The idea of Sasquatch! 2014 has been happily humming in the back of my mind for months, precisely since Memorial Day Weekend, when the tantalizing lineup was unleashed. Queens of the Stone Age, Outkast and The National, not to mention a slew of local bands such as Night Beats and Radiation City? Too good to resist.
So it was easy to understand the first dilemma that faced me as 2014 opened up: too many good bands playing at the same time. It came down to the hip hop of De La Soul, experimental rock of Brooklyn’s Liars or garage-indie of Seattle’s Night Beats, but Liars won out when considering who might give the most electric performance. Luckily, while waiting for the show to start at the Bigfoot stage, you could hear the delicious and gnarly wah-wahs of Night Beats playing the Narwhal Stage from across the field, and for a minute, the excited shouts of De La Soul from over the hill. Then bad news showed up: the Liars set had been cancelled. Still no word on why, but it at least gave us a chance to check out most of the De La Soul show.
De La Soul was just as spotless and smooth and poetic as ever, and they played with a passion like they had only just got started in the music biz. They had plenty of humor, asking the crowd how many of them had been “…rockin’ with us since 3 Feet High and Rising?” The band’s answer to the young crowd in front of the stage was spotless: “Ha, you only woulda been 4 years old!”
The banter between the band and the crowd pulled the show slightly down, however. There was almost too much call and response and not enough songs. To their credit, when they were up and going with a song, especially with those like “Me, Myself & I”, they killed it. A friend of mine pointed out De La Soul’s preeminent turntable skills during the set, and that they were mixing a song the correct way, instead of using a laptop like so many artists do today. They truly were a throwback to retro hip-hop, and even gave a shout out to newbies like Childish Gambino and Chance The Rapper, who would take a nearby stage not long after. Their closer was something of a puzzler, however; they did their own version of the Gorillaz track “Feel Good, Inc,” and it would’ve been more pleasing to have heard another of De La Soul’s greats as they finished their set.
Following the Kongos set at the Bigfoot, the crowd around that stage grew immensely, demonstrating the growing love people have for Chance The Rapper. And there’s so much reason for this love – Chance is extremely multi-talented, and in the set took his music from straight rap to more melodic and lyrical verses, evoking a Frank Ocean vibe, sometimes even within the same song. He also managed to incorporate a variety of beats, including the use of ’20s style music for “Juice.” The rapper’s got impressive skills and a powerful flow that immediately captivates.
Up next were UK’s Foals, who definitely gave the third best performance of the day – high praise, considering they fell only behind Outkast and Mogwai’s sets from later in the night. Foals began with a confident instrumental opener full of rockin’ guitar, and ended with the intense “Providence.” Their indie rock is lined with dark undertones, but they are easily turned into dance-y beats at the drop of a drum stick. So much of their strength came in the phenomenal vocals and guitar work of their lead singer Yannis Philippakis, whose emotion was magnetizing. Even when the band turned to slower songs, the vocalist employed that emotion to make you want to feel it with him. There was also “My Number,” of course, a tune most of the crowd was familiar with, and no matter how many times you’d heard it on the radio, Foals delivered it awesomely, and in a way that had all of almost 15,000 on their feet.
Over in the dance tent El Chupacabra, LA’s Classixx delivered a bouncy and fun set that meshed keyboards, electronics, drums, as well as delicious guitar and bass, to just the right degree of house and nu disco. The best track of the set definitely came through their well-known “I’ll Get You (Do You Like Bass?)”, a song almost every dancer in the tent was shouting along to. At times their music veered towards comical, but the duo would always bounce back with concrete tunes that featured all the ingredients necessary for a good dance number.
Dance was the last thing on Mogwai’s mind, but that was more than fine for this post-rock great. After their set, you can consider this Mogwai newbie a superfan. The band redefined the word epic with their expansive production of dark instrumental tunes, ones that forever seem to be progressing toward something phenomenal. I talked with some friends about the way this Scottish group’s music occasionally hints at the experimental twists Explosions in the Sky create with their music, but the groups differ in the experience created. Explosions definitely instill something of optimism, while Mogwai lay down a heavy, thought-provoking essence. And they’re constantly throwing surprise shifts in sound at you. There was a moment in one of their later songs in which they’d dialed their music down to a softer, slower beat – something heard rarely in their work – then beautifully assaulted the crowd with a sudden redirection into uptempo, aggressive stylings. Accompanied by bright spotlights aimed directly at the crowd, this moment was as monumental and hypnotic as the band itself.
