who could make that happen. These guys just want to work at a festival and they don’t want to deal with my shit. If you are cool with them, talk fast, and make it clear that you understand this and are willing to become someone else’s problem, they will usually help you out. I went up to the lady, flashed my wristband and said something like, “My girlfriend over there is sick. I’m covering the show and have a wristband, so I won’t have any problem getting back in. The problem is that she doesn’t and these guys won’t scan her ticket. I’m working right now and need to get back inside later, but I’m not gonna leave her in the campground by herself. Can you help us out. I was told that I needed to talk to you.” All she said was, “Where’s your ticket.” Then she scanned it for free and we were out.
The trip back to the campground was pretty rough. At first, we stopped every few feet, so that she could sit down. Then she was having chest pains. “Let me know if we need to go to a med tent or if we just need to walk back to the camping spot.” She’d say that she wanted to keep moving and I would respond with, “Let’s get there quick then.” Thirty seconds later, we’d be taking another break. It was stressful and when we hit the general store I stopped and bought a pack of cigarettes. We hadn’t smoked since August, but it seemed like a necessity. A mini lighter and a pack of Camel Lights cost $15. On the way up the trail I could hear “Daft Punk is Playing at My House“. Fuck! I was missing LCD Soundsystem, but I didn’t want to show any disappointment… she felt bad enough. We eventually got back to the tent and she laid down again. We didn’t have access to the van, but I made her drink some water and eat as much as she could of one of the sandwiches that she had smashed with her head while sleeping on the backpack.
The one thing that I truly discovered, regarding the re-entry policy, is that the best way to benefit from it is by camping outside of the campground and leaving your car in the parking lot out front. If a shitty beer costs $9 a pop, then heading back to your car to take a break, eat a full meal, and drink endless delicious beers for the price of $10 is probably a better idea. The issue with heading back to the campground is that it is way too far away. The benefit of having a campground, however, is that you have a place to lay down once you get there. Still, in my situation, just being able to make it back to a car faster would have been nice.
Anyone that’s familiar with anxiety attacks knows that they are not awesome. I had pretty much given up on seeing Pavement and that was going to have to be good enough. Every once in a while, I would think that everything was cool and that there was a possibility that we could actually head back, but then it would instantly become clear that she wasn’t better yet and I didn’t want to go unless she was. “You should go back without me.” “Nope. I’m not leaving you hear to freak out by yourself.” “I don’t want us to have to miss The XX.” “We already missed the XX. Remember?” Then she’d feel shitty again. I came up with a lot of pseudo-logical backwards explanations for why it wasn’t a big deal to make Kim feel better. I realized that they almost sounded as if they made sense, if I said them quick enough. She was having a problem with anxiety and I couldn’t think of one possible scenario where her feeling guilty was going to help make this situation any better. It was a catch 22, but the quicker that she was able to stop feeling bad about missing the show, the better chance there was for her to actually see the show.
We laid in the tent for a while and time continued to pass. Pavement‘s start time came and went, but I still didn’t hear them playing from where we were. This wasn’t gonna happen, I thought. “I guess I won’t have much of a review.” I looked back over to Kim and she still wasn’t looking good. Then something happened; I heard the music shift and the sound was now clearly coming from another stage. “Was this Pavement? Did they just go on late?” Then it was obvious that it was… and that they did. Yep, I had just heard “Cut Your Hair” kick in. I knew that Kim heard it too, because she sprung up a little. Then she said, “I think I can make it.” She even looked a little different… a little better, but I didn’t want to get too excited. I tried to remove any emotion from my voice and asked, “Are you sure that you can actually make it down there? I just want to make sure that you’re alright. It’s not a big deal, we still have tomorrow.” “Yeah… I can do it.” “Alright, lets get the fuck out of here now then.” “How are we gonna get back in?” “Don’t worry about it. I told you, I have it covered.”
