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Monday morning I surprised myself with abundant energy. I felt well rested, happy, and excited for the final day of Sasquatch. My feelings had everything to do with having some extra rest before getting up. The first show of the day on my schedule wasn’t until 5PM, so I felt more relaxed than I had all weekend. Trying to reconnect with the friends that I fell in love with on Friday, I was determined to use the extra time Monday morning to do any socializing and camp fun I was interested in before it was too late. That night, lines of cars would dominate the pathways as the first waves of people headed home.
I wanted to be a fun guy on the last day, so I assembled the party time flag and volunteered as the Sasquatch clock tower for the day.
My morning plan to rekindle lost connections was a greater success than I could have hoped for. I strolled all the familiar avenues, and when people were not cheering for party time, they were inviting me in to play every type of lawn or table drinking game I have ever heard of. I found every person I thought to look for, and even some I didn’t. The first pass through I left my stuff all over the place in my forgetful revelry, and was so glad that on the way back it was all waiting for me. New and old friends alike made sure I was reunited with my flask, blanket, waterproof shell, and other forgotten items. I was so happy for the integrity in a place where “finders keepers, losers weepers” is a commonly the guiding rule.
Having so much fun socializing and losing things, I missed Mike Birbiglia at 3:30, but I had expected this to happen, the way the day was going. I loved his recent movie Sleepwalk with Me produced with This American Life, and I was sad not to repeat the star-struck TV-in-real-life moment I had with Nick Offerman. In my half-hearted effort to reach the festival before the end of his stand-up act, I ended up early for ODESZA.
Once per day, every year of Sasquatch, I expose myself to the sound of one new band who I have only heard or read about on the Sasquatch lineup page. Often the festival scheduling team surprises me by slotting in local Seattle talent that – despite my active participation in local music – I have never heard of. This year, the local ‘unknown’ I was most excited for was ODESZA.
Their self-released debut LP, Summer’s Gone, has been on repeat at my workstation throughout the weeks leading up to Sasquatch. The record can fill the auditory hole left in a silent room as well as, I learned, it can fill a dance tent of party rockers. The band is a production duo made up of Harrison Mills (Catacombkid) and Clayton Knight (BeachesBeaches). Their sound lives in the higher octave ranges cohabited by Artists like Gold Panda. The tonal range of the dreamy vocal samples and the instrumentation give a summer/beach feel to the music similar to fellow Seattle group, Beat Connection, whose song, “Saola,” ODESZA has remixed.
For their live set at El Chupacabre Monday afternoon at Sasquatch; ODESZA was submerged into a video-screened-lined DJ booth, bent low over their controls manipulating the sounds. When one or both of the members looked up to smile at the crowd it was a sure sign that the beat was really about to drop. I could see the joy from the dancing crowd reflected in their faces. Compared to the Summer’s Gone album, there was less of a Vox Mod-esque space journey in the live set. ODESZA was tending their responsibility to provide the dance tent with what it really wanted: non-stop booty shakers. They mixed an ebb and flow of the best dance sections of their catalog.
The show set a very friendly and positive vibe, living up to my expectations and exciting me for the bands I knew better the rest of the day. I stuck around El Chupacabre as Toro Y Moi (aka Chaz Bundick) set up. Usually when a debut album like Causers of This comes out and receives such wide acclaim from everywhere, a long awaited, nerve-racking, will-they-live-up-to-themselves sophomore release is hyped and speculated upon for more or less a year. Months after his 2009 debut 9-song EP, My Touch, Toro Y Moi released Causers of This (sharing zero songs with My Touch). He followed this within a year by two more EPs and his sophomore LP, Underneath The Pine. Almost as soon as anyone had heard of him, Toro Y Moi was an established name in the chillwave indie scene with a catalog demonstrating his quality over time.
It is always uncertain if an electronic rock artist like Neon Indian or Toro Y Moi will be able to deliver their manipulated sound live using the mysterious instruments that provided those samples, or if they will end up performing a lap top DJ set. Toro Y Moi delivered exactly what I had hoped for, giving us his true voice, and performing every synthetic wave with the press of his own finger, every wobble with a knob twist from his own wrist, and every shoegaze strum with his own pick. I was in awe, living in a happy bliss, only reluctantly separating to travel to Yeti for one of my longtime favorite bands, Menomena.
