Sasquatch! Music Festival ’11 | Part 2

Each time the dance party reached its peak Watts pulled the rug out from under it by rambling again, and the cycle repeated. It was a totally intentional, genius maneuver.

 

 

 

Wheedle’s Groove

As I walked into the festival on Sunday, a huge group of dudes up on stage had just finished their set and the crowd was booing because they wanted more. The lead singer started talking to a huge security guy to ask for a little more time, and the guys are granted five more minutes for the song. Members of the band started repeating, “Five more minutes for the song,” over and over again. And then the drums started. Then the bass kicked in, followed by a guitar riff, then some horns, and then everyone was partying loudly and chanting along, “Five more minutes for the song!” Then, bang—it was over and that was that. Staged or real, that right there is the reason to experience live music. Even though it was only five minutes, it was worth so much more.

Fitz and the Tantrums

Though the lead singer looks pretty new wave with his bangs covering half of his face, this boy has got him some funky soul power. His voice goes down low and up high, and his band was a tight orchestra of rhythm and blues. They exuded positive energy with their super groovy music that made everyone clap and celebrate.

Like the Head and the Heart the day before, these guys woke the place up in the early afternoon, getting everyone clapping and singing. This time it all came with a whole pile of booty shaking. They brought down the place with a cover of The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” that left me standing in awe at the power of music. Do yourself a favor and check out a studio version on their website; it doesn’t come close to the insane energy generated in the Gorge Amphitheater that day, but it can give you taste.

They closed with their single, “Moneygrabber.” The crowd was ready for it, and the place erupted. Even those who didn’t know the song bounced, wiggled, and ultimately shouted the chorus by the end. See this band whenever you can.

Reggie Watts

Once upon a time, this man was the lead singer of a great soul/rock band called Maktub, which was hailed by some in the early ‘00s as “the new Seattle sound.” Then they dropped off my radar. In 2004, Reggie Watts emerged as a solo artist with an album filled with danceable pop tunes that can be described as the musical child of Hall and Oats and New Order. His live shows involved a lot of looping on the fly. Soon after his album came out, I heard that he had quit music to focus on breaking into the comedy biz. Then I lost track of him.

He was playing at Sasquatch!, so I thought I would check him out. It meant that I would have to miss both Tokyo Police Club and Beach House, but I was going for it. After all, he seems to be something of a legend in the making; based on what I saw, this man is as much of a poet as a comedian. His odd and inspired delivery reminded me of comedians like Zack Galifinakis and David Cross. Wearing a cheesy sweater and sporting his gigantic Afro, he was all alone onstage, rambling like a stoner whose ideas had no cohesive thread. These ramblings would stream out endlessly—sometimes reaching several minutes long—and could hit the point of discomfort. I would love to give a quote as an example, but his torrent of words went too fast.

But these were not the random incoherent ramblings of a crazy person. He knows what he is doing. He knew his audience and he was messing with them. Those who were patient and listening hard heard random musings resolve into interesting philosophical points on all manner of things from commercialism, politics, drugs, and the Seattle music scene to personal organizational systems and poop jokes. As the rambling began to make sense, the live looping started and things transitioned into a song and ultimately a dance party. Each time the dance party reached its peak Watts pulled the rug out from under it by rambling again, and the cycle repeated. It was a totally intentional, genius maneuver. Consult the internet and see what I’m talking about.

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears

I broke a festival rule (again) and saw a band that I have already seen. However, the last time I saw these guys I didn’t know their music very well and they hadn’t released their second album.

And, wow. This band brought another great horn section (see Iron and Wine, Fitz and the Tantrums, Wheedle’s Groove, and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings), a couple guitars, and a charismatic front man with serious guitar chops steeped in equal parts garage rock, funk, and blues. They were hungry and loving every minute it. They took me to “Booty City,” and I was satisfied.

Cold War Kids

For some reason, possibly fatigue, hunger, or overstimulation, I just couldn’t connect with the Cold War Kids. This is funny (and not in a good way), because I was really looking forward to this show, thanks to having recently streamed their live set from Coachella. Sometimes it is all about how you feel in the moment. Cold War Kids, clearly, it’s not you; it’s me.

Archers of Loaf

North Carolina rockers Archers of Loaf toured heavily in the ‘90s, releasing four albums and being hailed as awesome by people who hail. They broke up, and since then leader Eric Bachman has released material both solo and with the band Crooked Fingers. Now, these guys have recently gotten back together and are reissuing their catalog. They are a solid live rock band that would have fit in better on Friday after Bob Mould. The crowd was sparse, possibly because this music, while cool, was sort of shoegazey and angry. This is music for a claustrophobic, dark club, not a beautiful sunny afternoon at the Columbia River Gorge. Since I was already coming off the disappointment of the Cold War Kids, I decided to see if Flogging Molly could perk me up. They did.

Flogging Molly

I grew up in Chicago around a lot of Irish folks. I am part Irish myself. Why would it surprise me that this band is awesome? How did I get this far in life as a music fan without giving this band a listen? So many questions. This band has been around for a long time (since 1997). My new Canadian friends reminisced that Flogging Molly is "all about high school" and used to play on the Warped Tour all the time.