We hobbled from our tent and out of the campground pretty quickly and, on the way out, I could hear the song end and the next one begin. It sounded like “Trigger Cut“. As we stumbled down the long trail up towards the parking lot, “Rattled by the Rush” was playing. Kim looked at me and said, “I think that I was just rattled by the rush.” She was smiling. We walked past the general store, then the will call. I could hear “Father to a Sister of Thought” playing so clearly from there that I actually slowed down. I knew that the minute that I turned the wrong corner there would be a dead moment for the sound and I really wanted to enjoy it. Kim had been so out of it that she had kind of missed me getting the ticket scanned and was still skeptical about our ability to re-enter. The ticket scanned without a problem and, as we speed-walked towards the main stage, we were hitting that pocket of mashed sound from different directions. They were playing “In the Mouth of a Desert” at this point, but I wasn’t hearing it. We walked over the hill and saw the stage. It was slightly cool and the evening backdrop was amazing. It was generic and cliche, but it was still magical. This is what makes the Gorge worth it. Somehow I always forget and this was the first time that I actually felt this all weekend. They had just started “Kennel District” and I was happier than the Vatican with a glass-bottom kiddie pool?
Sure, we had a disappointing day up until this point, but everything had slowed down to the point where it felt like time had stopped. I wasn’t worried about what I had missed and I didn’t care to think about what was coming up next. I wasn’t running around with my fucking camera or trying desperately to document everything for the future. I was actually present and sitting in the cool grass with slight breezes floating past. Pavement played “Grounded” next and it sounded great. I had actually forgotten that I had even wanted to hear that one but, like everything that they played that night, it felt like the perfect song for that moment. Kim looked at me and mentioned how she had lost a whole afternoon, but that didn’t matter to either of us anymore. Damn… this Pavement show really sounded amazing.
When “Silent Kit” came, I thought to myself, “Yes! This is awesome but, of course their gonna play one of the hits.” Then I realized that, besides “Cut Your Hair“, I’m not really sure which ones are considered the Pavement “hits” and what aren’t. This also meant that anything from the catalog was game. Next was “Date With Ikea” and then a wonderful performance of “Spit on a Stranger.” For such a crudely titled song, there’s something really beautiful about it and I loved knowing that there was really nothing else that I should be doing, besides sitting on the hill with my lady with a beautiful landscape unfolding into the distance and all of that sound pouring back at us. The lyrics of “Spit on a Stranger” are based in the ideas of being a “perfect match” and working through anything and doing whatever it takes. Lines like that, which reflected our day, would pop out at us and help to verbalize the wonderfully corny shit that I was feeling. It also reminded me about the importance behind the bands reunion. Malkmus has been making criminally under-appreciated albums with The Jicks since their disbandment and the last time that I saw Mark Ibold perform, it was as a bassist for Sonic Youth. It was nice to see them all back together and I would make the claim that they sounded as if they never broke up, if they didn’t actually sound so much better than ever. When the song had finished, Malkmus reinforced what I had been feeling by saying that the song had come, “right from the fourth chakra.” My guess it that he was only mostly joking.
The energy was amplified for “Unfair” and it provided Bob Nastanovich with an opportunity to showcase his abilities as the all around wildcard. When his moment came, the percussionist/multi-instrumentalist/backing-vocalist hopped around like a fucking maniac and it was great to see that his trademark scream has more than remained in-tact. Then came “Starlings of the Slipstream“, another amazing song. They played “Fight This Generation” and when they got to the second more aggressive half, Nastanovich pulled out a slide whistle and followed it up by contributing more backing vocals screams. This was also the point where Malkmus’ understated guitar skills really took center stage. Pavement is notorious for “fucking off” in their live shows from the 90’s or simply just accused of playing terribly on purpose. I never got a chance to see them during that time period, so that isn’t anything that I can personally verify, but somehow, through his lackadaisical and seemingly apathetic approach to his guitar work, he still sounded amazing. This bastard literally had the body of his guitar resting on top of his bicep, while he glanced off at the floor and chopped at the neck, but the notes still sounded impeccable.
