Bob Dylan
Bethel Woods Center for the Arts; Bethel, NY


"No Smoking."

I stared, dumbfounded, at a sign bearing this proclamation at the site of the original 1969 Woodstock. No smoking? I'm sorry, but is it possible for the entire staff of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts to have suffered massive memory loss and forgotten just where they were? A girl wearing rhinestone sunglasses strolled past me, talking on her cell phone: "Yeah, I'm at a Bob Dylan concert. Yeah, I dunno, I don't really like him." It then struck me that a more appropriate name for this ... place might be "Woodstock, Inc." Fighting the urge to clap my hand to my forehead, I made my way through a sea of lawn chairs, peering toward the stage. One of those little black dots down there had to be Bob Dylan. The wavering, smoky strains of his voice were unmistakable.

A performance from Bob Dylan these days might be disappointing for those who remember him as the prickly, chain-smoking hipster in D.A. Pennebaker's 1968 documentary Don't Look Back. Still, this show was attended by a sizable amount of twentysomethings (myself included), proving that new generations of us young folks still appreciate this man's significance.

The mass of lawn dwellers (in various states of consciousness, I might add) and the ineptitude of the beverage vendors robbed me of the first few songs, but I managed to settle down on the grass to a fixed-up rendition of "The Levee's Gonna Break." Peering through my binoculars, I noted that Dylan (And His Band) wore matching black cowboy hats. The band's slick, bluesy sound was crisp and a little too calculated, but that crackling voice cut right through it. Bob Dylan would sing however he damn pleased, and we were lucky buggers for getting to hear it.

Still, Dylan can be a nice guy when he feels like it. The crowd-pleasers abounded, with "Just Like A Woman" (which I was lucky enough to hear as I approached the lawn), "Tangled Up In Blue," and "Highway 61 Revisited," though some were barely recognizable as a result of elaborate new musical arrangements and his wandering pitch. A full minute of "Blowin' In the Wind" passed before some of the audience members caught on and applauded appreciatively. "Spirit on the Water," a musing tune from 2006's Modern Times, drove the crowd to shout "NO!" as he sang, "You think I’m over the hill / You think I’m past my prime." I was not one of the chorus, but I was pretty proud of the man for being there in the first place.

Rounding out the encore with "All Along the Watchtower," Dylan introduced his band in a rare show of crowd interaction. He then went on to make this myopic statement: “It’s nice to be back here. Last time we played here we had to play at 6 in the morning, and it was a-rainin’, and the field was full of mud.” A jab at the original Woodstock, which Dylan declined to play? If he wants this aside to remain a mystery, you can be sure that's just how it'll remain.


Animal Collective / Marnie Stern
The Coronet; London, UK


During live shows, some bands like to perform songs that the fans pooled before them have heard before that night — favorites that engage and inspire, setting in motion infectious sing-alongs and a sort of dancing that sheds any indication of self-awareness. Some bands even like to return to the stage for encores. Apparently, Animal Collective does not fall within the ambit of some bands. This is a different sort of group, a truth made evident from just a single glance through their fascinatingly unpredictable catalog (one that includes a collaboration with a British folk singer whose first LP hit wax in 1970 and this year’s polarizing solo album, Avey Tare's Pullhair Rubeye).

Unfortunately, the queue outside the venue was so tremendously long that it prevented me from catching all but the last bit of Marnie Stern’s opening set. I enjoyed what little I heard, particularly, as it tied into her easy stage presence and her irreverent sense of humor. Following her set, she dispensed of her musician persona and became a fan herself, lurking visibly through the darkness on the side of the stage to witness the future of Animal Collective.

Just after 10 PM, Animal Collective spread across the stage in a row of three. Looking like a spelunker with his electronics awash in the light beaming from his headlamp, Geologist occupied the left of the stage, while an unassuming Panda Bear hunched over his equipment on the right. Avey Tare, peering out from beneath a hat cocked coolly to one side, grabbed the center position, leaving himself room to switch feverishly between some sort of equipment standing at the rear of the stage and a partial drum kit parked between Panda and he. Save the drum kit, all of the night’s music was to be generated electronically.

