FOUR DAYS OF PEACE, DRUGS, DRUNKS & MUSIC @ SASQUATCH! FESTIVAL 2013
If you are able to move past the endless slew of drunken, drugged up party animals that seem to make up the majority of the Sasquatch! Music Festival crowd, there were four great days of live music and camping to be immersed in. Set at the Gorge Amphitheater in the beautiful, mountainous Quincy, Washington along the Columbia River, the festival includes a hip mix of musical acts spanning over the four days of Memorial Day weekend.
Day 1: After setting up camp and getting some food in my stomach I embarked on the twenty-minute or so walk from the campsite to the actual festival to see our first band of the day – Japandroids. As a duo known for their noisy, fast paced, garage rocky riff-filled anthems, Japandroids suffered from a sound system that continually cut out and even when it wasn’t cutting out, sounded flaccid and muddy. I need my guitar distortion clean. Disappointed, but not ready to let the sound issues of the first act ruin the entire festival, I headed over to the main stage to catch the second half of Schoolboy Q & Ab-Soul’s set only to learn that they were no longer going to be playing.
While the first half of the day was more of a let down than one would hope for, the end of the night brought forth many pleasant surprises. I stuck around the main stage for Built to Spill. Playing a great throwback set to an unfortunately lackluster crowd, Built to Spill performed a mix of songs from across their catalog. A little bit after Built to Spill’s earnest set on the main stage I geared up to see one of the most anticipated bands of the weekend back over at the Honda Stage. Ever since the release of their new CD, Modern Vampires of the City, earlier this month, I’ve been really excited to see Vampire Weekend perform live, and they did not disappoint. Despite the persistent sound issues, Vampire Weekend presented an energetic and polished set, playing favorites from their most recent album and older tracks as well.
Day 2: After an uneasy night of sleep with frequent interruptions by loud music blasting on the campsite (which shouldn’t be a surprise at a rock festival), mainly a mix of Riff Raff and unidentifiable remixes, I embarked on the second day of the festival earlier to catch Indians’ set at 3:00. The sounds produced by the three synths on stage were nice for a while, but lost their sense of direction as the set progressed. They created a pleasant atmosphere but my attention strayed. A little later in the day I caught Akron/Family playing a surprisingly tight and powerful set on the same stage. With their riff-driven pure rock songs and heavy guitar solos they stood out from most of the festival’s acts.
Following Akron/Family’s performance I hurried over to the main stage to see the much anticipated Bloc Party. From the beginning of their set we were pulled back to the past with a jam packed mix of throwback hits and even a thirty second Rihanna cover. Bloc Party proved they were worthy of the main stage.
Next up on that same stage was The XX delivering another main stage worthy set with intricate lighting and a distinct presence. Overall, however, the set felt a bit contrived and was almost too emotional. At one point singer Oliver Sim could be seen crying on stage. The overwrought emotionalism was something that surprised me from a band whose albums define chilled, restrained passion. Nevertheless, their minimalist chamber rock set was riveting.
Missing the end of The XX’s set, I headed over to the smaller Yeti stage to catch long time favorites Surfer Blood. Playing a mixture of older songs from their 2010 full-length Astro Coast and new, unreleased music, Surfer Blood delivered an energetic, refined, and instrumentally powerful set to a crowd that thickened increasingly as the set went on. Towards the end of Surfer Blood’s show I glanced at my phone to double check the schedule for the rest of the night only to learn that the set times had been altered, moving the performances by Tame Impala and Sigur Rós, two of the most highly anticipated acts of the weekend, to the same time. A choice had to be made, and I finally decided on sticking around the Yeti stage for Tame Impala. Luckily, I think I made the right decision. Tame Impala put forth a nearly hour and a half long set full of psychedelic rock and mind blowing sounds from both Lonerism and Innerspeaker providing a great close to the evening.
Day 3: Having finally adjusted, kind of, to the regiment and routines of Sasquatch, I kicked off day number three with Torche on the Honda Bigfoot stage. Although not entirely familiar with their music, I had listened to a few tracks by them and was intrigued. Torche, a native Miami quartet, could be described as metal, but with a pop twist. This style was certainly exemplified in their performance although their formula did get a little dry towards the end. But for a band that seemed a little stuck in the early 2000s hard rock scene, they delivered a fine set.
I then headed over to catch Danny Brown on the main stage. Luckily, I made it into the pit right in front of the main stage to catch him. I was very pleased with his performance, Danny was highly energetic, constantly sticking his tongue out and throwing his fist up at the audience, and had a great stage presence. He played a lot of songs from his XXX album as well as others, but to our disappointment, Brown neglected to play his hit single, “Grown Up.”
Following Danny Brown’s energetic rap set, and perhaps the best rap performance of the festival, I headed back to the Honda Bigfoot stage to see Fang Island. Full of guitar solos and twinkling harmonies, Fang Island delivered a stellar set. Playing an almost 50/50 split of songs from their self titled debut and their most recent album, Major, Fang Island hit all the right notes that the crowd wanted to hear. Although attendance was light, Fang Island’s performance was one of the highlights of the third day and delivered where Torche could not.
After returning to the campground to refuel, I trekked back to the festival to see Earl Sweatshirt’s performance on the Bigfoot stage. Earl was backed by Syd tha Kyd who acted as his DJ for the set. Earl brought a strange demeanor to the stage. Laid back in a Quaalude -like stupor, he began by yelling, “What up Coachella!’ Maybe he was being ironic. This bizarre attitude lasted the whole set and grew tiresome fast. Although he played snippets of new songs, Earl, who has only released one mix tape chock full of Odd Future features, would play songs lasting only 1 to 2 minutes because he just didn’t have the material. Overall, what could have been a great set was sabotaged by short songs and a disinterested stage presence.
