As some of you may already know, I was fortunate enough to attend the Sasquatch! Music Festival over Memorial Day weekend. Sasquatch! is a three day concert filled with nearly 100 alternative, indie, hip-hop, electronic, and folk artists spanning three stages and one comedy and dance tent. I was able to see 25 of those bands, as well as four comedians. Since this is, you know, a music blog, I will only be reviewing/summarizing the musical acts that I saw. I also have some shitty pictures to go with this post. A link to the 160+ photos can be found at the bottom, so you’ll be able to read my reaction and see a bit of what I saw at this amazing festival.
Before I get to the write-up, I should reiterate that Sasquatch has three stages (Main, Bigfoot, and Yeti) and one comedy/dance tent (Rumpus Room). However, the stages are not as simple as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, so here’s a bit of information that you might need to help better understand the set-up.
Main Stage- Pretty self-explanatory. The Main Stage is the stage used for non-festival shows at the Gorge, and bands run all day. There is a pit area for people who want to get close and stand, as well as a huge lawn area where attendees can sit. Both are general admission, and it’s easy to see and hear even from far back on the lawn.
Bigfoot Stage- In past years, this was called the “Wookie Stgae,” and was essentially a second stage full of bands not famous enough to be on the Main Stage. This year, things were a little different. Most of the bands on the Bigfoot Stage were every bit as famous as the one’s playing on the Main Stage, and as such it was extremely crowded throughout the festival. The Bigfoot Stage also had late night electronic acts on Saturday and Sunday.
Yeti Stage- Formally a stage for local bands, but this year there were some fairly famous non-Seattle artists playing. This stage was also more crowded than in year’s past, but the hillside seating made it very easy to sit and relax while still having a great view. The food court surrounds the stage, so there were a lot of people passing by throughout the day.
Rumpus Room- For the first half of the day, this is a tent for stand-up comedy. After 7:00, it turns into a dance tent. We saw a few comedians here, but never checked out the dance portion.
So without farther delay, here is my write-up for Sasquatch! 2010
Sunday, May 29
Brother Ali- Main Stage (1:10)
I got into the venue just in time to see Brother Ali, quite possibly my most anticipated artist of the festival. Ali is an amazing underground rapper who puts more passion into his music than just about any other artist in music today, and that comes through even clearer in his live show. The self-proclaimed “street preacher” mixed beautiful storytelling with some serious flow and an inspirational message. He spoke to the crowd about his love of music and life, and that same passion came across beautifully in the music he played. A large portion of the crowd seemed to have discovered Brother Ali for the first time during his set, and by the end people were chanting for an encore.
Minus the Bear- Main Stage (2:15)
Minus the Bear are local favorites here in Seattle, and as such they drew a rather large crowd. They started off slow, but after a few songs they broke into their more interesting material. At their best, Minus the Bear are one of the most unique and even technical bands in indie rock, and they showed that during the latter half of their set. The songs sounded simple and catchy, but much of their music is rather difficult to play, and there were more than a few moments where I was thoroughly impressed by the band’s musicianship. As someone who attends a lot of metal shows, it’s rare for an indie rock band to impress me on that level, so I give Minus the Bear a lot of credit for that. I just wish they had played their best material from the start.
Portugal. The Man- Bigfoot Stage (3:00)
Portugal. The Man had the misfortunate of being the first band I heard on the unpleasant Bigfoot Stage. The place was so crowded with drugged indie fans that there was hardly any room to move, and it was hard to hear the music over inconsiderate hipsters talking loudly amongst themselves. Once some of the crowd left to check out Brad on the Main Stage, P.TM were a lot more enjoyable. The music they played was simply astonishing, combing the best of indie and progressive rock to create one of the most unique sounds of the entire festival. The musicianship was fantastic to say the least, and they played music from a variety of different albums. It was great hearing personal favorites like “My Mind” from 2007’s Church Mouth, and it certainly helps that no two Portugal. The Man songs sound alike. They probably would have earned a 10 if it weren’t for the annoying crowd.
