The Decemberists - The True Monsters of Folk
I fully admit that I didn’t really ever give The Decemberists a fair shot before this concert. When their last album, The King is Dead, came out, I bought it and was pleasantly surprised with it. I was always under the impression that they tried too hard to be epic and were a little too trendy to on my radar. This concert completely changed my perspective. These guys really are as impressive as their fan base claims and their storytelling is probably unparalleled in modern music. There was a good mixture of old material and songs from the new album. The newer songs were crisper live than they were on the album. It didn’t hurt that their stage presence only added to the impressive set. One band member did the first song while dressed as Sasquatch and would later go on to scat to some instrumental playing and then seamlessly move into The Decemberists version of “Your Love” by The Outfield. That was one of the most endearing parts of the concert.
It also didn’t hurt that they had an extra band member along with them for this concert, the ever gorgeous and talented Sara Watkins from Nickel Creek. Funny enough, the most rocking song they performed that night was a song off of her solo album. Her presence added so much to The Decemberists’ sound that I think it would serve them well to bring her on full time. The highlight of the night however was their song, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” which took 7-8 minutes of the whole show. This song would prove to be one of the single greatest live concert moments of my life. Before they began, Colin Meloy told the audience that he needed their interaction at one point in the song. He said, when given the sign, to scream and wail as if you are being eaten by a whale. When that part of the song came, the Gorge sounded with the screams and wails of everyone in the audience. It was incredibly powerful. It didn’t hurt that a thunderstorm was rolling into the area and lightening and thunder were hitting as they were singing this line:
"And then that fateful night
We had you in our sight
After twenty months at sea
Your starboard flank abeam
I was getting my muskets clean
When came this rumbling from beneath
The ocean shook
The sky went black
And the captain quailed
And before us grew
The angry jaws
Of a giant whale”
The sky was literally going black and the thunder provided the sound effects for the rumbling underneath. You could not have asked for a better special effects coordinator than God himself. It was truly amazing and the perfect end to my time at Sasquatch.
Here is the video of “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” at Sasquatch:
Rodrigo y Gabriela - The Acoustic Virtuosos
Even though I was not able to catch all of this performance (because it conflicted with Foster The People), I saw enough to realize that if your end-all-be-all genre of music is acoustic guitar music, then look no further than these astounding players. There really is no need to even look anywhere else, this duo is the Metallica of acoustic music (hell, they even do Metallica covers!). They have done all types of music in their career including metal, street performances, etc., however their most recent manifestation has gained them the most acknowledgment in the world as a musical force to be reckoned with. And they are extremely impressive at what they do. However, …
I (and I assume several others in the world) do not think acoustic guitar music is the end-all-be-all genre of music. Would I rather go see this duo over Dave Matthews? With no hesitation. But, that being said, sitting in this performance (while amazing technically), became boring and repetitive. All of the songs started to sound the same and, to some extent, their talent became formulaic. By the end of the performance, I was ready for somebody else. I can’t imagine listening to a whole album by this duo, because I imagine every one of them would have the same trajectory: first few tracks are astounding, everything after that becomes more of the same. Let me repeat that they are extremely talented, but do I want to hear them for a long period, or buy their albums, or wear their merch? Not in the least bit. They are a single song every once in a while type of band. And I am alright with that.
Foster The People - The Infectiously-Catchy Pop Gurus
I had to haul off early from the Sharon Jones show in order to catch these guys who I knew nothing about except for the incredibly catchy tune, “Pumped Up Kicks.” They were forced into a shorter set on one of the smaller stages because of technical difficulties, but the crowd sounded out once the show began. Admittedly, the rest of the music was nowhere near what I had expected from the band. It was almost a little too pop for my taste. Even though the lead singer is an exceptionally good singer, his vocals had a tendency to become a little whiny at times which gets on my nerves quickly. As a live show, they definitely have a presence and they are a fun band to watch. I have, however, resisted buying their album because none of the other songs really struck me in any way, but when they ended with “Pumped Up Kicks”, it was every bit as good as the studio recording.
Not my favorite concert of the festival to be sure, but give them a few years of experience and a chance to figure out their niche and I think they will have a good career and their live show will only get better. If they happen to be in your town then check them out, but if you must travel or pay a small fortune to see them then don’t bother.
Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings - The Guardians of Soul
In the same vein as other “neo-soul” acts, such as Aloe Blacc, Poets of Rhythm, The Heavy, etc., Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings attempt to deliver the simplicity and nature of Motown and Stax to a new generation. Sharon Jones is a beast vocally and she gets people involved in the show, whether black or white. There was five minute period during their set that she invited a young white college student up to dance with her on stage. It was truly entertaining and the young white guy played along with it like it was planned. The full band was extremely talented and made me wonder what would happen if The Roots and these guys would collaborate. Can you imagine Black Thought flowing while Sharon Jones is slamming down the choruses? That would be one murderous album. I would buy several copies of that and give it to everyone I knew!
