DAY 3 : SASQUATCH! Music Festival 2011 – SUNDAY [5.29.11]
FOR DAY TWO, CLICK HERE
Sunday was the most stacked day for me and I found more pleasant surprises, in addition to the acts that I was already looking forward to. I started off the day seeing Smith Westerns open the mainstage. They, like the Local Natives before them, played and made it look simple and easy. This young band still acts like no one knows who they are. Luckily for them, this adds to their persona and still comes off as funny, instead of as cloy and annoying. They sound very much like Revolver-era Beatles, which is usually a crowd pleaser. The Chicago-based group played to a small, yet entertained, group of fans, making jokes in between songs and interacting with an unintimidating audience. They were a great choice to open the day, with their musically sunny tone and generally pleasant disposition. Plus, they seemed more genuinely pleased to be playing the festival than any other band over the course of the weekend.
The Drums followed with a completely different tone. They seemed aloof and uninterested, making sullen comments like, “this song is about my best friend who died.” Granted, the song that was played after making that comment was definitely about just that, but it still came across as abrupt and unnecessary. They play the most depressing surf rock imaginable, though without paying close attention, you’d never know it. Unfortunately, they really, really wanted everyone to know it. The Drums exhibited a dull, depressing set and managed to make a sun-drenched, gorgeous venue feel depressing (not in a good way). They weren’t conveying some deep, emotional, moving connection, just acting generally unhappy. This was a disappointment to me, because I enjoy them on record and was looking forward to seeing them live.
I left just before the last song and caught the very end of viola and drums duo, Talkdemonic. They played much louder than they do on record and my girlfriend (who hates DFA1979) summed it up well when she described them as “a less offensive and awful Death From Above”. I certainly don’t agree with her assessment of DFA, but it still captures their general style quite well.
On my father’s recommendation, I saw Fitz and the Tantrums next. They play soulful, somewhat minimalist funk music, only using a bass, drums, saxophone and two vocalists. The frontman, Michael Fitzpatrick (aka: “Fitz”) proved incredibly capable and charismatic, inspiring dancing all across the hill, just as Local Natives had the day before. This time, however, no one seemed to know of the band beforehand. It’s not easy to come in completely cold, with no introduction and little background, and still play as confident of a set as Fitz did. They threw all of their cards on the table, playing their festival-ready music tightly and confidently. They’re not a band that I would seek out on record, but I’d go see them live again in a second. The band had as much fun as the audience and was one of the best surprises of the weekend. It was yet another instance of Sasquatch introducing the festival-goers to a new and excellent live act, proving again that its one of the most unique experiences around. People at the Gorge are easily provoked into being happy.
I saw Other Lives next. I really enjoy post-rock and they deliver on it quite well. They have more vocals than most acts in their genre, but they still play dense, heavily layered music that builds to a massive high point, before coming back down again. Through their use of a huge amount of instruments, it makes for an intriguing sound full of sonic surprises. On the down side, it also contributes to mixing issues and 45 minute sound checks, both of which were very much present. Sasquatch is generally run with remarkable smoothness, but that was not the case for Other Lives. Mixing so many instruments within a short festival timeframe is a challenge that no sound man would envy. The band didn’t sound awful, but their audio was a little shrill and their sound check took about 20 minutes out of their already brief set.
Still, they were impressively tight and the musicianship was some of the best that I witnessed all weekend. Each member played at least three -if not more- instruments throughout the show, and some of them even played several per song. It was a relaxed show, but much like J Mascis, they had no problem holding a crowd in place with their gorgeous music. I wish that it had been mixed a little better, but it was a great set nonetheless.
I did have distractions, though. Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips appeared during the Other Lives set and sat with me in the photo pit for about a song and a half. We briefly discussed the festival and his upcoming show, watched some songs, and then he left. I know it’s not much, but it still left me pretty excited. I didn’t get a picture, because he’d already been harassed for several and I didn’t want to bother him, but it was still a highlight of my day. I immediately returned to my group of friends, hanging out at the mainstage to gloat and watch Beach House.
Beach House played a slow, sleepy set. It was absolutely pitch perfect and they sounded just like they do on record: slow, hypnotic and dreamy. This is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, if it’s going to be a set where I take a break on the lawn, while listening to music that I enjoy, sounding just like the record is great. I can just tune out and half-nap. On the other hand, if I want to be engaged by the show, sounding just like the record isn’t as desirable. It would’ve been nice to hear some adjustments; maybe make it louder or a little rough around the edges. Beach House is clearly a talented band that’s capable of such things and it’d be interesting to hear them experiment in such ways. One of my friends with me had seen them before and said that they were better in the dark, when they could use a light show. They did have an interesting set with giant crystal shapes behind them, so I could see how that environment would be more conducive.