Three songs into the set — just after “Who Could Win a Rabbit,” which followed devastating renditions of “Doggy” and “Hey Light” that had Avey destroying a cymbal with one hand while steadying a bobbing microphone near his lips with the other — Avey announced that the trio intended to perform some new material. The guy behind me quickly called out “#1” (which is, for the uninitiated, one of nine tracks from the forthcoming full-length Strawberry Jam), assuming aloud that we were about to be showered with pieces of the great new record. They couldn’t possibly ignore the fanboy buzz that’s surrounded “Fireworks” during the past week, nor could they escape rocking “Peacebone,” which is slated as the first single from Jam. Well, in typical AC fashion they resisted these seeming inevitabilities, choosing instead to unleash a barrage of even more recent material, presumably to be released at some point, on some label, and in some format. And so went, at least for a bit, the possibility of massive sing-alongs and fits of cathartic fist pumping.

For the most part, the new songs sounded fantastic set against the backdrop of lush and choppy electronic soundscapes. The band was tight throughout, and the audience seemed to really take to the material, despite struggling with a ponderous unfamiliarity. The tracks were properly and expectedly diverse, and they succeeded at keeping AC relevant and exciting for at least a couple more years. When the band finally ripped into some older tunes near the end of the set, the crowd was quick to release the energy it had conserved while the newer stuff ran its course. “Leaf House” was a particularly lively closer. Suddenly, the guy with the black tank top and the terrific odor was not the only fan showcasing some wonderfully awkward dance steps.

Daniel Johnston / Sister Suvi / Dog Day
Zaphod Beeblebrox; Ottawa, Ontario


The question was not whether the pudgy, graying, tentative man on stage should be singing such lovely sentimental, vulnerable pop songs but whether he would make it to the stage that night at all. At least that was the covert opinion of many young scenesters among the crowd for this sold-out show in Canada’s capital city. The artist was none other than everybody’s favorite tortured soul, Daniel Johnston; hence, the voyeur faction was out in full force. Those expecting zany escapades not featured in the special features section of the The Devil and Daniel Johnston DVD would have to be disappointed, but those anticipating a heartfelt set by a truly unique songwriter would leave the venue on cloud nine.

Johnston ambled onto the stage at this club’s ungodly 10pm headline act set time to a barrage of cheers and claps as a man befitting of his “legendary,” “cult,” “outsider” status. Armed with only a battered acoustic guitar, he played a handful (literally) of his sickly-sweet and sentimental solo songs before being bolstered for the rest of the show by a crack backing band consisting of local musicians to great effect, even though more solo stuff would have been appreciated (especially a stint at the piano).

With trusty lyric notebook in hand (“Please keep the lights on, I can’t read my lyrics.”), the man known for delicately balancing his numerous disorders seemed very in control of the show, choosing wisely from his massive oeuvre of songs. Although he could have drawn more selectively from the over 400 compositions, he fed the sheep (including this wide-eyed hack) a great gruel consisting of songs that people would have called out for regardless. “Casper the
Friendly Ghost,” “Walking the Cow,” “Mean Girls Give Pleasure,” “Funeral Home,” “Speeding Motorcycle,” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Your Grievances” were delivered using that same lisped voice and messy strumming that we all have grown to expect and love.

Of course, much of Johnston’s appeal is his vulnerability and the amateurish qualities he brings to the stage -- songs are off-centered, off-kilter, and missing parts; his voice cracks, goes off-key at times -- and it makes it all the more endearing. Earnest, revealing and always emotional, Johnston had the crowd eating out of his hands before we or he had even arrived at the club.

Sister Suvi is a side project of Patrick Gregoire, of Islands notoriety. A trio prominently featuring singer Merrill on tenor ukulele (seriously!) and fiddle, they played an impressive set of jumpy, catchy songs that the audience absolutely adored. I am looking forward to an album release soon, partly to confirm that my scribbled “acoustic female-fronted three-piece Pixies” is still an accurate description of the band but mostly because quirky, confident songs like “Monsters,” “Nothing,” and “Run Run Run” were in my head for days after the show.

I missed most of the opening set by Halifax’s co-ed quartet Dog Day, but I overheard someone saying how much it “rocked.” I believe it. On a night when Daniel Johnston not only made it on to the stage but wowed the crowd and which saw an opening band that had the notoriously staid government grunts and restaurant servers of Ottawa swaying and clapping, I’ll believe anything.