Two things about Menomena grab my attention right away when I listen to them. First, it’s that baritone saxophone. Wild Belle wet my appetite with their giant sax breaking it down rocksteady style on Sunday, but I was looking forward to the way Justin Harris would use the instrument to divide and re-pace Menomena’s songs on Monday afternoon. The second key to my heart is the vocal performance. I can not describe exactly the appeal to Danny Seim’s voice, but he has a way of separating each thought by using a vocal crescendo, peaking and settling as each line ends and the next begins. There is a common division among music listeners between those who live for the beat, and those who focus on the lyrics. I fall on the beat side of the spectrum, so when lyrics and vocals stand out to me beyond their musical relevancy, it means there is something special going on in their delivery. I really appreciate this when it happens because I do not try to ignore lyrics, they just don’t naturally offer the same appeal.
Having never seen Menomana before, I did not realize that multi-instrumentalist and co-frontman of the band, Danny Seim, played his live set at the front of the stage on the drum kit. As a drummer and performing artist, I get understandably excited whenever the role of the percussionist in a band moves past the back-stage relegation most common in stage setups. It also raises my expectations, and I enjoyed paying special attention to the complexity of the beats as well as their broken timing. The influence of the drum style became clear throughout the whole sound – the breaks and separations between sax solo, rhythm, and vocals that make Menemona’s sound unique all stem from the breakbeat style of Danny Seim’s percussion.
The next band on my schedule had so many expectant stars, hearts, and underlines around it that I could barely distinguish the word “Cake” in the Sasquatch stage column. The stars and hearts resulted from a young love affair with Cake. My first time in college at the UofA in Tucson, my good friend Chuck introduced me to Cake, and later that year invited me to road trip with him to a San Francisco New Years show the band was headlining. Live music, road trips, and San Fran were all new to me at that time; I could not hold back my enthusiasm for the adventure. Long story short none of us had learnt to meet dreams with practical time and expense budgeting, and I never did make it to the show. Since then, the west coast cities are all home to me, as is living in my car on the road. In fact it was that same friend, Chuck, who ended up going to my first music festival with me – Sasquatch – four years ago. But in all this time I had never seen Cake, and never stopped wanting to.
I learned a lot from spending that hour listening to Cake, particularly lead singer and frontman, John McCrea. He is a radical man, and passionate about what he believes in. Hearing his between-song diatribes against ‘the Man’ gave me a deeper understanding of the songs I had loved for years, and informed the tone of the band. John McCrea boasted that they had self-released their new album, and declared it a success against the predictions the record companies offered as Cake walked out their door.
In the spirit of independence, it made sense that Cake was reluctant to play their ’90′s hits in stead of their new record. After a few new songs, they relented to the unshouted demands of the crowd and got everyone dancing with “The Distance.” From then on they bounced around, not always new, but rarely a hit. Cake was asserting that the show was for us, but it was also for them. A collaboration underlined by John McCrea’s crowd involvement. He took several opportunities to divide the crowd, explain their different roles in the songs, and recruit 20,000 volunteers to perform songs like “Sick of You” from Showroom of Compassion. I was determined to stay through the whole set hoping to hear “Sheep Go To Heaven” and “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” (but was left wanting on both counts). I was not kept from satisfaction though when they ended with fan favorite “I Will Survive,” the opening track from Fashion Nugget.
My dedication to nostalgia nearly caused me to miss the start of Alt-J. My roommate had been stalking the area around Bigfoot looking to spot me, because he knew how much I loved this band, and we had been missing each other most of the weekend. I had been playing Alt-J’s new record, An Awesome Wave, for anyone unfamiliar with the band who visited our house in the past three months. I would introduce them by playing “Tessellate,” and then when “Fitzpleasure” came on, I would let the hair out and do exaggerated full bodied headbangs to the drone. Every headbanging muscle in my body was at the ready when the band began at dark on the final night of Sasquatch. They seemed to follow my lead, playing “Tesselate” right after the opener. The crowd responded with…slow swaying.