The Middle East- Yeti Stage (3:45)
I really enjoyed the debut EP from this folk rock group, so I was excited to check out their set. They overlapped 15 minutes with Portugal. The Man (The Middle East started at 3:30, but I didn’t actually see them until 3:45), but I definitely felt like I got my fill of them in the half hour that I saw. They essentially just played their music, most of which were songs featured on the aforementioned EP, but it wasn’t very different from just listening to their studio work. The music was good, the lyrics were great, and it was nice and relaxing, but The Middle East were far from a highlight. I look forward to seeing this band again after they get a full album under their belt and have a wider variety of material to play.
At this point, we headed to the Rumpus Room to watch comedian Patton Oswald. I won’t review his set since there wasn’t any actual music to critique, but I can say that I laughed hard and often during Mr. Oswald’s stand-up routine. I recognized a few of the jokes from his recent comedy album, but most the material was new to me, and even the jokes that I heard before were still hilarious the second time.
Broken Social Scene- Main Stage (5:35)
I’m a pretty casual Broken Social Scene fan, so while I was expecting their set to be good, I knew that I was going to recognize very little of it. I was right on both accounts. Broken Social Scene were very good live, as they played a pretty wide variety of music, even to the point where certain musicians were entering and exiting the stage after every song. I imagine that someone who enjoyed their studio music more would have loved their set, but I still remained attentive and entertained throughout.
The National- Main Stage (7:00)
Despite playing to a crowd of thousands of people, The National managed to make their set feel intimate. They said very little, but played beautiful and chilling renditions of great tracks from their last three albums. I’ve criticized the Sasquatch crowd a few times already, but The National made me feel as if I was the only person listening. That’s the sign of a great live band.
The Hold Steady- Bigfoot Stage (8:00)
Knowing that I’ll have the chance to see The Hold Steady again in August, it wasn’t a hard decision to watch all of The National’s set and miss the first half of The Hold Steady’s. I ended up catching 30-35 minutes of this band, and that was enough for me to know that they are one special live act. Their songs are very lyrical, so vocalist Craig Finn’s clear part-talking, part-singing style worked exceptionally well live. The Hold Steady put on an energetic hard rock show, and the songs took on new meanings live. The Stay Positive album came out around the time I was hospitalized in 2008, so the stories were almost a form of therapy for me. Hearing hundreds of voices simultaneously yell “We’ve got to stay positive” over the same blazing hard rock music that I listened to during the the first stages of my recovery was a real highlight for me, and one that will stay with for me for the rest of my life.
Nada Surf- Bigfoot Stage (9:00)
I admit that I’m not the biggest Nada Surf fan, but I definitely felt like they were the best band playing in their time slot (Vampire Weekend and Dam-Funk were the other two). Unfortunately, their live set made me rethink that. Okay, I hate Vampire Weekend, so maybe not, but Nada Surf was still surprisingly awful. They apparently released a cover album recently, so instead of playing their own music, their set was filled with the cover songs from that album. I have not listened to the album, but I don’t plan to after hearing the songs performed live. The first problem was that the songs they picked were as generic as could be, but they also played them quite poorly. This was the third time I’ve seen “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode performed live, and I’ve never seen Depeche Mode. They even ended with a cover, or a cover of a cover to be exact (The Clash’s cover of “I Fight the Law” by The Crickets). This was a just a bad set all around, and I ended up playing Uno with my friend and his brother in the back.
Deadmau5- Bigfoot Stage (11:30)
Due to Deadmau5’s ridiculous light show, it was impossible to take a decent photo. Still, you can sort of see the amazing mesh of lighting that this stunned crowd got to witness. Oh yeah, and the music was good. Actually, the music was far better than good. There were so many subtle things that Joel Zimmerman, the man under the hilarious LED helmet, did that made my jaw drop. I’ve never seen an electronic artist mix so cleanly live, especially one creating so much of the music on the fly. The way that he played with tension was absolutely brilliant as well. Deadmau5 read the crowd and created the music based on the reaction and energy level of the audience. When the crowd started getting tired, he would slow things down and build the beat back up as people started moving more. I was simply amazed by Deadmau5’s talent, something that I don’t usually say about a dance musician, and the set was just a ton of fun all around. The group I was with decided to skip My Morning Jacket and stand for well over an hour at the Bigfoot Stage in order to get the best possible spot. The long wait, combined with the absolute insanity of the set pretty much killed my feet for the weekend, but there’s no doubt that it all was worth it.
