Sasquatch! 2011 Recap
For the past decade, more and more people have been flocking to the middle of Washington State for Sasquatch! Music Festival. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that the event takes place in the middle of nowhere – where the desert meets the gorge, where you may come to be one with nature and not necessarily to party like a rock star. But that’s what exactly happens every year over the Memorial Day weekend. This year, the outdoor festival celebrates its 10th anniversary and expected to be bigger than ever, expanding further outside of its indie rock roots to embrace various genres, even bordering on mainstream with major label artists. In addition, comedians and DJs are also included in the showcase to provide attendees even more options to the three and a half day of debauchery.
For someone who loves indie music and nature, Sasquatch! sounds like heaven. While the festival’s allure was strong, tackling camping for the first time in my life wasn’t so. But somehow, between other correspondents schedule’s falling through and such, I was fated to tackle the daunting task of photographing, reviewing, and camping all by myself. (Hotel is an option, but they are far and few) And I couldn’t help myself to add even more workload by coming up with five bands, five questions video interview collage project.
On Friday the 27th, I left Portland early in the morning to drive almost five hours to the Gorge Amphitheater. The first act went on at 4pm. Gates opened at 3pm, and I had my first interview at 3:30pm. Surprisingly, I made it to the camping entrance before 2pm. Though I had rehearsed how to pitch the tent before the journey, still needed a bit of help from my neighbor. Then trekked a mile to the festival gate and I waited along with other camera-accessorized press members to get our passes.
With a bit of time to kill before my interview with Rival Schools, I stopped by the media building, located in between the Bigfoot and Yeti stage. Utilitarian tables and chairs, and few comfy sofas decorated the very basic shack. In the email, they had mentioned that food was being provided this year. I totally thought this meant sandwiches or at least enough snacks to get me by without having to open my wallet. Bags of Popchips (Sasquatch! sponsor) were the only food option. Big iced buckets of Gorge water, Coca-Cola sodas, and Red Bull were the beverage options. Coffee drinkers would have to dish out $5 for a cup from a vendor. The best part about the media area was the real bathrooms vs. rows of Honey Buckets stationed next door, and the porch area with the view of the Yeti stage.
Though I did my research and received advices from past Sasquatch! attendees, I wasn’t prepared for the poor or lack of reception on my iPhone serviced by AT&T (not by event sponsor Verizon). This not only made it difficult to be a good tweeter, but also made it difficult to meet up for the interviews. Next time, I should send a photo of myself to the band before leaving home.
Not sure if it was part of the design, but Friday’s lineup could mostly lumped into hard indie rock. A more of a warm up day, one could catch most of the nine acts. The post-hardcore Rival Schools kicked off the festival, returning after an eight-year hiatus with their sophomore effort (if you don’t count that unreleased 2003 album), Pedals (QRO review). Their guitar-driven rock songs had plenty of melodies to be accessible by any unfamiliar listeners.
Half an hour later, Mariachi El Bronx entered the smallest of the outdoor stage, Yeti. The alter ego of Los Angeles’ punk outfit, The Bronx (see below), the members dressed up in matching outfits and featured instruments like trumpets, Spanish guitars, and a fiddle. While most of the band members played stoically, singer Matt Caughthran couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.
Then I headed back to the Bigfoot stage to catch Scottish alternative rockers, Biffy Clyro. Regulars in the U.K. charts, the Americans finally are getting a taste of the Mercury Prize nominated trio as they tour the U.S., opening for Foo Fighters (see below). While the weather wasn’t exactly sweltering hot, the Scots came out shirtless, and who could blame them when their tattoos spoke lot more than a shirt ever could. Singer/guitarist Simon Neil and singer/bassist James Johnston had plenty of hair action – conjuring a feeling that you were somewhere between a grunge and heavy metal show. It was also the first time I noticed crowd surfing action. The brawny security guards regularly fished out the surfers but got the sense that they were secretly enjoying the spectacle as much as everyone else was.
An icon of the indie rock, Bob Mould, most famous for fronting the eighties punk band, Hüsker Dü (QRO spotlight on), played alone with his guitar on the Sasquatch main stage. Not every press member was lucky enough to get a photo pass to the main stage so most of the time, I had to raise my camera from behind the crowd, and hoped that I got something halfway decent. If you were a fan of Mould, the performance may have been captivating, but for someone looking for a visual feast, this was about as interesting as watching grass grow. Not so much because Mould is not about glamour and confetti, but mainly because he stood on a giant stage with all these plastic wrapped equipment behind him, making him look like he was some unknown opener for a bigger act.
After a couple of songs, I had to hike up the hill, back to the Bigfoot for Against Me! to take advantage of the first three song in the photo pit “privilege”. Didn’t realize the alternative rockers formed in my mother’s residence of Naples, FL. If I had to grow up in that sleepy retirement town, I’d start playing punk music too! The black-attired men rocked so hard that the drummer had to douse himself with a bottle of water at one point.
Once again, I ran back to the main stage to witness The Bronx. Now in t-shirts and jeans, the Los Angeles punk rockers became the antithesis of their mariachi persona. When Caughthran opened his mouth to talk to the audience, he was breathless from screaming on most of the songs. Every sound produced by the Californians was raw energy bordering on chaos.
And if The Bronx hadn’t affected your eardrums by end of their show, the next act, Death From Above 1979, should have done the job. From what I could overhear, the reunion of this Canadian duo was a huge deal for many festivalgoers. Stephanie Spirovski, who has enthusiastically agreed to help me with the festival review, has a better understanding of this noise/dance punk band; I will not attempt to describe an act I am not familiar with (see below for Stephanie’s recap).
The sun set over the hills of the gorge and temperature dropped fast. The headliner of the night, Foo Fighters, attracted an amphitheater full of crowd, who has been waiting all week for this rockin’ Friday. And they certainly got it with Dave Grohl and Co. The former Nirvana drummer’s hair flayed in all directions as he sprightly moved around the stage. It looked as if he was still stuck in the nineties; wearing plaid flannel shirt and looking he hasn’t aged since he first formed the band back in 1994.
