My Morning Jacket, Vampire Weekend, Nada Surf, the National, the Hold Steady, Broken Social Scene. That was your lineup Saturday at the 2010 Sasquatch (exclamation point!) music festival… and those are just the bands that played after 5:30 p.m. Sunday featured LCD Soundsystem. She & Him (pictured) showed up on Monday, sandwiched between Drive By Truckers and Passion Pit and Band of Horses and MGMT.
Does that sound like your iPod come to life? Then you might be into this music festival, Mixers.
The annual Memorial Day weekend throwdown at the aptly-named Gorge Amphitheatre in Central Washington draws a stellar lineup every year, making it completely worth burning your valuable vacation days to attend — at least in this weathered EW.com correspondent’s opinion. Smaller grounds mean lower attendance and plenty of personal space even when it’s sold out; the desolate location and occasionally extreme weather conditions (simultaneously getting rained on and sunburned) mean a minimum of concert dilettantism; the giant hill you have to scale to find food means it’s an effective cardiovascular workout every time you eat a hot dog. The happy hippie environment is the perfect place to let your freak and/or Canadian flag fly — animal hats, tails, and ears abound, as does body paint and the occasional Batman costume. And the view! Oh, the view… got kind of wrecked this year, now that they’ve wrapped the mainstage with thick black masking. It’s ostensibly a safety situation — the Gorge is located near what I can only assume is a very lucrative wind farm — but how I missed looking straight through the stage to the landscape. Still, the view to the left and right was impeccable as usual. Why not spread your blanket out on the hill and stay awhile?
Saturday dawned bright and sorta cold, but the weekend’s best day of bands warmed it up in no time. Grunge old-timers Brad — including Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard on guitar — hit the mainstage for a laid-back set that was somewhat disrupted by a shirtless young man’s desperate flight from the beverage enforcement officers on his tail; when he was finally tackled after making a full lap of the lower hill, the audience booed heartily. Pop partiers OK Go launched their mainstage set with confetti that immediately blew straight back towards the river; up the hill, the Posies reminded the kids about rock n’ roll. Broken Social Scene brought a relatively small staff contingent featuring Kevin Drew, Andrew Whiteman, Lisa Lobsinger, and a shockingly beard-free Brendan Canning, but they drafted musicians from the National and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros to step in for “7/4 (Shoreline).” “You’ve gotta feel good every chance you get,” Drew reminded the crowd, and I’m sure the exhausted beverage enforcement officers cringed in anticipation.
National frontman Matt Berninger’s exquisite pain was hard to take to heart after seeing him wandering backstage with a smiling blond toddler in his arms, plus I’d also just seen his band turn in a splendid set at the Wiltern in L.A. So I walked up the hill to the Hold Steady, where a dude in a neon green body stocking crowdsurfed to “Stuck Between Stations” and the dude who replaced Franz Nicolay at the keyboards explored the uphill side of the learning curve. Jumped up and down to “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” then went back down the hill to pogo to Vampire Weekend and a little “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” That set seemed to conclude the evening for most everyone under the age of 21, so there was unfortunately too much room to spread out for both Nada Surf — playing merry covers of Kate Bush and Depeche Mode songs — and the unique, expansive pleasures of My Morning Jacket. The Kentucky gentlemen didn’t stretch the jams out to four hours this time, but came close to two and a half with a greatest hits set that started with “One Big Holiday,” “Gideon,” and “Off the Record,” then featured a transition from “Smokin’ from Shootin'” into the crashing conclusion of “Run Thru” and “Touch Me Pt. 2” that absolutely ripped my guts out and left me for dead in the best possible way. Danced it out to “Highly Suspicious” and went home past the sounds of Deadmau5 entertaining the remaining youngsters.
Sunday couldn’t compete, but there are worse ways to spend a day than sitting on a blanket, drinking beer, and zoning out to Midlake and the Long Winters, who covered the Dead’s “Touch of Grey” for some reason. They Might Be Giants rocked it with sock puppets, and proved that drunk hipsters and small children respond to the same sets of instructions with the same levels of enthusiasm. (“Everybody clap your hands! Now jump! Jump!”) The teenagers seated around my blanket did a good job of ignoring the crazy music writer belting out every word to “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” “Dead,” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” It’s doubtful many of those teenagers were even born in 1990 when Flood came out. This means that I am old, a distressing realization only enforced by watching everyone on the hill go ballistic during Kid Cudi’s set, including a mass singalong of “Pursuit of Happiness,” a song I know none of the words to. Oh well.
