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Sasquatch 2013: 2 Fast, 2 Furious, 2 Much

Sasquatch 2013: 2 Fast, 2 Furious, 2 Much

IMG_1600Dear Sasquatch,

We’ve had some good times together, but I think we’ve grown apart and I need to see other festivals. It’s not you, it’s me. Well, it’s kind of you. You’re the one who likes Mumford & Sons, charges $12 for crappy beer and thinks Mexican hoodies are cool. I want to come to a festival mostly to hear music, while you mostly want to get crunked, dress badly and yell with your yahoo friends. And your friends are super annoying. What’s up with their clothes? They dress like colorblind bohemians who think they are Native Americans. Bury my heart at American Apparel, right?

I’ll admit I’m attracted to Coachella, whose lineup continually destroys yours. I guess I have to remember that if you were Coachella, there’d be three times as many people, it’d be hot as hell and a dazed, ravenous Lindsay Lohan would be prowling the grounds strung out on horse tranquilizers and flavored vodka.

I don’t know if you are capable of booking big acts like Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z or Daft Punk. Also, I think our tastes are a little different. This year, it felt you listened to a modern/alternative radio station for an hour and picked out a bunch of popular, middle of the road bands. You don’t seem to like rock as much as I do or more niche genres like punk, garage, metal and noise. I don’t think you’ve ever made my ears bleed or my face melt.

Finally, you’re a little dishonest. I mean, you act all indie, but you are run by corporate behemoth Live Nation and you treat music like a commodity and your audience like zombie consumers. Maybe next year you can change your name to $a$quatch, although then some might mistake it for a hot jamz festival.

Then I thought of opening with what I saw a mere minutes after entering the festival: a girl attempting to crash the gate. Wearing boots that were not sensible for running, she made a run for it and was promptly tackled by a vigilant security guard. Welcome to Sasquatch 2013!

IMG_1612Day One: Give Me Younger Us

Upon entering the grounds Friday night, little to nothing felt different than in previous years—same stage set up, same overpriced food and drink, same terrible fashion. The name on everybody’s lips that evening was hometown hero Macklemore. And if you can judge an artist’s influence by the fashion he inspires, than the Mack was the clear winner as there were scads of dudes sporting his shaved-on-the-sides, longer-on-top haircut. Befitting an overwhelmingly white festival, it was not surprising that the first hip-hop headliner was a white guy from Seattle. I skipped his set but hope the irony of hearing “Thrift Store” at a festival that makes you pay through the nose for everything was not lost.

My weekend peaked early as the first band I watched was the one I was most looking forward to, Vancouver power duo Japandroids, still riding high on last year’s best and most aptly named rock album, Celebration Rock. As I entered the photo pit, a diminutive kid growled, “Nobody gives a fuck about your photos.” If you’re already this hostile at 6 pm on the first night, you’re going to have a long weekend, shitbird. Typical for the Bigfoot stage, it took a while to get the sound right, and guitarist Brian King opened the set by saying, “We are a 20 minute sound check from Vancouver.” All was forgiven when they launched into their fist-pumping, beer-soaked, fuzzed-out guitar anthems. They played most of Celebration Rock, including “Younger Us,” which features a line that especially resonated with me this year: “Give me younger us.” The great thing about Japandroids is that their kickass and euphoric music makes you feel younger, at least momentarily. They closed with a blistering cover of the Gun Club’s “For the Love of Ivy,” which ended with King jumping up on David Prowse’s bass drum and playing a few bars of Nirvana’s “Lithium.” Rock on, boys.

A huge “M & RL” (Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis) sign hovered in the rafters over Idaho veterans Built to Spill, a relic from the halcyon days of indie rock, when it was weirder, louder and rarely played on the radio. They put on a good, guitar-heavy meander through their catalog, leaning heavily on their ’90s golden era: “You Were Right,” “Big Dipper,” “Else.” The bros behind me had no idea who they were, which was sad but unsurprising. There was something poignant in their performance, as they were the sole representatives of a strain of idiosyncratic indie guitar rock that is in short supply these days.