Illustration: Ryan Flynn; full version [here]

Califone / Curtis Harvey / The Bitter Tears
Blender Theater at the Gramercy; New York, NY


The stage was overflowing with instruments. At least six acoustic and electric guitars were scattered across the floor, accompanied by drums, a banjo, classical bass, violin, keyboard, trombone, and trumpet. Before even catching a glimpse of the first act, I had the sense that we were in for a night of good, old-fashioned music making. These days, when it’s common for bands to be accompanied by synthesizers, laptops, and even iPods, such an array of instruments bring to mind a sort of timeless musical ideal. The evening that was to follow lived up to these high expectations, with performances evoking those fantasies we all must have, of secret cabals of mind-bogglingly talented musicians jamming for hours on someone’s back porch in the mountains. I’ve heard Califone referred to as “Americana,” and while for me that term will always be inextricably bound up with vitriolic patriotism, it seems an apt description for the folk and frontier influences that the band embodies.

Before I get too philosophical, though, let’s talk about The Bitter Tears. Three members of the all-male, five-piece band showed up onstage in ill-fitting vintage wedding dresses. The drummer opted for cat ears, and the comparatively tame keyboard player sported a hat and pipe straight out of a 19th century hunting lodge. Their horror-film facial expressions and penchant for falsetto (among other unexpected vocal affectations) were difficult to process at first. Was it all just some big, ironic joke? Well, whether it was or not, The Bitter Tears won me over as they blew through genres, from folk to cabaret and blues to silent film scores. The singer assumed various exaggerated characters, often jumping into the audience, still in that wedding dress, singing and grimacing into the faces of spectators. Though I’m still not sure what exactly I saw, I’m pretty sure I’m glad to have seen it.

Curtis Harvey is a veteran of Rex, Pullman, and Loftus, a collaboration between members of Rex and Red Red Meat, the cult favorite from which Califone evolved. This is all to say that he’s an old friend of the Califone family, a talented guitar player whose sound complimented that of the evening’s headliner. Harvey performed the first few songs solo, beginning by recording guitar parts, looping them, and using the loops to accompany himself. At first I wasn’t thrilled with his lyrics, on standard topics like love, regret, and the passage of time, but these reservations fell away as I got lost in the rich country and blues guitar and Harvey’s smoky, seasoned voice. His set only improved as members of Califone and The Bitter Tears began to join him onstage. I even bought into some of his unadorned lyrics, like the simple, witty, “I heard you started smoking… nice.” Harvey even took the time to teach the audience to sing the chorus to one of his final songs, instructing us to sing along as though we were singing to someone who had wronged us. It was a great moment, with each audience member transforming the personal betrayals that everyone has lived through into something universal.

“I guess it’s not cool, like, rock stuff,” said Califone frontman Tim Rutili, setting the mood for the evening with a heartfelt speech about a mentor who had introduced him to the arts when he was in junior high. As it turns out, that old friend, a bearded fellow named Tony, had recently moved to New York, and Rutili brought him onstage to sing a song and help launch his career in the city. The two men hugged, and Rutili looked like he might have been about to tear up. He was right, of course—it wasn’t “cool, rock stuff,” but it was emblematic of the identity that Califone has created for itself. They have no need for skintight jeans or rock star snarls; their music speaks for itself.

I have long been impressed by the way that Califone avoids and transcends the passing trends and fascinations of the independent music world. The band makes sleepy, gorgeous albums perfect for warm, languid summer nights. Their contemporary, improvisational brand of folk incorporates electronic elements without allowing them to overwhelm the traditional instruments that are integral to each song. Last year’s Roots and Crowns (Thrill Jockey) is probably their best work to date, and I was pleased to see it dominate the set.

They played each song into oblivion, with “Our Kitten Sees Ghosts” transforming into long, rambling jam. Because of its hushed quality, I had worried that Califone’s music wouldn’t translate to live performance, but the band adapted well onstage, producing a far bigger and more saturated sound than I had expected. Standout tracks from Roots and Crowns felt even stronger live, with Rutili murmuring the lyrics to Psychic TV cover “The Orchids” as though they were ancient secrets too sacred to say aloud. Califone, like Curtis Harvey, collected more and more members culled from the evening’s other acts as their set progressed. By the time they performed “Pink + Sour,” towards the end of the night, the stage was packed. I didn’t realize that I could love that song, which turns on the simplest but most exquisitely sour four notes, even more than I already did. Well, the live version, complete with strings and brass, was so good that time just stopped. The song could have gone on for five minutes or two hours. I have no idea because I was completely lost in it. Later, walking back to the subway, I could barely speak, but I did start to understand what Rutili means, in that same song, by “lost my language.”