I bounced through six different places in the crowd that day, finding friends, making new ones – but never finding the party. There was no jumping around, no hyping the crowd. The band played about 15 feet deeper into the stage than they had to; the only person to move more than a foot from where they started was the bass guitarist, Gus Unger-Hamilton. This was because Gus plays with a wide metal stance and sometimes stomps a small rotation when he looks up through his short sheet of blond hair.
Perhaps the missing stage presence was focusing the crowd into a bored tunnel-vision, or in the back diverging watchers into side conversations. But all around me was a blur when I finally gave up on the people around me and took the space I needed behind the sound booth to rage out months of love for music waiting for the proper volume Bigfoot brought on Monday.
Following Alt-J, there was a mass migration to fulfill a calling we had all felt since the festival started. When the sun sets on Monday, there is only one place for everyone to gather and call it a week – the main Sasquatch stage at the edge of the great gorge for the final festival headliner. For 2013, that band was The Postal Service.
The last show that Postal Service played before last Monday was the closing headliner spot on the same stage at Sasquatch in 2004. They have been dormant ever since, and as Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie) announced, Postal Service is back from the dead. 2004’s Sasquatch set was recorded as a live album, and that afternoon before the show a fair number of people were wondering, “Is there anything new? Are they going to just play the same set again” the answer was yes, and no. The Postal Service has been updated. They have re-mixed themselves, and performed Give Up circa 2013, with only a couple new songs that were not bad, but ended up being show stoppers in the bad way.
Impossibly, the updated classics we all know and love were better. I loved Give Up because, yes it had Ben Gibbards iconic twee indie vocals with the amazing Jenny Lewis, but also because it has amazing production. The beats are simple and clean, but are constructed electronically into sounds I have never heard. It had the complexity of trap or house music without the clutter. Restrained guitar and vocals allowed me to forget I was even listening to ‘electronic’ music.
The concert opened with “Such Great Heights,” the lights and speakers panning back and forth in tandem as band members took their places. They followed with “Sleeping In” and the whole place was on the same page, loving the new instrumentation, and not feeling like any of the original material was lost. The new sounds seemed more organic, changing as they were played, existing as a range of similar sounds. The sound waves free to play inside their octave, volume, or other constraint. “Sleeping In” had a dreamy, Ducktails-esque distorted ocean ring running through it. The guitar was given a slight surf flanger distortion, and still the feeling and vocals remained the same. The show left me feeling like more bands should update their best work with the benefit of modern talent and gained experience.
Rusko was still going strong when The Postal Service ended, but I broke tradition and did not even stop in. I was happy with the feeling I had. I was relaxed, and I was in good company for the final long walk home. When we arrived, I had time for a little food for once, as I watched many of my neighbors drive their packed cars away, and others collapse into their tents for the night. I could hear the celebration being stretched to its limits closer towards the main hub of the campsite and thought back to the years when I had watched the Tuesday morning sunrise over the grapevines. Sasquatch 2013 was deep. In sound, the slow, grindy, deep bass was the sound that carried through the weekend. It was deep in local flavor with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, OCnotes, ODESZA, Reign Wolf, and others. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, the xx, Vampire Weekend, and The Postal Service all came back bigger and more incredible than their last time at Sasquatch. For my own experience, I have never been so busy during a Sasquatch, nor made so few mistakes or run into so few problems. This year was a nonstop party that went off without a hitch. Cheers to that, and looking forward to summer, and the Capitol Hill Block Party!
All photos by Korbin Bennett-Gold except: Photo 1 of Toro Y Moi, and Photos 1 and 4 of The Postal Service by Matthew Lamb; Photos 2 and 3 of The Postal Service by Christopher Nelson.Tweet
Rise and shine, party time! After setting up camp, drinking, and partying atop the cold and rainy rim of the Gorge on Friday, the feeling of being baked like a Christmas goose in my tent was a welcome way to start the second day of Sasquatch. My fatigue gave little resistance to getting up around 11am Saturday morning. I hate to miss out, and when traveling alone, the tent is the least exciting place to be, so I was up and at’em without a moment to spare. I welcomed the warm embrace of the sunlight with a smile, gave a double thumbs up to our Sasquatch flag, and felt all the stress I had accumulated preparing for the festival seep out of me. Finally here, set up, familiar with the venue; Sasquatch was fully underway.
