After having been to Sasquatch two years in a row now, I thought that the child-like giddiness that comes with seeing the Gorge ampitheater would have worn off by now. How wrong I was–even this time around, coming to the crest of the big green hill laying eyes on the main stage in front of the Columbia river was an experience that felt akin to my first major league baseball game or the first trip to Disneyland. For all of those low moments throughout a festival when realize you haven’t gotten enough sleep, proper nutrition, and basic hygiene, Sasquatch cures all ailments with a healthy dose of Gorge.
Many fans were still rolling into the camp grounds on Friday; the music started later that day and the stages were generally less crowded. But despite that, Japandroids got a solid following to form around the secondary stage just before their set. I got packed in next to a guy who said he was high school buddies with lead singer and guitarist Brian King, back when he was a “quiet choir boy.” Unfortunately, it took a while for Brian to show his loud side as the band carried out an extended and fairly frustrating sound check — a theme that was a bit too common throughout the weekend. Once they got rolling things went smoothly as they played jams off 2012′s excellent Celebration Rock.
I cut out from the Japandroids set early to catch Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul on the main stage. To my surprise the stage was empty and remained that way throughout their allotted time slot. Apparently they got to their airport too late and didn’t have time for the drive out to central Washington. As the next act, Built to Spill, started to set up, much of the younger audience was still confused and I even heard one kid mistake lead singer Doug Martsch for one of Schoolboy’s roadies. Built to Spill’s set opened with the eight-minute epic “Goin’ Against Your Mind” and continued with selections from their mid-nineties string of three near-perfect albums. They closed the set with their classic hit “Carry The Zero” a rare song that’s a favorite amongst both new and long-time fans.
Any sound-check problems that Japandroids had were unfortunately dwarfed by Youth Lagoon’s issues on Sasquatch’s smallest stage Friday night. The band was about 40 minutes late to start, but pulled off a haunting set with highlight’s from this year’s Wondrous Bughouse and 2011′s Year of Hibernation. Lead singer Trevor Powers looked like he’d been taking thrift shop fashion advice from Macklemore with a brightly colored grandma jacket, but his set carried a surprising bit of heft and intensity — so much so that he could have worn whatever he wanted and made it badass. Speaking of Macklemore, the Pacific Northwest native and long-time underground hustler headlined Friday night and upped the theatrics by raising platforms, large, lit-up signs and cheesy speeches about how hard he’s worked to make it this far. Macklemore drew the biggest crowd on Friday night, but the best went to Vampire Weekend, coming off the recently released, widely acclaimed Modern Vampires of the City. They played seven songs off the new record — singles “Step,” “Diane Young” and “Ya Hey” stood out, although I was a little disappointed they didn’t perform “Hannah Hunt.” Because the Youth Lagoon show ran late, I got relegated to the way back of the crowd and didn’t get any good Vines of the set, which is a shame because closing anthem, “Walcott”, had so many great six-second segments just asking to be looped…
The first full set I saw on Saturday was the Danish synth singer-songwriter outfit, Indians. Søren Løkke Juul, the man behind Indians, took the stage with Heather Woods Broderick and Laurel Simmons, who added vocals as well as timely percussion and atmospheric keys. Bedroom producers such as Juul often extensively layer their tracks and sprinkle on aural ornaments, but Juul manages to achieve just as full of a sound with only a few choice elements and some well timed and sparingly used changes of pace.
The biggest heart melter I saw all weekend was undoubtedly Devendra Banhart. Girls uncontrollably swooned to his set eccentric set of slow jams and oft-kilter ballads from this year’s stellar LP, Mala. Though he mostly plays the cool cat card, Devendra isn’t afraid to goof it up as well. He busted out some old-fashioned, finger-waggling dance moves and playfully emphasized the “wa wa waaaa”s from “Your Fine Petting Duck.”
Holy Ghost! put on a great set Saturday evening but it was tough to focus on the music as most of guys around me felt it was necessary to crowd surf on the giant inflatable animals that got thrown out at the beginning of the show. As a result, I had constantly keep an eye over my shoulder for fear of getting hit by a stray knee or Converse sneaker. Crowd surfing is just one of those activities that’s cool when the first couple people do it, but pretty annoying after that.
I made my way into the dance tent for John Talabot’s set during the 9-10 PM slot which was probably one of the toughest decisions of the weekend as I was foregoing performances by Surfer Blood and The xx. I certainly didn’t regret the decision though as Talabot was joined by fellow producer, vocalist and collaborator, Pional. Plus, I heard from some other festival-goers that the xx’s intimate sound got lost on the main stage.
Unlike Schoolboy Q, Tame Impala made it to the grounds on time for their set, their equipment, however, was running late and forced organizers to move the Australians to the main stage and push the start time back by an hour and 40 minutes. The delay didn’t stop fans from pushing towards the stage throughout the duration of the break, adding to what was already one of the more anticipated sets of the weekend. The show would be one of the first with new bassist Cam Avery and it seemed as though the chemistry was there, but a rushed sound checks resulted in some slightly flat guitars, especially on the Innerspeaker opener, “It Is Not Meant To Be.” That being said, Kevin Parker still dazzled fans with an extended version of “Elephant” that was one of the real highlights of the weekend.
With the sun breaking through the clouds on Sunday afternoon, Diiv looked to be thoroughly enjoying themselves as they played cuts off their intricate, sprawling, neo-shoegaze album, Oshin. It was refreshing to see the band have so much fun on stage given that some detractors have dismissed them as yet another emo, depressed, indie rock band.
Much to the dismay of older concert-goers perched on the hill Sunday afternoon, Danny Brown took over the main stage from 3:15 – 4:00. Watching his set from afar, amongst the confused and judgmental on-lookers was painful, so I tried to make my way down into the pit for a more fair assessment. Much of his act seemed to be predicated around the fact that he was visibly fucked up, of which he was doing a great job. And to his credit, the set was high energy and he seemed more engaged with the crowd than many acts throughout the weekend.
Edward Sharpe snagged one of the coveted sunset slots on the main stage Sunday. Shockingly, almost the entire 18,000 person crowd on the hill and in the pit was standing throughout the set. I’m sure a good portion of the audience was just waiting to hear “Home” the entire time but Sharpe put on a good show throughout and when that familiar whistle started everyone was visibly satisfied.
Earl Sweatshirt caught the tail end of the Sunday sunset and played old Odd Future songs as well as jawns off his upcoming album, Doris.
In recent interviews, Grimes has said that she gets upset when fans call her cute or innocent. She would have a totally justified point if you only looked at her studio albums, which are often dark, glitch-heavy takes on dance/R&B music. However, during her live performances she absolutely invites cutesy adjectives with her between-song monologues that usually sound like something along the lines of “wow, it’s just really great to be here, I love you guys, blah blah…” If she wants her act to own the same aesthetic as her music she should drop these pointless rambles (one of her interludes even ended with “ahh I’m talking too much”). That being said, if 20 seconds of between-song chatter is my biggest complaint with the performance it means she’s doing a lot of things right. I saw Grimes last fall at the Treasure Island Music Festival and this year’s set at Sasquatch was a huge improvement. Granted, a much more Canadian crowd gave her a boost, but she was visibly more energetic and had the freedom to dance around the stage rather than stay confined behind her boards. For many people in the audience, “Oblivion” and “Genesis” seemed to be festival defining moments. For me, it was a high energy and extremely positive end to my abbreviated weekend, and one that I’m glad I didn’t spoil by wandering over to Mumford and Sons on the main stage.