[Photos: Sean Ruch]

Sasquatch 2007: Day 2
The Gorge; George, WA;

[The Gorge; George, WA]

Any discussion, mention, or, gulp, Review of the second day of Sasquatch 2007 must begin with a description of The Mighty Wind, a harsh tear of bad weather that affected everyone who attended, from the performers to security to lil' ol' people like you and me shivering on the grass. After experiencing a maelstrom of hail the year before I figured I'd snore my way through this year's festivities, and then WOAH-WOA-godDAMN, THIS SHIT IS RIPPING APART MY FLESH, NOT TO MENTION MY BRAND-NEW WEDDING-GIFT TENT. FUCK MEEEEE... WITH WIND!

Capitalization aside, this was some bad-ass wind. We're talking Wyoming-style wind, and for anyone that's been to Laramie and lived to tell about it, that's some serious shit. Worst of all, wind is the most invisible of enemies. At least with rain, hail, sleet, and snow, you can see what you're dealing with. When wind starts blowing, there's nothing to blame. It's like being pushed around by an imaginary friend or slapped in the face by Cosby in Ghostdad. Which sucks. And when the sun goes down, a playful wind suddenly becomes a deadly cooling force, adding an icy chill to already-frigid settings and turning those gleeful festival frowns upside-down. Argh.

Appropriately, I didn't even see it coming. Day 1, save a few unpleasant visions of Blossom with a guitar, was smooth sailing, and then FLOCK ME, I arrived at the Vantage campsite – a few miles from the gorge – Saturday night and realized my tent was fighting for its life. But when it comes down to it, FUCK the tent; I was more worried about getting some sleep. Every time I was about to succumb to Mr. Sandman a fierce ripple of wind would gash my tent. It was like being inside a transparent bicycle helmet and watching a nasty fall from the inside, over and over... which doesn't make any sense really; the gist of what I'm saying is this: without the tent, I would lose all hope of shelter. Honestly, I don't know how the tent survived all night, and as for sleep, I might as well have been trying to catch a few 'Z's in a meat locker on a bed of nails and broken glass; it wasn't happening.

Upon waking up in the morning – presuming we slept at all – we cooked up some kosher hot dogs (which is a whole 'nuther story; turns out I married into a non-gentile family) and tried to prevent sand from blowing into them. We also attempted to make ourselves believe we were having fun. But it was shitty, real shitty, just like all vacations are if you can't smile through the hard times. So we sucked it up and bore the brunt of the weather with, if not good, decent humor. Besides, we had work to do. I'd sooner of met Mr. Cock (the guy that issued us the speeding ticket in PART 1, remember?) at a rest area for some good ol' fashioned dinner jamming than let the elements turn me away from a concert experience. It was time to prove just how dedicated we were by covering Sasquatch 2007 without letting our sandy vaginas (or hot dogs, for that matter) slow us down.

As my wife and I finally walked into the 'non-hip-hop' Sasquatch Festival on its second day I could hear the middling sounds of {Blackalicious} emanating from the main stage. A part of me yearned to mosey over for the possibility of hearing “Chemical Calisthenics,” but I had a promise to keep; after almost seeing {Minus The Bear} about a dozen times, I was determined to finally witness their act in person. Not because I count myself a flagrant fan of anything they've done since their debut record/EP, but because I really wanted to see Dave Knudson, formerly of Botch (making more sense, isn't it!?), molest his guitar like only a true French-tickler guitarist can.

Unsurprisingly, Minus The Bear, save the painfully average vocals, were entertaining in a Chin Up Chin Up kinda way, in a Late 1990s kinda way, in a limited-but-so-what-they're-fun kinda way. And they thrashed more than just about any band at Sasquatch. Their frenzied guitar runs were practically built to please crowds, and Knudson didn't disappoint, weaving his spider fingers all over his fretboard. More than that, seeing this performance allowed me to skip Patrick Wolf's set, and for that I was brimming with surety; I had made the right choice.