I doubt that it was just because it was Stephen Malkmus‘ birthday, but the energy was great. I love Pavement‘s music, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I will love them performing it. Having it ingrained in my head so much actually increases my ability to be more critical of it. Everything sounded perfect. I don’t really know how else to describe their sound except for… “perfect”. Generally, when there’s something that I’m really looking forward to, there is also some basic outline of an idea that fuels that enthusiasm. Then once I’m at the event, the preconceived expectations adjust to the slight variations and merge into whatever the reality of what I’m actually experiencing is. This show was different and, somehow, it felt exactly “right”. I’ve had shows surprisingly blow me away and I’ve been let down, but this was some kind of freak Goldilocks-style scenario. The transitions throughout the setlist were really smooth and never seemed to slump. They alternated the tracks in a way that stabilized the energy and kept the show fresh; never burning out the intensity too fast or heading too far in the other direction and putting the crowd to sleep.
They followed “Fight This Generation” with the slower “We Dance“, which featured Nastanovich‘s young daughter, Lulu playing keyboards as her proud father stood behind her. Next was “Gold Soundz“, another favorite that I had hope to hear that night. For this one, Malkmus pulled off even more ridiculous guitar work than before. He threw his guitar over head and swung it around, all the while maintaining his solo. Again, it visually appeared that he was just fucking around, but the audio was so on point that what my eyes and ears were witnessing didn’t line up.
Obviously, by arriving late, I was afraid that I had missed a large percentage of the show. By this point, however, it was becoming pretty clear that they had planned to play a hefty set. In total, they wound up playing a full 22 different songs that night. People who’d seen them earlier on this tour had told me that “they played everything” but I guess that I didn’t completely grasp what they meant by that. They played “Stereo“, “Here“, and “Two States“. This didn’t feel like some corny mandatory stop on a cheesy reunion tour, it just felt like an amazing show. Just as I was reflecting on how any and all of the physical and/or emotional wear that we had endured up until this point had dissipated, I heard the beginning chords of “Range Life.” This was going well and nothing could fuck this up… or, at least that’s what I thought.
Just as I was finally hearing the one song that I had been waiting for, some drunken asshole stumbled backwards onto us and stepped on my arm. In retrospect, I probably should have pushed him forward and down the hill, but he was about to crush my camera bag, as well as my girlfriend. It was a really nice romantic moment. This dipshit was wearing a big goofy ass straw hat and carrying a giant plastic guitar-shaped drink in one hand. He was a typical party cliche. I’m honestly surprised that he didn’t have a fucking lampshade on his head. We prevented him from falling forward, by catching him him as he stomped hard on both of us, so I just wanted him to leave. He tried to lean over and talk to me, but I told him to just go back to where he was sitting before. With his thick Australian accent and drunken slur, I couldn’t understand what he was squawking at me. He was talking to me during the show, so I didn’t really want to try and decipher what the fuck he was saying anyway. He kept at it saying something that sounded like, “My phone! My phone! I think you have my phone.” “I don’t have your shit, man. Just go back to your seat.” I was writing with a pilot pen that has a light at the end, so I shined it around next to me really quick and showed him that I didn’t have anything. Then I asked him to piss off again.
