Review: Sasquatch Music Festival

By Jordan Zeichner & Alison Powell

Exhausted, badly sunburned and in need of a long shower, we’re humbled and excited to report back a few of the Memorial Day weekend highlights. Big thanks to Ryan and Jamie E for making our Sasquatch 2010 possible!

The past few years, Sasquatch! Festival had entered an elite group of U.S. fests by year after year surrounding big names names (Kanye West, REM, Björk and Arcade Fire) with a solid group of lesser known up and coming bands. This year the talent was intentionally spread a little more evenly, with popular headliners and a fantastic cast of bands during the day, but no marquee names like Gorillaz or Jay-Z that a festival like Coachella offers. Of course that’s not at all fair to the 2010 headliners because The National, Vampire Weekend, LCD Soundsystem, Pavement and MGMT are bands to get excited about and brought the goods this year.

Overlooking the Columbia Gorge, the backdrop at the Gorge is breathtaking and hands down the most beautiful venue I’ve ever been to. Organizers divided the grounds into three music stages (Sasquatch!, Bigfoot, Yeti, and a comedy/late night dance party tent). Outside of a few minor problems, the festival was organized spectacularly. Except for the comedy tent, the sound fortunately didn’t bleed too much into the neighboring stages. The crowds were huge and always entertaining, the weather was unpredictable, and the schedule was jam-packed with tough decisions. On to the highlights!

Saturday:

Saturday started out with a two hour wait to get inside the festival grounds. We missed Laura Marling and most of Nurses set because of it. Lesson learned; next year I will certainly pee beforehand. I can’t help but think organizers could’ve avoided the twenty-person-wide winding sea of people that comprised the entry-line. Having been listening to my copy of the fantastic The Recordings of the Middle East for the past few weeks, The Middle East was near the top on the list of bands to see during the weekend. After catching bits of an unimpressive Portugal. The Man set and the end of the Nurses, we headed over to the Yeti stage to check out the band from Queensland, Australia. Following an extended soundcheck with some technical issues surrounding the mandolin, The Middle East walked out and preformed a set mostly off their new album. Highlights included the gorgeous sounding “Blood” and “The Darkest Side.” I walked away extremely impressed with The Middle East and can’t wait to hear more from them.

Whomever thought of booking comedy acts at music festivals should be given a hearty high-five. Emotionally and physically crashing at a three day fest is inevitable, so having a tent where you can sit down, drink some water, and regroup while listening to some comedy is invaluable. We walked in during Aziz Ansari’s slot, who dropped out of Sasquatch to host the MTV Movie Awards (what?!) but Aziz was luckily replaced by Patton Oswalt, who in between getting plagiarized, manages to be one of the funniest comedians around. Edward Sharpe and the Magentic Zero’s pop hit blared through the comedy tent walls and surprised Oswalt with its sugar-sweet whistle-along melody. He reviewed them best: they sounded like the theme song for Thomas the Tank Engine. Near the end of his set, he threw his backstage wrist band into the crowd and warned the lucky fan not to do anything creepy.

The rest of the night was spent on the main stage with Broken Social Scene up first. I was excited to see BSS in order to settle an internal dispute. They are in both my top 10 best live acts and worst live acts list. (2006 Webster Hall for the former; 2008 Siren Music Fest for the latter.) Their set at Sasquatch helped me realized that, like The New Pornographers, the band is more enjoyable with their leading ladies.

High Violet has been playing around the house lately, and having never seen The National, the excitement was high. They were completely memorizing and the intensity level was off the charts. It was impossible not to stare in awe at a completely inebriated Matt Berninger, who in between verses wandered around the stage screaming at the top of his lungs and slapping his thigh spastically. At one point he jumped into the densely packed crowd for a few minutes of additional wandering and screaming. The music was spot on and High Violet-heavy. I felt lucky to witness a great band play almost entirely new material.

Vampire Weekend graced the 8:30pm slot with their collar-popping afrobeats. Easily the most popular band of the day, the main stage was packed for their set. Ezra Koenig came out with some serious energy. They played all the hits including “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” “A-Punk” and ended their set with the triple punch of “Campus”, “Oxford Comma” and “Walcott.” One of the highlights of the weekend.

The crowd changed drastically during the 30 minute set change between Vampire Weekend and My Morning Jacket. MMJ was welcomed by a thick cloud of pot smoke. I hadn’t really listened to MMJ since It Still Moves, but was pleasantly surprised to hear a couple of my favorite songs “Golden” and “Mahgeeta.” Jim James ruled the stage with his wolverine facial hair and futuristic combat boots, also entertaining the crowd with his amazing guitar work. Fantastic way to close the night.

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Sunday:

We started out the day with Caribou, who seemed out of place on the huge main stage. Daniel Snaith and three fellow musicians huddled close together in a small square of instruments facing each other. Any band playing at 12 noon at the gorge is inevitably going to play to empty grass and a half-filled pit. Despite this, Caribou filled the empty space with newer spacey jams and one old favorite, Odessa. There was lots of noise-over-pop, which might have prevented some of the early picnicers from enjoying the 8-song set, but definitely satisfied Caribou fans. It made me ravenous to see them in a properly small venue with their famously psycedelic light show.

I (Alison) am one of the converted Tallest Man on Earth fans described in the official Sasquatch Festival guide – I left a NYC Bon Iver concert a rabid fan of the obscure opener. I’d like to think that Tallest Man put on an equally good show at Sasquatch despite playing at the worst stage. I couldn’t help but think about being at the Newport Folk Fest and seeing small acts in a similarly large setting. I just hope Kristian Matsson doesn’t return next year to go electric… or maybe that would be awesome.

