Based on the strength of the lineup, and the fact that it was expanded from a one-day to a three-day event, I had some pretty high expectations for this year’s Sasquatch Festival. The lineup included a slew of worthy bands — TV on the Radio, Trail of Dead, Band of Horses, Stephen Malkmus, the Shins, Iron & Wine, the Decemberists, Constantines, the list goes on — so I knew I had to prioritize. The festival was held at the beautiful Gorge Amphitheater in Central Washington from May 26 to May 28, and there was, as I expected, no shortage of adventure and pleasure. Sure, there were some disappointments (Headphones, the Arctic Monkeys, Ben Harper and his fans), but the experience left us desperate for more. Here’s what I liked most about this year’s Sasquatch:
10) The Department of Safety: Okay, this venue in Anacortes isn’t affiliated with Sasquatch in any way, but we stopped here on Friday to catch a raucous set from the Thermals, and the band blazed through material from both albums. The venue was once a fire hall, but now it hosts shows in its garage and sponsors an artist-in-residency program and other quirky projects. Nothing screams Northwest indie rock like the Department of Safety.
9) The Gorge Amphitheatre: The Gorge is so beautiful it’s retarded. No matter where you’re standing, you can see the stage, and you can usually see the insane scenery behind it. Playing here is a treat for bands, and it comes through in their performances. Nothing like a stupidly amazing backdrop to complement some of today’s best bands.
8) Chad VanGaalen: The set from this Calgary-based artist was nothing special, and I even found myself getting distracted at times, but it was perfect for the sunny Sunday afternoon. Like his record Infiniheart, VanGaalen’s performance was driven by subtlety.
7) Neko Case: No matter what anyone else says, I’ve always found Neko Case to be a little scary. That’s why the thick black clouds that rolled in during her set made a perfect backdrop to her brooding death-country. When the black clouds turned into a forty-five-minute hailstorm halfway through, however, the music was postponed for two very cold hours. We were able to find cover in an indoor dining area, where we watched the musicians get pelted by golf-ball-sized hail onstage.
6) Beck: Sara and I paid a lot of money to see Beck in Vancouver right after Guero came out, and the show was kinda boring. That’s why it was amazing to see him kick out the jams as the festival’s closing performance. Not only did he cover the Flaming Lips and Air, but he had a miniature stage set up with marionettes acting out the entire performance as it unfolded. During the intermission there was a hilarious video of the puppets hanging out all around the venue and getting massages in their tour bus.
5) Laura Veirs: Laura Veirs writes awesome songs and is an awesome guitar player and has an awesome band. She was super humble and played a full set with killer jams from Carbon Glacier and Year of Meteors. Awesome.
4) Death Cab for Cutie: I used to go see Death Cab for Cutie play at the Western Washington University in Bellingham every once in a while around the time We Have the Facts and Are Voting Yes was released, but I soon grew weary of the band. So I was pretty much blown away when the members started their loud and energized performance. Playing material from all their albums, the band members showed an incredible amount of diversity that peaked when they threw guitars at their amps. If any formerly indie band deserves its arena-rock stardom, it’s Death Cab for Cutie.
3) Sufjan Stevens: Sufjan Stevens‘s performance was the main reason I wanted to attend Sasquatch, and because of that I had high hopes. With his full band of Illinoisemakers and a rousing though short set, it was far from disappointing. With kitsch levels to the max, the band was drenched in pseudo-patriotic garb and inflatable icons of American consumerism (Superman, Santa Claus, Uncle Sam) were heavily employed. Later that day at the merch table, a girl was eyeing a “Come On! Feel the Illinoise” T-shirt. She turned to Sara and me and said, “I’ve never heard this band, but I really want this T-shirt. Do they rock?” Astonished by the question, all I could say was yes.
2) Jamie Lidell: Armed with his equipment and his impenetrable British wit, Jamie Lidell‘s performance was one that I will never forget. I’ve always heard about his legendary live shows, but to witness it for the first time at a place like Sasquatch was an utter treat. Keenly refusing to replicate his records in a live setting, he sampled his own voice and beat-boxed versions of tracks from Multiply. Performing at noon was flustering for the man, but he was spot on, delivering the second-best performance of the weekend.
1) Architecture in Helsinki: The first band we saw at Sasquatch was also the greatest. At precisely 1:20 p.m., the eight Aussies in Architecture in Helsinki crowded onstage and belted out joyful noise from both In Case We Die and Fingers Crossed, as well as some new material. Brash, charming, and exuberant, Architecture in Helsinki made the five-hour drive to the Gorge worth it within a half hour of getting there. Rarely do bands as distinct and positive as Architecture in Helsinki come along, and seeing this band live was a celebratory experience, to say the least.