After last night’s marathon Cure set – MT joked over breakfast coffee that Robert Smith was still on stage – there was an executive decision to be made. Although the Memorial Day lineup looked promising — including Jamie Lidell, Ghostland Observatory, The Hives, Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Flight of the Conchords (of the HBO show), The Mars Volta and The Flaming Lips — ultimately we decided that for this, my first visit to the Pacific Northwest, it would be a pity to miss Seattle entirely.
Josh Bis (Science vs Romance) dutifully recaps Day 3 of Sasquatch on the KEXP blog. (More photo highlights of the festival here.) The talk of the final day was The Flaming Lips finale — a jolting spectacle which featured five fully nude women, U.F.O.s, Teletubbies, flashing lights, smoke machines, balloons, confetti and streamers. (Um, fully nude women. Link NSFW, obviously.)
So with most of the day left before I had to board the redeye home, we headed into the city. From Ellensburg, it was to be a two-hour drive east on Interstate 90, over Snoqualmie Pass (population: 201) and through the snow-crusted Cascade Mountains.
Emerald City, here we come!
Read more from Josh Bis on Sasquatch: Day 2 — same lineup, better pictures.
I arrived at the Gorge to catch the second half of Rogue Wave‘s set on the Wookie! stage. Later, we would see Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, a.k.a., Mates of State here — that cute couple from Connecticut that was profiled in the issue of New York magazine I had in my backpack that afternoon.
We caught most of their set while waiting on line at the gear concessions stand. $40 for The Cure concert tee was deemed exorbitant — why, Bob? The millions you’ve made fetishing alienation and depression not enough for you? — but $25 for the limited edition festival t-shirt more reasonable. Or so we told ourselves.
As the sun shone brightly overhead, I dug into a Philly cheesesteak at the picnic area as The Blakes wrapped up their set on the Yeti! stage. (Why is it so difficult to eat healthily at these things? In my defense, it was at least not deep fried.) Afterwards, we could hear the sounds of The Presidents of the United States of America — truncated to “The Presidents” on the program — wafting over from the Sasquatch! stage. Now, I probably haven’t thought about that particular band in about a decade, so their prominence here was a bit baffling to me. Sure, “Lump” and “Peaches” were catchy in a post-grunge novelty act sort of way, but that was 1995. Chalk it up to hometown nostalgia, I suppose. (In addition to playing the main stage, PUSA were featured glowingly — twice! — at the Experience Music Project rock museum in Seattle. But more on that later.)
I was pleasantly surprised by Michael Franti & Spearhead who brought the crowd to its feet with an extremely energetic set, sending both concert-goers and colorful beach balls bouncing up and down the hill.
Local favorites Death Cab for Cutie followed as the sun set, and the hordes really descended then, many no doubt looking to stake out prime floor spots for The Cure’s closeout show. The boys opened with new material — we approve that DCFC “avoid[ed] the post-blowup letdown with a strong new album” — before settling into more familiar tunes from Transatlanticism and Plans. Frontman Ben Gibbard, clad in black, gave shoutouts to The Cure and to The Smiths, explaining his black-wearing “because black is what I feel on the inside,” and because he was “so goddamn excited to see The Cure.” (Join the club, Ben!) He dedicated “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” to them.
Sasquatch-induced ADD dictated that I slip out about halfway through the set to catch singer/songwriter/guitarist Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks… if for no other reason than that Malkmus was once the lead singer of Pavement, whose Slanted and Enchanted (1992) was perhaps the Greatest Indie-Rock Album Ever. (Their 1994 follow-up Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994) fares well on that assessment as well.) Pavement, which went on hiatus in 1999, is “credited with leading the lo-fi indie-rock movement of the early ’90s” and still serve as the inspiration for many modern rock bands hoping to succeed without the support of a major label.
Can’t say I’m as big a fan of the post-Pavement oeuvre. The classic rock influences are more straightforward — extended guitar riffs and such — but every once in a while, in more reflective sections, you can still hear the hints of Malkmus’ former sound.
Their set was late in getting started — lead-in The Kooks set them back by almost an hour — so by the time Malkmus and Co. took the stage, the excitement was palpable. No mystery over what many wanted to hear: I regularly heard shouts for Pavement songs, but most were satisfied with “Dragonfly Pie” and “Gardenia.” Malkmus wasn’t above teasing the audience either, remarking on how we were experiencing the nicest weather he’d ever seen at Sasquatch, although, “I heard that yesterday it was raining sideways… like, crooked rain.” Boo!
