Sasquatch!

My yearly mecca

Five years ago I convinced the music site I was writing for that I should be their pick to review the Sasquatch! Music Festival held annually at Washington’s Gorge Amphitheater. I’d never been, but I’d heard amazing things about the venue, as well as the experience. Plus, tickets were going for around 250 bucks, so I knew my only chance to get up there would be a free pass as a journalist.

Luckily it worked out. I have not been the same since.

The very first set I got to see at Sasquatch! ’10 was Brother Ali, and it only took about 5 minutes of watching him perform on the Bigfoot stage, which sets directly above a Columbia Gorge canyon, for me to understand I had found my favorite place on Earth. It was one of about a hundred moments I’ve spent on the hill in front of that stage, and the many others of the festival, in which I forgot about everything else and just heard the music.

I haven’t missed a year of the fest yet, and it’s given me the chance to see close to 200 bands play Sasquatch! It’s obviously next to impossible to pinpoint my favorite show over the years, but I can safely narrow it down to Mogwai, Killer Mike, Ratatat, The Heavy, Queens of the Stone Age, Robyn, Kid Cudi, Caribou, Outkast, Tenacious D, Alabama Shakes, Pink Mountaintops, Kurt Vile, Red Fang, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears (before he ditched the Honeybears) and Arctic Monkeys. Hot damn were those sets incredible.

But anyways, have a look at a select few of the shots I’ve taken over the years:

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Caribou

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Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears

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Black Mountain

Black Mountain

The Flaming Lips. Of course.

The Flaming Lips. Of course.

Kid Cudi

Kid Cudi

the xx

the xx

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And so Sasquatch! begins…

(original/revised for edit post can be seen here, via mxdwn)

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.

Home sweet Sasquatch

Home sweet Sasquatch

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.

Sasquatch! Day Two: it comes and it goes

(original/revised for edit post can be seen here, via mxdwn)

Now that Sasquatch! has reverted back to a 3-day format, it’s far too easy to see Saturday as something bland, sandwiched in between the exciting first day and thrilling third day. There were definitely a couple of savior acts for this particular Saturday, but many of the bands playing while the sun beat down – mercilessly – failed to bring much of anything electrifying to the table. Tight sets, for sure, but too often, straight out of the box, dull performances. At least credit can be given for their way of toiling through the heat.

An exciting beginning to the day were Deap Vally, who proceeded to rock the hell out of the Yeti Stage at the wee hour of 1pm. The lady duo performed flawlessly, invoking vintage Heart to the T. Throughout the songs, the drummer Julie Edwards could be seen wildly tossing her red curls around as she slammed on the drum, while the lead singer Lindsey Troy remained all glitter and shrieking rock ‘n’ roll. The small number of fans who had made it in for this early set were definitely rewarded.

Immediately following them were Portland sweethearts Radiation City, and it was definitely sad to see just a few of their songs. The group of indie rockers have such an interesting dichotomy together, and the lead female singer has such a retro, beautiful voice. Fans were also really into it, even when the music leaned toward melancholy.

Back over on the Bigfoot Stage, The Dodos provided a solid mix of upbeat and uptempo dance music that was just right for this time of day. Even when their songs would skew from such a positive place, they would soon bring it back, usually within the same song. It was an easy job for them to transfer from slow and melancholy to fast-face and optimistic, and make it sound appealing the whole time. Not as many people were up there dancing as normally would be, but to be fair, the sun was starting to beat down at this point. One of the group’s best songs of the day was “Confidence,” a more elaborate piece that showed their ability to add depth to their music. There was terrific play between the drums, multiple guitars & bass on this one, and they all complemented each other nicely.