After attempting to get some photos, I tried to get out from the center mass, but the entry way was blocked by a burly security guard who was holding back the savage crowd, trying to get closest to the stage as possible. After some futile attempts, I headed to the other entrance and finally found my way out of the human jungle. With four hours of sleep, a long drive, and Popchips for dinner, my body could not endure anymore of the festivities. So I headed back but briefly stopped by the Banana Shack, where Portland DJ Anjali & The Incredible Kid was spinning their eclectic mix of Bhangra and Bollywood. The crowd spilled out of the “shack” (more like a giant white tent) onto the surrounding lawn and into the Red Bull building.
The mile walk back to the campgrounds seemed to take forever and you could hear Foo Fighters rockin’ from a distance. Soon I realized my folly – I forgot where my spot was. I was so tired and on the brink of crying, thinking I will never get any sleep. I walked around in the forest of tents, in the dark for an hour before I finally spotted my car and tent. The temperature dipped to lower 40s and in spite of my heavy-duty sleepwear, extra blanket and foam pad, my feet would take hours to unfreeze. Nearby campers blasting house music all night didn’t help and neither did the latecomers who decided to camp right behind me. Headphone on and my whole body under cover, I eventually fell asleep after 2AM.
Finally arriving to the Gorge Amphitheatre at sunset after a days worth of traffic I stepped out of the RV and could hear Death From Above 1979 start there sound check. Not wanting to miss DFA1979′s reunion (the two have been on hiatus since 1996), I made my way through the massive crowds as fast as I could managing to pull a muscle in my shin which was well worth it. The audience was super charged from the magnetic dance punk that was being emanated from the stage. Jesse F. Keeler was head to toe in black holding down the bass, synth, and back up vocals. To compliment him, on his left side was Sebastien Grainger who wore head to toe white screaming out vocals as well as pounding drum beats so hard not one head was kept from bobbing. The dynamic duo played every song off You’re a Women, I Am a Machine so effortlessly that it left every fan in hopes that the two’s reunion would evolve into a new album. Completely satisfied from DFA 1979 I decided to call it a night and head back to the campground for some good rest, there was a long weekend a head of me.
At 5:30am, the sun was already trying to wake up the campers, with its blinding rays, for the busiest day of the four-day Sasquatch music festival. After walking around, breathing in the untainted morning air, I made up my mind to pack the tent and check into a hotel for the rest of the festival. I tried but this was not a good first time camping scenario. Much to my surprise, most people got up around 8am. Duh – who sleeps when you can party like there’s no tomorrow, especially when most of us have to return to our prosaic daily routine on Tuesday?…
With 33 acts scheduled from noon to half past midnight, this was going to be one hectic Saturday. The festival gate opened at 11am, and I couldn’t wait to access outlets and a chair. And hoped that maybe there would be more than Popchips today. Well, there was another sponsors’ product – Soy Joy was added to the snack table. It was either these processed snacks or over-priced processed greasy junk food, such as burgers and fries, Domino’s pizza, elephant ears, etc.
The first set of acts started at noon. I could have walked down to the main stage and caught ten minutes of Alberta Cross before running back with my 30lb backpack to Yeti stage to catch Pepper Rabbit, but just couldn’t conjure up the energy. Besides, I was stressed about projects that were unfinished for my day job as a video editor. While I tried to get some work done on my laptop, I could hear Radiohead (QRO album review) covers. I realized that it was noon, and the sound was coming from the Bigfoot stage by Seattle Rock Orchestra, which raised my curiosity, but I turned my focus back to my computer. Just then, The Radio Dept. entered the porch area for an interview with couple of press members. Since discovering the Swedish pop trio less than two years ago, they have fast become one of my all time favorite bands. I was fortunate to catch them live (QRO live review) twice this year (QRO live review), and interview two of the members back in February (QRO interview). Not only did they recognized me but greeted me amiably. I carried our affable encounter as a good luck charm for the rest of the festival.
Little after 12:15pm, Pepper Rabbit performed their eclectic mix of looping traditional instruments, such as clarinets and trumpets with samples on Yeti stage. Since their formation in 2008, the duo has been received favorably in the industry. With a help of a bass player, singer and multi-instrumentalist Xander Singh and drummer Luc Laurent produced sound grander than expected from a trio of musicians. But my mind was distracted – I couldn’t wait for The Radio Dept. at 1:00pm. Soon as our photo pit time was up with Pepper Rabbit, I headed down to the main stage to stake a prime spot.
Earlier in the day, a photographer without the main stage press pass has better luck getting decent photos with thinner crowd. With the sun beating down on my head, I wondered how the shy Swedes would handle performing in broad daylight in such panoramic setting. Indoors, The Radio Dept. could hide in low lighting and/or fog. I also wasn’t sure how well their weightless pop songs would carry through the open ‘stadium’. Surprisingly, their dreamy melodies sounded lucid and full. While the set list was pretty typical with heavy representation from their latest album, Clinging To a Scheme (QRO review), and couple of political tunes (“Freddie and the Trojan Horse” and “The New Improved Hypocrisy”), the band did have a nice surprise for the fans – a new song that has been in existence for a while with unfinished lyrics. Unlike the more danceable tracks with biting lyrics from Clinging To a Scheme, the untitled number recalled more sorrowful songs like “Messy Enough”, which was released as a B-side to “David” but also has been around for years.
The trio is very conscious and meticulous about their music, but they are also fiercely honest, and their end results never sound or look contrived. The Radio Dept. ended their set with “Heaven’s on Fire” – perhaps their most popular tune. How can anyone but Johan Duncanson make the lines, “When I look at you / I reach for the piano wire,” sound righteous? Obviously grateful for the warm response from the crowd, Duncanson tried his best to express their sincere gratitude, as he reached for his can of Budweiser. This is a really sad picture – the Pacific Northwest has some of the best beers in the world, and the artists are treated to such unexceptional brew. As they exited, a remix of the final tune with Lovers Rock flavor streamed, and the crowd broke out in joyous dance.