Since people will dance badly to just about anything here, it’s a little surprising how light Sasquatch was on dance acts and DJs. Clad all in black and looking a little like a young Dave Gahan, Matthew Dear may be the heir to the cool indie dance throne James Murphy abdicated. Backed by a three-piece band, Dear was a charismatic presence, offering up dark, massive, irresistible grooves, which briefly turned the El Chupacabra tent into the darkest, coolest club in the black city. It peaked late with the excellent “You Put a Smell on Me” and was one of the few sets were I felt momentarily connected with my fellow concertgoers.

I caught the last 25 minutes of Vampire Weekend, who were flanked by Corinthian columns, perhaps a joke about their Ivy League image, which they’ve fully embraced. I’ve seen them before and was eager to hear songs from their quietly excellent new album, but they mostly stuck to the first two albums, closing with the rush of “Walcott.”

Interlude: Top Ten Sasquatch Icebreakers

1. Pick someone and ask, “Okay or not okay?” That dude puking in the El Chupacabra tent? Not okay.
2. Is that an outfit?
3. Follow up to 2, is that ironic?
4. Alternate follow up to 2, do you think you’re pulling that off?
5. Were you even alive in the ’80s?
6. You know those Mumford guys aren’t even related?
7. Is this Yakisoba bowl local, artisanal and sustainable?
8. Do you want to dance like nobody’s watching with me? But did you know God’s watching? And he thinks you’re a shitty dancer.
9. How old do I look?
10. Do you think Honda or Sharpie is a more rock ‘n’ roll sponsor?

Bonus: Scream “This is the best festival evaaah! Sasquatch Bitches! Whoooo!” Then high-five someone and pass out.

IMG_1623Day Two: Jackasses Yelling Shit at Each Other

So at least half the crowd dresses like hippies/bohemians, but they project less of a peace and love vibe and more of a douchey, clueless one. Plus they throw their trash all over the beautiful Gorge, text and take pictures of themselves during sets and don’t bother to say “excuse me” if they hit you with their massive backpack or smash your foot on the way to the beer tent. Narcissism is not whimsy.

Saturday was a long and poorly paced day, with nothing interesting until the late afternoon. Erstwhile beard folk guru Devendra Banhart, now comparatively clean-cut and thinking he’s some kind of bossa nova musician, got the afternoon off to a listless start. I didn’t know what to expect from “Parks and Recreation’s” Nick Offerman, who came on stage shirtless and bearded. He soon donned an American flag shirt and performed a mixture of anecdotes, comedy and songs, all done in the gruff, yet avuncular deadpan style of his semi-iconic Ron Swanson character. He closed with a pretty solid full band version of Cypress Hill’s “Hits from the Bong” (featuring wife Megan Mullally) and “5000 Candles” (aka “Goodbye Li’l Sebastian”).

Divine Fits were one of the most unheralded bands playing, although any indie fan should rejoice over this project of Spoon’s Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner, late of Wolf Parade and the Handsome Furs. Superficially, the two don’t seem to have much in common musically, but they found the common ground between Daniel’s sharp, tightly wound music and Boeckner’s yelpy, wilder style. On stage, Daniel remained cool and reserved, while Boeckner was more unhinged, happy to share an anecdote about being high on mushrooms. They traded off lead vocals on songs from their debut album and performed great covers of one well-know song (Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky”) and one excellent obscure one (The Boys Next Door’s “Shivers”), which ended the set on an intense, emotional note.

