The Sasquatch Festival: Day Two
The Gorge; George, WA
As we approached the venue gates
for Sasquatch Day II: The Reckoning, we expected things to continue as
planned. We'd soak up a ton 'o' sun, check out boatloads of bands and, you
know, drink a ton of $8 cans of cheap beer, just like at home, save the
exorbitant price tag.
And that IS how things went, for about 45 minutes. After missing Rogue Wave we
tearfully trotted over to the second stage to catch ex-Pavement frontman
Stephen Malkmus' solo set. We sat on the side at first and were treated to a
magical herbal supplement that tasted vaguely like fake raspberries. YUM!
TASTE THE BERRIFIC GOODNESS! Malkmus was no slouch either, offering his best
impression of a guy that is just too laid back to give a fish-frying fuck
about being a big, shiny rock star god.
Of course, if you're a Malkmus guy you know this actually isn't an impression;
he really doesn't care. His solo CDs wouldn't even have his name plastered
across them if he had his choice. Alas, indie politics are a bitch, and
nowhere was this more apparent than at Malkmus' gig on the – mentioned again
for effect – SECOND stage. Malkmus playing runner-up to Iron & Wine, TV On The
Radio, Arctic Monkeys and – [choking/gurgling sound] Him? JESUS CORSETED
CHRIST, WHERE'S THE JUSTICE?
I watched years ago as Bad Religion opened for Blink 182, and though that
little rip in the fabric of punk-rock history will always be tantamount to
ultimate shittery in my mind, seeing Malkmus stuck on the second stage wasn't
too far removed. But remember what I said above? He doesn't give a fuck. He
and his beloved Jicks played a great little set, touching upon all our weak
spots: high, squealing guitars that make us cover our ears and take notice in
one fell swoop; verses that sound like a slightly tipsy slacker
Thirtysomething ordering a bath pillow over the phone; a sly wit those on the
outside will never fully understand; and lotsa rockin'.
Being a lukewarm supporter of Malkmus' until the sublime Face the Truth
(though I've been told I'm effectively an indie-rock invalid for not having
freaked on the self-titled debut) rocked and shocked my system, hearing "No
More Shoes" in all its squall-heavy glory was an inspirational thing, as was
watching with childlike glee as Malkmus yelled "Suck my kiss!" at the crowd,
remarking, "I've always wanted to say that … and mean it."
Now that he's a proud father – is there any other kind? – and reportedly
"settled down," it's nice to know the nearing-middle-age indie icon remains
capable of capturing his songs in a live setting, though his monotone delivery
is still good for a cringe or two after a full set.
Once Malkmus unplugged his Malkmus and exited Malkmus-left we had a choice:
stick around for Band Of Horses and a few others or head to the main stage for
Sam Beam, Neko Case, and The [gulp] Tragically [double-gulp] Hip [you get the
point; lots of gulping being had].
In retrospect our decision was a flawed one. Sitting in the nicely cropped
Gorge grass and watching as a flock of ominous clouds was herded our way, I
couldn't help but notice that Iron & Wine sounded AWFUL. Well, at least what I
could hear sounded awful; Beam and his traveling band were so quiet you could
barely hear a thing from 50 yards and beyond. And what I did hear I didn't
like. Country- and folk-crimped blues is a mighty fine persuasion if delivered
in the proper fashion, but Beam just couldn't hang, and how could I expect him
too? He's a naked, introspective songwriter trying to play to thousands, so
maybe he isn't to blame. And who's the wunderkind that slated this concert?
Does it take a genius to understand that the more intimate second stage would
have been Beam's playground? Ahhh … But, to tell it like I heard it, Iron &
Wine still sucked big, shiny, decorative balls, no matter which party was
responsible. Fleshing out his one-man songs with a band was a good move, but
his voice struggled to attain the volume necessary for a huge crowd and the
whole full band thing looks a lot better on proof paper than upon publication.
Sorry Sam; please, don't play it again.
Next it was time for some faux kuntry by crooner queen Neko Case, and she was
amazing for the entirety of her set, which turned out to be … oh, 10 minutes
tops. Too bad, Case, baby; didn't you bring your knight's armor? No? Awww,
poor, sheltered rock stars; will you ever learn …
Ok, I should clarify that this is a total in-joke, as a barrage of
bite-sized-Snickers hail rained down on the Gorge like the hand of god before
Case could even finish "My Favorite." Oh, and did I say the hand of
god? I meant a million-thousand hands of god that feel more like
quarter-sized chunks of sleet and ice than one, unmistakable hand of our
ever-elusive creator. DAMN YOU GOD, IS IT SO HARD TO SEE A SEMI-SNARKY MUSIC
REPORTER HAPPY? This was unlike any day-concert scene I've ever witnessed.
Tens of thousands of show-goers cowered under plastic tarps, $10 ponchos, and
blankets. For the first time in my life I envied those lucky souls confined to
a plastic bubble for life. Hell, they were sittin' pretty!
colleague and I attempted to outlast the outrageous storm, but it was a futile
endeavor with none of the above-mentioned forms of shelter at our disposal, so
we ran for the hills, or, more specifically, an overhead shelter. Under this
shelter were hundreds of shivering souls with little room to breathe. Things
even got kinda scary when several belligerent drunks packed into an already
dense crowd, leaving one to wonder what would happen where there was simply no
more room. Cannibalism? A tribal system in which the lesser are stomped like
dogs? Unintentional group sex?