My earliest must-see show of the weekend was on Saturday, so I wasted no time in hitting the two mile trail to where the music lived. I enjoyed the joy all around me, capturing some festival fashion photos along the way. Without a hitch I found myself arriving at the early part of Robert DeLong‘s set on the Bigfoot stage. I got excited about Robert while scoping out fresh new bands from the lineup, following a trail of web links that ended in a very snappy music video for his song “Global Concepts” He stayed true to the motif established in the video, leaving no question that the orange X means you have found the dance floor. It was energizing to see a solid fan base in matching orange attire so excited to be at the show. DeLong even got the nerd in me to squeal when he hooked up the Wii-mote to the deep bass wah wah machine; the Wii sensors responding to his rhythmic fist-pumps.
From the moment I walked away from the Bigfoot stage, I was focused on Devendra Banhart. I have had a boy-crush on Devendra since high school. I once drove my Ninja 250 sportbike (a dinky back killer, if you are not familiar) for two hours in the rain from Tucson to Phoenix to see Devendra play, only to have the show canceled due to the drummer breaking his leg. This was before Megapuss and Little Joy – the interchangeable touring bands that introduced Devendra to his current drummer, Fabrizio Moretti, who you might recognize from The Strokes.
To finally be able to see Devendra Banhart, with my love for his music having only grown greater since that night in Arizona, was spiritual. It was not the show that I expected to see. It was not silly, or energetic. There were no words of wisdom passed down from this handsome, Venezuelan man. But he did give us his heart. He would hold up his hands in the same way a gospel singer sometimes does, often closing his eyes and willing the tremors to enter his voice. Devendra has an incredible range of vocal manipulations he delicately uses to convey the feelings behind his songs. In between songs, he was the perfect gentleman. When Devendra finished, he thanked everyone sincerely, and left the stage remaining a mystery.
Following what felt like a chill soiree with Devendra Banhart, the high energy ensemble of Acron/Family on the Yeti stage seemed like it would be an abrasive transition out of my daydream, so I moseyed over to El Chupacabre. That night, Laidback Luke would turn the tent into a 50-yard square cube of dirty dancing, but early in the day the comedians had free reign. It was my good fortune when my eyes adjusted to the dim tent light to find the man standing before me to be Nick Offerman; whom I know from the television show Parks & Recreation. Fellow cast member, Aziz Ansari, must have passed on a good recommendation of the northwest from his times at Sasquatch, because Mr. Offerman gave us everything he had. His routine went through the “Ten Tips for Prosperity” in much the same way you would expect from his character, Ron Swanson. Don’t trust anyone, go outside, do drugs, avoid mirrors…he was preaching to the choir. Most of the advice was accompanied by a song, and all of it made a lot sense, and kept me laughing the whole way through.
I would have been happy if his act had ended right there. But he took it so much further. Nick mentioned that some people had been wondering where his wife was. “Well,” he said “let me introduce you to the hottest new family band in America!” Out came his wife, Megan Mullally, who ironically plays Swanson’s crazy ex-wife on Parks & Rec. Once again, if being treated to rocking anthems by the green sequined queen of showmanship, Megan Mullally, was not enough, Offerman slamed down onto center stage, shirt open and rapping the funniest smoke-weed hip-hop/rock tune I have heard, keeping pace with the best of them. He did another four songs with the new band, exited the stage, and returned for a grand gesture as people started to turn away. Shirtless, Offerman flexed like a rock star to the sights and sounds of Beatles-level, adoring screams for Nick Offerman’s simple attractive wisdom. Or at least someone who paddles their own canoe.