I was also thankful for {Bad Brains}, because... they're Bad Brains. No matter how bad their material got over the years (ever heard Rise?), no matter how simultaneously empty and washed-up they sounded up on that Sasquatch stage, no matter how terrible those reggae songs are compared to the Real Thing, no matter how decrepit H.R. looked and sounded, no matter how perversely funny their classic songs are when interpreted 20-plus years after the fact, no matter how sad it was to see a legend debunked, no matter how many people are duped into buying shitty Bad Brains albums looking for the good stuff, no matter how shockingly little Beastie Boys' approval means, no matter how depressing it was to see punk-shirted fans in the crowd trying to make the performance something it wasn't, I can at least say I saw Bad Brains in concert. Hell, if someone asks me what year it was, I can just tell them is was the early '80s and leave it at that. What's more, Bad Brains didn't play any of their latter-day metal jams, which in turn didn't painfully remind me of the other once-punk acts that followed suit after hardcore died down (D.R.I., Suicidal Tendencies, D.O.A., T.S.O.L.)... of course there's always parenthesis for that, eh?

Little did I know the debilitating average-ness of Bad Brains' set would be a relative glimmer of light compared to that of {The Polyphonic Spree}, which comprised what it likely the worst performance I've seen since... man, I can't even think of one. However, before I get to that I had a few things to get off my chest, which I detailed in my noteback as such:

– Holy god, what a lovely surprise! It appears that the folks that produce Chex Mix have added ADORABLE mini-bagels to many of their any-time snacks. Oh they're so cuuuute! I like to take teeny-tiny bites or pretend I'm a giant eating a handful of human-sized bagels. This is more fun than eating the heads off Haribo gummie bears!

– I'm sitting with a bunch of Canadians right now, whom live on an island near B.C. They seem nice enough, but when I told about my scaling of the two miles of steps in B.C. they don't seem to know what the Jiff I'm talkin' about. A strange bunch, these... One of the guys has an 'I Love Hot Moms' t-shirt on, which is cool but does he want to fuck my wife? Pregnancy fetishes are sick but real... They also mention there's a huge noise-rock scene in Canada that I can read about by visiting THIS SITE ( I, of course, tell them that only tinymixtapes covers noise with tha realness and that I'll never mention that crummy Canadian site in my review. Er, well, no, actually I promised to check it out, and did, sorry. At this point I overhear my wife telling one of the Canadians that Blossom's Mayim Bialik is playing a solo set at Ozzfest this year; I realize I've cultivated this joke for too long so I reveal the cold, awful truth: the closest thing to Blossom at Ozzfest will be Static X... which, actually, isn't too far away on the Puss-meter so hey, no reason to fret! Oh, one more thing: The Canadians are insisting I inhale some of their pixie grass, so, not wanting to be a party pooper, I do. Far the-fuck out, man, doobers!

– I'm a total fucking idiot. Just a minute ago Caro and I were kissing in the grass and a random girlie came up to us and asked, "Can I make out with you guys?" To which I instinctively replied, "SURE!!!" Then when she started toward us I saw the look on Caro's face, reconsidered and said, "Well, er, maybe not." The girlie sauntered off, disappointed. I pulled off a last-second save but I'm fairly sure my wife thinks ... hmmmm, not sure what she thinks really but I've possibly gone from being a Kevin Bacon-in-She's-Having-a-Baby figure to inhabiting a John Leguizamo-in-Summer-of-Sam space. Not good.

With a lot of tough choices coming up today I whipped out my official Sasquandary schedule and started making a diagram for Carolina. Stoned for the first time in weeks, I find myself getting downright obsessed with our order of operations. I map things out for her like John Madden detailing an off-tackle sweep, using arrows, underlines, and circles to make my point. When I'm done my schedule looks like one of Robert Crumb's brother's latter-day comics: messy, compulsive and worrying. Oh well, I'm serious about this shit!

– Caro's brother and I are having an argument-slash-conversation about Bjork's lighting scheme from the night before, which was mostly neon green. He calls it “J-lo lighting” and I don't know what in the name of Diddy he's talking about. Is it an unbridgeable generation gap separating our lines of reasoning? Is Caro's brother crazy? And who is this 'J-lo' character I keep hearing so much about? It must be a rapper in Fitty Cent's posse...

And I'm back to deliver the bad news about The Polyphonic Spree. To be blunt, after a brief infatuation with Polyphonic a few years back, I've come to realize more and more just how much I truly dislike their music. Was I lured in by their 30-odd-members-in-robes gimmick, dangled in front of me tantalizingly like an indie-rock baby carrot? Absolutely. Am I sorrowful in retrospect? You bet yer ass I am. The Spree's performance at Sasquilla outlined in florescent Sharpi everything I abhor about them. Their songs mostly sound like even-cheesier -- if that's even possible -- takes on “God Gave Rock 'n' Roll to You” by Kiss from the Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey soundtrack: anthemic, anemic, choral, bloated, lightweight, bright on the outside but dead on the inside. Tim DeLaughter, who gets props from me for his days in Tripping Daisy and his forward-thinking ambition (he did, after all, sorta pioneer the more-the-merrier band dynamic), just looks silly on-stage, inhabiting a million clichéd stances and yelping wayyy over the top of his band, which was, by the way, comprised of only a dozen or so musicians. Not that I care, but that's some false advertising, is it not?