The next two editor recommendations also took place on the main stage so I tried to rough it out in the mid-afternoon heat. Though I really needed some water since there were none this morning in the media building, only sodas and energy drinks – neither which I enjoy or even tolerate. As the entry time for The Head and the Heart neared, the crowd grew even larger. In contrast to the previous performers, the Seattle ensemble was animated with emphasis on vocal harmonics and thrived on audience singing along and joining their musical party.
Returning to Sasquatch!, Local Natives drew in even more bodies. Just when I was marveling at the thickness of singer/guitarist Taylor Rice’s mustache, a person nearby asked his friend if it was real or not. I wondered how many people have asked that question. Also relying on harmonics, the Los Angeles quintet were not too distant cousin of The Head and the Heart, sonically nor their ability to get the audience fired up. Though I would lose my spot, I could no longer endure the thirst and hiked back up to the media building to see if they had brought some water. As I walked away, Local Natives broke into their cover of Talking Heads’ “Warning Sign” - I take that as a hint.
After getting some hydration relief, I caught first couple songs by Dan Mangan. The Canadian singer/songwriter’s relentless touring and DIY efforts were finally paying off. Once traveling the world solo due to financial reasons, four musicians accompanied Mangan on Yeti stage. The trumpet and French horn heightened Mangan’s colorful storytelling. Touring with The Decemberists (see Day Four), and supporting mountain man beard, Mangan could easily be any other guy walking down the streets of Portland. The audience was wild about the Vancouverite and sang along with his familiar tunes, and Mangan treated them with some new tracks from his forthcoming third LP (TBA). A Canadian flag flew over the crowd. I later learned that about 80% of the festivalgoers were from north of the border because they don’t really have music festivals in Western part of their country (QRO Festival Guide).
Then I jetted to Bigfoot stage to catch another editor recommendation, Sharon Van Etten. Without any makeup and in plain street clothes, the Brooklynite’s effervescent smile made her shine in the afternoon glow. But unlike her appearance, Van Etten’s songs are weighty and poignant, hovering somewhere between PJ Harvey (QRO album review) and k.d. lang.
Back on the main stage, Wolf Parade was playing their penultimate show indefinitely. Singer/guitarist Dan Boeckner looked even thinner than when I last saw him with his wife, Alexei Perry, performing as Handsome Furs (QRO photos). At least for Boeckner, he’ll keep busy musically, promoting the new Handsome Furs album, Sound Kapital, due out late June. After a couple of songs, I didn’t feel the energy from the Canadian quartet as I had from Local Natives, so I left. Maybe I was expecting more because I had been waiting a long time to finally see them live. Maybe the speakers were too low because the post-punk outfit sure sounded lot better on NPR’s recording.
J Mascis, another veteran of indie rock played solo as Bob Mould had yesterday. Revisiting classic Dinosaur Jr. (QRO live review) tunes such as “Out There”, Mascis sat with his guitar, singing laconically, with his gaze appearing to be directed at his shoes most of the time. I was too distracted by the fact that in spite of his colorful and busy ensemble, the longhaired icon looked same no matter how I composed my framing. So Mascis gets my least photos shot of any artists award in 2011 Sasquatch! Music Festival.
As the afternoon swelled, so did the festivalgoers. It seemed the head count doubled, maybe even tripled today. For someone who’s borderline claustrophobic, the crowding spawned some anxiety. At least this mob had character. If you ever wanted to realize your dress up fantasies, this was a place to do it. Full-bodied zebra suits to next-to-nothing quasi-bikini wear, face and body paint, wigs of all sizes and colors – the more outrageous, the better chance you had getting snapped up by NPR or Live Nation photographers. I had to limit my shutter count if I wanted any life outside of covering this event for the next couple of weeks.
About quarter past five, the sun was smiling gloriously on Bigfoot stage Jenny & Johnny. Singer/guitarist/bassist Jenny Lewis (QRO solo live review) of Rilo Kiley (QRO album review) fame, looked like a fashion model, wearing a cute retro-chic red dress and dark sunglasses with her long flowing orange hair blowing in the wind. Singer/guitarist Jonathan Rice didn’t look too shabby either but supporting full black attire, he was no match for his partner in the visual dept. Musically, their collaborative effort resulted in perfectly complimenting catchy pop songs.
The fun and carefree mood changed when The Antlers took the Bigfoot stage after Jenny and Johnny. The Brooklyn-based trio’s critically acclaimed previous release, Hospice, won many critics over. Their latest LP, Burst Apart (QRO review), came with a burden – to deliver something of similar caliber as its predecessor. I thought this brooding band was not going to be my strongest photo subjects. But with afternoon glow and backlighting on singer/guitarist Peter Silberman, I got some of my best shots of the festival. No matter, Silberman’s wailing even made one forget that you were in a happening music festival with perfect weather.
Even before Matt & Kim started playing, the frenzy was on. This Brooklyn team definitely gets my craziest/wildest duo award of the festival. Smiling like energized bunny on drugs, singer/drummer Kim Schifino (QRO interview) found a way to get the crowd even more fired up by pitting the two sides divided by walkway against each other. While the less animated but still delirious singer/keyboardist Matt Johnson (QRO interview) smiled impishly. Their unique blend of synth-punk-dance pop was the perfect prescription for a happy hour party.
A visit to the media building revealed that I had missed a new addition to the snack table: pita chips, apparently not sponsored. Luckily, there was some hummus left, which I scooped up with Popchips. Guess that was my late lunch? As I headed to the main stage, grabbed more Soy Joys from their booth, which seemed to have a semi-truck full supply. But they provided more than ‘free food’, giving out back sacks, providing cushioned seats for weary partygoers, as well as hosting some game that involved costumed green giant – or maybe he was a participant. I also passed the Easy Street Records artist signing booths, where The Antlers were welcoming their fans.