After tossing around for a bit it was time to settle in at the main stage to see what changes fame and fortune would bring to the xx on the main stage compared to their first Sasquatch on Bigfoot two years ago. The high contrast lights flashed like a siren calling the bodies to the dance floor, and I rushed to join them. Just like everyone else there, I had been obsessed with the self titled inaugural release from the xx, and had no strong feelings about their new album, Coexist. The less enthusiastic reception has not impacted the band’s drive through Success Town, but the ride has affected their music. Two years ago there is no way that these three young adults could have filled a 30,000 person venue with sound, let alone people. The beatmaster, Jamie Smith, has been very busy outside of the band, releasing an entire remixed Gil Scott Heron album weeks before Herron passed away in 2011. His recently gained experience is showing. It was the simplicity of his production that first caught everyone’s attention on Saturday night. Instead of building on top of and around those simple forms, a choice that would have cluttered the band’s music, the xx have gone in another direction. All three are taking their sounds deeper, manipulating them more precisely, and innovating new expressions of their trademark simplicity. The dicerning listener can now pick out syncopated reverb, a bit of a wobble to the strings and vocals, and an even deeper, no-contact, mysterious intimacy between childhood friends and singer/guitarists, Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft.
Neither the band, nor the joys of the stage show failed to impress. During the mesmerizing concluding songs, a cloud of fog was set loose from all sides around the lower dance floor. Then a two-dimensional sliver of a roof began to be cast over the crowed in sections, adjusting on and off to the rhythms coming from the stage. To look up was as to look into a monochromatic northern lights just beyond the reach of your fingertips.
Oliver concluded by showing his appreciation for the moment. He told the crowd that they had played music festivals all over the world, and that the Gorge in Washington was one of the most beautiful music venues there are. He said that they had not even thought to dream of filling the same spot as M83, whose set the xx could see from their own stage the last time they played Sasquatch. For me, I was thankful that the band I loved, and had doubted, was on track to create their best work yet.
Stressed that I would not catch the end of Tame Impala‘s set, I ferreted through the herding humans shuffling out of the narrow gap in the fence leading to the rest of the Gorge complex. As I approached the Bigfoot stage my heart was crushed. All that lay before me was a baren stage surrounded by after-party trash. I started zombie walking towards the stage, hoping I could glean some of the energy from the show that I assumed had just ended when a man in front of me yells out “Tame Impala has moved to Yeti!” I immediately did an about face, anticipating a rush for the golden vantage points no one yet knew to keep. The gentleman kept doing the good work of spreading the news behind me as I excitedly pranced, uplifted that I had not missed the Tame Impala show after all.
By the time I got situated in the best spot in the front of Yeti (my favorite) stage, some more news trickled down. This time not so good. The new show time had been moved to 11:15 PM, an hour and a half after it was scheduled. There was a collective sigh as the news was passed along. We were all sharing and understanding that this was going to be long, boring, and cold – but once Tame Impala came on, undoubtedly worth it.
Not a soul was let down when Kevin Parker strapped on his guitar. There is no psychedelic rock band today that compares to Tame Impala. Each of the five members lived inside the music and within each other during that show, taking breaths of fresh air outside of their transcendent melodies to make real connections with the crowd. Parker shared with us that bassist (and Pond frontman) Cam Avery was playing his first ever show in America that night. I could not imagine a better performance experience to introduce him to our great country.
When Tame Impala released the crowd from the spell of their wonder, Sigur Rós had finished on the main stage, and Empire of the Sun had begun their epic performance closing Bigfoot for the night. It was a shame that they were not given a slot on the main stage. The effort and rehearsal that went into the show looked to be next level, but only a few hundred people were able to enjoy it. The crowd was thicker than quicksand, but refused to suck you in. Bigfoot stage was troubled with bunk sound anywhere outside the perimeter of the sound board tent every day until Monday. The low quality audio on the outskirts combined with only glimpses of what was clearly a visual art performance odyssey were enough to encourage the Tame Impala late-comers to continue on back home to camp. My energy level did not argue as I made my way with friends to gather as much energy as I could for a full two more days of celebration.