And why did The Polyphonic Spree stop playing? With a few more tunes to build steam, they might have managed to emerge from the drudgery of their first few songs, but with the wind blowing a bit – okay, TONS – DeLaughter announced that the Spree's set was done. He also said something about not wanting to die... what? I can understand leaving the stage amid heavy rain or, COUGH, hail, but... wind? How menacing is wind, really? Who gives a shit? You sure as hell didn't see festival attendees bolting for the gates as soon as a few gales picked up. Although it's possible they were forced to put a stop to their set, I say BALLS to The Spree. Afraid of dying? Shit, I guess people from the Pac. Norte just don't think in those terms. WHAT'S THE PROBLEM TEXAS NATIVE, GET A LITTLE WIND IN YER VAGINA?

With The Spree's set long gone, we trekked over to watch Tokyo Police Club, the only band left standing at this point. It should also be noted that, at some point, Spoon played. I don't know when, but they played. Suffice to say I wasn't there to see it, but that was no huge loss as I saw them as SXSW a few years back and didn't exactly get Freaked. We also managed to see a few {Money Mark} tunes, and I will say one thing about that and leave it alone: If you don't mind G Love, you won't mind Money Mark; however, if you have taste, avoid this fucker like Wal-Mart. No seriously, RUN LUKE, RUN FOR THE HILLS and such. Get my drift? Good.

Back to {Tokyo Police Club}, a band that is demonstrating just how out-of-hand the world of rock 'n' roll is getting. How can a group that formed in 200-bloody-5 have already played the Monterey Pop Festival, formed a fan club, and seen its frontman go into rehab? Has anyone outside the realm of blogger-dom even heard of these guys? Whatever happened to spending years fine tuning your sound and coming of age on trips to Hamburg? How are we going to hear another White Album when most bands have imploded or gone through an antiquated 'experimental' stage by the time they release their third or fourth album? Rock is dead, I tellsya.

Then again, maybe not; Tokyo Police Club ROCKED MY ASS OFF. No kidding, they were tight as a goddamn tiger and ready to spring, then pounce, on the surplus crowd that gathered in lieu of the MLB-style wind delay. I'm not so much a fan of all things TPC; it's mainly a certain point in most of their songs that gets me, where the kick drum starts dropping a fatty four-on-the-floor beat, the synths shift into pin-prick-y overdrive, and bassist/vocalist Dave Monks forgets about his workmanlike singing chores and focuses on diddling his four string. FUCK, maybe I was just desperate for a rawk fix at this point in the day, but I was locked in like the Millenium Falcon following the pull of a tractor beam. Of all the Hype bands I've seen in the ball-sucking Blog era, Tokyo Police Club are one of the only acts that didn't make me want to move to Greenland and start a biker bar in protest.

And wouldn't you know it, Tokyo Police Club even appear to have a sound they could remotely claim to be their own. Shades of this, shades of that, but never so much that you can't see the sun poking out. Monks' voice is serviceable if not superb, and that synth-player guy is the type of dude everyone should have in their band, teeming with enough energy to keep his comrades honest and shouting some pretty decent back-up vocals. As thee Club, ecstatic over their suddenly huge crowd and making the most of it, ticked down their set I gleefully anticipated {The Black Angels}' performance, as I had been spending quite a bit of time with their music. I reviewed them for TMT (what's this? Did I kinda rip them?), interviewed them for a magazine based in New Zealand (coincidentally me mum's home nation), and in the process listened to Passover more than any man would voluntarily listen to anything besides Oh, Inverted World, Person Pitch, or Is Night People.