Sharon Jones brought the crowd through the whole history of soul music and dance. I have never seen such an entertaining and interactive lecture on the history of a genre of music, but that is what she and the Dap Kings are all about: keeping the spirit of Detroit alive. She could compete easily with Franklin and Staples vocally and she is just one hell of an entertainer. This was just a joy to watch.
Guided By Voices - The Second-Chancers
I had only come across Guided By Voices in print; had never actually heard them. There were no other bands that I was interested in at the time, so I decided to check these guys out. The first sign of the train wreck should have been the appearance of a whole cooler full of alcohol on the stage just for the band. Robert Pollard, lead singer, carried around hard liquor and cigarettes during the generous set length (over an hour?). The pamphlet said that they had disbanded in 2004, but that Pollard brought them back together in 2010 in order to attempt a comeback. They had all either grayed or lost their hair, but they kept their ravenous appetite for alcohol ever ready.
Maybe it was the romantic nature of the second chance that kept me watching a set that went from bad to worse. They played songs that streamed throughout their career. They were punk-tinged with a little note of “we can’t quite pull off all that we used to” inherent in their performance. The extremely small grouping of kids in the pit looked up at what could easily have been their grandfathers and gave a few pity claps and pseudo-mosh pits just to make an unbearable situation a little more bearable. I wanted to endure the whole set to see how bad it got and to see if they could pull their shit together for one last hurrah, because if that is all they could muster in a performance at a major music festival then they were not due for a lengthy comeback. It never happened though. They were steadily bad for the whole set and the train finally landed at the end, derailed and unsalvageable. RIP Guided By Voices, you had your day, but maybe retirement is the smarter option here.
Chromeo - New Wave Pluralism
I had only heard the name of this group in passing before I saw them live at Sasquatch. I didn’t know any of their background or what kind of music they made. So when I showed up in the early afternoon on the festival grounds at the main stage and sat down among the throngs of young people who were still recovering from their last night of lost inhibitions and beautifully wasted dreams, I really didn’t know what to expect. I especially didn’t expect to hear throwback 80s synth and guitar work on top of what could only be expressed as lyrics and vocals that would make Ric Ocasek proud.
The group is made up of Dave 1 and P-Thugg. None of this information would be terribly interesting if it wasn’t for the fact that Dave 1 is Jewish and P-Thugg is Muslim. They are touted as the first band to feature non-warring members from Judaism and Islam (I have yet to check the legitimacy of this claim, but it still makes for an intriguing gimmick point). Then on top of that, they are making 80s music. Its like getting the effects of LSD, without the LSD (or Timothy Leary). There is nothing incredibly astounding about their music except for the fact that one can’t seem to not be moved by it on some level, whether it is to dance (as many there did, and, yes, most were white) or just to live in supreme nostalgia of days past. That is what makes Chromeo so interesting and strangely appealing. They don’t strive to be anything more than what they are. They aren’t The Flaming Lips who attempt to transcend some mortal coil of creativity, but ultimately end up falling apart from the burden. These two guys just wanna have fun and that can be seen by the impressive (though, in the end, overdone) guitar solos by Dave 1 and the synth work by P-Thugg. I don’t think it is necessary to go see these guys live, but you could do worse and I guarantee that you will have some fun.
Modest Mouse - The Bar-Room Brawlers
This was the most pleasant surprise of the whole Sasquatch Music Festival performances. I remember picking up Good News for People Who Love Bad News in college and listening to it for a good two months straight. I had never heard such horrible vocal ability used in such a way that it worked and I actually enjoyed it. His raspy yell and notorious musical abuse worked within the confines of rather subversively happy tunes. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing “happy” about Modest Mouse. They are to the current music world what Nietzsche was to the philosophy world. They had a lengthy two and a half hour set during Sasquatch. Now I am not the biggest Modest Mouse fan, and I have only hear two other albums besides the one I bought in college, so I was not terribly familiar with their catalog, but this concert made me want to buy all of their stuff and devote some time to it.
It may have been that I was extremely tired by the time they took the stage at 10 pm, but the concert, once finished, felt as if I had just gotten done with getting my ass kicked in a bar room fight. My face all bloodied and my thoughts so wound up in rage and pain that I couldn’t think clearly. That is exactly what a Modest Mouse concert is. They are extremely talented and I would recommend to anyone to put down “seeing a Modest Mouse concert” on their bucket list. That being said, its not necessarily a totally joyful experience. Its like you enter into the mind of Nietzsche or Bukowski for an hour and half and you come out of it feeling hopeless and tired of all the bad things in this world. Isaac Brock belts out verses and choruses as if he himself is trying to verbally abuse everyone in the audience. He wants them to feel his pain and his angst about the absurdity of the world. And even though he was on the verge of being trashed at the end of the set (and was slurring his normal talking speech), it in no way affected his delivery of some truly solid tunes. Even if you are not really a fan of Modest Mouse, you should try their concert out. You will be battered and bruised afterward and you will feel as if you just left an existential nightmare landscape which seeps in your soul and creates some incredibly lucid internal dialogue about life and this world.