But then the time had finally come. The one and only Outkast. Finally back together again, they dominate the festival circuit this season and remind newer generations of the major influence they’ve bestowed upon hip hop today. At Sasquatch! two years ago, Macklemore, a tuba player and an R&B singer got thrust up onto a makeshift stage as an “in-between act,” and they played three songs. One year and The Heist later, Macklemore returned to headline Sasquatch!, and during the set he commented on how often he’d attended the same fest in the past. In that time, he said, hands down the best show he saw was Outkast, around 1998. What a beautiful thing to fast forward one more year to the return of the ATL wonder duo on that same turf.
The chemistry between Big Boi and André 3000 is unmatched in the world of hip hop. During their set they emulated such a complimentary connection that you have to wonder, “How did this happen? How did two of the most creative and naturally gifted musicians to ever grace hip hop conjoin together at the age of 16 and continue to deliver some of the most historic music of their genre, for decades to come?” And then you realize the answer didn’t matter. Outkast is just, well, Outkast. Talented as hell at what they do.
After the two appeared inside a transparent box, from underneath a bright red veil, there was no hesitation before they launched into “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)” and whipped the crowd into a frenzy. They followed it up with major hits “ATLiens,” “Rosa Parks” and “Ms. Jackson” before splitting up and working their magic on the crowd, in somewhat of aSpeakerboxxx/The Love Below mode. Big Boi stepped to the plate first, singing songs such as “Kryptonite” and “The Way You Move,” sometimes with the help of Sleepy Brown, who had been included on the latter’s album release back in 2003.
André 3000’s turn at the wheel gave him the opportunity to remind boys in the crowd to love up on their ladies, and when he wasn’t giving sex advice, he gave the crowd slight reworkings of songs such as “Hey Ya.” This last track definitely had a bit of a slowed-down approach to it, yet it still delivered the “everyone must dance now” attitude it always has.
It was mesmerizing to watch the duo naturally do their own things all over the stage, then end up naturally side by side and rap back and forth as if they’d be together for the rest of their lives. That was another incredible aspect of their set; it was if they’d never left the scene, never taken a break, because every one of their songs was executed beautifully and without a hitch. Big Boi stood as the essence of cool in his stunna shades, typical gigantic chain of bling and a vintage Bulls cap, while André 3000 spent the set wearing a wig of short white hair and shades to match. You want to call it all a theatrical package, but the two do it so well it sometimes seems as if nothing’s staged.
Outkast slowly wrapped up the set with an exceptional run of songs that included “Crumblin’ Erb” from their debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, as well as “Me & You (Elevators)”, “Roses” (featuring an unbelievably fast and adept spillage of rap from André 3000), “So Fresh So Clean” (which began with the duo announcing they just so happened to be, at that moment, the coolest motherfuckers on the planet and galaxy) and “International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)”, the latter of which brought plenty of happiness to fans all around me.
Their closer inspired the rappers to comment on Seattle’s recent Super Bowl win, which nicely segued them into “The Whole World.” And just like that, the performance we’d all been ecstatic to see, for months, was over. It was absolutely one of the best examples of cool ever seen go down at a concert. We’ll be smiling for weeks over getting a chance to sing “ATLiens” right along with the masters that created so many unforgettable gems. It’s exciting to consider what else these two might do together while they’re on the road this year, and of course the be-all end-all would be if that included new music. Fans can dream, right?
To wrap up Day One of the festival, we got to see some of the strange and oddly genius workings of Die Antwoord, while what sounded like a spot on set from electronica’s Rudimental played in the stage behind them. Outrageously good start to the 2014 Sasquatch!, and it’s only bound to keep getting better.