The last and only time I saw Bright Eyes was when I still lived in Florida. It had been probably almost ten years ago when Conor Oberst toured after the release of emo (or at least that’s what we called emo back then) classic, Lifted. Oberst had almost full orchestra with him – strings, woodwinds, brass – I was blown away and still recall with awe. Unfortunately, tonight was nothing like that night almost a decade ago. Guess I should be tolerant of changes but how odd to see this white Nebraskan hiding his face behind a hoodie and long bangs, moving and gesturing like some hip hop artist? Since I couldn’t re-live my memory and getting good photos was impossible, I retreated to media building to take a breather.
Robyn lived up to her diva status by making us all wait. The Swedish pop star was due on Bigfoot stage at 9:00pm. By 9:30pm, all the photographers who had gathered in the photo pit were starting to complain – if she doesn’t show up right now, we’re all going to go down for Death Cab For Cutie (due on main stage at 9:45pm – see below). The only thing that kept us entertained was her frenzied fans. Just when we were about to give up, Robyn finally entered the stage little past 9:30.
Two things struck me about the Swede. How short she was for a Scandinavian, and she moved around so fast, that she should have been named hummingbird. At one point, the platinum blonde singer/songwriter stopped and stood like a statue but breathing hard, trying to catch her breadth before flying around the stage again like a caged bird, trying to find an opening. Well, at least the diva gave us visuals worth the half an hour wait, even though the chiaroscuro lighting and strobe lighting meant that no time to adjust camera settings. Just had to keep pushing that shutter button, hoping it caught something that would be descriptive of Robyn’s electrified dance showcase.
My friends Ameena and Jeremy were arriving today to relieve me of my loneliness. They were also not equipped for camping so we went in a hotel room together. We met up at Banana Shack for Sleigh Bells. The sound was so loud; it almost qualified as white noise. Unable to find the photo pit and with my brain just about fried from the long day, I decided to hang my camera up. By the end of the night, I had caught 16 acts, partial or full. Even then, I didn’t even catch half of the program, and still nothing in my stomach but Popchips, Soy Joy, and hummus.
After a night of frostbite-worthy sleep, I charged myself with pomegranate green tea, and headed towards the picturesque Gorge. On my way in, I kissed the stars that hide behind the day for giving me the luck of not having to wait in the massive line that hovers around the fence, costing people at least an hour of their time before they get any music pumping into them. To my surprise and thanks to a dear friend, I ended up having all access the whole weekend – something that doesn’t come up very often in my world, and I can’t pour enough gratitude into the Universe to show my appreciation, but I will try.
It’s my third year as a Sasquatch enthusiast so I have a map of the layout embedded in my head.
I made my way down the asphalt to the Big Foot stage to catch K-OS. The indie hip-hop artist spawning from Toronto, Canada, as well as having roots in Trinidad, was a sight to see in his vintage poncho and hot pink sunglasses. Not only does the dreadlocked artist has style, but he his multi-talented busting out flows, beat boxing, and laughing his way through the set. Making jokes about how Sasquatch! was too corporate for him, you had to sit and wonder if the independent artist was taking his skills to his full potential. He started to play U2′s “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” as well as David Bowie’s “Space Odyssey” but opted out on both. Fully engaging his audience, the sun beat down and no one seemed to mind (or didn’t catch) the subtle messages of non-corporatism he unfolded.
Next on my list was Local Natives – a band I was first was introduced to at last year’s festival (QRO photos), this year they were upgraded to the main stage. You could feel the vivacity pouring out of each member as they entered the stage and started playing “Camera Talk” – the sixth song on their debut album, Gorilla Manor. Kelsey Aycer pulled every ones heartstrings by dedicating their song “Airplane” to his brother and sister who were listening on the side stage. For their grand finale, “Sun Hands” came on and everyone in the packed audience went wild. Hands flew up and the crowd (including myself) sang along with wide-eyed smiles. Another thing to note about these talented harmonizing gentlemen is that you can find them humbly hanging out in the crowd just like one of us head bopping and fully engaged in the sound of their fellow musicians.
This year I had made a conscious decision not to run around like a chicken with my head cut off, but to pick my favorite groups and catch their whole show. With that in mind, I decided to head back to the camp and put on some warm clothes before Iron & Wine. This was my first chance to have the opportunity to catch Samuel Beam live in concert. Walking up to the stage with horns blaring in full effect I would have never guessed it was him. The folk pop singer/songwriter surprised his audience with hints of funk peaking through guitar riffs and bellowing a scratchy voice from time to time. He added a dash of liquid fusion to songs like “Freedom Hangs in Heaven” and “Summer in Savannah”. Slowing it down towards the end of the set with his wispy voice, Beam managed to weave a tapestry through our hearts while singing everyone’s favorite lullaby, “Fever Dream”. Toward the end the show, the sun began to set, leaving hot pink colors scattered about the sky, and Beam brought the energy back up with another song off Our Endless Numbered Days, “Tree by the River”. In a dream like state, I could feel my ears were satisfied, but by now my stomach needed to be fed, so I headed back to what my friends and I referred to as the ‘kitten caravan’, a.k.a. home sweet home for a Tofurkey and cream cheese sandwich.
After a quick dinner, I eagerly returned to the main stage to catch a band I’ve been fond of since I was 16 years old. Death Cab for Cutie is one of indie music’s most treasured bands, and Benjamin Gibbard’s voice is likable to even your grandmother. The Seattle-based band filled the gorge with an extra long interlude version of “I Will Possess Your Heart”. Their music sounded gigantic as it cut through the darkness of the night. The whole audience went rhapsodic when “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” came on. Everyone couldn’t help from singing along. I started feeling a bit nostalgic and woeful so I decided to run over to the Banana Shack and check out Sleigh Bells.