Wow! Seeing them whip the crowd into an undulating mass of humanity was awe-inspiring. Their jigs and reels had everyone up and dancing—from the party people up front to the people crossing the path up the hill to go to the bathroom. People who don’t dance with music like that in the air have no soul, but I’m sure that with repeated listening to Flogging Molly they could grow one (head on over to NPR’s Website to see what I’m talking about).   

Gayngs

I can’t say I disliked this band, but I can say that I was really confused. I found this surprisingly unnerving, and I can’t explain why. I might best equate it to someone not liking popsicles because they can’t deal with the texture of a popsicle stick. These guys are bringing the ‘80s soft rock vibe back to the table with a saxophone, synths, and smooth vocals. Personally, I was glad that sound had left the table. However, excellent vocal chops and talented musicianship are a wonder to behold, and this revolving group of musicians are excellent at what they do.

Oddly, I was never sure if they were being ironic. When a Jack Black lookalike who goes by the name Har Mar Superstar donned a white riding hood while singing a pitch perfect cover of George Michael’s “One More Try,” I felt like it was sort of…funny? Cool?  People were holding up hand signs (“Gayng” signs, I get it) like this was Black Sabbath, Van Halen, or some hardcore hip hop crew. Was this a self-aware musical equivalent to cringe comedies like Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office? Or, if they are sincere and I am not getting it, am I a jerk? I was so distracted by this inner quandary that I needed to get away. Check it out yourself at NPR’s Website.

The Flaming Lips

Wayne Coyne is a crazy person and a legend. He and his band overflow with a joy and gracious enthusiasm that is almost uncomfortable. Coyne entered from under a rainbow through a screen and then walked out over the upraised hands of the crowd in his signature massive bubble, shooting out confetti and balloons. It was clear that this was going to be a spectacle. The plan was for them to play their 1999 classic album, The Soft Bulletin, all the way through. About 30 minutes into the set, there was a pause while some Sasquatch! bigwigs came out to acknowledge and celebrate the 10th birthday of the festival with a birthday song and cool looking cake, which Coyne grabbed several pieces of and threw into the crowd.

The song “What Is the Light” was awesome, both musically and visually, with a thumping dance beat and star-like LED lights that focused into lyrics on the screen for all to sing along. This is not an album I ever listened to, though there were a couple songs I recognized (most notably “Waiting for Superman,” which I actually know because of Iron & Wine’s understated acoustic cover).

Ultimately it was a little too trippy for me, musically. I totally appreciate everything Wayne Coyne does as a showman and songwriter, but I just can’t get behind his vocal performance. Just like the last time I saw The Flaming Lips (at the 2004 Sasquatch! Festival), I couldn’t whip up the enthusiasm that I wished, and that others around me seemed to be feeling. So, for me I guess this was a downer—but Coyne is also a living legend and certainly embodied the celebratory spirit that I had noticed throughout the festival. Check the performance out yourself at NPR’s Website.


Yeasayer

This fun dance party was exactly what I needed after the oddness of Gayngs and The Flaming Lips. I have seen them a couple of times now, and they are solid musicians and consistent performers. They have transformed from indie experimental rockers into a full-on, impressively lit synth dance party. It seems to suit them.

Modest Mouse

I don’t think I ever noticed before, but lead singer Isaac Brock can be an intimidating, scary person. Everything seemed cool for the first few songs until his onstage banter began disintegrating into mumblings. He was drinking and smoking and rambling like the belligerent friend who won’t leave the party and would punch you in the face for suggesting that he was drunk. This is exactly the kind of thing I don’t care to watch. This is an artist who does not appear to be enjoying himself at all.

The thing that really rubbed me the wrong way was just before the encore when Brock disappeared for about 10 minutes. With no indication that this break was coming and no “thanks for listening,” he showed an unprofessional disdain for the audience that reminded me of the Bright Eyes set the night before. But then again, his profession is "rock star" so it is a little bit professional in that context.

On the other hand, this behavior of his is not new. His temper is legendary. And for this band, surly behavior serves the music. I talked to a friend about this show and my disappointment with it, and he commented that he has been obsessively listening to the set on NPR’s website. I checked it out too, and sure enough without the antics of Isaac Brock visible onstage, the music does take on a different, significantly less unsettling texture.

 I don’t always view “unsettling” as a bad thing. When I saw this show, I wanted more of the positive communal love I had experienced that day with Fitz and the Tantrums, the slick dance party of Yeasayer or the professionally raw intensity of the Foo Fighters. But, none of that is what this band brings to the stage. Instead I got a half drunk guy at the end of the bar turning his rants into fist pumping semi-dance parties. That man has demon-infused energy that is impressive and awesomely cool. But, that Sunday night they brought me down. | Tony Van Zeyl

 Photos: Kyle Johnson, Christopher Nelson, and Jackie Kingsbury via the official Sasquatch! Music Festival photostream on Flickr. Check out all of the photos at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sasquatch08/collections/72157626698690947/

 

 

 

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