The crowd at The Head and The Heart
Sasquatch Music Festival tromped into The Gorge last weekend for its tenth anniversary (my maiden voyage), and rocked for four days solid. As I told the Twitter on Monday morning, “day four of any music festival should really be subtitled in small elegant script: good god are we still doing this?” But even when we were feeling a bit road-weary and dusty (camping compounded matters), we were still acutely aware of being thoroughly spoiled by music, in one of the best festival lineups this summer. And that sublime natural setting really leaves nothing to be desired. Except maybe a hot tub.
You can see all my pictures (and some additional commentary) here, and these are the noteworthy things I’ve been telling my friends about from the weekend.
Foster The People
Fresh-faced LA band Foster The People was the single largest-attended shitshow of a third-stage act I’ve ever seen. You know, where they book a band nine months ago and by the time they play the festival they’ve outgrown the stage a few times over? (see: M.I.A. at Coachella 2008) Not that I minded; there is something electric about being pressed in so tightly dancing with your neighbors that you half-fear a riot, and people climb onto the rooftops to express their dancing selves. Foster The People’s new album, the fittingly-named Torches, is out now and they have completely sold out almost every stop on this U.S. tour. Quoting from the MGMT playbook with dancey hooks and shimmery vocals, they beefed up their set with a dizzying array of instruments, percussive and otherwise. They just looked like they were having a darn huge amount of fun, despite their deer-in-the-headlights expressions at times.
Pumped Up Kicks – Foster The People (EP version)
Seattle’s Macklemore was one of my favorite unforeseen stage-stealers of the festival for me. His smart hip hop was ebulliently performed and full of terrific flow, kinda reminding me of Eminem except minus the part where he bitterly hates women. The reception from the Seattle-heavy crowd at the Bigfoot Stage was completely deafening, and I walked away wordlessly shaking my head, wondering “what just happened?!” He was a supernova of awesome. If I ever get a chance to see him again (I know, he was just in Denver, I don’t want to talk about it) I absolutely will, and you should too. Plus, he had a sweeeet denim jacket with fringe glued on the sleeves and David Bowie (circa Labyrinth, even better) that he painted by hand on the back.
The Head and The Heart
Several members of The Head and the Heart came to Sasquatch last year as attendees, and I might have been briefly reminded of the line from Princess Bride about “she was once a commoner, like yourselves …perhaps you will not find her so common, now.” (oooh sorry, nerd alert). This year the band was ushered in to play the mainstage to a hefty, passionate crowd who sang along to all the words. I’d never seen them play to a home-state crowd before, and the swell of emotion was really nothing short of impressive and almost feverish. This was the largest show THATH has ever played, and a year ago they were just in the crowd, wearing their handmade band t-shirts, waiting for things to happen. And happen they did.
During their tight and melodic set, Josiah motioned several Seattle musician friends out to jubilantly sing and clap on “Lost In My Mind” – so much happiness. Then during the penultimate song of their set, “Down In The Valley,” I turned to look behind me at the crowd. Wow — lining the whole front ridge of the lawn, 150+ people were standing arm-in-arm, forming a human chain that swayed back and forth. Strangers and strangers. Scoff if you will about the unbridled unjadedness that a move like that entails, but I loved it. I’d never seen anything like it. I’m glad that sort of uncool joy is still fostered somewhere in life.
Like the all-encompassing hurricane their name suggests, Typhoon was everything I had hoped for, and I’ve been hoping for a lot. Theirs was the first set of the day on Sunday, at a balmy bright noontime slot on the second stage. Crowding the stage with a dozen people playing everything from trumpets to cello to bells, they radiated a conviction and a deep joy. It was the best kind of catharsis; the dude next to me appeared to be having a full-on religious exorcism of some sort, but of the life-affirming variety where you just throw your head back and sing your guts out. I sang right along, as loudly as I could. Watch for an interview with frontman Kyle Morton soon, we talked about real good stuff after their set.