A moment later, he came back and interrupted us again, telling me that he thought I had something of his. We were sitting down with him looming over me. This time he decided to grab the collar of the Wesley Willis hoody that I was wearing. He was getting a little belligerent and was still trying to unsuccessfully talk over the music. “Let go of my fucking hoody! Take your fucking hand off my collar.” Here’s where things shifted quick because, as everyone knows, you shouldn’t put your hands onto strangers. I was wearing my wool jeep hat with the spikes across the front, but I wasn’t gonna head-butt him. I still had that pen with a sharp tip in my right hand and this dick was leaning his neck towards me yelling shit. A quick image flashed in my head of me shoving it into his neck- then blood- then a crowd of his friends and me being pulled out by security. Then there were the secondary thoughts of Kim being disappointed, Live Nation being pissed, and me not getting in the next day. That’s an instance where my Jewish side snuffed out my Puerto Rican side, almost immediatey. I decided to use my words. “Hey! Hey! You just fucking stepped on me and my girlfriend. I don’t give a shit! It’s over, leave! I don’t want to talk to you, fuck off!” Then I realized that he wasn’t saying “phone“, he was saying “thong“, but he was trying to communicate drunk, with a thick accent aggressively during a live show. I looked around again and found that his flip-flop had falling off and was on top of my camera bag, which actually pissed me off even more. I threw it behind me and said, “There you go, leave.” A moment later he came back to say something to the effect of, “See, I told you mate. You had my thong. Don’t fuck with me! Don’t you ever fuck with me!” Whatever, pal. I told him to fuck off again and went back to watching the show.
Pavement played “Summer Babe” next and I could swear that I heard that guy yelling something down the hill at me, but when I looked back it was dark. I’m pretty sure that I could also hear his friends trying to get him to chill out. I just tried to keep enjoying the show. Then it was “Shady Lane“. Nice. I wrote it down in my little book and a wad of paper or something hit my knee. I looked back again, but didn’t see him. I told Kim that I thought I was having shit thrown at me. Then a water bottle hit my leg and I turned around. I noticed the guy was now wearing a yellow poncho and seated in the middle of the group. “What’s the deal, pal? What’s up motherfucker?” He smiled and waved at me. Kim yelled back at him, “Stop! Just fucking stop!” I told her to get up and as we walked up and out towards the walkway, I thought I saw him starting to follow us out of the corner of my eye. This shit wasn’t going to stop on it’s own and it was possible that it was going to end bad, so I found a security guard. I don’t always have much luck with security figures, so I flashed the wristband again and explained that I was trying to cover the show and that this fuck was trying to get me going. “I could stab him, but I was hoping that you guys could help me out instead. I have another day here and I don’t want to deal with this shit later.” One guy called another guy, who called another guy. Eventually, the right person, or at least the right number of people, were there. They asked me to point him out from afar, because they didn’t want us to get close. Then I guess they changed their minds and went with the opposite approach. Security brought him up to where we were and he was even starting shit with them. They asked him to stand somewhere, but he didn’t want to. They asked him to sit, but he wasn’t feeling like it. I was just pissed because I was trying to hear the show finishing up with “Stop Breathin’.” Eventually, they asked us to talk face to face about everything. The other guy immediately lost it, threateningly saying, “Don’t be stupid mate! Don’t do something stupid!” I responded fairly calmly but dismissed his bullshit. “You stepped on my girlfriend and then you started throwing shit.” He continued moving towards me, ” I apologized to you mate! I apologized for that! Don’t be stupid! Don’t do somethin-” He was moving closer and right after I said, “You better back the fuck up! Get the fuck out of my face!” They grabbed him and took him out, with his friends following slowly and telling him that it was probably time to call it a night anyway. I don’t get into a lot of confrontations like this, but it felt like we were a couple of chained dogs. Crazy. Great idea, putting two people that were having an altercation face to face. The show was over. This guy was just a reminder of the different reasons that people attend festivals like this, and concerts in general. This guy showed up for a “rager” like it was a fucking Mardi Gras /Girls Gone Wild party. Pavement just happened to be there at the same time.