The common consensus is that Sigur Rós is a little too difficult, a little too abstract to be a festival band. Sure, I’m not a huge fan and admit that at 11pm at night I wasn’t really in the mood for slow-building 10-minute songs that are often sung in a made-up language that sounds like something Tolkien created, but I was proved wrong. The stage was scattered with light bulbs on stands, and surreal video projections played behind the band. Eleven members strong, including strings and horns, the Icelandic group brought majesty, beauty and strangeness to a festival sorely lacking in all three. I also love that a) you can’t possibly yell out requests (“That one with the angelic vocals that I can’t pronounce!”) and b) you can’t sing along. It was the only band of the festival that required some concentration and some patience, but it rewarded you with epic, swelling songs that sounded like little else on this planet. Because good music isn’t always easy.

elvisDay Three: Enough with the Damn Banjos

So why is everyone suddenly in love with banjos? Is Deliverance streaming on Netflix? You think the festival would be content with one representative of the baffling, popular, strum-y, shout-y, largely acoustic pop music (I won’t dignify it by calling it folk, but I will call it faux-folk or fauxlk) that is all over the radio, but, no, they booked arguably the two biggest bands of this movement: Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers, who were playing Monday. I think one is British and one American, but I was worried that their members might run into each other during the festival and forget which band they were in. Mumford is insanely popular and I had to justify many times why I was skipping their set. It’s not that I don’t like them, I just think there’s so much better music, and liking them, like liking Coldplay or Jack Daniel’s, means you’re not trying hard enough.

I went in early for Torche, one of the few metal bands of the festival. This is traditionally a genre Sasquatch shuns, so it was refreshing to hear some aggressive music. Although they drew a small crowd and weren’t quite up with the Big Three of Indie Metal (Mastodon, Baroness, High on Fire), their heavy riffs, fast tempos and guitar solos were a welcome respite from the happier, dumber music that people like.

On the big stage, was Danny Brown, a Pitchfork-approved rapper who, like another up-and-comer, Earl Sweatshirt, has yet to fully justify the hype. Brown is an alternative to thugged-up, blinged-out hip-hop. With his “lost a fight with a lawnmower” haircut, missing teeth and thrown together wardrobe, Brown cuts an amusing figure and has an enjoyably screwy stage presence, much of which consists of sticking his tongue out and flashing the devil horns. The hiperati was quick to embrace him because he has a bad haircut and sampled This Heat, but he’s not as original as he is made out to be; lyrically he doesn’t venture far from weed and sex, both of which he really likes. One refrain was about smoking “blunt after blunt after blunt after blunt,” which, frankly, is overkill. He also proclaimed himself “the black Brad Pitt” and did a number about cunnilingus. Still, he created a frat party vibe that the young crowd dug and, really, that’s what this festival is about.

Elvis Costello and the Imposters (2/3rds of the Attractions) were the rare act catering to the coveted 35 and above demographic. Maybe the oldest performer (58), he boasts the deepest catalog and was a consummate professional, despite the indignity of playing for a polite, but clueless audience and being sandwiched between the popular, crushing mediocrity of pseudo-hippie Edward Sharpe and Mumford & Sons. For me, this was the most nostalgic set of the weekend, leaning heavily on his great, early run of albums, covering Johnny Cash and Nick Lowe, knocking out some deep cuts and closing, somewhat predictably, with the vigorous, inspiring “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Some of the vitriol may be gone from classics like “Lipstick Vogue” and the dark “I Want You,” but Elvis still delivered them with edge and passion, and his longevity and eclecticism is an admirable lesson for the kids.

I’m content not to get Grimes, who sounds to me like a Japanese cartoon and looks like an art school drop out/thrift store version of Bjork, but I can appreciate that someone so quirky, so kooky can command a large audience. Flanked by dancers, Claire Boucher gleefully pranced around stage, chirped out songs from her lauded breakthrough album Visions and got the crowd dancing. She is on her way to being a quintessential 21st century indie pop star. It was my last show of the festival and, fittingly, I felt a little old, out of place and happy to be heading back to the campsite, where whiskey and cigars awaited. Did I have fun? Yeah, I saw some great bands. Am I exhausted? Absolutely. It’s not that I can’t hang with the kids (well, maybe I can’t), but that I don’t want to anymore.

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