Guided by Voices
Speaking of life-affirming, my first time seeing Guided By Voices was the punk rock version of that, soaked in tequila and lit on fire with a few dozen jump kicks and windmill-arms. It’s probably been said by dozens of other folks before, but how is Bob Pollard still alive? The man was chugging Jose Cuervo at 3pm in the afternoon and not even flinching, while guitarist Mitch Mitchell chain smoked the entire show. No, seriously, he had a guy sidestage that would run out and hold his cigarette when he had a particularly amazing solo, and then put it back in his pre-cancerous maw. BAD. ASS.
Game of Pricks, Live at Sasquatch
[FULL SHOW AUDIO]
You know what that is right there in the picture? That’s what Aloe Blacc looks like just before he takes away your woman.
Speaking as a representative of the female sex, I can say that man is smooooth, there in his purple shirt and fitted grey vest, hat tilted just so. His music fused old-R&B sensibilities with swaggering brass and those clean beats, for one of the festival’s absolute most fun sets. The crowd (and, um, me) ate it up.
The first thing you might notice when you walk up to a Basia Bulat set is that yes, she is very petite, and the guitar she is wielding threatens to overtake her. The second thing you notice is that her voice is massively huge, seeming to belong to a woman three times her stature. It has an honest and open timbre, and is honey rich and soulful. I first heard Basia’s music in a short little song someone recommended for my Stomp/Clap Mix – she seems to love the hand/foot percussion as much as I do, and I was thrilled when she ended her set with this old gospel song rendition:
Hush (traditional) – Basia Bulat, live at Sasquatch via NPR
Iron & Wine
[image credit Kyle Johnson for Sasquatch]
I had never seen Sam Beam and Iron & Wine live before, but I’ve imagined the moment many times as I’ve laid in bed with his music filtering into my headphones on repeat. On Saturday evening, I finally got my chance and was pretty blown away. Following the lead of his more robust recent material, his live show has unfurled and bloomed into something that is multi-instrumental, and incredible.
I wound up backstage later that night, and was sitting next to Sam as he ate his dinner and held a baby. It somehow struck me as oddly incongruous, this quotidian existence, even though I largely see musicians as humans just like anyone else. I realized why it seemed odd to me: Sam seems like some sort of otherwordly locust-eating prophet, who is untouchable by mere humans. His songs are just that good, that monumental. His set did not let me down, in fact when he launched into this song, I dissolved into a temporary hot mess, totally unexpectedly, and I couldn’t tell you why. I think it kicked in at the swell of the background singers, and the feeling in the lyrics of finding a center so far from the familiar.
Sharon Van Etten
Speaking of unexpected tears, the other artist that evoked a reaction in me was Sharon Van Etten, just from the devastating power in her voice and the sharpness in her words. I’ve heard a handful of her songs and decided then and there at her Saturday set that hers is some music for me.
SASQUATCH 2011: TAKEAWAY LESSONS LEARNED
*The Gorge really is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful music venues I’ve ever been in; almost every performer commented on it in some way. Lucky for me, the other two winners are in Colorado (Telluride mainstage and Red Rocks) to hear me tell it.
*There are certain things that should never, ever be bumped at high decibel levels in the Premium Campground at 2:00am, and 25-minute long remixes of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” is undeniably one of them. Fuckers in the RV.
*You haven’t really lived until you’ve broken a toenail in the riot that is a Sleigh Bells tent show at midnight.
*The beers really truly do cost $12. I was warned; I scoffed. But they were soooo gooood: I may have even made up a theme song/homage to Color Me Badd, called “Shocktop, Ya Don’t Stop.” It was fantastic.
A festival and a weekend well-lived.
BONUS: Listen to many of the weekend’s best sets on NPR
Aloe Blacc crowd, and the view
Seattle Rock Orchestra (covering Radiohead!)
Wheedle’s Groove (and you should see this movie)
Fitz & The Tantrums
And, most importantly: It is never to late to holler.