Sasquatch is an immersive experience, and doing it right means managing the yin and yang of the phrase “music festival.” Those two words sum up the complementary but sometimes competing impulses that an attendee feels at the venue and at the campground.
Going overboard on just the music will leave you with really sore feet from continually walking from stage to stage and standing in between sets. And by keeping your face buried in the schedule all the time you’d be ignoring all the fabulous people who are joining you for the weekend. But being lazy with all that top-notch live music around is kind of a waste. Hanging out on the steep grassy slope above the main stage is a pleasure, but a limited one. There are more convenient and less expensive settings to relax and party.
Ending up exhilarated but refreshed is the goal. Some highlights from the biggest weekend of music in the Northwest:
Chance the Rapper
Chance drew a huge crowd for his afternoon set on Bigfoot. The challenge for him was to capture the frenetic energy of his debut mixtape Acid Rap and bring it onstage – without making a huge mess. He and his live band proved more than able, emphasizing the soul and funk elements of his recorded material. The early-day set went about an hour too short, really. Chance has already proven himself a unique voice in hip hop, and his Sasquatch set indicates that he is a really special performer as well.
Phosphorescent is the softer side of the “open road, swingin’ doors” type folk rock act. Singer-songwriter Matthew Houck, an Alabama native and Brooklynite, uses shimmering synths and subtle, atmospheric backing to fill up his spacious arrangements. Their most recent album Muchacho was a breakthrough of sorts, grabbing a spot on all the year-end critic lists in 2013.
Every song during the set got the “Song for Zula” treatment, unfolding over extended instrumental sections to a graceful apex. It was a captivating performance that ended with Muchacho’s most buoyant track, “Ride On/Right On.”
Foster the People
Microwave disco music masquerading as pop rock is a pretty cheesy premise for a band, and there’s no use running from it onstage. Frontman Mark Foster is in on the joke, presumably, and strutted around like someone who just paid a steep cover charge.
It’s great when everyone in the venue knows a song, and Foster the People have a pocketful of fun radio hits that everyone can connect with. Their new album Supermodel doesn’t have any chart-toppers, so they mostly treaded water through those while everyone waited for “Pumped Up Kicks,” “Helena Beat,” “Don’t Stop,” etc.
OutKast’s return to the stage this summer has been met with a grain of cynicism, considering their high-exposure but sorta-shallow festival appearances. On Friday the two seemed immune to any of that, delivering a set that showed how happy they were to be back together performing.
Their opener, “B.O.B.” is still nearly unmatched in total musical insanity almost 15 years after it appeared on Stankonia. Its gleeful energy became the standard for the rest of the show.
OutKast probably has more pop sensibility than any other hip-hop act on Earth, and their catalogue is a mind-boggling mix of killer verses and infectious hooks. They tore through their material, playing all the hits from Stankonia and Speakerboxx/The Love Below, as well as highlights from their earlier releases.
The Friday lineup didn’t have any big names like Killer Mike or Janelle Monae to make a surprise appearance, as has been the case at OutKast’s other festival shows this year. But Sleepy Brown came out for guest vocals, wearing a very nice silk bathrobe. In Andre’s own words at the end of the show, “Stank you smelly much.”
First Aid Kit
If you’re willing to grant that a canyon and a fjord are basically the same thing, and that Sweden and Norway are basically the same place, then you could assume that Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit felt right at home at the Gorge. They make brooding acoustic songs that translated really well to an expansive outdoor setting like Sasquatch. Their set was also supplemented by a couple covers, of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon songs.
There’s hardly enough hard rock at Sasquatch to draw in the metalheads, so even an act as highly regarded as Deafheaven didn’t draw a large crowd. Their most recent album, Sunbather, features blistering instrumentals that periodically dissolve into gorgeous, gentle soundscapes. It’s as if they mastered good-natured, Explosions in the Sky-style instrumental rock and moved on to the dark side, where they also excel. Their set delivered as much of that gravitas as possible, considering the lackluster setting.
Panda Bear is responsible for everything that is gentle and meandering about Animal Collective’s music. His solo work is an elevation of those elements, a bubbly mix of samples and loops. Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, his forthcoming fifth studio album, is due this year. Most of the tracks he played live seemed to be from that project. Bonus points to him for the best onstage visuals of the week, maybe to compensate for his sedated demeanor. On the screen behind him, flowers morphed into gummy worms morphed into teeth morphed into the Grim Reaper morphed into jellybeans.