Well, none of these seemingly inevitable eventualities transpired, and with a
knowing wink god blessed us with pelts of rain, which at this point were damn
preferable in comparison to the stinging clots of hail. Our light, sunny-day
concert had turned to a dark, third-world hellhole in a matter of an hour. The
grass, previously packed with people, was now dotted by staunch survivors of
the storm, discarded ponchos (one of which we used for a seat as not to wet
our shapely bums), water bottles, wristbands and mini food trays. It was sad.
It was dreary. It was kinda cool to finally get a good seat.
And so we decided in kind to persevere. Too tired to amble over to the second
stage, we weathered our second shitstorm of the day: The Tragically Hip.
Tragically, they actually weren't really that bad. I mean, they were bad, but
not tragically bad circa Him. They were more They Might Be Giants bad:
You're suspicious of friends that swear upon their goodness, but you'll let it
slide because the keyboards sound kinda cool sometimes and because it's not
like you have to listen to it outside of the occasional ride in their car.
I'll just leave it at that, because frankly dear, I don't give a damn about
The Tragically Hip, and neither should you.
Before I drop several semi-sweet morsels about The Shins' set, I need to get a
few things off my chest. First off, though James Mercer and co. have gotten a
HUNDRED TIMES better at reenacting their Oh, Inverted World cuts in a
live setting over the years; the chorus of "Girl on the Wing" and a few others
are just-plain-cavalier; what's more, I've heard them get it right in the
past. Why not this time? Secondly, there's this GREAT Shins song they used to
play back in the early post-millennium days (at the end Mercer scat sings,
"oh-oh-oh-oh, OH-OH," if that helps), and they've simply abandoned it. Man,
that sucks ass. Thirdly, they played the EXACT SAME songs they cranked through
at Sasquilla 2004. Fourthly, the critics that hailed Chutes Too Narrow
as superior to Oh, Inverted World should be summarily shot in the teeth
repeatedly. Sixthly, Shins keyboardist Marty Crandall looks JUST like Chris
Parnell from Saturday Night Live and no one else seems to notice. What gives?
Sixthly, the above concerns mean precisely shinola because The Shins remain an
incredible band, Mercer a once-a-decade vocalist with a rare combination of
upper-register range and songwriting smarts cum whimsy. A few lukewarm
Chutes tracks notwithstanding, the amazing pitter-patter-plunk-plop rhythm
of "One By One All Day," the slinking synth-accompanied chorus of "Saint Simus,"
and of course the rousing chant of "Hold your glass up" from "Caring is
Creepy" proffered enough sugar-sweet goodness to render the preceding
hailstorm maelstrom a dirty, drippy memory, much like that time you caught the
clap from your elementary school janitor.
At this point, the crowd was informed that Ben Harper would grace the stage
before The Flaming Lips due to undisclosed difficulties. This ended up being a
HUGE deal, as Harper's set literally took 17 years, 321 days, 5 hours, and 37
minutes to end. It folded on itself like an apple turnover; it contracted and
expanded like a temperamental blowfish; it was Eternal like KLF's 3 a.m. and
The Bangles' Flame; it was unbearable.
And I like Ben Harper. Sort of. Well, I mean, I don't dislike his music
in any severe way. But he's just one of those artists to me -- I'll admit he's
talented as long as I don't have to listen to too much of his music or too
much bantering from his "biggest" fan that once shared a nose hair trimmer
with him (!). I bought the double album Live From Mars and shelved it,
save to listen to "Alone" occasionally. A friend once told me Harper is like a
combination of Bob Marley and Bob Dylan (Bob Marlan!), but to me he's more
Wyclef spliced with Dave Matthews: technically talented, and I loved The
Carnival, but c'mon!
His performance at Sasquatch did little to deter my "meh" sensibilities. As
our drenched clothes bonded with our white, bloated bodies a cutting wind
pierced our very souls and whittled away at our resolve. It became an
endurance test, one I'm sad to say we failed: After the 72nd Harper encore, we
uttered a "fuck this" and packed it in for the night.
I figured we didn't miss much. At Sasquatch 2004 The Flaming Lips' visual
extravaganza was blighted by Coyne's failure to hit his high notes. The next
day over Tequila shots a group of rowdy Canadian roughriders told us what we'd
missed: A boy in a plastic bubble, a cover of Sabbath's "War Pigs," and lots
of fake blood. Bollocks.
Would the Third Day of Sasquilla-my-'nilla compensate for the failures of the
second? Would I find the frozen banana of life, the treat that would save me
from damnation? Would I be able to keep my best palcoholic at bay? Would the
bubbling refuse in the outhouses remain enclosed or would it explode from all
the lame vegetarians and their heavily propelled poo? Would the Oilers win and
SHUT THESE GODDAMN CANADIANS UP ONCE AND FOR ALL?
Stay tuned for Sasquatch Day III: Return of the Drunken Gimp.