Sunday, May 30
Caribou- Main Stage (12:00)
While many of the attendees were fighting hangovers and long entrance lines, our sober group was able to get up early and catch Caribou’s excellent set. Dan Snaith and his live backing band mostly played songs from Swim, Caribou’s latest album and one of the year’s biggest disappointments for me, but thankfully the songs sounded a hell of lot better live. Much like Deadmau5, Caribou expertly played with tension, building up and breaking down sounds left and right, while Snaith played with the distortion and effects. It was like watching a heavy electronic show re-created with live instruments, and it was definitely a great way to start to day.
Martina Topley Bird- Yeti Stage (1:00)
Martina Topley Bird had to deal with technical problems throughout her set, but she made the best of it. She used a loop station to set up various instruments before each song started, leaving her to play piano and sing the lead vocal parts. Unfortunately, the loop station would go in and out, and she was left having to re-loop parts in the middle of the song. Eventually, she gave up on the loop station entirely, and did something I had never seen in a live set before. Martina held up the instruments she had played into the loop station, and asked if anyone in the audience knew how to play. A few members of the crowd rushed up to the stage and were handed an instrument. After instructing them on what to play, the former members of the audience joined Martina for an epic closing song. Somehow, the last minute guests maintained the beat and finished the song without any mistakes. Even with the technical problems, Martina’s talent made the set enjoyable, and the ending was one of the highlight’s of the festival.
There was 50 minute break between the end of Martina Topley Bird the start of next artist on our list, The Tallest Man on Earth. For reasons that I cannot remember, we ended up going to the comedy tent to check out Luke Burbank, a comedian that none of us had ever heard of. His first joke was pretty funny, but things went downhill from there. My friend and I decided to leave early and try to get a good spot of The Tallest Man on Earth, even if it meant doing nothing for a half hour.
The Tallest Man on Earth- Bigfoot Stage (2:35)
If you haven’t figured it out from the photo, The Tallest Man on Earth is a rather ironic name. Even though we weren’t too far from the stage, it was hard to get a good picture without some heads in the way. Still, The Tallest Man on Earth put on an excellent set. He reminded me a lot of Bob Dylan, only he’s a much better guitar player and his vocals have more passion live than anything I’ve heard from the folk rock legend that he’s clearly influenced by. At times he seemed nervous though, especially when forced to talk the crowd while tuning for the next song. Regardless, this was one of the best folk sets I’ve ever seen, and I expect he will only get better as he gets more comfortable on stage.
They Might Be Giants- Main Stage (3:20)
The crowd was probably more divisive for They Might Be Giants than any other band I saw over the weekend, but I thoroughly enjoyed the ridiculous set of this long-standing novelty band. I mean, how can you hate a band that performs such classics as “Your Racist Friend” and the award winning children’s song “What is a Shooting Star?” Plus they put on a puppet show in the middle of their set.
We took another trip to the comedy tent at this point to check out Mike Birbiglia. I wasn’t as familiar with him as I was with Patton Oswald, but I liked what I had seen on the internet, and he definitely won me over live. After his set we moved around a bit trying to avoid The XX and Tegan and Sara, two bands that I really can’t stand. After Tegan and Sara ended their set, we headed over to the Main Stage to watch LCD Soundsystem.
LCD Soundsystem- Main Stage (7:00)
I had heard nothing but good things about LCD Soundsystem’s live show, but their set at Sasquatch far surpassed my expectations. In my three years of attending this festival, I have never seen any artist even come close to getting the crowd support that James Murphy and company received. Just about every person in the audience, even those far back on the lawn, was standing and moving with the music. The songs were beautifully performed, and I had chills down my spine during the closing epic, “All My Friends,” which ranks among the absolute best live songs I’ve ever heard.
