Thursday, June 17, 2010

Concert Review: Sasquatch! Music Festival

In the final weekend of May, West coast WGTB warrior Scott Lensing took extensive notes on his experience at the Sasquatch! Music Festival in order to relate to loyal blog readers the performances, the atmosphere, and the best new upcoming college-rock bands. Below, Scott's account, with awesome pictures-- here's to hoping we see many of these bands come through the District in the next year.

Sasquatch! Music Festival
The Gorge; George, Washington
May 29-31, 2010

Never have I looked forward to a music festival with such giddy anticipation, with such unrealistic expectations for sonic fulfillment. The lineup? Stellar. The venue? Debilitating in its beauty. The company? Debaucherous. I knew that when I woke up on May 29, it would be the Christmas morning to top all Christmas mornings.

And so it began on the wonderfully sunny Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend. Three hours southeast of Seattle, the Gorge could very well be a worthy destination for a family of four embarking upon a road trip, parents determined to expose their restless, Nintendo-addicted children to the glory of the American frontier.

But Sasquatch is certainly no place for a family. It is precisely the place, however, for a group of young ruffians looking to indulge in the sights and sounds of some of the best indie rock/pop/folk around. The clientele was surprisingly young, so much so that at times I oddly felt like a geezer. Young co-eds generally could be seen bopping about, faces freshly smeared with paint and multi-colored feathers artfully stuck in their hair. Somewhat surprisingly, Canadians abounded at the festival, with red maple leaves of every size and form on display on their cars, bodies, and bags. I was a foreigner in my own country.

The music (oh, the music!) was so captivating, though, that I was never distracted from the artists by the antics of some choice audience members. Sasquatch is comprised of four stages, with the Gorge Amphitheatre (pictured above) as the crown jewel of them all, hosting the biggest names that the festival had to offer. This stage in particular maintains a great balance for the variety of fans and musical acts. Its sloping, grassy hillside pleases those who like to experience their music lying inertly prostrate. Others, myself included, are free to dance around on the generous floor space in front of the stage.

(Check out the pics below or here and read more of Scott's article after the jump)

Made with Slideshow Embed Tool

Even with the stellar headliners, the smaller acts on the Yeti Stage were not lost in the frantic hullabaloo of the weekend, and frequently provided some of the most crowd-pleasing performances of the three-day weekend. As one of the earliest groups on Saturday afternoon, Fool’s Gold succeeded on this stage, not only in getting people to break out of their dreary, sleep-deprived states, but also in giving everyone plenty to dance to. Incorporating African rhythm and melody into the bounce of their pop leanings, Fool’s Gold overcame their unfortunate time slot to become one of the underdog favorites of the whole festival.

The middle of Saturday afternoon actually contained two of the more oddly popular acts of the festival: Mumford & Sons, and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. The strong crowd attraction to these two groups was bizarre because neither group seemingly had much buzz surrounding their debut releases, largely due to their mediocre receptions by critics.

To my eyes and ears, these two groups share the same major flaw of being uncomfortably histrionic (yep, that’s right) in their music and their delivery, causing me to default to the main stage in anticipation of a superb evening lineup of Broken Social Scene, The National, Vampire Weekend, and My Morning Jacket. The National’s performance (pictured below) demonstrated why the band has such a strong reputation as consummate professionals, with well-kept lead singer Matt Berninger seemingly always on the edge of emotional collapse before reigning himself back in. Vampire Weekend followed with one of the tightest sets of the weekend, maintaining the boisterous crowd’s undivided and swooning attention from start to finish. My Morning Jacket, dubbed as one of the “most epic” live acts touring today, was strong, but even the loveable Yim Yames couldn’t top the high bar set by those groups who immediately preceded them.

From noon to midnight, Sunday would prove to be the densest and most satisfying day of the festival. Caribou pleasantly jarred everyone out of their early afternoon daze, just in time for Local Natives’ endearing harmonies and accessible hooks to get people really moving their limbs at the mid-size Bigfoot Stage. Tallest Man On Earth likely played in front of the biggest crowd he has ever seen, but remained unfazed and escaped into his own world of painful and moving folk. A noteworthy highlight of his great set was his bare-bones cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” giving a lovely yet heartbreaking spin on an already phenomenal song. Tallest Man’s star continues to rise deservedly in the music world, and though best experienced in a small club setting, his shows are too powerful to miss at any venue.

After Avi Buffalo’s endearingly fragile show, Freelance Whales (pictured) took to the Yeti Stage, and matched Fool’s Gold from the previous day in winning over the crowd with their sticky-sweet pop jams. The Brooklyn band attracted passers-by over to the stage with their surprising energy, and by the end of their set, the crowd was jumping about, and I was sporting one of the largest smiles thus far.

But the biggest treat was to come on the Gorge Main Stage at 7 PM, with LCD Soundsystem filling in the floor in front of the stage as well as the overlooking grassy hill. Prior to the festival I had enjoyed LCD Soundsystem (pictured below) through my stereo speakers, but had never really been wowed by this critical favorite. My whole perspective blew up, however, in their hour plus set, as frontman James Murphy absolutely entranced me and the thousands of others in attendance. The crowd was electric, stirring even the hillside viewers into a frenzy, and I was caught in a dancing fever that I’ve yet to experience in my time going to live shows. Suffice to say, if you ever have an opportunity to see LCD Soundsystem live, do it. You will likely have more sheer fun than you thought you could possibly have at a live show. The Dirty Projectors rounded out the night on the Bigfoot Stage with an excellently crafted set, with “Knotty Pine” and “Stillness Is The Move” remaining two of my favorite songs from the long weekend.

On the final day, recognizable and popular acts ruled the afternoon and evening, though no one group could quite match the energy and quality from the prior night. Passion Pit and MGMT, two acts pegged as the most likely to disappoint, actually pulled off solid performances that perhaps did not match the overwhelming hype, but at least pleased everyone in the crowd.

After She & Him’s perfectly slotted 5:20 PM show, Band of Horses stepped up and owned the Gorge Main stage with a rocking performance. After seeing them dominate an evening set at Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco last summer, I knew that Band of Horses would likely put on another awesome live show. My concerns about their most recent mediocre album holding them back were quickly dashed aside, and the band proved to me and everyone else yet again that they are worthy of the main stage at even such a packed festival. Lead singer Ben Bridwell’s voice was ensnaring, and seemingly filled every crevice of the voluminous gorge behind him.

At the festival’s end, Neon Indian put on a great show in the confined Rumpus Room, with everyone floating in and out of dancing reverie under a tightly filled tent. Accompanied by bona-fide fire acrobats (people who play with fire?) in the middle of the crowd, Neon Indian’s psych-pop proved to be the perfect act to cap off a sublime weekend.

Three days of astounding music under my belt, I could not have hoped for a better concert experience. While the middle of Washington may seem like an inaccessible local for a superb music festival, I implore you to hop in the car with three of your friends and head West, my friends. At the Gorge, you will find bliss, and your ears will never be more grateful.

--Scott Lensing


Anonymous said...

the gorge is the most beautiful place for music. DREAMS COME TRUE AT SASQUATCH

Cannon said...

i thought LCD soundsystem wouldn't translate at an outdoor festival like this. i was wrong.

Ben said...

insanely jealous you got to go to this, scott. this was definitely the best line-up of any festival this summer.

editor: "the best new upcoming college-rock bands?" is this 1992?

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