Lead vocalist, Victoria LeGrand was the only member of the band that really seemed “into it”, the others just kind of passively sat there. She threw her head back and forth, bantered with the crowd about the beautiful venue (just like everyone who plays the Gorge) and comedically fussed with her leather jacket in the 80 degree heat. She was dressed for an evening show, which would make sense for the band. This was, unfortunately, yet another case of an act that wasn’t fit to play an afternoon set in the festival sun.
About halfway through, I left Beach House to see Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. They’re a band that I’d never even heard of and I don’t think that many others had either. They played very loud blues rock, accompanied by a three man horn section. It was both earsplitting and danceable. The Honeybears were fronted by a skinny black man wearing a t-shirt that read “fuck all this shit”. With the exception of three older men playing the horns, Joe Lewis is completely surrounded by white people on stage, which I’m sure is on purpose. The frontman spits rapid fire lyrics about love, the government and shit that he doesn’t like. He’s strange and funny, but very engaging and an excellent guitarist. It was yet another show where I had headed over to the always surprising Yeti stage, just to see what was going on. It also provided one of the most memorable events of the entire weekend.
The band began playing to a smaller crowd, but had soon packed the side stage to capacity, with people overflowing over the adjacent hill. It was one giant group of incredibly cheerful, dancing people, a frequent site at Sasquatch that never gets old. During this show, something different happened. Someone stole a giant box of toilet paper from somewhere around the porta-potty bank nearby. Whoever it was ran into the middle of the crowd and started throwing the rolls everywhere. For the last four songs, a giant toilet paper fight ensued, and the band seemed to love it. People were getting nailed with bathroom tissue, but just kept coming back for more. The group played one of the few true encores of the weekend, impressive for an act that came in mostly unknown. They closed out with two covers, “Louie Louie” and an encore of The Trashmen’s “The Bird Is the Word“, of Family Guy fame. During the latter, the bassist stood up on his monitor like a goalie, only to get nailed in the face by a roll, but he didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he laughed and threw it back at the person who hurled it the first time. Black Joe Lewis got hit too, also laughing it off. The whole band looked incredibly happy, all of them cackling through the final two songs at the mayhem they had helped to cause.
It was another wonderful moment that makes Sasquatch so special. By the third day, everyone there had come together as one big, filthy and sun burnt community. Every last person is in the same boat, camping in the middle of nowhere, no amenities in sight and nothing to do at night but drink, dance and meet new people. The inaccessibility of the venue creates a sense of camaraderie and a sense of shared experience. Everyone there has to really want to be there to put up with the ridiculous travel, late nights and the camping. Even the security guards are uniquely friendly and seem like they’re there to genuinely help, not to harass (I’m looking at you, Bumbershoot).
Black Joe Lewis went over his set time, which saved me from boredom and potentially having to sit through a Cold War Kids show. I hate “Hang Me Up to Dry“, yet it always gets stuck in my head for weeks. In fact, it’s there right now.
I wanted to get a good spot in front of the pit for the Flaming Lips, so my friends and I decided that suffering through a Flogging Molly moshpit was worth it. It kind of was. On one hand, it was nuts. Irish punk apparently inspires simultaneous joy and violence, the likes of which I’d never seen before. I had an urge to punch the guy next to me, then go out, buy him a beer and talk about what good friends we were. On the other hand, I put my camera in my backpack with a Red Bull, where they both became casualties of Sasquatch. It was a great show, but that incident kind of overshadowed it.
Complaints about my camera aside, I’ll focus on providing more details about the actual concert. The frontman seemed to relish in the violence that he caused, giving the audience moshing tips. He did numerous Irish jigs, praised the crowd for being nuts, and, of course, praised the beauty of the venue. My girlfriend almost got trampled in the front and that’s when she left and sat in the back of the pit. They’re a band that I dislike on record, but also a band that I now love live. Floggin Molly inspire chaos like nobody else; not even Black Joe Lewis pulled this off. I just couldn’t stop smiling through the whole show (mind you, I didn’t discover my camera damage until it was all over).
It was well worth “suffering” through an excellent experience to get a top spot for The Flaming Lips. I heard a bit of wisdom about them before coming to the festival: you only get to see your first Flaming Lips show once. I came away knowing exactly what that meant. The neo-psych legends played to a backdrop of a giant LED light rainbow, which framed a giant rainbow shaped screen. They had a massive disco ball hovering over them and had painted all of their amplifiers white and covered them in fluorescent tape patterns.
The Lips opened as one would expect, with Wayn Coyne rolling around the crowd in his giant inflatable hamster ball. They were playing their finest album, The Soft Bulletin, from start to finish, so naturally they opened with “Race For The Prize.” The singer exited his hamster ball, the drums that open the song crashed, the confetti cannons shot and the balloons dropped. Dozens of Wizard of Oz themed dancers rushed on stage. It was incredible. The production was perfect, the song was perfect and everyone was overwhelmed with joy and awe. Coyne thanked the crowd for being “so easily provoked into being happy.”
