Day 2: Sasquatch Sunday

photo by erinlodi

Full Sasquatch coverage by Royal Stuart

After a full day in the sun, with your body not yet accustomed to standing for 10 hours straight, Sunday at Sasquatch becomes a day of recovery. Or at least you start out the day thinking that. Thankfully, with so many good acts, and plenty of adrenaline to keep you going, in the end it doesn’t matter one way or the other. There’ll be plenty of sleep (and pain free-legs, hopefully) when you die.

With overcast skies, Sunday was more of a mixed-bag, music-style wise. But overall, the talent level of the acts was pretty high. Whereas Saturday had some pretty high moments and some fairly low moments, Sunday was above average for the whole day — most everything was good, not great.

Local Natives started things off on the Bigfoot stage. I came into their set only knowing one of their songs so I was thrown off by the reggae/ska tinged chorus mixed with rockin’ melodies of their first song. But after that, their two- and three-part harmonies settled into more of what I was expecting. The band had a clear contingent of fans in the audience, as I could look every which way and see people mouthing the words. The highlight of their set for me was a cover of “Warning Sign” by the Talking Heads (from More Songs About Buildings and Food): minor chords permeate the original, but throw in the Local Natives’ dissonant harmonies and you’ve got a great rendition of the original. I was left with a definite need to run out and buy Gorilla Manor, their debut record, which is now 2 months old.

Sweden has some serious chops when it comes to music. ABBA, The Knife, José Gonzales — amazing artists all in their own right. But now you can add one more to that list: Kristian Matsson, otherwise known as the Tallest Man on Earth. I’ve seen a number of folk artists at festivals over the years attempt to pull off the “lone-person on stage” bit — no backing band, no excesses, just a man and a guitar — but Matsson is the only one to ever actually succeed. His style of singing, somewhat Bob Dylan meets Tom Waits, with an acoustic guitar and some very strong lyrics about divorce and lost love, was mesmerizing. The crowd quieted down for the entire set, generally silent with rapt attention. He played the first few songs on an acoustic guitar, then moved onto an electric one, but carried through with his quiet fingerpicking throughout the set. Surprisingly, it was another cover that put the entire set over the top for me. He played Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” and I dare say it was better than the original. Quieter, more introspective, even sorrowful. And perfect.

Next was a new turn for the day: They Might Be Giants on the main stage. I’ve been a big fan of TMBG for decades now — they were one of the first shows I ever went to back in the early 90s — but the band’s style of comedy mixed with bouncy songs about silly subjects was just not Sasquatch’s cup of tea. They played a few songs from their seminal album Flood, as well as a smattering of songs from across their massive discography. They even pulled off their puppet show in the middle of the set. Yes, a puppet show. John and John don knit sock puppets, bring a camera on stage, and have the puppets put on their own act: telling dorky stage jokes that have obviously been told hundreds if not thousands of times. I laughed at every one. The puppets even sang a couple songs, one of which was from the band’s most recent kids album, Here Comes Science. (If you have children, but don’t own their kids albums, I suggest you run out and purchase all of them post haste.) Overall, a good set that was lost on an unappreciative crowd.

Imagine getting a call when you’re about to go on stage in San Francisco, asking if you can fill in for the no-show City & Colour at Sasquatch on the next day. You’d jump at the chance, right? But then you realize it’s a fifteen-hour drive that you’ll have to start at, oh, 6am because you’re supposed to go on stage at 4:45pm. This is exactly the call that Seattle’s Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band got. Unfortunately, the band was up against Kid Cudi who was performing on the main stage, so the attendance for their set was a bit low. But that didn’t deter them, showing no signs of road-weariness, and playing the kind of show they’re known for. Their set was full of songs from their upcoming sophomore release, Where The Messengers Meet coming out August 3 on Dead Oceans. They’ve managed to get even more prog-rock than they were on their self-titled debut. Having so many time signatures within each song made the music geek in me extremely happy. But it left others around me somewhat frustrated because they weren’t able to head bang effectively to the rapidly-changing pace (it’s true, I heard ’em complaining). The band ended up playing a fantastic set that, up to that point, was the highlight of the day for me.