By the time Violent Femmes got going over on the main stage, it was officially hot and windy, and this affected their set. Particularly the band members, who didn’t seem to have as much energy as they might’ve liked. This could be felt most particularly in the slowed down speed they were playing their music in. Those in the pit directly in front of the stage were very into it, though, despite a plausible age difference between them and the alt rock greats in front of them. Of course, who hasn’t heard “Blister in the Sun,” though? And the way The Violent Femmes played their set may have worked directly to their advantage, in keeping the crowd around: they launched into their timeless hits, like “Blister…” and “Add It Up” early on, then waiting until the end for “Gone Daddy Gone” and “American Music.” Lead singer Gordon Gano also lightened things up by laughing mid-song and announcing he had forgotten the words – he did just keep singing, however, and never missed a beat. A problem mid-set, however, was their choice of slower songs, ones not exactly familiar to much of the crowd. They were easy songs to zone out to with the weather conditions, but they were also easy ones to leave the show for. There was also the fact you couldn’t always hear the vocals very well, an issue we’d seen prevalent on several stages so far. Hopefully a problem that can get fixed for the rest of the shows this weekend.

Drifting away from the main stage, there was time enough to catch snippets of Deafheaven, Washed Out and Cloud Control, and all had moments of greatness. Deafheaven, a black metal group from San Francisco, had some great instrumentation, but with slightly annoying vocals. Washed Out, on the other hand, had a couple of songs with really good keyboard backbeat, but nothing from the set really stood out. Sure, the music was executed really well, but much of it was a bit too monotonous. As for Cloud Control, an alt four-piece out of Sydney, Australia, they were playing the perfect music for the hour as the sun was going down with just enough energy to pump you up for what’s to come later in the night. They may have had too many style changes song to song though. One was a rad one with psychedelic riffs while the next was a soft rock song, holding tinges of Paul Simon. Others felt like futuristic Abba songs.

Thankfully, the first of the night’s saviors came in M.I.A., a powerful force of cool dressed to her own brand of nines in golden pants and top. She was also flanked the entire time by three dancers not choreographed, and they basically just did their own thing to her music throughout the show. Two of them also stood in as back-up singers from time to time. The set went great – despite sound issues that kept returning – with M.I.A. barreling nonstop through her songs, backed by a highly effective DJ. It was clear M.I.A. is years ahead of so many of today’s musicians, and an entertaining example of this was the way she rolled out the opening to “Paper Planes,” only to begin singing a sample from Lorde’s “Royals.” The look on her face seemed determined to show us how similar the songs were, and how yes, she had done her song first. Regardless, M.I.A. is just so damn innovative with dance music, and she’s so coolly nonchalant about it while performing. Standout song “Boyz” had her surrounding herself on stage with girls from the crowd, then she chose to apply lipstick in the middle of the song, like it was nothing. She ended up closing with “Bad Girls,” but it felt like a sudden end to a really short set. It would’ve been fantastic to have seen a longer run of M.I.A.

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M.I.A.

But then it was time for Tyler The Creator, and I gotta be honest – my expectations were low for his set. He’d been written up recently for maintaining his asshole status wherever he goes, and all bets were that he’d be throwing it on heavy at Sasquatch! Yes, he was a jerk at times, but it quickly became clear it’s simply his character, and he does it well. Sure, he’d say things to the crowd like, “I fuckin’ hate you, but I love you!” and use some self-proclaimed ignorant comments, but it melded well into his gravelly and aggressive raps. He also introduced a song as one he’s used to performing with the rest of his Odd Future crew bouncing around him, and he truly seemed sad for a second, that he was doing it all on his own. Despite his cockiness, there’s a chance he doesn’t quite comprehend how good he is at all he does, especially pulling off a show all on his own.

The National and Cut Copy were then the two main acts closing out the night, and while both are outstanding musicians and performers in their own right, the former was one that almost put the crowd to sleep. Frontman Matt Berninger did his typically phenomenal job, rolling his lyrics out in a drunkenly debonair fashion, but the music was just too dark and moody for the crowd. Some highlights were “I Should Live In Salt” and “Don’t Swallow The Cap,” the latter of which pulled at heart strings as Berninger moaned, “Everything I love is on the table / Everything I love is out to sea.” And there was also the powerful drums of “Afraid of Everyone” and the rockin’ guitar of “Conversation 16,” reminding the crowd that, yes, The National are a terrific band.