Unfortunately, their first few songs were their best. He talked too much, explaining each episode of “The Spiderbite Song” and stretching it out to over ten minutes. His frequent cries of “C’mon, mothefuckers!” were tiresome. The Sasquatch organizers brought out a ten year birthday cake, mid set, and had both the crowd and Coyne sing happy birthday, to commemorate the festivals anniversary. This display ate into the band’s time and caused them to end before they had finished the entire album. They ended up skipping “Gash“, one of the best songs from the release. The band seemed tired and annoyed by the end, and Coyne looked unhappy that the crowd was increasingly unresponsive.
Looking back on it, I enjoyed every song that I saw them play. They just set the bar too damn high with the first few. I came away both thrilled and disappointed. It was a great show that didn’t maintain its initial momentum. Everyone that I was with agreed. In retrospect, I wish that I’d stayed for the first couple of songs and then left to see electronic god/Brainfeeder label-head, Flying Lotus, who was playing opposite the Lips. The choice of setlist was the main problem. As much as I love The Soft Bulletin, too many of the songs are slow and not suited to a live show. Although I loved seeing them perform “Waiting for Superman“, it cost the show momentum. Coyne also introduced it as a sad song that they didn’t want to play, which certainly didn’t help. Pulling songs from across their varied and excellent career would’ve been a better choice.
Despite some disappointments, they still proved themselves to be the ultimate festival band. They amplify an already collective experience, using an already existing mood to their advantage. As a musician and frontman, Coyne is both uncompromising and a crowd pleaser. He is, as they say, a “fearless freak” and people love it. If they weren’t as undeniably adventurous as they are, both in their high stakes music and expensive live show, they wouldn’t be the same. Everyone wants to watch The Lips take risks and succeed wildly. They rarely fail. Even when they do, it only garners them more respect as a band. The fact that they’re still evolving, both onstage and in the studio, this late in their careers, speaks volumes about them as artists.
After their excellent/disappointing show, I headed up to a lower lawn seat to see Modest Mouse. I love Modest Mouse. I think that Isaac Brock is a great songwriter and both Lonesome Crowded West and The Moon and Antarctica rank among my favorite albums. Their recent work is enjoyable as well, and that’s what I expected them to play. I had heard that Brock was a sloppy live performer that didn’t give a shit about large audience shows, so I wasn’t expecting much. I was assuming I would only stay for a few songs and then go dance to Ratatat, who was playing opposite on the Bigfoot stage.
I was completely wrong and completely blown away. They opened with “Shit Luck“, a short but loud track off of West. The song begins with Brock screaming “this plane is definitely crashing” with no instrumentation and, when the guitar did jump in, strobe lights flashed, illuminating the band in all their frenetic glory. They were tight and just rough enough around the edges to sound like themselves and give it personality. The indie-rock mainstays played a career spanning set, full of risky choices and incorporating two excellent new songs, which sounded different and better than what was featured on their last album. They played them all with a new found energy and brooding, adding an even deeper unsettling undercurrent to already eerie songs like “Cowboy Dan” and “Dramamine“, both of which were highlights.
Brock bantered minimally, but he did take a moment to poke fun at the Lips, by saying things like, “cmon motherfuckers” and “I don’t like to talk to a thousand people like they’re one person, so I’m gonna play some songs.” He was his trademark asshole self, which works for him in that capacity. At other moments, he seemed grateful and his new found live effort paid off. He still doesn’t act like a professional, but he finally plays like one. It’s a far cry from the slop of years past and it makes me excited and hopeful for their upcoming album, which is going to be produced in part by Big Boi of Outkast.
Modest Mouse proved to be the best act of the festival, which was an unexpected, but completely welcome, surprise. They didn’t rely on anything but the music and their ability to command the mood of the crowd, which was remarkable. Their light show was mesmerizing , but never overbearing. They even managed to hop from the aforementioned creepy and uneasy “Cowboy Dan” to the more life affirming “Float On” with ease. All of the band’s personalities were present: the asshole side, the mentally disturbed side and the somewhat cheerful side. Playing with a large band (two percussionists, a few multi-instrumentalists playing brass and stringed instruments, as well as the original lineup and a backup guitarist) used to weigh them down, but it currently works to their advantage. Now, it enables them to fully flesh out their increasingly dense music in a way that most other bands can’t on the live stage. Brock frequently pulled out on his banjo, wailing on it enthusiastically.
That night, the fun continued, with our group going back to the campsite, getting epically drunk and cruising the campground looking for dance parties. Still on a high from a day of great shows and the Sasquatch community, it continued well into the night. Apparently, there is an all night pizza place buried deep in the Gorge campground. What a wonderful discovery.