Walking up to the tented stage, dodging glue sticks, I felt like I was entering a bad over-crowded rave, yet I decided to stay. I hadn’t heard much of Sleigh Bells prior – just a couple of songs off their album, Treats, which I saw potential in, but that drastically changed once I heard them live. The bass was turned up too high, making my brains rattle and those M.I.A. (QRO photos)-inspired beats I heard on the record were missing in action. With my ears ringing, I decided to flee and head back over to Death Cab to check out their encore. Going as fast as my legs could carry me, I could hear “Sound of Settling” echoing through the field and as that ended the crowd craved for an encore. DCFC gladly indulged us with three closing songs “Portable Television”, “Title and Registration”, and “Transatlanticism”.
Deciding to skip Bassnectar, I met up with my friends and headed back to the campgrounds in search of a dance party with my fellow campers. We must have walked around the whole campsite stumbling only upon bad dance music; we lost half the group along the way but refused to give up on our search. Finally we heard some tasty beats in the distance with a Portland flag swaying to a fro where we danced till security shut the generators off (which they always seem to do). Tired, satisfied with the feeling of conquering another day at Sasquatch!, and a bit sore, we made our way back to our quiet camp site, snuggled under five blankets and passed out.
With a long hot shower and more than five hours of sleep in a warm hotel room, my vigor should have been renewed. But even before the Sasquatch! rush of the third day begun, exhaustion set in. Guess the Popchips and Soy Joy diet was catching up with me. Another packed day of music, comedy, and frolicking in the open air, but the overall lineup was less enticing than the previous day. The media building seemed even more congested today. MTV showed up, apparently to interview The Drums and maybe few other trendy bands. Oh wow, they brought in a popcorn machine! It looked about as tasty and healthy as the snacks you find in any cinema or fairgrounds. Oh but look here, something unprocessed – veggie tray! But I did not care what they had on the table anymore. Thanks to DJ Anjali (sister of my friend Ameena), who was booked all four dates, was generous to let me have the guest spot for today and tomorrow, as well as meal tickets.
At noon, Smith Westerns kicked off the festivities at the Sasquatch! stage. The main stage was prepped much as possible for the grand spectacle of the Flaming Lips later in the evening (see below). Disco ball hung prominently overhead, and traces of confetti spilled out from unknown sources. With the buzz around the Chicago-based group’s second album, Dye It Blonde, I had high expectations. In articles, glam icon influences such as T. Rex and David Bowie come up, but on stage, the young men looked more like shoegazers. Perhaps it was too damn early in the day for musicians barely in their legal drinking age. Whatever the reason, Smith Westerns performance lacked energy. I always appreciate skilled drummers who can make or break a concert, and I couldn’t help to notice the basic drumming of Hal James. Few songs in, some audience members caught a sight of Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips checking out the young band from stage left. I tried to get into the groove of the quintet’s melodic catchy tunes but just didn’t feel it. But I stayed till the end to catch the next band in line, which was on my very short must see list: The Drums.
It’s difficult to think many newer bands with more buzz than The Drums. Their sound embraces and reflects rock music history from 50s to present, resulting in timeless tunes like “I Felt Stupid” and “Let’s Go Surfing”. Halfway through the first song, I was convinced that this Brooklyn band was going to give a top-notch show. The Drums exuded a certain intangible star quality. Their drummer played like a seasoned pro, giving lot of texture and layers. Lead singer Jonny Pierce moved around in a trance-like state as he swooned and strained his vocal chords, recalling Morrissey (QRO live review), while keyboardist/guitarist Jacob Graham’s robotic movements evoked DEVO (QRO photos) or Kraftwerk. Myles Matheny of Violens (QRO album review) joined the trio on stage, providing bass and backing vocals. Hopefully The Drums are more than a fad and continue to produce and perform meticulously crafted songs.
After witnessing probably the best show of the festival to date, I trudged back to the Yeti stage to catch one of the participants for my “5 Bands, 5 Questions” video project, The Moondoggies. Performing as a six-piece, the Seattle group’s sound recalled elements of seventies rock, songs about the trials and triumphs of Americana, with emphasis on guitar and pronounced drums.
As I went through Sasquatch! lineup and tried to learn more about some of the acts, I stumbled on a musical comedian, Tim Minchin. I don’t usually care for stand up comedy nor musicals, but then I hadn’t known anyone like the wild-haired Aussie. With few minutes to spare before my next assignment, I joined the hysterically laughing crowd at the Banana Shack. If Minchin wasn’t standing up making jokes about everything and anything, he sat at his piano and sang one of his outrageous tunes. On “The Pope Song”, Minchin sing-songs repeatedly, “Fuck the motherfucker,” and ends with: ” You are just as morally misguided / As that motherfucking, power hungry / Self-aggrandized bigot / In the stupid fucking hat.” But the most indelible words from the mouth of Minchin were ‘fumbies’ (fucked up zombies) and ‘slowbots’ (slow robots). I had to pull all my discipline to leave the magnetic performer.
QRO favourite Tokyo Police Club jumped around the main stage in mid-afternoon heat. The Canadian quartet’s upbeat indie rock songs carried well, whether in dark intimate clubs or in an outdoor stadiums in broad daylight. One thing that set this set apart was when singer/bassist Dave Monks (QRO photos) invited his friend, Taylor, who proposed to his girlfriend of four years, Emma.
I had another interview today – with the Seattle outfit, Mad Rad. I confess I don’t listen to hip-hop, but when an ensemble puts on a show uninhibited as Mad Rad, even a shoegazer like me wouldn’t miss it. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears had just finished their set on Yeti stage, and they must have had one hell of a toilet paper party. I exuberantly threw some of the rolls that had gathered in the photo pit back into the crowd. But a stern security supervisor told me that if he caught me doing that again, he’ll take my pass away and will be thrown out of the festival. Geez, it’s not like I knew I was committing a crime. I understand he’s just doing his job of ensuring a safe environment, but couldn’t he have told me that in a nicer way? Talk about music festival oppression! How much damage can a roll of toilet paper really do?..