The peppy xylophone geek rock of Freelance Whales and the mournful drone of the xx were the early evening palate cleansers I needed to return refreshed for LCD Soundsystem’s set, now known as The Moment James Murphy Kicked All Our Asses Up One Side Of The Hill And Down The Other. This was one hour of pure AWESOME, from “Us V Them” to “Daft Punk…” and everything in between. “Thanks for not pelting us with food,” Murphy joked, but please let’s not bother with the self-deprecation, sir, for we are too busy dancing. This was 50,000 people having the time of their lives, as evidenced by the conga lines that appeared on the hill, the crowdsurfing in the pit, and the freaked out looks on the faces of security. “All My Friends” closed out the party, and the small pockets of coordinated dance moves that had popped up here and there suddenly took over the entire venue: From the kids on the floor to the folks at the crest of the ridge, the entire crowd was throwing their arms up on the beat — ARMS-two-three-four ARMS-two-three-four — in this explosion of joy and skin and togetherness that, from the lip of the stage, was nothing short of euphoric to watch. For reals: I am grinning just writing about it. I’ll never forget that image, and that, my friends, is why I take vacation time to come to these things.
I wish I could tell you Pavement followed the LCD Soundgasm with fire, but they didn’t quite. It was Stephen Malkmus’s birthday — we all sang to him — and maybe that explains why he sort of seemed like he wanted to be elsewhere. Pavement were never a pretty or delicate-sounding band, but after opening strong with “Cut Your Hair,” things kind of descended into madness. “Rattled by the Rush” took three tries to get going, as Malkmus and Mark Ibold puzzled intently over something involving Ibold’s bass, an awkward moment Malkmus himself called “f—ing pathetic.” There were moments that were worth the ten-year reunion wait: “Silence Kit” was good when it arrived, and there was a cute moment when Bob Nastanovich’s kid stoically took over the keyboard on “We Dance.” “Two States” was fun, and seemed like a good stopping point, but no — Pavement just kept playing, playing, playing, finally ending a crabby version of “Stop Breathin” a good 40 minutes or so after they were scheduled to be done. By the time Massive Attack cranked up the light show, it was time for all old folks like me to be in bed. A friend who stayed behind said the M.A. show was terrific, and I believed her.
Monday! Monday, it rained. Didn’t matter. Temper Trap whipped up the wind at the mainstage, then settled into a terrific dancey groove; when the rain came down harder, the kids just danced harder. Ben Gibbard wandered around backstage in support of wife Zooey “She” Deschanel; Carrie Brownstein, recently of NPR, hung out in VIP with former Sleater-Kinney bandmate Janet Weiss, now on hand drumming with Quasi. At the second stage, the two-dozen-plus members of the Seattle Rock Orchestra exuberantly (if amateurly) covered Arcade Fire songs, sparking a bit of confused sadness among kids who made the lung-busting sprint up the hill for the “secret Arcade Fire set” only to discover a bunch of anonymous musicians doing passable karaoke versions of “Wake Up” etc.
Drive By Truckers provided a reassuring rock n’ roll presence — “Which one’s the birthday boy, she said / I ain’t got all night” might be one of the best first lines in recent rock history — and bassist Shonna Tucker joined Weiss and Deschanel in the small sorority of commanding women on the Sasquatch stages this weekend. (So many scruffy indie boys!) Quasi smashed away atonally, Passion Pit made the kids deliriously happy, and She & Him turned in as pleasant a singalong set as you’re likely to see, with the Chapin Sisters in tow and all traces of Deschanel’s stage fright in the rear view mirror. As sunset started to fall, Band of Horses chased away the chill by frontloading their set with “The First Song,” “Great Salt Lake,” and “Is There A Ghost.” Arms went up for “The Funeral,” and Ben Bridwell went into the crowd, only to find himself so winded when he got back up to the stage that he had to sit down for a second and smile.
By 8:30, the skies were awash in pink clouds and the New Pornographers — like, all of them! — appeared at the top of the hill to close out my weekend. Neko Case joked that shuttles would be coming soon to take everyone to MGMT, but there was never any question that I wanted to end on their high harmonic note, that the last songs in this dreamy mixtape of a weekend would be ones I knew by heart. An inflatable killer whale and one angry glowstick were tossed through the crowd, and the small but happy few who’d eschewed “Time to Pretend” for Canadian power pop were treated to “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” “Myriad Harbor,” and an insanely perfect closing run of “Mass Romantic,” “The Slow Descent into Alcoholism,” “The Bleeding Heart Show,” and “Letter from an Occupant.” I smiled, I jumped, I sang. I felt sorta bad about missing Ween’s headlining set, but I was on vacation, and my feet were tired, and I wanted to go to sleep, so I did. And I sang “Hey la, hey la, hey la, hey la-aaaaaa” all the way home.
Programming note: Your festival correspondent will be back here blogging in a week and a half from Bonnaroo, at which point she will not sleep, ever, in the interest of bringing you complete coverage. Won’t you join her?