The Sasquatch Festival: Day Three
The Gorge; George, WA

[05-28-06]

With Day II
now nothing more than a whitewashed memory, we headed into the third day of
music at The Sasquatch Festival with a clean slate. This was going to be the
big payoff, the setting for dozens of impassioned performances and a
coming-of-age-type epiphany for a couple of young concert crashers. This was
going to make our arduous journey worthwhile and alleviate our worst fears.

Ever the types to "see where the parking lot takes us," we settled in for a
nice drinking session with some Canadians. As normally happens when drinking
with dirty, north-of-the-border brutes, they took us to task, breaking out a
bottle of Tequila with a little flourish. They were expecting us to partake.

I refrained. My last shot of Tequila almost killed me. I took it in the middle
of a Mexican restaurant after being awkwardly serenaded by a group of staff
members who were probably conspiring to pee in my pico de gallo. I forced it
down and began coughing violently, drawing the attention of diners around me.
Tears welled up in my eyes, and snot slowly oozed from my phlegm holes. After
a few minutes I realized I had a bloody nose, my face blotchy and beat-red in
the bathroom mirror. Allow me to clarify: I didn't get in a fistfight or snort
cocaine beforehand, nor had I mainlined Jack Daniels with Nikki Sixx or
headbanged with Andrew WK as a prelude. This one, lone shot was enough to
cause my body to convulse and cough up. It was the very essence of evil, the
sort of toxin that left a guy like me waking up pantsless with a sore ass in
the bed of a bearded, surly looking female midget. Bad things often
happened, too...

Again, I declined to take a shot, instead indulging in a bottle of my favorite
beer on Moz' green earth, Blue Boar. Or, as I like to call it when I'm on a
Fiery Furnaces kick, Blueberry Boat.

My partner in all things Sasquilla decided multiple Tequila shots would be a
great idea, especially at noon. I couldn't argue. Great things always seem to
happen when this guy ties a couple of Chilean monkeys to his belt. His
outrageousness has often made it not only possible but comfortable to approach
strange women in bars. The key? Talk about my drunk friend and what an ass-ham
he is. Works every time. Not that there isn't a dark side; if one of "his"
songs happens to pump from the jukebox he'll lunge around and break shit, and
he once covered his apartment walls with soot when he threw chicken in the
oven and fell asleep. In short, he can strap on a boozebag that'd make Tucker
Max and his entourages seem like giggly junior highers sipping wine coolers.

And now for a sanitation update: By the third day of the festival the bathroom
situation had become dire. Long lines in every direction and soggy bogs of
questionable origin to wade through, punctuated by a smell that only
two-and-a-half days of jettisoned festival food – cinnamon sugar-pies,
gelatinous pizzas, wannabe Phili steak sandwiches, suds –can furnish.

People were slowly growing weary, and not just because of the restrooms. We'd
been put through the ringer many times over. We were the living dead – burnt,
blistered, weathered... we shuddered in fear every time a cloud approached
overhead, flashing back to memories of frozen ping-pong balls that had just
yesterday rendered us nature's punching bag, thumping us on the head every
time we glanced out from behind our umbrellas (if we were lucky enough to have
them).

The first band we saw put an encouraging spin on the day. The Arctic Monkeys'
egos are polished by the press more than silver doorknobs in a lavish mansion
with bored maids, but they can back it up. They jingled and jangled their six
string machines and never let up, picking up the many yards of slack afforded
them by a generally disappointing showing by many of the artists. On an
afternoon when many of the mid-day acts blended together facelessly, the
Monkeys had bite, energy, panache, and flat-out moxie, the sort of high-rise
decadence that we demand from our lavishly buttered-up blokes from across the
pond. We weren't "allowed" to photograph the Arctic Monkeys due to a
Cartman-esque strategy (deny people the right to something and they'll
actually want it sooner or later), but even that couldn't dull the spark.

