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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sa-squashed

Posted by Ned Lannamann on Tue, May 26, 2009 at 11:46 AM

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Sasquatch was hot. H-O-T. Not Paris Hilton "hot," but temperature hot. For a mossed-over clutch of Northwesterners who have been shrouded under rain and clouds for the past eight months, the brutal sun at the Gorge this weekend was a shocking jolt into summer. Sure, it was generally nice to be out in the sun, but any shade cover at the 'Squatch was few and far between, and there was almost no chance of relief. A small row of spindly trees dotted the upper walkway, and overheated concertgoers crammed themselves underneath them. When the sun dipped behind a cloud during Animal Collective's generally unimpressive set, the crowd cheered louder than they had for any band. Clothing sweated clean through, energy was conserved, and water was at a premium. It was a weekend of dizzy sunburning and frizzled brain.

But no one ever needed to be in their right mind to enjoy a music festival; in fact, it's better to be a little bit loopy. Freaks and partiers perspired and made their way from the campgrounds—a wild, lawless place—to the festival. There were more of them than ever; indeed, to me Sasquatch felt overcrowded in a way that it didn't last year.

Bon Iver ruled on Saturday night, playing a set at dusk that brought cooling Wisconsin winds to the scorched crowd, despite being plagued by technical difficulties. In fact, indeed the Wookie stage had intermittent problems throughout the day; Passion Pit's set was marred by melting gear, with instruments cutting in and out of the mix. But Bon Iver switched up their setlist to make the best of the limitations. "Blood Bank" was tear-jerkingly magnificent, and a cover of Kathleen Edwards' "Mercury" brought shivers to even the most basted of sunbathers.

Other highlights were St. Vincent's romantic prog, which proved that Annie Clark is one of the only humans on the planet who can be both adorable and badass. And TV on the Radio's music on its own is generally a sweltering affair, blurry with heat-haze; it was a perfect match for the late afternoon sun, perfectly placed against a backdrop of prehistoric cliffs tumbing into the Columbia River basin. Kyp Malone's chin, buried under all that beard, must have been the hottest place at Sasquatch. The Avett Brothers also played an incredibly strong, sweet set that showcased some of their new material. These guys have quickly become a huge band with a massive following, and they have grown right into their role with ease.

The Wrens were perfunctory, but not outright disappointing, while Doves were a clinical anti-show. Seeing their epic music reduced to three ordinary blokes playing onstage was a glimpse behind the wizard's curtain that robbed their music of its power. Of Montreal was the expected spectacle, all the weirder for being slotted in the middle of a festival with other, more ordinary bands surrounding it. NIN and Jane's Addiction were the retro bait that drew many fans to the festival, but both their sets felt unnecessary and overdone, with nothing new to learn from. Kings of Leon were surprisingly comfortable and poppy, playing lots of good older stuff. I missed Murder City Devils' already legendary set (see Line Out's coverage of the fest for more on this, as well as some great pics of the entire weekend; the Mercury was not provided a photo pass), but it sounded annoying from a distance. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, though, were perfectly at home in the vast canyon, their music and personae already larger than life.

The dance/comedy tent was one of the only places to get some needed shade, and it was packed beyond capacity at almost all times. I heard—but could not see—Zach Galifianakis' late afternoon set. It was still funny. He brought out Todd Barry and St. Vincent for an attempted sing-along that collapsed early on, but told some really good jokes, including the one about Axe body spray (which was racist) and the one about Chuck E. Cheese and a sketch pad (which was creepy).

Sasquatch is a constant reminder that it takes a certain breed and mentality to make it through a three-day outdoor music festival. It's a spectacle. For example, a couple was fucking in the grass during the Decemberists' set. Security let them finish before carting them off. You see, the music is almost besides the point, really. Which is a shame, because a ton of good bands play, alongside other bands that you wouldn't normally see. But it's almost impossible for the average attendant to get close to the bands they want to see without crowding the stage in advance; for most, it's a better strategy to sit up on the hill all afternoon and let the music float on by.

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