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Alberta Cross did a great job of waking me up on Saturday morning. They played well to a very small crowd, with their frontman acting like far more of a rock star than he actually is. His energy filled up the massive amphitheater better than anyone could have expected and they drew an increasingly larger group of fans as the set went on. By the time they closed with their most well known song, “ATX“, the pit was mostly full. That’s something that can’t be said for most 12PM acts. The 5-piece plays loud, easy to like, classic rock, with a bit of a southern tinge to it. They may hail from Brooklyn, but they certainly don’t sound like it.
The Radio Dept. played on the Main Stage next. The band comes all the way from Sweden and rarely tours. I’m a huge fan of all things dream-pop, so I was looking forward to their show. Unfortunately, I was let down. Their surreal, reverb-laden pop music just doesn’t fit a One O’Clock festival slot. I’ve heard good things about their live show, so I’m going to assume that this just wasn’t their element. The mixing was also poor. I was in the pit for the beginning of it, and all that I could make out was reverb and the drum machine. I could hear much better sitting on the lawn, but I would’ve preferred to be closer. The band seemed bored, and so was I. They completely failed to engage the crowd in any way, and the people that had gathered for Alberta Cross quickly dispersed, myself included.
I caught the end of The Globes (YETI Stage) to wash that bad Radio Dept. taste out of my mouth. They’re riding on a wave of praise for their excellent new album, Future Self. I’ve seen them a couple of times before and they just keep getting better with each passing year. They play Built to Spill-inspired indie-rock, but they sound quietly innovative, adding their own flavor to everything they do. The song structures twist, turn and almost always escalate to a cathartic high. These guys are incredibly proficient at building and releasing tension, especially for a young band with only one album and a few EP’s under them. The deft musicianship that they apply to every song is highly impressive and I look forward to seeing them for a full set in the future. I won’t make the mistake of missing it again.
In addition to being a solid live act, The Globes represent something that I love about Sasquatch. Small, local and rising bands like them can play the same venue as someone like The Foo Fighters and everyone is willing to give them an equal shot. I’ve never experienced another festival quite like it and it’s a big reason that I keep going back. I can see everything at once and, at multiple times throughout the weekend, small bands playing the Yeti stage can get more attention than the headliners. If I’m ever bored with “nothing” to see, I can head over to a side stage, where I will can be pleasantly surprised and come away with a great experience. That’s something that I certainly can’t say for the main stage.
Speaking of bands playing the main stage, I headed back there after The Globes to see the always mediocre Head and the Heart. This is a set that I frequently heard referred to as “unfuckingbelievable” or “mindblowing”. Mind you, most of that was coming from “bros” who were there for the dance tent, hooking up with hippies, and free pot, but it still pissed me off. It’s really hard to take a Capitol Hill hipster singing about age old trades and rural, small town problems seriously. This band is a fucking joke and the fact that they’re gaining so much popularity is something that’s lost on me. They seem to be riding that folk fad wave that Mumford and Sons kicked off. Both bands play a brand of incredibly generic, inauthentic folk music that gets perceived as authentic by pretty much everybody. People love the thrill of discovery, of being the first to find a band, and that’s the best reason that I can come up with for their popularity. They told a story about how a band member had attended Sasquatch the previous year and had refused to take his wristband off until they played the festival; an obvious grab at a rags-to-riches career path. Casting aside the fact that the story is bullshit (this was the first year Sasquatch had even used wristbands), it’s another obvious attempt at making them sound authentic and down to earth. I find it disheartening that people fall for that so easily and that one of the worst bands to play the festival had a larger mid-day crowd than just about any other.
Local Natives must’ve been thrilled to follow such an awful act. They played an incredibly confident show, a far cry from last year’s less than impressive set on the Bigfoot stage. In their previous performance they seemed overwhelmed by the crowd and played like an inexperienced act. Now, two years after their acclaimed Gorilla Manor was released, the indie group finally seem like a real band. They played their Band of Horses-style psych-folk rock with more volume and energy than I expected, inspiring more than a few spontaneous dance parties across the hill. Their music sounded pitch-perfect, yet loose, allowing for improvisation that departed from the original versions of the songs. It was perfect music for under the hot Gorge sun, with no shade or relief in sight.
This is a band that has gained a lot of popularity since their debut album and, unlike the Head and the Heart, I can understand why. They made it all look easy and the members were clearly having just as much fun as the audience. Similarly, their music comes across as both simple, yet full of substance. When they announced to the crowd that this was the last show that they would play before heading back to Los Angeles to record a second album, they were met with loud cheers from across the amphitheater.
I skipped Wolf Parade’s final show to go see J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr, Witch, The Fog, etc), following a glowing recommendation from the editor of this site. I was skeptical at first, considering the he is touring behind his solo acoustic album instead of on his usual volume-heavy mope rock, but my mind was quickly changed. Mascis played more contemplatively than I expected, which fit the soft, personal nature of the music quite well. He held the crowd captive from the very beginning, not an easy feat when you’re playing quiet music in the middle of the day to a rowdy, intoxicated festival crowd. These people are more apt to dance than sit still, yet they all stayed firmly planted. The guitarist would occasionally loop his acoustic riff and bust out a blistering, impressive solo, covered in waves and walls of distortion. Even when playing softer acoustic music, J Mascis can’t seem to help himself from being loud. That’s not a negative; it’s an overwhelming positive that provided surprises at every turn of his performance. It also contributed to his overall persona onstage.