Also great were Cut Copy, who on the flip side put on an awesome set to wrap up the day. “Take Me Over” one of their first songs, sounded perfectly serene and seemed to set the theme for the rest of their gig. “Free Your Mind” established itself as the pace, however, as the Aussie electronic trio cast those words up on the screen behind them for most of the rest of the show. “Where I’m Going” was their best number, however, especially in that it was slowed down a fraction. The slightly roller rink disco idea of the song then added to the laid-back feel even more. In all, it was the fun of this band that helped everyone who’d survived the day happily trudge their way back to their campsites.

Ah, Day Two. You were by no means a failure. It just would have been nice if you could have featured less sun and a better sound system.

Bittersweet end to Sasquatch! 2014

(original/revised for edit post can be seen here, via mxdwn)

Day Three of Sasquatch! was chock-full of nothing but incredible music. It burst open with awesome punk, and continued churning out talented groups and innovative musicians for the rest of the day, wrapping up with a performance from Queens of the Stone Age, who pulled out all the stops to please their crowd. All things considered, Sunday put Day One and Two to shame.

First up on the docket was Brody Dalle, former lead singer of The Distillers who has revived her career with a new solo album, and collaborations with Garbage. She also happens to be the wife of Josh Homme, who would close the festival that night with QOTSA, but as she stood on that stage, it was all about her music, not his. It was definitely a punk set, and she delivered the vocals in such a raw and badass way. Complimenting this were the pounding drums behind her and the deep and gnarly bass beside her. Carrying this spirit, it felt a solid compliment when she dedicated a song to “all the misfits out there.” The mosh pit below her didn’t seem to respond too adequately to it, however, as the group looked asleep as they restlessly bumped into one another. Dalle addressed this by thanking the crowd for showing up so early, stating she knew it couldn’t have been easy, then began shredding the hell out of her guitar for the last song.

In a quick interview with Pink Mountaintops before their set, frontman Stephen McBean talked about how the band was currently touring “everywhere” to support their release of Get Back, released just a week ago. Pink Mountaintops has also consisted of as many as five members and as little as two, but the current lineup is a four-piece – when asked why members so frequently move in and out of the band, McBean laughed and said, “No one really gets along with me!” Once the group got going that afternoon, with a drawn out jam featuring lots of feedback and charging guitar, it was clear this set of musicians may be here to stay with their impressive rock ‘n’ roll. McBean also had a faster, more gravelly approach to his lyrics than he uses for work with side project Black Mountain, and it went fantastically with the music. This was especially true with classics “Plastic Man, You’re The Devil” and “Sweet ‘69” – his energy gave new, exciting life to these already great songs. Especially the former, which was almost too good as they upped the tempo a bit and flourished it with deep bass and plenty of wah wahs.

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Pink Mountaintops

tUnE-yArDs was up next, with lead singer/musician extraordinaire Merrill Garbus flanked by women for this, her Nikki Nack tour. All three of them served as occasional backup singers, an interesting change from Garbus’ previous performances, in which she worked mostly as a Jane of all trades and did the majority of her vocals on her own. Her presence wasn’t diminished by the addition of these ladies, however – they added wonderful dimension to her already impressive songs, especially the powerful “Bizness.” And in all fairness, Garbus is still as cute, whimsical and multi-talented as ever, with a beautiful voice (even when she’s shrieking), all serving as a reminder that she can do whatever she wants. Case in point: halfway through “Powa,” she laughed mid-song and admitted “that was a wrong note,” plugging on without a pause. tUnE-yArDs also played a couple of songs from the new album, “Hey Life” and “Water Fountain.” Garbus brought attention to the fact her and one of her singers’ outfits mimicked the record’s cover. For this and the rest of the set she was all smiles, but that’s nothing new.