The Flaming Lips - The “WTF?” Band
I have never been a fan of The Flaming Lips. I don’t think their music is technically, sonically, or creatively very good at all. I think they get a pass from most people because their shows are entertaining and their just plain strange guys. Oh yeah, and it doesn’t hurt that 95% of their fans on consistently using some sort of narcotic to amplify the music and the show. You know what is scarier than that? The other 5% which has no real reason to like this band, but they do anyways. Nonetheless, there I sat, eyes glued to the stage as random, drug-induced images flashed on the large screen behind the band. When that was not happening it was the lead singer’s face. Egoist? I think so.
Besides the strange special effects and lights and images, the music was barely listenable. People complain about Pink Floyd sounding like white noise, apparently they have never listened to The Flaming Lips (who coincidentally re-did Dark Side of the Moon, a massive rock faux pas in its own right).
Probably the most interesting part of the concert was Wayne Coyne ranting about the origins of the songs they played (which was limited to a run through of 1999’s The Soft Bulletin). He took a nice long 10 minutes to explain the stories behind “The Spiderbite Song” which entailed the keyboardist being bitten by a poisonous spider and almost losing his hand as a consequence and the lead guitarist as being t-boned in his vehicle by a loose truck/tractor tire. Then he proceeded to sing the song which was done in a way that it made these events seem like subject matters for sing-along kids songs. What better way to bring joy to all by singing happily about spider bites and loose-cannon tires. Then on another song, he spent about 10 minutes talking about a friend of the band who took his own life and how they never played that song at festivals because of the emotional turmoil it caused for the band. Yet, as he was singing it, this creepy, malevolent smirk crossed his face as if either he hadn’t really cared if that guy died or he had had some part in it. Purely my observation, but it was still a little unsettling. In the end, it seems to me that The Flaming Lips are more gimmick than legitimate band. Go ahead and burn me at the stake right now, druggies! Sobriety tends to have a way of ripping apart the poorly-formed illusions of grandeur.
Flogging Molly - Irish Punk Gods
Admittedly, I have only owned two of their albums, Swagger and Within a Mile of Home, and, really, those are the only songs I know from this band. I am a little more well versed in the catalog of the other highly-acclaimed Irish punk group, Dropkick Murphys. Nonetheless, anytime I get a chance to see a punk concert, I will generally take it. With a charismatic lead singer who drank a tall can of Guinness during the duration of the concert, this band got the greatest response from the drugged out and drunk masses. As they lined up along the asphalt path doing a strange drunken version of the Irish jig to the hard hitting Irish punk tunes, one couldn’t help but have a smile. I am glad they did the song “Devil’s Dance Floor” which is one of my all-time favorites of the band. Other than that, they have a terrific mixture of traditional Irish drinking songs and hard-edged punk jams which kept the concert consistently interesting and entertaining. I would definitely check these guys out again.
Cold War Kids - Kings of the Strange Groove
Considering this was the main band that I went to see, I recorded the set list:
1. Mexican Dogs
2. Royal Blue
3. Audience of One
4. Hang Me Up to Dry
5. Skip the Charades
6. Louder Than Ever
7. I’ve Seen Enough
8. We Used to Vacation
9. Hospital Beds
10. Long as I Can See the Light (CCR cover)
11. Saint John
I have been listening to these guys from the beginning of their career and have always considered them to be one of the more original acts in this day and age. Their first record was critically acclaimed and loved by most, the second one grew more criticism (though I still highly enjoyed it) and their most recent has received the worst critique of all for its over-production and softening of the loose, groovy feeling of their other records. When I first heard the third record, I was not totally disappointed, but it wasn’t the same quality. Then I found out that the producer for Kings of Leon helmed this project which caused me some trepidation on what direction they were heading in their career. However, at the concert when they played their new material, the smooth production was gone and each song had the original CWK sound to it. Which makes me think that the third album was subpar because of the producer and less because of a lack of songwriting on the band’s part. The concert presented all of the reasons why this is one of my favorite bands. They were loose, fun, interactive and on tracks such as Saint John and We Used to Vacation, the lead guitarist’s drunken swagger played into the sound and lyrics of the songs. Much to the crowd’s surprise, they pulled out a cover version of a CCR fan favorite and they gave the song a new life that kept the catchiness intact, but stripped it of the Southern feel. This concert, alone, was worth two hundred bucks, all of the other bands were just bonus.
Reggi Watts - The Hip/Hop Madman of Comedy
This was the first performance I saw at Sasquatch (barring about 15 minutes of Tokyo Police Club) and it set off the two days of music right. Watts has overflowing talent with electronic beats, beat-boxing, hip/hop lyricism and a ravenous humor akin to Zach Galifianakis. “I don’t drink alcohol. I never drink alcohol, because I ingest THC m—-f—-s. Stick to one thing guys, devote yourself to one thing only!” He is a one man show that provided 45 minutes of pure bliss and hilarity. Not only that but the guy can lay down some hawd beats on top of everything else. If you get a chance to see him live then do it because you won’t be disappointed.