It seems that rumors of a Pavement reunion tour have been greatly exaggerated — much like the Morrissey and Marr rematch, I suppose. We can still dream… though I do hope it happens before it’s time to cash in my IRA.
After cutting out early again — really, I can count on one hand the number of full sets I caught this weekend — I found the main stage bathed in blue and violet lights for headliners The Cure, who finally emerged out of a rolling cloud of fog. Their September 2007 concert at MSG was rescheduled for my birthday in June when I’ll be out of town, so I was particularly excited about this set.
Robert Smith did not disappoint: the setlist mined the band’s extensive catalog, opening with new song “Underneath The Stars,” followed by Disintegration‘s “Prayers For Rain” and Head on the Door‘s “A Night Like This,” and continuing with a liberal sprinkling of the classics: “Lovesong,” “To Wish Impossible Things,” “Lullaby,” “Fascination Street,” “Hot Hot Hot!“, “Inbetween Days”…. Predictably, “Just Like Heaven” had just about everyone in the still-thick crowd on their feet dancing. Just straightforward playing, though — no banter: unlike other performers who bounded giddily around the stage, Smith spent the entire time draped over the mic, letting his distinctive voice do all the work… and it did, holding up surprisingly well after all these many years. (In body, though, 49-year old Smith is noticeably heftier, and the thick Goth make-up did his face no favors, which may explain the paucity of close-ups on the large screens flanking the stage.)
As I gazed up into the almost clear night sky, through which a few stars managed to twinkle through, The Cure broke out the moody, sentimental combination of “Pictures Of You,” “A Letter to Elise” and “From The Edge Of A Deep Green Sea” which nearly had me weeping, despite how many times I’ve heard those songs over the years.
I wish I could just stop
I know another moment will break my heart
I was probably — no, almost definitely — the biggest Cure devotee among our small group, and well into the band’s third(!) hour of playing, my friends were getting restless. By the time the second encore of old-school tunes launched — a run of “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Jumping Someone Else’s Train,” and “Grinding Halt” — The Cure had been on stage for nearly two and a half hours. At one point, Smith promised (threatened?) to play until dawn, and though I probably could have stayed on to see him take up that challenge, enough was enough. We made our way to the parking field to the strains of “10:15 Saturday Night” missing only the 31st song: “Killing An Arab.”
Going into this weekend, I hadn’t known what to expect from Sasquatch — the “circus of grossness” had been a distinct possibility — but this experience far exceeded my expectations. It was even worth missing the Brooklyn Bridge’s 125th birthday celebrations back at home. Aside from the occasional errant whiff (fully anticipated), the crowd was remarkably respectful. Or maybe just happily baked — who’s to say? A big plus was that by carefully monitoring my liquid intake, I managed to avoid the dreaded Honey Buckets altogether… perhaps the festival accomplishment of which I am most (dubiously) proud. That and squeezing my way to the front of The Breeders show on Day 1.
Revisiting old favorites and discovering new sounds were the primary reasons for attending, but the best moments I found were not the times spent rushing among the Sasquatch!, Wookie! and Yeti! stages, but the stretches spent just laying in the sun, enjoying the natural beauty of the gorge and the company of my friends. Throw in a plate of freshly fried dough and a frozen lemonade slushy, and it just doesn’t get any better.
Full Sasquatch Festival 2008 set on flickr.
After parking the Cruiser in an open grassy field with a view of the crowded campgrounds in the distance, I strolled up to the entry gate with my new Escalada backpack in tow, stuffed with an ice-filled water bottle, Luna bars, sunglasses, sunscreen, umbrella, sweatshirt, towel, binoculars… all of which I would need over the course of our near-10 hour marathon of music. (Thanks to B who wisely advised that a Kate Spade tote would not do in this situation.)
Filing in among the 22,000 sell-out crowd. A somewhat diverse group, agewise — festival headliners were R.E.M., The Cure, and The Flaming Lips, after all — but ethnically… well, not so very. College students, neo-hippies (the ones who weren’t at the Northwest Folklife Festival taking place the same weekend at Seattle Center), hipsters and yuppies seemed to comprise the major cliques, with a few music industry people thrown into the mix.
The weather reports predicted rain on and off this weekend, but by 2PM, the sun was shining brightly, baking the Gorge in a summer-like heat.