As we made our way closer for the Massive Attack set, I could hear Public Enemy playing in the distance. Along with Pavement and They Might Be Giants, it was really rounding out to be a nineties throwback night. Once we hit the floor, we settled next to a bunch of guys standing around in absurd get-ups. Basically, they were all decked out in costumes and wigs. A guy in a smoking jacket asked us how our night was going and we told him that some clown just tried to start some shit with us, but he was tossed and everything was cool now. “Really?” “Yeah, it was some Australian guy that was wrecked.” That’s just when I noticed their accents and realized that all of these guys were Australian too. “Maybe it was one of our guys.” It wasn’t, but they unnecessarily apologized for their entire country. These guys were in a great mood and were really excited to be at the show. It was a nice little twist of events and we kicked it with them for a minute while we waited for the show to start. Then we noticed Jesse and Briana up ahead, so we left to meet up with them instead.
I don’t have much of a history with Massive Attack, but Kim was really excited about seeing them. Jesse and Briana seemed to be working with that same dynamic, because she had a look of anticipation, while he didn’t look like he gave a shit. He leaned over to me and commented that, next to My Morning Jacket, this show might wind up in the running for the “most overrated band of the weekend.” I had a feeling that he might be right about this, but it didn’t matter. We had already gotten to see Pavement, we were happy, and they played everything that we had talked about earlier in the day. Now it was only fair for our red-haired ladies to be able to enjoy some “trip-hop” music, or whatever the fuck was about to go down.
Essentially, Massive Attack is now composed of the production duo of Robert “3D“ Del Naja and Grant “Daddy G“ Marshall working with a selection of both random and reoccurring collaborators. For this tour they are promoting Heligoland, their first non-soundtrack full-length release in seven years; even longer if you consider that Del Naja was the only original member of the original 3-piece to appear on the last release, 100th Window (2001). Their touring format involves a fairly elaborate stage show and began with an array of lights and smoke enveloping the silhouettes of a full electronic band set up. Their lead off song, “United Snakes” is featured as a bonus track on their new release, but was originally a B-side from the “False Flags” single back in 2006. Yep this show was gonna get political. The energy that the introduction provided was promising, though. It had a bit of a driving rhythm, propelled by the warbling buzz of a possum stuck in a bug zapper. Strobe lights flashed and the fans stared at the stage mesmerized like it was a Jones Town for moths. They had a giant LCD screen for a backdrop, which constantly changed throughout the show, and it was used for a lot of shit that ranged from corny to preachy. On the corny end was having a rotating list of various drugs flash across it.
British vocalist, Martina Topley-Bird came out on stage to sing “Babel“, one of her collaborations from the new release. She had performed on the Yeti stage earlier in the day and was still dressed in a giant pink ballgown. She almost looked as if a Neutrino from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had gone shopping in the 5th Element. She even manned the keyboards for a moment during the track but, once it ended, she waved to the crowd and left the stage. Del Naja took control of the mic again to sing “Risingson” from Mezzanine. The band looked exactly like you would expect a downtempo stadium electronic group to look; dressed in black with crisp hairstyles and headset mics. Del Naja‘s vocal style is fairly monotone and he leaned up against a keyboard stand as he sang like some form of trip-hop crooner.
Horace Andy came out on stage next. He’s an old ass grey-haired rasta who enjoyed a decent amount of success with his personal work as a roots reggae artist, before he began contributing vocals on Massive Attack albums in the nineties. He has since gone on to appear on all 5 of their releases. The song that he was performing now was another new track called, “Girl I Love You”. This song actually has a pretty cool and brooding feeling to the instrumental but, without it, the lyrics would make it a pretty one-dimensional love song. Andy‘s stage presence these days is about as exciting as drywall, but the high production value on the set is supposed to fill in for that. During this song, statistical figures were consistently being generated behind him. These figures were number values relating to government spending, Hurricane Katrina… basically, a ton of unrelated political shit. Yep, without the massive light board and effects, these guys don’t offer much in the way of live excitement. The energy of their music doesn’t fluctuate much and they aren’t very animated as performers, but Kim was still dancing around and smiling. “That’s good” I thought. “She seems happy.” Then I looked over and saw a couple of kids liquid dancing with glowsticks. “Fuck! Did I get dragged to a bad rave… again?”