Pavement- Main Stage (8:30)
It’s nearly impossible to adequately describe Pavement’s influence to indie music. They were one of the first bands to be classified as “indie rock,” and just about every band in the genre to come after has been influenced by them in some form. It’s been over a decade since Pavement has played together, so it goes without saying that their set was one of my most anticipated of the festival. They did not disappoint. Their set list was absolutely perfect, as they played all of my favorite Pavement songs, including some of their more obscure gems. They even ended their set with my three favorites all in a row (“Summer Babe,” “Shady Lane,” and “Stop Breathin”). What more can be said? It’s Pavement, and it was amazing.
Public Enemy- Bigfoot Stage (10:00)
After Pavement, we quickly hurried over to the Bigfoot Stage to catch what may be the most well known artist of the entire festival. Public Enemy are one of the greatest and most influential hip-hop groups of all-time, and even though they weren’t anywhere near as sharp as they used to be it was still great to see such legends in concert. Their set was full of energy, even if the music itself lacked some of the passion that made their early albums such classics. Flavor Flav is somehow still alive and doing his thing, although I’ve never understood what exactly Flavor Flav does. Chuck D is clearly the man who makes Public Enemy who they are, and I would have liked to see him rap more of his parts without Flavor Flav’s slightly annoying hype man antics. Regardless, it was a ton of fun, and I can scratch Public Enemy off of my list of artists to see before I die.
Massive Attack- Main Stage (10:45)
I admit that I was initially a little disappointed by Massive Attack. Their set was incredible, but not quite as incredible as what I was expecting. They usually bring out guest vocalist after guest vocalist for festivals, and with all of the amazing singers they’ve had on their albums, it was a shame that they only had three guests. Martina Topley Bird and Horace Andy appeared numerous times to fill in during Massive Attack classics, while Deborah Miller sang flawless renditions of “Safe From Harm” and “Unfinished Sympathy".” All three vocalists were great, especially Deborah Miller, and the backing music being recreating with live instruments was downright majestic. However, I felt like Massive Attack’s set list was a little too safe. They played their more famous songs, as well as the ones that the guest vocalists had recorded with them in studio, but they never really branched out. There were no surprises, and considering the wide variety of quality material that this band has put out over the years, I felt like they could have put on a much more diverse set than the one they played.
Monday, May 31
The Heavy- Main Stage (12:00)
I liked The Heavy’s album quite a bit. Hell, I even ended up buying it a few months ago. Still, I was not expecting them to be one of the best bands of the weekend. This is a band that has been gaining popularity of late with their song “How You Like Me Now?” being played in Kia commercials, and I expect that they won’t be playing opening sets at noon for very much longer. Their set was a stunning mixture of funk, hard rock, and blues, and it’s rare to see a band so tight musically have so much energy. I loved every minute of The Heavy, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this one of the best rock ‘n roll sets I’ve ever seen live. I even found myself throwing up devil horns, something that I never do at non-metal shows.
After The Heavy, we headed back over to the Rumpus Room to watch Hannibal Buress. I laughed more during Hannibal’s half hour stand-up than I did during any other comedy routine of the festival. This man is quickly becoming one of my favorite comedians, and even amongst all of the amazing music this was one of my favorite moments Sasquatch! 2010.
Phantogram- Yeti Stage (2:00)
Phantogram were kind of “dark horse” band for me. I’ve been listening to their debut album quite a bit recently, and it continues to grow on me. I expected that I would be blown away live, and blown away I was. The duo seemed very comfortable on stage, and the music they played was simply fantastic. Their sound is a very dark and ambient form of electronic music, and it translates excellently to festival setting. I sat and relaxed, almost in a cold trance, while every note sent chills through my body.
Quasi- Bigfoot Stage (3:25)
This is now the second time I’ve seen Janet Weiss live (first as the drummer for Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks), and she was even better the second time. Next to Gene Hoglan and Neil Peart, Weiss is my favorite drummer, and far and away my favorite drummer in alternative music. She is known mostly for her work in Sleater-Kinney, one of my personal favorite indie groups, but I also consider myself to be a big fan of Quasi. I didn’t recognize many of the songs that they played, but I loved every single one nonetheless. They had a ton of energy, and Weiss was an absolute beast behind the kit. This is was easily one of the heaviest sets of the festival, as well as one of the most remarkable. Oh, and the other two members (multi-instrumentalist Sam Coomes and former Jicks bassist Joanna Bolme) were good too.