Nada Surf and The Decemberists followed and... blended in. That's as sanitized
an evaluation as possible. Nada Surf are a nice little outfit, and I've seen
them in the past and enjoyed their straight-laced take on indie-rock, but they
made no impression at all. Furthermore, though they inspired yours truly to
walk about yelling "WOOK AT ME, I'M A BARROW BOY" for a spell, Colin Meloy and
his confederate troops dulled me. I KNOW I KNOW, if you're smart and musically
astute and in-the-moment you're supposed to drool over everything The
Decemberists do without even considering that, aside from The Tain EP
and a pretty good full length (Picaresque), they can be boring as bran
flakes. Hey, I'm not in this for the buzzbin baby; it's all about the goods,
and this Portland band didn't make the grade. At this point I must once more
question the sanity of the committee in charge of plotting out Sasquilla's
lineup, because a little juggling would have cured so many ills. Next time,
look at the bands and play to their strengths! And don't plop Headphones down
on the third stage, for crikey. What the hell was going on during the
Sasquatch planning meeting? Who supplied the whipits? Sounds like fun; can I
come next time? Cripes!

At some point between the start of Nada Surf's performance and the end of The
Decemberists', things got out of hand for the two of us. My concert partner
and I would separate randomly and I'd find him standing over by the Honey
Buckets, smoking a cigarette and circling his head around as if to ward off
bugs that might perch on his ear. Then we began weaving through the crowd to
find a spot to sit. While I walked cautiously, trying to take short, choppy
steps like a young Keith Byars, my counterpart (and on this day my
counterpoint) took a different tact: He started running. Keep in mind that
this was a crowded festival. There was barely a yard to spare on either side
of us; breaking through that barrier meant kicking people in the face or
tripping over their feet.

After miraculously making it 50 yards without incident, he slipped on the wet
grass, stumbled, pivoted, and leaned, suddenly vaulting into the air sideways,
scissoring his lanky legs and kicking straight into a young couple lying
leisurely on a blanket. The poor lovebirds lay in abject shock as my partner
muzzled with them up close. He could have lessened the severity of the
situation by simply getting up, brushing himself off and uttering a quick
apology. Instead he just sat expressionless like he belonged there, the couple
looking at each other then glancing around, trying to make sense of this
strange man with Tequila on his breath – this man lying next to them, nay,
WITH them. And not only has he slammed into and sidled up to them, he looks as
if he doesn't plan on leaving anytime soon. I rolled on the grass laughing 10
feet above for a good five minutes, embracing the orgasmic, whooping, spastic
fit for as long as I could stand.

Finally
I helped him up and rattled a few conciliatory words to the couple, shuttling
my friend off before security was summoned. We settled down in a spot 20 yards
down next to a group of eight or nine young 'uns, 18 years old if they were a
day. Then the harassment started. My conspirator spit out a blubbery,
condescending, drunken laugh every time they joked with one another. Then he
heard his latest hot-button word, "Pasadena," come up in their conversation
and started yelling it over and over in a churlish Mickey Knox accent: "PASADEEEEENA,
PASADEEEEENA... OOOOOOOH" [tinkling fake piano keys with his fingers]. I don't
cotton to this sort of behavior, but in lieu of an inspiration drought I found
it a more than passable form of entertainment. Plus I dig Bukowski and Day III
at times reminded me of a few of his stories.

Following a heated discussion during which I informed my partner that I would
rip his liver out if he left the festival to crash out in his car, we moved
again and settled down to watch Matisyajew; I mean, Matisyahu. Hey, I'm not
the one writing the press releases and hype-heavy features – this group's
Hasidic frontman's ancestry has been discussed nearly as much as his band's
music. Is it really that strange to see a presumably un-circumcised male
perform Sublime-ish reggae-soul with a touch of hip-hop? Matisyahu's showcase,
short of explosive, was quite steady, and if this genre is your bag, you were
swooning like a knock-kneed schoolgirl until the last plunk-riff rippled
through the festival grounds. I came in weary and left impressed, if not
converted.

Upset that I was going to miss Queens Of The Stone Age, I nevertheless chose
to migrate to the second stage for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. DING: right
choice. Look, I'm not even going to dip into the back story of this band for
more than a sentence because it doesn't matter which website discovered whom
and whatever else. [Ah, what the hell: For the record, TMT found CYHSY
cryogenically frozen in David Byrne's meat locker with a tag attached that
read "Open in 2005; contents highly flammable." We then thawed them and
released them on an unsuspecting – and highly impressionable – public and the
rest is indie-rock-by-way-of-Encino Man history. SO THERE!]

