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.
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’.