Sasquatch Music Festival, at the beautiful Gorge in George Washington is a wonderful commitment. The ticket price can be considered steep but it is well worth it for 4 full days of nonstop music and entertainment. Sasquatch has five different stages including the El Chupacabra dance tent, the Honda Bigfoot Stage and the spectacle of the main stage overlooking the great Columbia River. There are over 120 different bands on the schedule covering almost every genre of music.
California-based Sea Wolf kicked off the day with a set of upbeat folk on the Bigfoot stage. Sea Wolf is singer-songwriter Alex Church’s brainchild, which is evident due to the lyrical focused song style with undeniably catchy vocals. Church’s backup band really helped Sea Wolf stand out as each member rotated double-duty percussion with maracas, the tambourine and shakers while the electric guitarist rang unique rhythms and the keyboardist dabbled in old-time polka. Their set started out slow with drowned in lost love songs like “Priscilla” but ended strong with a passionate performance of “Black Dirt” and single “Old Friend,” a song which begs to be featured in a network TV family drama.
Up next was Portland’s Red Fang, a metal outfit that the audience wanted and needed. The crowd chanted for the group during sound check and when checking the vocals the singer asked, “Are you ready for me to yell at you?” to which the crowd responded with a challenging roar. Red Fang is the kind of group that will convert people to the dark side. They have unfiltered power, mixing metal, doom and punk influences into a fist-pumping, beer-chugging, all-out rocking time. Immediately a mosh pit swarmed the front of the stage with people uncontrollably crashing into each other. Broken glasses, bags of food, spraying water bottles and human bodies were projected out of the chaos, yet everyone was smiling and enjoying the thrill. Fan favorite and closing track “Prehistoric Dog” barraged the crowd with purposeful feedback before hitting lightening bolt guitar riffs and pulse pounding bass. Those who knew the lyrics sang and everyone else jumped; everyone united in celebration of face-melting metal.
Guitar/drums punk duo Japandroids played next, and while they demonstrated a trademark passion and energy their performance was off. This may have been due to the fact that it was the first day of a new tour but the two were not in synch. The vocal outbursts seemed random and chaotic. Japandroids even restarted “Younger Us” because they could not hear each other. It might be time for them to start thinking about picking up a bassist if only to deepen the sound in situations like this.
Indie-rock legends Built to Spill tore up the main stage in the best way they could. Is it possible for a band to be as modest as Built to Spill? Doug Martsch and company have a charismatic casualness they could be your uncles, yet when they jam, they are gods. Opener “Goin’ Against Your Mind” kicked it into gear with railroad stomping guitar crescendos. Built to Spill have the guitar capabilities similar to Dinosaur, Jr., yet they create pop hooks and identifiable lyrics that make their songs appealing for diverse crowds. Some were singing every single lyric while others were playing air guitar over their heads. Old hit “Joy Ride” got the crowd dancing, while they used other songs like “Big Dipper” and “Carry the Zero” into extended jams. After every few songs, Doug Martsch would gaze into the crowd, look surprised and say, “Oh, thanks”– as if forgot he was playing in front of 30,000 people.
British rockers Arctic Monkeys played a loud set on the main stage, featuring songs off of each of their albums. Arctic Monkeys began their career as England’s side of post-punk revival, but in recent years they have created heavier American-rock sounds and their performance really exemplified this. They opened with brand new song “Do I Wanna Know?” which bucked hard with every note followed by 2012 single “R U Mine?” Frontman Alex Turner uses his sexiness for all it’s worth with classic rock star stances, gelled hair and classy suit, always pointing to the females in the crowd. Their performance lost some momentum when playing a series of songs from 2011 album Suck It And See, which were slower and lacked in a real emotional drive. But Arctic Monkeys really nailed old hits like “Dancing Shoes,” “Fake Tales of San Francisco” and “Brainstorm”. As darkness ascended with the setting sun, they played “Pretty Visitors” with the accompaniment of a thick red and white light show. In the song, the guitar sounds absolutely evil while the drummer methodically pounds out solos and the keyboardist blasts ancient horror. Arctic Monkeys carry a mixed bag of sounds but always remain energetic with professional hooks.
Vampire Weekend headlined the Honda Bigfoot stage with their signature preppy-pop rock. Vampire Weekend is a fairly young band but many of their songs feel like classics. The crowd knows every lyric and sound effect on “Oxford Comma” and participate perfectly on the “One (Blake’s Got A New Face),” singing in call and response. These college graduates recently released Modern Vampires of the City and those tracks elevate over many of the other influence-based pop songs. New single “Diane Young” got the crowd excited but not as stoked as established singles “Cousins” and “Holiday”. The unfortunate aspect is that Vampire Weekend commanded the Sasquatch main stage a few years ago, but while playing the Bigfoot they seemed less important. There were some technical sound problems and annoyances in crowd space but they still were on point in quality.