Josh Bis (science vs. romance) offers a terrific write-up of the festival’s first day on the KEXP blog along with plenty of photos taken from a much better vantage point than mine. As it turned out, he and I had almost identical concert schedules — impressive considering the 50+ acts on three stages over the two (of three) days I attended. In roughly decreasing order of profile, performers played back-to-back on the Sasquatch! Main Stage, set directly in front of a stunning canyon/river backdrop, the Wookie! [sic] Stage in the meadow and the Yeti! Stage in the plaza, adjacent to the picnic tables.
This would be our primary view for the next two days:
Up-and-coming Athens, Georgia trio The Whigs, who rocked it out at SXSW in March, were on tour promoting their second album “Mission Control (released on Dave Matthews’ label.) CF and I caught the last couple of songs of their energetic set as we made our rounds through the Gorge grounds, stopping for a pair of frozen lemonade slushies, which were absolute perfection on this bright, warm afternoon.
As we spread out on the grassy knoll during Ozomatli — one of the jammier bands in the lineup — we heard what we thought were speakers blaring Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” from the third Yeti! stage. NO excitedly informed us that the rich baritone actually… improbably… belonged to Vince Mira — a scrawny Latino teenager from Seattle, who drew an awestruck crowd and became the talk of the festival that day. (Seriously: check out Mira’s appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show; this kid will blow your mind.)
We headed over to check it out and caught Canadian songstress Kathleen Edwards — hailed as “one of the most distinctive singer-songwriters to emerge in years” — playing a prettily earnest alt-country set, accompanying herself on violin.
Rainn Wilson (The Office‘s Dwight Kurt Schrute), who was at the Festival promoting his upcoming film, The Rocker, had the unenviable task of announcing that The National would not be appearing due to a broken-down tour bus. Disappointed murmurs all around. In their stead we had the capable Fleet Foxes, making their second appearance of the day after opening the main stage at noon.
Then more Canadian action: The New Pornographers, who played a set culled heavily from “Challengers” and “Twin Cinema.” To our delight, Neko Case was up on stage; likewise Dan Bejar, whose other band Destroyer had just finished playing a Wookie! Stage set. The Pornos’ cover of ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” was one of the best set-closers of the day.
By the time M.I.A. came onto Sasquatch! stage, anticipation was high; Maya had to drop out of last year’s line-up due to visa issues, but overall, I was somewhat disappointed by this (very loud) set. All of which made the decision to skip out for a fried dough break all the easier.
Mmm… elephant ears — so devoid of nutritional value, yet so utterly delicious. The flaky pancakes of fried dough, dusted with cinnamon or powdered sugar fresh from the deep fryer, were the culinary hit of the festival, judging by the near-constant line at the concession stands. Though had it not been for that line, we may not have gotten wind of the unannounced appearance by The National, who finally made it on site, and were given over the Yeti! stage to perform. Word of their impromptu concert spread wildly as fan Rainn Wilson good-naturedly roasted the boys from Brooklyn in his introduction, citing diva pique as their reason for failing to perform earlier.
At one point Zach Condon (Beirut) wandered over, and I went into paparazzi mode.
So much music, so little time. Riveted by lead singer Matt Berninger’s deep velvet voice, we ended up abandoning our plans to check out Austin’s Okkervil River — listen to the NPR piece about them here — before finally making our way to the Wookie! Stage to stake out spaces for The Breeders close-out set. Yes, The Breeders! That set created probably our biggest dilemma of the evening: Modest Mouse was playing simultaneously, and though I had looked forward to catching former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, I could not pass up the rare opportunity to see Pixies bassist Kim Deal. (And in fact, Modest Mouse will be opening for R.E.M with The National at Jones Beach in mid-June — tickets still available, $39.00-$1,098.00.) Truly an unexpected treat to see the Deal twins, whom we know have had their issues in the past, even as the cloud cover (which had been building since late afternoon) finally gave way to intermittent drizzling rain.
“Cannonball” still rocks — 15(!) years later.
We had to tear ourselves away from The Breeders show (where I’d wended my way through a gaggle of under-aged drinkers to within five feet of the stage) to catch the beginning of R.E.M.’s set. By then, the sopping chill had settled in — probably 30 degrees off the peak afternoon temps — and the hardy fans who remained huddled for warmth on the hill as Michael Stipe and Co. took to the rain-slicked stage. Calling out support to Barack Obama, and doffing his socks and shoes, a pinstripe-suited Stipe, backed ably by Peter Buck, proved the case for the band’s longevity, playing a tight, hard-driving set that successfully integrated new material with their early and late-era classics. “Drive,” “Losing My Religion,” and “The One I Love” invited audience sing-alongs as “Orange Crush” and “Man on the Moon” closed out the nearly two-hour set.
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