He was a strange performer, rarely, if ever, interacting with the crowd. One got the sense that he would have played the exact same way had no one been there at all. That may have been what was so enchanting about it, it was like watching a guitar god play alone in his bedroom, playing whatever he pleased in whatever way he saw fit. He left the stage after his time was up, simply saying, “alright guys” and walking away slowly. He may have been weird, but I’d have him no other way.
After J Mascis, I just sat and pondered. I had no one that I cared about seeing until the Antlers, so my friends and I just discussed and absorbed the captivating show we’d just seen. I also ate an $8 bowl of over-salted Yakisoba. Someone should write an entire article about food and beer prices at the Gorge, because they’re ridiculous. I know it’s been said before, but seriously, fuck that shit. I can’t bring anything in but snack food and water and I have to pay out the ass for shitty food and even more out the ass for shitty beer. I never bought beer inside the festival, instead focusing on consuming unhealthy amounts of it outside the venue.
Anyway, after my pondering and ranting, I caught part of the Antlers set. They play incredibly depressing, but beautifully cathartic music that mixes ambient soundscapes with sonically challenging indie rock. It’s all combined with some damn exceptional songwriting, packing quite a wallop on record, especially on 2009’s concept album, Hospice. Last month, they released Burst Apart, a slightly less depressing album that focuses more on their rock side. In my opinion, the record is passable, but far less engaging than their previous masterpiece. My opinions on the directions of recorded material aside, what I saw was solid and proved that their newer material translates very well to the live stage. I only saw them play a few songs, including new album openers “I Don’t Want Love” and “French Exit“. Both were well done and songs that were fairly sleepy on record became engaging and a bit more energetic on a live stage. Again, perhaps not the best fit for its time-slot, but they still managed to draw and keep a crowd.
I skipped out on the rest of the set to go see The Thermals, a straightforward pop punk band from Portland, Oregon. They play more a slightly more cerebral brand of the genre than most of their peers, but they’re still far from my favorite recorded band. On any given day, I’m a hundred times more likely to listen to The Antlers, but live, I never miss a chance at The Thermals. Frontman, Hutch Harris never seems to have an off day, putting in as much energy as his always bouncy crowds. A crowd of slam dancing kicked off with the opening chords and only grew larger as the show went on. I handed off my camera to my girlfriend on the lawn and jumped right in for an exhausting, but joyful, 45 minutes. There’s always so much happiness in the pit at a Thermals show and this was no exception. The trio delivered a fun-filled set, just as they always do. The group has some well known songs -from a few albums from back- and they don’t shy away from them. They know what the crowd wants and they’re more than happy to give it to them.
I went over to watch Bright Eyes suck at the mainstage next. He plays vastly overrated soft rock, full of wordy, “deep” lyrics that consistently make him come off as pretentious and/or a giant pussy. Now, I’m far from a jock rock douchebag, so I’m not asking for songs exclusively about cars and sex; that sucks too. No, I’m simply referring to Conor Oberst‘s drippy, emotive songs that I can’t sit through for more than five minutes without wanting to punch a kitten… and I fucking love kittens.
Even the people that I was with who actually like his work thought that his show made him come off as an immature asshole. Some people may say that he “just doesn’t give a fuck“, but, if nothing else, he clearly cares that we are aware that he gives no fuck. He came out looking like an emo Eminem, walking around stage in a hooded sweatshirt while his backing band did all the work. He spit and breathed on a camera on two separate occasions, and made silly political statements about Osama Bin Laden. No one likes being preached to and that’s all that he seemed to be doing. The only reason that he was any better than The Radio Dept. was because his sheer awfulness kept me entertained. He wasn’t sloppy, just annoying, immature, and pandering.
I saw Sleigh Bells next and they were fucking awesome, assailing the crowd with a full on sonic assault. They played loud enough to make everyone’s eardrums ring for the remainder of the festival and inspired a massive, heaving dance party with their unique brand of borderline indescribable music. They combine genres that few else do, throwing overdriven, post-hardcore inspired guitars in with huge hip-hop beats and bubble-gum pop female vocals. It’s a combination nobody knew they wanted, but one that I personally thanked them for. The crowd clearly wanted a loud party, dancing to the house music even before the Bells came on stage. When they finally did, the first thing we saw was a guy crowd surfing on an inflatable alligator. It set the tone for a pitch perfect, wild set. The band put in the same energy as the crowd did, with singer Alexis Krauss jumping up and down enthusiastically and egging the crowd on. It was the second best show of the day, after the fantastic J Mascis, and a great way to top it all off.
As I headed back to camp, I got offered a shot of LSD whiskey in exchange for a cigarette. It sounded terrifying and sketchy, so I respectfully declined. Sasquatch.