The show continued with a similar ambient vibe and glitched out LCD effects. The zeros and ones of binary code flashed across the back screen, but it never really felt “futuristic” to me or like the computer age; it felt more like I was in the nineties all over again. This is a very structured live show, so there isn’t a lot of room for improvisations or spontaneity. It was like a cross between a Vegas show and a hep local hangout, like the bar from The Crow. Vocalists continued to come out for a single song and then leave with a bow, only to return later for another track. It was a little like a variety show special or Ringo‘s All-star trip-hop band. Topley-Bird came back out in a catsuit and the image of an eye appeared on the back screen. People went nuts when they realized that she was going to sing “Teardrop” (Mezzanine). In fact, Massive Attack actually did a few songs off of Mezzanine that night, including the title track, “Angel“, and “Inertia Creeps“. Horace Andy returned for “Angel” and, for “Intertia Creeps“, random news headlines flashed across the backdrop. Most of them were celebrity based, such as “Lohan Drama Reunites Family“, “Huff Hit By A-Rod’s Line Drive“, or “Mariah Carey Hush-Hush Fertility Secrets.” One of them, however, contained an odd and coincidental reference to an “Aussie” being kicked out of a bar. Shara Nelson was also on hand for a couple of songs. She came out to provide the vocals for “Safe From Harm” and “Unfinished Sympathy” from the Sliver soundtrack.
I like electronic music, but I’m more into Venetian Snares and Squarepusher; the kind of shit that makes me feel like I’m having an anxiety attack and that my heart’s gonna explode. Needless to say, Kim‘s not as into that shit so much. I also love Daedelus, Four Tet, Crystal Castles, Aphex Twin, CEX, Ratatat, Kraftwerk, … Truthfully, I like a lot of electronic music, but I guess I’m just not that into the trip-hop. Then again, I also love DJ KRUSH‘, DJ Shadow, Funki Porcini, and pretty much everything that Amon Tobin‘s ever done… so, maybe I’m just not that into Massive Attack. Massive Attack doesn’t create straight-up house music, happy hardcore, or any of the other type of techno shit that I typically can’t handle, but they also didn’t provide enough of a range for me in their sound. It didn’t feel as much like a concert to me as it did a presentation; a little too clean… a little too sterile. Plus, it was hard to get over the preachiness of the messaging being stacked over the generally shallow lyrical content of contrived love songs. The contradictions didn’t seem to be as evident to the people around me but, when you have such an expensive and over the top production for your shows, it’s hard for me to listen to you speak for the every man. For their final performance of the night, they had corporate logos rapidly flashing across the LCD screen, as if to say, “Down with the man! Down with capitalism!” A couple of companies that were noticeably absent? Ticketmaster and Live Nation. I’m not saying that they should have gone out of their way to attack the company that’s paying them but, it’s hard to believe that they weren’t intentionally not included. If you want to try and act hardcore, then do it for real. I remember reading an article about a year or 2 ago, where DEVO was actually paid to appear at some sort of Apple computer conference and they went all out. Dressed as Booji Boy, Mark Mothersbaugh warned everyone about the dangers of computers and encouraged them to throw their laptops out of the window. Massive Attack‘s imagery spun like a slot machine and ended with a BP logo that read “Beyond Petroleum“. The self-important crowd cheered and the lights went up. As everyone scattered, I looked down at the floor to see endless wrappers, DOMINOS pizza boxes, Coke-a-Cola cups, and crushed Coors-Light cans strewn everywhere. Yep, we really changed the world that night… we really did something. Take that America.
A Tortoise song came on the soundsystem and I thought about how amazing it would have been to see them that night. We walked past the Booka Shade crowd, again too tired to catch the late night set. It had been a long day and it was nice to lay down and relax in the tent. I could hear someone who was camping next to us throwing their own little dance party. I went to sleep with a smile on my face, listening to Mark Morrison‘s Return of the Mack.