The quintet were quite magical, and I was stuck in the way-back behind
hundreds of others. But intensity is tantamount to an affecting live
performance, and Clap Your Hands had it. "Is This Love," with its dippy keys
and frantic pace, along with the stomping chorus of "The Skin of My Yellow
Country Teeth," set the tone. From there we were all theirs, hanging onto Alec
Ounsworth's wiry wail as if it might disappear into the breeze forever. A few
duds aside, CYHSY came through on their end of the bargain. Remember how I
said that hype doesn't mean anything in Part I? The Arctic Monkeys and Clap
Your Hands, two post-Strokes cogs in the machine of death, nullified any
resistance we may have had in light of their waves of posi-press.

From there, the day began to cool into night. It must be written: Early
evenings at the Gorge = Kodak memories that will forever etch themselves in
your brain stem, and Day III upped the anty with the most striking sunset yet
and clear skies backdropping the cavernous Columbia River. I've been to Red
Rocks, and it can suck mine; that's how loyal I am to the Gorge as a venue,
weather-be-damned. With Death Cab For Cutie, the second-to-last band, about to
caress us with gentleness, it dawned on me how crucial they were to Sasquatch
2006 and the Northwest in general. As bad as Transatlanticism was,
Plans
, their major label debut, was nowhere near as disappointing as I
expected at the time, complete with a supremely rewarding re-think of
"Stability" (a great EP track in its own right) as album closer.

Pulling the age-old trick, Death Cab kept the teeny boppers happy with "Soul
Meets Body" and the heavies at bay with the quiet-loud, double-guitar
pleasures of "Company Calls." I interviewed bassist Nick Harmer awhile back,
and he mentioned how impressed he's always been with Ben Gibbard's work ethic
where writing songs is concerned, and that quality shines through songs like
"Movie Script Ending," a hushed meditation that Chris Walla shouldn't have
quick-picked so haphazardly – he looked bored, likely longing to get back to
his mixing boards. As the astounding oranges, reds and purples of the sunset
tweaked our pupils, Death Cab For Cutie put in a workmanlike performance,
though I've seen the quartet close with "Prove My Hypothesis" at least four
times. Luckily they always thrash it out h-h-hard, jumping, kicking and
landing and generally acting like they aren't shy nerd-boys from a rich
Seattle suburb. As Jay might say, "Noise-noise-noise!" One couldn't help but
wonder why Iron & Wine and The Decemberists and others weren't afforded the
same sheer volume by the sound engineers, but that's another article.

Closing out the third day of a heavily populated festival event, my
expectations for Beck were high, perhaps too high. I wanted the enigmatic
style-setter to avoid playing tracks from Guero completely because it
sucks holy-hard ass, and I wanted multiple encores and at least a few cuts
from his record on K, not to mention a few from Mutations. It's
embarrassing how off I was, my instincts whittled down by burgeoning skin
cancer and chemicals. Beck entered the stage to much fanfare, accompanied by a
marionette band modeled after his backing band and him. As fun as the clip of
the marionettes poking fun at festival goers was, it didn't exactly lend
urgency to the proceedings. What we got mostly was his signature stabs at
whiteboy-gone-to-the-crossroads-and-now-he's-back-and-funky routine, but
without the spirited juke-stepping and flair I'd heard about years earlier.
This was a short, scant runt of a set. At Bonnaroo he reportedly pulled more
stops; what the shit? Does Beck hate Canadians? Does he hate the indefatigable
Gumshoe, a legend in his own mind? Does he hate Honey Buckets?

Whatever the reason, when Beck shimmied off the stage we all assumed he'd be
back with bells on, running through a different period in his discography or
bringing on a guest or two; something... anything! It didn't happen, as you
can probably ascertain, and we were banished back to our campgrounds, our RV
parks, our [shudder] lives. Lame.

And that's just about it. If this three-part tour diary from the other side of
the tracks seems a bit labored, perfunctory, occasionally funny, occasionally
scary, and often enthralling, then you've taken the first step to
understanding the levity of multi-day outdoor festivals. I've been to South By
Southwest, bitches, and came away unscathed, but I left Sasquatch a weary,
half-crazy man. Until next year... GO OILERS!




(Day One)

(Day Two)
(Day Three)