The crowd chanted “Mad Rad” repeatedly before the zestful bunch exploded onto the Yeti stage. Banned at more than one venue for their raucous shows, but also selling out shows because of their corybantic performance, this hip hop/dance/new wave outfit never had a dull moment. Out of the three vocalists, the well-toned and shirtless Madonna provided the most spectacles by jumping into the crowd for just about every song. But all members of the seven-piece band had their own identity, even the sole female who was playing cello in the background, providing a surreal contrast to the stage front antics.
Whether for economic or nostalgic reasons, band reunions are a welcome trend, especially for someone who was not allowed to journey two hours west to Chicago or had the cash to attend any concerts during college days. Archers of Loaf are one of several groups set sailing on this wave, bringing back their hardcore indie rock of the nineties. It seemed that Mad Rad and Archers should have switched the venue. While Mad Rad couldn’t see an end to their crowd, the North Carolina veterans only packed in about half of the venue, indicative of the festivalgoers’ demographics. Majority of Sasquatch! attendees looked like kids on summer holiday from high school or college. After getting some photos, I returned to Yeti stage to witness the finale of Mad Rad. By that time, who knew how many times Madonna had to be pulled from the crowd.
As I sipped a cocktail on my dinner break, lamented over the meal tickets I had lost even before entering the festival gate today. Well thank goodness friends don’t let friends starve. Ameena piled her plate high so I could at least get some sustenance. So there goes another day without a proper meal.
Sasquatch! favorite, the Flaming Lips attracted a crowd that reached beyond horizon, as the tangerine sun hovered above the rolling hills. [note: Stephanie Spirovski has also written about them so I'll refrain from repeating the same scenario and only add additional information] For someone witnessing the Lips for the very first time, I felt like a little kid in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Through a door that magically appeared on the iris of an eye on a giant screen, the members of the Flaming Lips made their triumphant entry on to the stage. Frontman Wayne Coyne had his own special first encounter with the audience. By housing himself in a giant clear beach ball, Coyne’s ceremonial roll over the crowd was conducted. As is so popular these days to play a full album, the pepper-haired singer announced that they’ll be playing The Soft Bulletin (1999) in its entirety and if there were time left over in their hour and half slot, they’d play few other songs. An interesting choice since the ninth LP is not as well known as their follow-up, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, which is considered by many to be the pinnacle of The Lips’ career. Judging by the amount of bantering, it seemed unlikely that they’ll even get through playing every song from their ninth LP. On the occasion of Sasquatch’s ten-year anniversary, Coyne introduced Mark Hamill, best known for his role as Luke Skywalker. I started to walk away when the former Star Wars actor started his speech to catch Yeasayer at the other end of the festival grounds.
Hypem’s #1 most blogged artist of 2010, Yeasayer has had pretty good success both in record sales and critic’s ratings with their second LP, Odd Blood (QRO review). Not bad for an album that escapes easy classification – I could closely described as an experimental pop with tribal undertones. Judging by Yeasayer’s stage lighting, their performance would have had a whole different impact during daylight, losing their elusiveness. With beams of every color from the rainbow taking its turn, the flashes and ever-changing lights induced enigmatic surreal psychedelia, very different from the bubble-gum flavor of The Lips. I was one of the few people who didn’t care to explore Odd Blood more than once when it was released last year. But the Brooklyn band’s hypnotic live show made me think I should revisit their catalogue. My weariness soon overpowered the spell Yeasayer had cast. If I was to last one more day and conquer the five-hour drive back afterward, I had to get a decent night’s rest. As I walked towards the festival gate, I kept staring at the big screen, wishing I could stay to witness the rest of Yeasayer’s set, as well as pondering on the pageantry of The Flaming Lips.
After a late night, I decided to take my time entering the festival and strolled in around four o’clock to catch Beach House at the main stage. Their sound filled the air and wrapped around the audience like a warm blanket with its dream-pop melodies. Singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand engaged the audience with a few words like, “Do you all love each other?” and then opened up strongly with the song “Better Times” followed by “Walk in the Park”. Not only is their sound ethereal, but so is Legrand, with her head banging, cherry red lip stick, and hypnotic organ playing. They managed to melt our hearts with the song “Take Care” while rooting us back down with “Used To Be”. The group even delighted the audience with a new song, “Other People”, which had a sparkling Teen Dream (QRO review) feel to it. Beach House ended their set with “10 Mile Stereo”. With soothing guitar chords, haunting vocals, and pillow like drum beats everyone wanted more, but unfortunately unless you are a closing act you don’t get an encore.
Hoping to get a closer glimpse at Beach House as well as a good look at the gorge, I headed back stage where I consumed some free coffee and waited for the Flaming Lips to grace us. The sun started to set and the epic band that formed in Norman, Oklahoma in 1983 took the stage along with characters from the Wizard of Oz who danced to opening songs like “Race for the Prize” and “Spoonful Weighs a Ton”. This wouldn’t be the first year the psychedelic inspired band has played on the Main Stage. They headlined in 2008 and in 2006 so it was no surprise that frontman Wayne Coyne was given the privilege of singing “Happy Birthday” to the ten-year-old Sasquatch Festival. With magnifying close ups on his eyes and nostrils he gratefully sang, spoke some other dimensional words, and flung handful of cake into the audience. Once the night descended, the visuals transformed with shooting stars and lyrics to “What is the Light?” off their album The Soft Bulletin.