New favorite band: tUnE-yArDs! I missed them on their tour with Dirty Projectors, so I was thrilled to have a chance to watch them do their thing and with gusto. I have always said you can’t go wrong when a vocalist beats a drum while singing. Merrill Garbus switched from drum to ukulele which is certainly a formula for awesomeness.

During Avi Buffalo’s set, all I could think was: these songs won’t work once your voice changes. But thank god! I actually do look forward to hearing what they can do when their voices lower a bit and their sickeningly sweet music is toned down a bit by heart break and life experience. The boy has skills but I didn’t stick around to admire. Do I feel like a grumpy old person writing this? Yes.

Reenergizing time at the comedy tent with Mike Birbiglia. If anyone has not yet heard his sleepwalking story on This American Life, go immediately to the archives and listen to it (episode 361). He talked about everything from his fear of bears to his epic jump out of a hotel window.

Everyone was pretty excited to catch The xx, however due to their enormous popularity they should’ve been scheduled at the main stage. One of the best organized aspects of the festival was the controlled pit up front at the main stage so that pretty much anyone could get into it if they wanted to. The Bigfoot stage lacked visibility no matter where you stood. The xx were able to recreate their superb self titled debut, but didn’t add anything special to their live show outside of a pretty sweet giant letter X in the background. I don’t think huge festivals suit them very well.

We left The xx a little early to hear some of Vetiver’s solid set at the Yeti stage. They sounded tight, and we were bummed we had to leave early to get positioned for LCD Soundsystem.

LCD Soundsystem owned Sasquatch 2010. James Murphy made everyone’s head explode with a too short but brilliant 9 song set. The entire crowd somehow figured out coordinated dancing moves and people danced away as the sun went down. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see their giant disco ball in action. Setlist below:

“Us vs Them,” “Drunk Girls,” “Pow Pow,” “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” “I Can Change,” “Tribulations,” “Movement,” “Yeah,” and “All My Friends.”

Pavement was easily my (Jordan’s) most anticipated band of the weekend. The first song of the night was “Happy Birthday,” sung by the crowd to Stephen Malkmus. He seemed appropriately tipsy. They started out their real set with “Cut Your Hair” which I think was a brilliant choice to grab the attention of lesser fans. They got it out of the way early and continued through a fantastic set of songs from the Pavement catalog. At the time, it was mildly painful to watch them struggle through a couple of failed attempts at “Rattled by the Rush.” Malkmus seemed pretty frustrated and told the crowd, “this is fucking pathetic.” Some of the highlights: “Trigger Cut,” “Stereo” “Summer Babe.” Setlist below:

“Cut Your Hair”, “Trigger Cut”, “Rattled by the Rush”, “Father to a Sister of a Thought”, “In the Mouth of a Desert”, “Kennel District”, “Grounded”, “Silence Kit”, “Date with IKEA”, “Spit on a Stranger”, “Unfair”, “Starlings of the Slipstream”, “Fight This Generation”, “We Dance”, “Gold Soundz”, “Stereo”, “Here”, “Two States” (Tube Steaks), “Range Life”, “Summer Babe”, “Shady Lane”, “Stop Breathing’”

Massive Attack closed out the night. After listening to four songs and watching the accompanying laser-light show, it was time to head back to the camp site. Advice to anyone camping at a summer festival: remember where your camp site is located. It took two hours of wandering around an endless field of tents in the darkness to accidentally stumble into our tent area. Along the way we past countless dance parties and people selling backrubs and homemade foods. What a way to end the night.

Monday:

With the festival winding down to its last day, we were exhausted but pumped to see a solid handful of the bands on Monday. On the walk from the campground to the fest, a bunch of people exhausted from the two previous days were selling their monday tickets in attempts to head home early.

We started out with the British band The Heavy on the mainstage. Kelvin Swaby was energetic and charasmatic despite the small crowd.

We left Past Lives’ set early to catch the Seattle Rock Orchestra, who got the biggest audience participation of any band I saw off the main stage. They played entirely Arcade Fire songs using singers from local Seattle bands. Their set was incredibly high energy and the only time all weekend I heard audience members call out for an encore.

Unfortunately missed Phantogram, but caught Quasi’s solid and nostalgic set straight out of 1990s Portland. Besides a few grey hairs, they maintained all the energy I’m sure they had 15 years ago. Afterwords, we got ready for the dance party about to start when Passion Pit took the stage. I’m a big Passion Pit fan, but we decided to stay above the pit and enjoy their falsetto dance tunes from the grass. Having never seen them live before, their dapper looks and cute polo shirts made sense after revealing their Boston origins. (I naively assumed they hailed from the UK and wore feathers like all the MGMT kids romping around the festival grounds.)

She & Him played one M. Ward original. Although everyone loves Zooey, it made me wish for more from the stoic man in sunglasses.

We only caught a few songs from No Age and Band of Horses. Band of Horses mixed up their setlist nicely with old and newer songs, many of which the audience sang along with.

MGMT put on an impressive show. I have to admit that I haven’t heard much of their music beyond the three hits and once I got over the fact that their other songs are not dance jams, I loved it. Their 70s-rock swoon and adorable crowd banter won me over. We didn’t stick around to see Ween, so MGMT’s sunset send-off capped off the festival beautifully.

Sasqatch 2010 was long, exhausting, and one of the best weekends we’ve had in recent memory. The festival was well organized, the lineup was incredible and the stages sounded fantastic. I only wish they took a hint from the Pitchfork Festival and provided relatively cheap food and drinks. Gross $8 noodle bowls and $9 beers are not cool. (Whiskey hidden in ziplock bags seemed to be a big trend for the weekend.) Overall, however, Sasquatch! provided what music festivals should: new discoveries, epic headliners, and painful sunburns.

Discuss: Did you make it to Sasquatch this year? What were the highlights of the festival for you?