Come to find out, the Angels' militant '60s drones don't translate all that well to a live setting. Their music, technically superior to Tokyo Police Club's randy workouts, seemed to flail in the wind, losing impact with every uniformly dull drum beat and fuzzy guitar lead. And what of the multi-media feast-for-the-eyes concerts I've heard about? All I saw was a band, and an unconvincing one, at that. Which leads me head-first into another realization: The Black Angels' music isn't really that climactic. Lay down a flippant, purposely droll rhythm, a riff fashioned from the buzz of The Stones' “Satisfaction,” a few ulterior riffs to thicken things up, add some spooky Lou Reed-rippin' vocals – which did actually come off quite nicely -- overtop and you have pretty much every wing the Angels use to fly. Oh, and don't forget to ensure the songs go on forEVER without changing even a wee bit; not a recipe for concert success, especially considering the size and scope of the Gorge, which eats bands like The Black Angels for breakfast and chases them with... {The Dandy Warhols}.

That's right, being the bone/thick-headed asshole I am, I insisted we stick around for the Dandies rather than make the trek to the mainstage to check on Spoon's status. Well guess what, I REGRET NOTHING! Er wait, what the fuck am I saying, of COURSE I regret my choice, as The Dandy Warhols slumped through much of their set. And here I was hoping to come out of this with a new respect for Courtney Taylor-Taylor (puh-leeze) and co.... but how can I not deride a band so obviously aided by studio tricks? Taylor-Taylor-Taylor-Taylor-Taylor-Taylor's voice was deader than wood from a soggy tree, monotone, deeper than necessary and absolutely lacking in the sort of charisma a young, un-hyphenated Taylor must have brought to the stage a decade ago. Did I really expect the Dandies to duplicate the shrill soprano from “We Used to be Friends”? No, but... but... but... it would have been nice to be treated to something even resembling the product pressed to CD.

Even with all their flaws sticking out like a paunchy beer gut (or my wife's pregnant belly) I still found the Warhols' set to be mildly enjoyable. They were one of the only groups at the 'fest with an unapologetically rock sound and stance, and a few of the familiar songs transported me back to the Days of Yore, such as when I turned on MTV one day and saw the video for “Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth” and swore off the Dandies forever. But that's how they hit you; they disgust you, then they annoy you, then they irk you, then they don't impress you, then they fail to Rock you, then they... reel you in, flop on the line as you might. As despicable as Taylor-Taylor seems to be where royalties and other band-related issues are concerned, that's not the worst quality for a band to have. And so I give The Dandy Warhols neither a plus nor a minus; rather, I give them a shrug. And no, I DON'T “dig” on vegan food.

Next: {Interpol}. If you would have told me that, save the obvious highlights (Björk, Beasties), Interpol would be easily the best band at Sasquatch, give or take Grizzly Bear, I would have laughed in your face, spit in your mouth, and probably raped you. But there it was, glaring at me: Totally fucking post-punk excellence, care of a band that has some of the WORST live bootlegs you'll ever hear in your life. Surely, with a paltry four members they'd never compete with the gang-banging of The Arcade Fire, the previous night's penultimate act, right?

Wrong (and fuck you, for the record). Interpol were tighter, heavier, bass-ier, more urgent and flat-out better than the Fire, and Paul Banks' voice, indebted to Ian C. as it may be, flawlessly echoed the sheep-bleating of Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics. To be reasonable, Interpol's songs are perfect concert fare to begin with. They're consistent, each instrument is totally distinct from the other, and there's always a beautifully delicate, usually arpeggiated, guitar flourish at the end to drive home the melody. “Not Even Jail” was so sharp I'm literally getting head-to-toe chills as I think about it and write this; from the verses – which sound like an ominous mission – to the choruses – which sound like that mission's battle sequence – to the TRANSCENDENT instrumental breakdown at the conclusion, this track was so good it was almost sickening. And it was only one song; we were also privy to “Obstacle 1,” “Slow Hands” and a few tracks off the upcoming new album that, truth be told, sounded awkward enough that I'm not even going to analyze them further; Interpol obviously need more time to work out the kinks.

A tad disappointed with the non-inclusion of “Roland” and a few other tracks from the debut and dumbfounded at the stilted nature of the new tunes, I nevertheless cannot find fault with Interpol's set, a pounding, dramatic rendering of songs the indie public – and beyond – have fell in love with over the years. As obsession-affirming as Interpol's set was, it was a little bit of a letdown in that it signaled that another triumphant Assquatch weekend was coming to a close. But it also heralded the arrival of {Beastie Boys}, so it was with a giant bundle of nerves that I got ready to finally witness the spectacle of, as a stoned Canadian might say, “Beasters.”