I then walked to the El Chupacabra tent to see Baths. When I arrived, Baths opened with two or three excellent songs that I had never heard only to find out that they were all from his forthcoming album Obsidian that is out now. Unfortunately, members of the audience didn’t enjoy them as much as I did and began booing. Perhaps placing Baths in the DJ tent was a bad decision, but the motives of the attendees in the tent were also in question. After the new songs, Baths started playing all of the Cerulean jams that I wanted to hear and those were met with a more positive reaction. Despite the mixed signals the crowd was giving Baths, they still put on a great show full of new and old songs.
Later that night I went to see our last performance of the day; Grimes on the Honda stage. Having seen Grimes twice before, I knew what to expect and that wasn’t a bad thing. However, during this performance Grimes seemed much more accustomed to the performing life and her set was even more fine-tuned. Accompanied by two dancers in number 8 Grimes jerseys, Grimes delivered an incredibly energetic performance full of delayed screams/chants and future-retro synth sounds. The sound system was too quiet early on, but by the middle it had been sorted out.
Day 4: The fourth and final day of the festival brought with it the rain that had somehow evaded the Washington state festival up until that point. My day kicked off early with a much-anticipated set from the Scottish three-piece Chvrches. Only having one EP’s worth of material, which was released in March of this year, I was uncertain what the set would be like. The group definitely impressed with a full forty-five minutes of electro pop-fueled, melodic dance jams. Singer Lauren Mayberry’s voice was captivating, and their songs were reminiscent of a blend of The Sundays and Depeche Mode. Their performance definitely made us excited for their full length, which is expected out later this year.
A little later on in the day I caught another performance on the same stage by The Dirty Projectors. While I had always been kind of mixed on this band, following their 2012 release, Swing Lo Magellan, I have been giving them a lot more notice. So, I was really looking forward to catching their set at Sasquatch! Unfortunately, the same kinks with the sound levels had not been entirely worked out, and, largely due to our location towards the right of the stage, the usually melodic, playful tunes from the band’s extensive set of albums came off sounding almost metal-influenced. Despite the sound issues, David Longstreth and Amber Coffman, the front people of the band, still brought out the most notable and appealing aspects of many favorite songs.
On the same stage directly after the Dirty Projectors, I was front row for the Sacramento rap group Death Grips. They aren’t your conventional rap group. They consist of MC Ride on vocals, Flatlander, their DJ, and on live drums they have Zach Hill. Unfortunately for this performance, Hill wasn’t there which really took away from the live experience of Death Grips. Hill is an incredible drummer who brings a unique sound to the trio with his complex grooves. However, Flatlander was there to make up for Hill’s abscence. His mind throttling beats possess a visceral quality whose aggressive nature is further fueled by MC Ride’s relentless, shouted vocals. I suspect that Zach Hill’s presence would have heightened the performance to a level of tastefully executed alternative hip-hop as opposed to verging on abrasive yelling.
Excusing myself from the Death Grips performance slightly early, I headed over to see the Toro y Moi set in the El Chupacabra tent where I was presented with an entirely different atmosphere from the one I had just left. Here, Chazwick Bradley Bundick was dishing out a full on dance party as he played a set of chill-wave tunes that practically blended together into one never ending serenade, and the crowd seemed, well, pretty into it (at least compared to the horrific display of audience etiquette I experienced on my prior visit to the Chupacabra tent).
After taking a quick break to rest my legs and grab some food I headed over to the Yeti stage to watch Ariel Pink, an event I have been seeking out since his release late last summer of Mature Themes. Getting past the fact that they went on almost forty minutes late and had some sound issues to overcome, Ariel Pink still put on a fairly enjoyable set. While the imbalance of the sound rendered some songs a bit fuzzy, the recognizable melodies still came through. He utilized video projection on stage, something that few other acts we saw over the weekend did, to create a real experience for the audience. Also, as a side note, comparing the guy standing in front of me in the audience who kept an almost constant thumbs up extended to Ariel throughout the entire performance to the numerous people sticking up their middle fingers to Earl Sweatshirt during his set reveals something truly insightful about the nature of these musicians, and the type of image and message they are sending out with their music.
Unfortunately, since the set started so late I had to cut out short to make it over to the main stage for the Postal Service who put forth a truly exciting and nostalgic performance. As front man Ben Gibbard said himself, they were back from the dead. The collaboration between Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, Jimmy Tamborello, of Dntel and Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley only really released one album, Give Up, plus an EP consisting mainly of remixes, so they were able to pull out all of the hits. Until the trio stepped on stage and began playing “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” I didn’t really realize how truly excited I was for one of my favorite bands from a decade ago to be performing live after so many years of absence. I found myself singing along, somehow remembering just about every lyric to every song they performed, including a great cover of Beat Happening’s “Our Secret”. While the performance verged on cheesy at moments, and the Postal Service played a captivating, hour-plus set to an extremely attentive audience. The sky had finally cleared up, it wasn’t nearly as cold as it had been the previous nights, and a wave a nostalgia and respect had fully overtaken me as I sat on the hillside at the Gorge Ampitheatre watching the Postal Service perform – what a great way to bring this four day smorgasbord of musical acts to an end.
~Grace Diliberto (((echoes)))
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