All photos by Korbin Bennett-Gold.Tweet
It took three years for Sasquatch to get Fridays right, and now they have. The festival has been around for over a decade, but has only recently expanded to four days. Before this year, the Friday lineup was a stunted and specialized sideshow, but in 2013 it finally feels like Friday is a full quarter of the festival. I arrived early in the morning – 8 hours before the first show of the festival began. Sasquatch calls me back every year equally for the music and the people; meeting your neighbors is one of the most exciting events of the weekend. I had the luck of being parked next to an original 1976 teal VW bus and the fine people who keep it running. Taking a moment to make friends, organize your gear, and notice a few landmarks to find home will help time and again as you flit about in a needy rush all weekend. I planted my homemade “two thumbs up” Sasquatch flag and made a point to head out with time to spare to scope the stages, get hung up with ticketing, and double check the usual back-ways of getting around.
The first wails of Sasquatch came from Reignwolf on the main stage as I descended the great hill for the first time this year. He was all alone, commanding everyone in sight to listen to his powerful one-man rock and roll show. His sound is reminiscent of the old White Stripes in simplicity, tone, and style. In an epic finale, the Easy Street Records van pulled up to the stage to act as a chariot taking Reignwolf away as he shred to the sky, paying tribute from his knees above the crowd below. The man took the responsibility of setting an epic first impression to the festival and nailed it.
I excitedly hunkered down for my first full set with Youth Lagoon as darkness overtook the Gorge Friday night. I was blown away by The Year of Hibernation in 2011 when YL first hit the scene. The depth in sound, conservative tempo, and resonating electric synths took me in the same way as when I first heard the xx; an apt comparison for YL, if the xx were from Los Angeles and jumped down the rabbit hole a few more times. When Youth Lagoon’s new album came out, I felt right that Wondrous Bughouse would need to sit with me for a while before I connected with it as deeply and as often as I have for The Year of Hibernation. For me, this first time seeing YL live would help me decide if I supported the direction the band is developing, or if I had lost my connection as they grew out of their first LP.
To put things bluntly, they blew me away. Sure, I had first-day adrenaline favoring a good time no matter what, and was often the only person around dancing their heart out, but the better-than-ever Yeti stage light show, plus the ethereal sounds of frontman, Trevor Power’s, voice, moved me and moved my body. The live set helped me to identify the mix of sorrow and great joy threading through each and every Youth Lagoon song that I relate to.
In between acts on the main stage on Friday of 2012, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis gave a short surprise show from atop a constructed platform in the middle of the crowd before the closing act stepped up. This year, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis were that closing act. As a Canadian friend I later met put it, “Macklemore played that show for Seattle.” It was clear that every detail had been visualized and planned to perfection, perhaps since the short performance a year earlier ended. Many of the artists playing the Gorge profess to how blown away they are by the opportunity to play on one of the biggest and most beautiful stages in the world. I do not doubt their sincerity, but none have gone on to show their appreciation, to take advantage of that opportunity, to absolutely give everything they had in payment for being afforded that stage as well as Macklemore did this year.
Due to the personal significance of playing to this many of his home supporters, who put him where he is today, Macklemore took plenty of time to preface the songs with wisdom and stories. He showed the thought and care behind every element of the show by bringing on every featured artist in the songs he played, highlighting Ryan Lewis’s brilliance as an equal part to the success of The Heist, and ending in a double encore including choreographed dancing by Mack and the Macklorettes. It was powerful to see a mainstream, popular rapper dirty dancing with a drag queen.
I saw Macklemore on the Bigfoot stage last time he was booked for Sasquatch. That show would not have reached the lawn in his main stage time slot this year. What Friday night showed us is that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are not just living up to the growing expectations brought on by their success, but they are pushing above and beyond what anyone anticipates, let alone hopes for. What the show gave to me was the best main stage set I have seen at the Gorge, and the best performance by an artist this weekend.
Riding the wave of excitement from the end of the first day at the Gorge, it was impossible not to go party. My personal weekend highlight came early this year, but in the same way as it always has – in meeting some of my new favorite people who have lived in my own northwest backyard this whole time, and I never knew it. Often the best way to make friends is to be ill-prepared for the freezing night that contrasts the hot Eastern Washington days. I counted myself lucky to watch the sun of day two rise, staying warm with three people I had never met, but felt like I had known forever. Best Friday of Sasquatch ever.