They did not disappoint. I had a helluva time at their instrumental set the day before, but nothing touches a true-blue Beasties brew of quips, rhyme flips, production blips, and ninja kicks. In addition, considering Beck's limp show-ending puppet charade in 2006, it was inspiring to see such an old group -- I mean, who are we kidding? -- bring the goods. Mike D, MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mix Master Mike flaunted the antics we've all come to expect from hip-hop's first White Light, drilling through classics like “So What'cha Want,” “Intergalactic,” and... “Sabotage”... again? Well, I could have done without hearing a second eagle's-squawk version of their popular hit, but what can you do? Trust me, they made amends...

How they manage to throttle so hard in a live setting is somewhat of a mystery. What separates the bad live hip-hop acts (Cypress Hill, Public Enemy, Beans, from what I could hear, Blackalicious) from the good ones (Kanye West, The Roots, the fuckin' Beasties)? To me, it's obviously the Phun Phactor; the Beasties were kickin' it just like they would in a studio, an apartment building, or shit, a staircase, slanging a casual flow that gains strength as each member feeds off one another. It's Energy that rules the hip-hop roost, not strength-in-numbers, bravado, or whatever else passes for panache these days. Need I even mention the trio's sense of humor? They have the the art of stage banter broken down to a true science, especially Ad-Rock, who seemed to carry with him a schtickl of extra electricity, doing most of the between-song talking and generally infusing the 2007 Sasquatch Festival with a much-needed boost of un-stuffy levity and East Coast hipster swagger. Of course calling Ad a hipster might actually prove just how old I'm getting, so I'll let mah sleepin' dawgs lie, a'ight?

And that's it. Sasquatch. Festival. 2007. Dig it, bitch.

(Day 1) (Day 2)

[Illustrations by Carolina Purdum]

Peter Bjorn and John / Fujiya & Miyagi / Au Revoir Simone
Webster Hall; New York, NY


It’s weird: I had been thinking about Peter Bjorn and John and Fujiya & Miyagi as somehow connected for a while before I heard they were touring together. Though it would be hard to confuse their sounds, both are popular, ubiquitously buzzed-about indie rock bands that released celebrated albums earlier this year. Beyond that, I think it must have been that both band names are comprised of proper names and include the conjunction “and.” Whatever the reason, it just seemed appropriate that they would play on the same bill.

Au Revoir Simone, a local Brooklyn band, kicked off the night. A trio (Peter Bjorn and John later told us that they purposefully chose two other trios for the evening—“a trio of trios!”) of skinny, long-haired girls all playing keyboards and singing in unison, they pretty much screamed “gimmick” from the get-go. It’s not that I didn’t find their spacey, diffuse songs pleasant, but there just wasn’t much to like. All of the ethereality didn’t add up to much substance.

I was looking forward to seeing Fujiya & Miyagi, as I had been playing their Kraut rock-influenced album Transparent Things (Deaf Dumb & Blind) regularly for months. It’s so rare for music to be danceable and have strange, satisfying lyrics that it just never got old. Unfortunately, the band is much stronger on record than it is live. There wasn’t much that singer/guitarist Dave Best could do to punch up his sparse, whispered vocals, and no one in the band made much an effort to interact with the audience. While I continue to enjoy Transparent Things, I don’t think I’d go out of my way to see Fujiya & Miyagi live again.

By the time Peter Bjorn and John took the stage, I had grown a bit weary of the evening’s lackluster performances. Fortunately, the energetic Swedish sweethearts made quick work of redeeming the evening. Their stage set-up seemed to make light of their growing fame (I recently heard “Young Folks” in a Banana Republic outlet in Connecticut where, you might be interested to know, I was not tempted to make any purchases) and critical darling status, with each piece of equipment clearly labeled. There was a “Peter Bjorn and John Drum” and a “Peter Bjorn and John Bass Amp,” while the band performed in front of a curtain with “Peter Bjorn and John Backdrop” emblazoned upon it. Most of the set consisted of catchy, indie pop fare from Writer’s Block (Almost Gold), performed with boyish enthusiasm and ample dancing, both onstage and in the crowd. At one point, John lightheartedly demystified another concert cliché, reading from what may have been the set list and telling us, “The next song will be a soft song, then another soft song, then the hit.” They were true to their word, though a little humble, as the “soft song,” “Amsterdam” was by then almost as popular as “Young Folks,” the “hit.” Peter Bjorn and John see the humor in the indie rock hype machine and aren’t afraid to poke fun at it, laughing with, not at, their ever-growing contingent of fans.