Not hearing any songs from their new album Embryonic (QRO review – something I was hoping to hear live), I decided to trek over to the Banana Shack and catch some of Flying Lotus. Spawning from California this space bass driven artist plays his drum machine and synth sounds as if he were a kid in a candy store. Steven Ellison chose to play songs off his newest album Cosmogramma, along with audience favorite, Radiohead’s (QRO album review) “Idioteque”. Flying Lotus packed the tented stage with hot, sweaty, bodies that craved for bass like it was their last resource on Earth.
After some much needed booty oscillating beats, I headed over to the Big Foot Stage to catch Ratatat. My ears perked up when I heard “Bob Gandhi,” and “Mirando” off their new album, LP4. Mike Stroud and Evan Mast look quite comfortable rocking out. The energy pouring out of them filled up the smoky stage, and not one person from the audience was left standing still. The duo shredded hard guitar riffs and their drums lit up a golden hue with each beat they pounded. Visuals of cougars take over the screen as the classic “Black Cat” comes on and synthesizers fill up the space between sweaty bodies. Even though they are one of the last bands of the night, their bass was turned up high and would get any booty shaking. Ratatat puts on an extraordinary show – head banging and diving to their knees the whole way through so when they come to there finale it is no surprise the crowd wants more. They come back on stage for a two-song encore, building up sounds that sound like UFO-inspired space beats and their energy is just as high as when they started the show. With electronic sounds spilling out of keyboards, auto harps, drums, and synthesizers, I realize it’s impossible to know Ratatat’s music until you’ve had the chance to see them live.
Blown away by Ratatat’s performance I make my way back to the campsite for the nightly ritual of finding more dance music. Having less success then the night prior (security really came down hard on the campers this year) I decide to mingle near my campsite and head to bed.
The final day of Sasquatch! Music Festival started frenetically. As time ticked away nervously, the drive from the hotel back to Gorge Amphitheater seemed longer than previous commutes. My final interview was scheduled for 11:15am. The first band went on at 11:30am and the 11:00am media gate opened late. Being tardy for the interview with White Arrows wasn’t much of a problem, but by the time I reached the main stage, couldn’t get decent shots of Wavves among the young and the restless.
After making couple of basic punk rock albums, Wavves frontman Nathan Williams got tired and wanted a change to something bigger and better, resulting in a poppy surf rock piece, King of the Beach (QRO review). Listeners cannot escape Williams’ signature theme of self-loathing but it’s balanced out with carefree topics – like playing video games. The lo-fi production of California trio presented immediacy for the generation growing up in the age of media overload. The songs were quick, upbeat and just right to start off the final day of Sasquatch.
Following the Wavves on main stage was another California band, Young the Giant. Though the quintet has just released their first studio album, they sound like seasoned musicians. To be fair, they have been around since 2004. Young the Giant have been riding the wave of success ignited by their alternative rock anthem “My Body”. Touring this summer with Incubus, they also have several festival dates internationally. On stage, singer Sameer Gadhia seem to strain his core muscles to give his raspy falsetto more power than it’s capable of. Gadhia’s hollow vocals work better with pensive ballads like “God Made Man”. Not able to catch onto the appeal of the alternative rockers, I walked away as Young The Giant gave all their best to rock the stadium.
Just few meters away, I took repose in “The Lounge” with my artist pass from DJ Anjali. The iced Americano from Stumptown Coffee was perfect for a boost of energy and to cool off the midday heat soaked up by my black Owen Pallett T. Running into DJ Anjali, I was finally able to partake the meal buffet – unfortunately I had to pass on most of the Mexican themed dishes, which contained ingredients on my self-imposed “DO NOT EAT” list. With meager portions of carrot and fiesta salad ingested, I had to jet from the table half full with the members of The Decemberists to catch one of the few acts on my personal list: Twin Shadow.
New York transplant George Lewis Jr. (a.k.a. Twin Shadow) brought the new wave and European flavor to the festival dominated by Americana on Bigfoot Stage. The Dominican Republic-born singer/songwriter’s debut, Forget, elicited much favorable response from the critics, touting as one of the best debut albums of 2010. After the caffeinated show opener, “Shooting Holes At The Moon”, the exquisitely haunting and intimate “Tyrant Destroyed” felt a bit flat in the open air.
Much of the set consisted of sped up versions of tracks from Forget, “When Were Dancing” and “I Can’t Wait” revealed nervous energy concealed in the recordings and amplified the electric guitar. I love it when artists give new life to their songs in concerts. Personal favorite, “Slow” started out like a lullaby, before escalating to an explosive ending. Lewis also threw in a new track – a soulful ballad in intro, transitioned into a danceable new-wave piece and ended with a guitar jam. If the new song is any indication of his next album, Twin Shadow should evade the sophomore slump.
Next on the Bigfoot Stage, the tone did not stray too far from Twin Shadow. Before the release of their third LP, Last Night On Earth (QRO review), Noah & The Whale was best known for the heartbreaking laments of The First Days of Spring (QRO review) in the States. The album exploring singer Charlie Fink’s breakup with a former member, Laura Marling (QRO live review), is a stark contrast to the nu-folk of the quartet’s debut album, Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down (QRO review), which garnered Noah and the Whale a top ten hit in the U.K. singles charts with “5 Years Time”. The blithe sound of their genesis has been left behind, and it seems Fink has come out of his lamentation. The new album is triumphant and fit for an arena with electric guitars and synths, while still capitalizing on Tom Hobden’s fiddle. Their set list naturally promoted Last Night On Earth, but the Englishmen also included tracks from their previous albums, showcasing their versatility. When you hear a robust male voice shouting, “Fuck yeah!” repeatedly at an anti-macho show, you know the band is doing something right.
Guess Noah & The Whale experienced a Beatles moment when they couldn’t find their interviewer; they were mobbed by a group of girls. Was Fink’s boyish good looks or his crooning like Generation Y Leonard Cohen to blame for the hysteria? Or did their dapper attire have a spellbinding effect? The Londoners probably deserve the best-dressed award at Sasquatch!; among the vintage-chic, homeless-chic, sporty-chic or the ever-popular Hawaiian shirts, they stood out with their jackets and pressed shirts. Class never goes out of style.