I don’t think I’ve talked much about the Sasquatch stage setup, but it was turning out that I was spending most of Sunday at the Bigfoot Solar Stage. It’s a technical marvel that the stage itself is completely solar powered, helping make the entire Sasquatch festival carbon neutral. But as far as stages go, it leaves a little to be desired. The new main stage is great — no bad sight lines, good sound, and the new black backdrop to the stage keeps the lights from swaying too much in the wind. And the smallest stage, the Yeti Stage, is small enough that you can get close to the bands and hear and see everything just fine. But the Bigfoot Solar Stage is a bad mix all around. If you stand close, you’re constantly jockeying with the people around you trying to see over the tops of heads. If you stand far away to get clear sightlines, the speaker bands blow left-to-right, causing the sound to go from muffled to clear and back again. Frustrating, to say the least, as this was where I was spending the bulk of my time at Sasquatch. Hopefully next year they’ll be able to situate this stage in a more desirable area of the venue, enabling better sight lines and sound.

Next up was the xx. I wasn’t expecting much from the band, as their understated, down-tempo music was definitely not geared for the festival crowd. They did manage to actually have a stage setup that included a giant X, which is amazing considering the amount of equipment brought in and taken down between each act. They had some technical difficulties getting set up, and then during the first couple songs, making the band uncomfortable on stage. I would imagine the xx are the type of band that likes to have everything perfect. It just wasn’t happening here. They did manage to get into a groove and faithfully play the songs from their debut album, but overall the set left a little to be desired. Catch them in a club the next time they come through and you’ll leave happy.

It seems that 7pm on the main stage is the key time to play the Gorge, as that is when yesterday’s highlight — The National — played, and the same goes for Sunday’s highlight: LCD Soundsystem. James Murphy has charisma you wouldn’t believe until you see it. His “dance punk” band totally blew the roof off the main stage, playing a couple older hits mixed in with a lot of songs from their latest album This Is Happening. At one point in the set the entire bowl — all 15,000 or so people — were dancing and bouncing up and down in unison. It was fantastic. It’s one thing to get a crowd to clap together by mimicking the person on stage. But it’s another thing entirely when a crowd decides to move in unison like that without being prompted to. It was a great set of music, leaving me giddy for the whole walk back over to the Bigfoot stage.

Dirty Projectors are not a band that should resonate with a larger crowd. The band is led by three women (Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian — who also play keys and guitar — and Haley Dekle) singing beautifully harmonic chords over the strange warbling of Dave Longstreth’s voice and guitar, producing somewhat danceable, sonically-rich musical tapestries. It somehow all works together, and is clearly a fan favorite, as they drew a seriously large crowd at the Bigfoot stage. It’s an amazing feat unto itself for them to pull off live what they produced on their recorded music. But pull it off they did, to everyone’s enjoyment. Where the xx fell short, the Dirty Projectors excelled. Every song culminated in a writhing mass of individuals all lost in their own musical worlds.

Finally, we’re at the point of the day that I was looking forward to the most for the whole festival: to see if Chuck D still has it, and to see if Flava Fav has gotten it back. Ladies and gentlemen: Public Enemy. It was all there: drums, bass, guitar, two men in military uniforms, Flava Fav’s clock, Chuck D’s rally cry “BASS! How low can you go?” It was as if they had never stopped doing what they do. Flava Fav, as you can imagine, is a sight to be seen. But he plays his role well, and without falter, pumping up the crowd, filling in all the quieter moments with comic relief. Yes, he’s a walking cliché, but you got no sense that he feels that way. It‘s all genuine, and it is good.

It‘s been 20 years — TWENTY YEARS — since Fear of a Black Planet was released. And in that time, a lot has changed around the country and the globe, but there are still many battles for Chuck D to wage. Amazingly, timely songs from back then, such as 1991’s “By The Time I Get To Arizona” are still every bit as relevant, if not more. What was a song protesting Arizona’s stance against recognizing Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday easily turns into an anthem against Arizona’s ridiculous immigration laws. Chuck D compared the state to Nazi Germany, and instructed the crowd to, whenever they go to Arizona, drive through the state with their middle fingers prominently hanging out of the window. You don’t want to disobey Chuck D, believe me.

There were some really bad sound issues happening during the first few songs, with the speaker banks cutting out entirely during large moments of time. Brothers Gonna Work It Out, 911 is a Joke, Welcome to the Terrordome, and Bring the Noise all had strange moments where the audience couldn’t hear anything at all. But the band, through their monitors, continued to hear everything, and continued to perform, oblivious to the crowd complaining about the lack of sound. But the issues got worked out eventually, and as a light rain slowly fell on the crowd, Public Enemy put together an amazing set of history.

Overall, Sunday at the Gorge was a perfect Day 2. Plenty of variety, some amazing music and sights, and a good catapult into the final day. The forecast for Monday calls for rain, so there may be some good mud-riddled stories after this one.


~ by royalbacon on May 31, 2010.

One Response to “Day 2: Sasquatch Sunday”

  1. good website!

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