Dr. Dog- Bigfoot Stage (4:30)
To put things simply, Dr. Dog kicked ass. That’s really the best to describe it. Their psychedelic hard rock mesmerized the crowd, and I ended up enjoying this group a lot more than I expected to. That’s not to say that I wasn’t expecting much, as I consider myself to be a fan of their studio music, but I definitely wasn’t expecting them to be as great as they were. These guys were a ton of fun live, and they somehow managed to keep me moving despite Deadmau5 killing my feet two days before.
The Mountain Goats- Bigfoot Stage (5:40)
I’ve always thought of The Mountain Goats as a very mellow folk group. I even looked them up again after getting home just to make sure I wasn’t crazy. Nope, these guys are just very different live. They came out with a ton of energy and got the crowd moving. I definitely wasn’t expecting that, especially with many of their live songs being stories about alcoholism and cautionary drug tales. It was kind an ironic set list for a festival like this one, but they were great nonetheless.
Band of Horses- Main Stage (6:40)
Band of Horses might be my favorite band that I don’t own an album of. All three of their studio albums are a strange mix of some of the best indie rock I’ve ever heard and a just as many tracks of boring filler. For their live set, Band of Horses took out all of the filler and played a set list that could not have been any better. Needless to say, they were phenomenal. This is one extraordinarily talented band, but their music works so well that no one member ever stands out. With that being said, their vocalist was probably the highlight of the set, as I was blown away by the power of his voice and the clarity of the words he sang. I could understand every beautiful lyric, and I was simply blown away by what this band could do live.
The New Pornographers- Bigfoot Stage (8:20)
I was completely worn out after Band of Horses, so I decided to sit back and relax during The New Pornographers. Despite not being able to get a photo, I thoroughly enjoyed their music, even more than I thought I would. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this indie supergroup, The New Pornographers are a group of eight talented indie rock musicians, many of which have become more famous for their solo projects or side bands. Because of this, it’s rare to see The New Pornographers have all of their members on stage at once, but that just so happened to be the case here. They played a wide of variety of music, letting all eight members show their talent, and they played a surprisingly tight set for a band with so many people.
Ween- Main Stage (9:30)
Ween was far and away my biggest surprise of Sasquatch! 2010. They were headlining the entire festival, but despite being a music critic and a huge indie fan, I am ashamed to say that I had never heard of Ween. In my attempt to look them up prior to the festival, I only found a handful of clips, none of which really stood out to me other than the awesome songs that they did for Spongebob Squarepants. Still, I had a feeling about Ween. I wasn’t going to leave early, and that may have been the best decision I made all weekend. Ween are now one of my favorite bands. I’ve been listening to them obsessively since I got back home. My friend and I both ended up buying albums at the CD booth set up by the Main Stage, and plenty of other people had the same idea as us. I now own three Ween albums, and feel horrible that Sasquatch was my proper introduction to what I would describe as an awesome combination of Frank Zappa, The Residents, and Pavement. They’re kind of an avant-garde progressive indie band with some serious musical talent and lyrics about crude and nonsensical subjects. Ween turned out to the perfect way to end the festival, and highly recommend that anyone who has yet to have their mind blown by this genius band go and listen to The Mollusk and Pure Guava as soon as possible.
As a whole, Sasquatch! 2010 was an amazing festival. The music was awesome, the comedy was hilarious, and the venue is still the most scenic and beautiful in Washington. I only wish that the crowd was without a few inconsiderate douchebags. I mean, is it too much to ask for people to take five steps to one of the many thrash cans located throughout the venue to throw away their garbage. Or how about people turn their obnoxious dance music off before 4:00 in the morning? For some reason, I’ve never had the urge to talk loudly amongst my friends during a set, but plenty of other attendees did. Regardless, the music more than made up for a few idiots, and I can say without hesitation that this was one of the best concerts I have ever been to.
The 166 photos that I took during the trip can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2056834&id=1000257268&l=2d3a57cc8a