M.I.A. was the most charismatic performer onstage all weekend, directing the crowd with an authority that can only be described as “Oprah-esque.” She doesn’t have the recorded material to warrant a headlining set, but her presence on the main stage was unmatched.
M.I.A.’s visual aesthetic comes into full focus in a live setting. Just as her music pulls from a world of influences, the stage setup was a dizzying mix of color and form so eclectic that it seems to exist in its own universe (in which she is the benevolent dictator). “Paper Planes” was actually a relative lowlight, mostly because it was comparatively mellow after the propulsive, pounding stuff that was more typical of the set. It would have been captivating anywhere on the planet, and those at the Gorge on Saturday night got a real treat.
Tyler, the Creator
The Odd Future chief brought his goofy but high intensity shock-rap act to the Bigfoot stage on Saturday. He’s a simple guy, really. “Hi my name’s Tyler, I like the color yellow, and I like white people, so that’s great, there’s a lot of you here,” he said after opening with “Jamba.”
Tyler and the gaggle of Odd Future comrades with him onstage stuck to the DJ Stank Daddy exclusives, even playing joke-trap song “Bitch Suck Dick” early on (with guest awful-rappers Jasper Dolphin and Taco present, of course).
The best moments from his 2013 album Wolf are the quieter tunes “48” and “IFHY,” so his show doesn’t match his albums anymore. But he plowed through that roadblock with a disregard and reckless energy that has become his trademark.
The National was tasked on Saturday night with ramping up their introverted recorded selves to meet the demands of a headlining set. They accomplished this with a few tweaks to their sound, and by loading up their setlist with louder tracks from their catalogue. The guitar-playing Dessners (Aaron and Bryce) trade their usual, textured lines for a more blaring sound, and the song arrangements boil over instead of just simmer.
But the center, and the star, of the show was lead singer Matt Berninger, who brought his sad-sack A-game for a seriously weighty performance. Berninger’s character on The National’s recordings is a twisted, nervous wreck who can’t seem to get anything right. The live show is a more vivid glimpse at him, and it’s emotionally intense if you can empathize. He stumbles and paces, curls up and screams, seemingly ready to explode or implode at any moment. It’s so raw that it feels like more than a performance — like something that Berninger has to do for his own sake, something that we can only try to make sense of.
Cold War Kids
Sister act Haim arrived last year fully formed, with a coherent sound that’s simultaneously dated and fresh. Call it vision, image or maybe just branding, but it’s a potent mix.
Onstage they’re in character, looking more like glam rock than indie pop. Este is the domineering ice queen, not only warning of ass-shaking in the song to come, but demanding it. Danielle is the strong and silent type, the sympathetic figure at the center. And Alana is the, uh, wild card.
And they’ve got the musical chops to back it up. Danielle shreds on the guitar like an ‘80s demon, Este sets a firm foundation on the bass, and Alana … keeps busy with a lot of things.
The screens to the side of the stage were graced with amazing material from the band: Este’s fierce bass face, Alana’s robotic antics and mop-topped drummer Dash Hutton pounding toms for the whole set.
Since his Man on the Moon heyday several years ago, Cudi’s material has moved further into unknown territory. Hopefully his work bushwhacking through the wilderness of plodding R&B will be fruitful, ultimately. But he closed with “Pursuit of Happiness,” first the original, anthemic version, and then a bangin’ dance remix of the same song.
Queens of the Stone Age
The Queens’ claim to fame is having a foot in both mainstream rock and the harder stuff. The band asserted itself early by opening with “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar But I Feel Like a Millionaire.” The Songs for the Deaf opener is still their most accomplished track, a searing combination of heavy metal screaming and chewy guitar work. It set the tone for an uncompromising set — the band played with enough ferocity to satisfy those familiar with their stuff, but enough clarity to win some converts.
Frontman Josh Homme was brief between songs, never breaking the blistering tone of their set. Their latest album …Like Clockwork got the most play, with hits from their earlier material peppered throughout.
They also made no use at all of the lighting setup onstage — maybe just a technical problem, but if any band can survive and thrive on just the bare bones, it’s the Queens.