Taking the stage next were Cold War Kids, who appropriately opened with a highly rockin’ number, then launched into all their hits. Lead singer and guitarist Nathan Willett did an exceptional job with his performance, using powerful vocals – as well as such a unique voice for rock n’ roll – and an attitude that said he was really into the music. This carried over into his delivery tremendously, making the crowd want to be as into it as he was. Fans got excitedly worked up for “We Used To Vacation,” “Mexican Dogs” and “Hospital Beds.” Winning the prize for most outstanding songs of the set, though, were “Hang Me Up To Dry,” which the band performed with serious grit, and “Saint John,” a dramatic closer that Willett punctuated with perfection.

Over on the Bigfoot Stage, Black Joe Lewis came out and wowed the crowd with his fierce guitar playing and cool demeanor, just as he always does. His band, no longer affectionately titled The Honeybears (a moniker that once followed his, for the band’s name), has seen some of its original members depart but now sounds fuller than ever. It certainly helps that he’s still employing the sexy work of saxophones and trumpets for his music, for the horns are what cement the band’s signature sound. Lewis does the rest of the work, with his brash guitar and raunchy lyrics, and together the group delivers a fun-lovin’, good time havin’ kind of set that should not be missed.

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Black Joe Lewis

A few of the bands playing over the next couple of hours really stood out, remarkable considering they’re all so new to the game. LA’s PAPA put on an exemplary set for the Yeti crowd, rolling through a bunch of songs that hinted at soul music, morphed into the kind of tunes befitting college radio. BANKS then slay the crowd at El Chupacabra with her stunning voice and truly delectable R&B beats – she is absolutely an artist to keep eyes and ears on for the next few years. Then, Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts demonstrated why everyone’s been talking about them lately, delivering a performance layered with talent, creating a sound definitely New York-based that walks the fine line between punk and rock.

Two acts from two very opposite ends of the spectrum, Rodriguez and Big Freedia, followed and both put out thrilling performances. Rodriguez was exceptional, evoking Bob Dylan with his politically charged lyrics and extraordinary guitar work. Big Freedia, on the other hand, known as the Queen of Bounce, twerked as much for the crowd as they did for her. She welcomed a ton of fans to the stage and told them to dance with only their backsides facing the audience. The best moment came when she invited only males up to dance, constantly remarking about how good it was to have such “hot boys” at the festival.

Big Freedia

Big Freedia

And then, just like that, the day of musical wonder and weekend of amazing performances was about to be over, thanks to the arrival of Queens of the Stone Age to the stage. Josh Homme and boys couldn’t have been more suitable closers, wrapping up the festival with a set full of oldies, goodies and new tunes currently establishing themselves as monstrously good.

They blew the doors open with “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire” for their first song, shutting out music from other stages with their cranked up volume and rockin’ sneer. Immediately following was “No One Knows,” making the crowd wonder if the set was going to be a Songs for the Deaf only kind of set. Their question was quickly answered as the band proceeded to play hits from every one of their six albums, including such fiery greats as “Burn The Witch,” “Smooth Sailing” and “Sick Sick Sick.”

Homme peppered the set by calling out the crowd for their debauchery during the festival, despite the fact he could seen sipping on drinks and smoking cigarettes throughout the show. His hypocrisy was then ironically blatant as he delved into “Feel Good Hit of the Summer,” a song that sings the joy of “Nicotine Valium Vicoden marijuana ecstasy and alcohol/Cocaine,” and easily invites the crowd to sing along. Also noteworthy was his appealing delivery of “Make It Wit Chu,” a song Homme couldn’t help but play up and get the girls going with his sexy moves.

Finishing out the set were a few of the band’s newest, “If I Had A Tail” and “I Sat By The Ocean,” but it was their closer that was just as effective as their opener. Selecting another from Songs for the Deaf, QOTSA ended with “A Song For The Dead,” an aggressive and snarling track. It couldn’t have been a better song to wrap up the weekend, juicing up the crowd as they began the walk back to their tents for the last time.

Sasquatch! 2014 officially closed with a bang, one that definitely thanked both the bands and fans for their participation. Here’s seeing if the festival can match this year’s outstanding lineup in the future – chances are they won’t have a problem attracting quality musicians to that gorgeous venue for years to come.