Over at Sasquatch! Stage, two best friends were churning out electro funk for one hot afternoon dance party. Chromeo plus three vixens copied from Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love” music video provided a groovy and sexy performance. Leather jacket, white T, jeans, and sunglasses, vocalist/guitarist Dave 1 had no problem arousing crowd participation, flashing big smiles and radiating happy-go-lucky ambience. Analog synth wizard Pee Thug in full black attire complete with a headwear busily operated various apparatuses that enclosed him. Now and then, P-Thug supported vocals through the talk box, which seemed to get the audience even more pumped up. I was hit by a giant floating ball – two different times and laughed at the hilarity.
Making their debut at Sasquatch!, White Arrows played busy psychedelic electro pop on Yeti Stage. What started out as vocalist Mickey Schiff’s experiment has grown to bona-fide five-piece band. Supporting garbs colorful as their music, the Los Angeles group were having grand ol’ time entertaining the afternoon crowd with songs about being young in contemporary American metropolis.
Next on my list was another English band with folk basis that probably drew back lot of the Noah & The Whale fans to the Bigfoot stage. While no stranger to festivals worldwide, this was Stornoway‘s first U.S. festival appearance. This Oxford group really seems to love what they do. I haven’t noticed a drummer looking as emotional and involved as Rob Steadman. His brother, bassist Oli Steadman played the songs with the similar enthusiasm, which he must have played hundreds of times by now. Keyboardist Jonathan Ouin may be reticent by nature, but his shiny, pretty Korg setup speaks volumes. Singer/guitarist Brian Briggs did plenty of bantering, showcasing his encyclopedic knowledge with a deadpan humor. Brian’s brother, multi-instrumentalist Adam and a female violinist joined the quartet on stage. Stornoway introduced some new material, but their ‘classics’ like “Zorbing” and “Watching Birds” worked best in the bipolar weather.
With some time for a mini break, I flashed my artist pass and entered the freebie zone. The Ice Cream Man arrived today with Ben & Jerry’s frozen treats. Seemed cruel that the van wasn’t stationed outside The Lounge. By now, all there was left at the open bar was Absolut vodka – eh, still not bottom shelf. Being an infrequent drinker these days and with little soaker in my tummy, the buzz soon hit my brain. Just then Stornoway returned from their artist signing stint and started a game of hacky sack. Since I had interviewed them before, it wasn’t so daunting to strike a conversation. Soon, I was having too much fun snapping away the endearing Brits.
As we, photographers waited in the pit at the Yeti Stage, Mother Nature decided to welcome Best Coast with a quick downpour. After getting few shots, I decided that the health of my camera was more important than getting great photos of the California trio and watched their performance under a canopy. Like Wavves, Best Coast plays music that recalls the sunny beaches of their native state and has become one of the hottest acts to emerge last year. Their debut album, Crazy For You, is on countless top albums of 2010 list, and its appeal only seems to grow. By now songs like “Boyfriend” has become indelible. Singer/songwriter, Bethany Cosentino, multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, and former Vivian Girls (QRO album review) drummer Ali Koehler served up delectable surf pop to drenched but enlivened audience.
Music of !!! has always put me in a cheerful mood, but I had no idea that the San Francisco ensemble would put on one of the most memorable shows at Sasquatch! Vocalist Nic Offer’s curly brown hair reminded me of the affable Tom Baker (Doctor Who) – only he didn’t have a long knitted scarf around his neck but showed off his white legs in short shorts. Exuding confidence, Offer looked down at the photo pit and said, “I love photographers!” And told the security guards not to chase us away after three songs. He promised to give us so much good stuff, and our faces beamed at the sole artist who threw the three-song rule out the pit. Spending almost half of his time off stage, Offer frequently went into the crowd to borrow accessories, posing like a model, and making the security guards work for their wage. Dancing like a hot disco star, Offer had us constantly chase him with our camera. There were six members on stage, but you couldn’t keep your eyes off the singer too long because no one knew what he’d come up with next. In the midst of having a photographer’s high, I realized that I had missed dinner. But Offer made Popchips for another meal worth the suffering. Maybe he was Doctor Who…
As the sun left our company, the sky became gloomy and cool breeze filtered in – a fitting ambience for Deerhunter‘s atmospheric art rock. Opening the set with “Desire Lines”, guitarist Lockett Pundt took the lead before returning it to his high school best friend and the brain of Deerhunter, Bradford Cox, for the rest of the show. Enveloped by darkness, fog, and hoodies, the Athens, Georgia outfit were shrouded in mystery and played like gods on stage that seem to hover just out of our reach. As their guitar chimes escalated, you felt an immersion into liquid abyss to be baptized by Bradford the Baptist. Deerhunter live is noisy but elegant, haunting and exquisite, living up to their reputation as of the most revered indie acts.
Half way through Deerhunter’s set, I spotted a lightening and thought I’d better leave while I can. Unfortunately, this meant giving up my chance to see the festival closer – Wilco. By now, probably half the crowd had left to make it back to their homes in time to prepare for a workweek the next day. At my final stop in the media building, which had pretty much emptied out by now, I gazed at the hot pretzel machine that has been long 86ed. Where do they find this stuff? Is there storage where they randomly pick a snack a machine to impress some press members? Would they have a cotton candy machine if the festival lasted another day? Or maybe a waffle maker?… These were the type of questions passed through my mind at the end of a very long ‘weekend’.
Sasquatch! 2011 came down to 39 acts, around 2,000 frames shot, unhealthy amount of Popchips, and 0 full meals. Though camping was a bust, the weather cooperated – most of the time, and generally, people were very pleasant – the bands, the security guards, and fellow media people. And most importantly, I returned safely to Portland, with all my equipment through the dark stormy night on treacherous winding roads.