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.
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.