Alabama band St. Paul and the Broken Bones will leave the Northwest with lots of new fans.
QUINCY — The weather and music gods both bestowed favor on the Sasquatch! Festival at the Gorge Amphitheatre. Fans enjoyed sunny, 80-degree days and an eclectic lineup of headliners that featured excellent Northwest bands — and a couple of surprises — Friday through Sunday.
Sasquatch! kicked off Friday with a program that included sets by Seattle all-female bands Sleater-Kinney and the raucous Thunderpussy. The crowd was swaying during the latter’s opening number, “Stuck,” and became even more animated when the band covered Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused.”
Saturday afternoon The Budos Band sported an excellent horn section and at the same time slot, on a different stage, the Seattle band the Young Evils brought a girl group vocal sound to an upbeat pop mix. Lead singer MacKenzie Mercer, who told the crowd she’d left her laptop on top of her car on the way in from Ellensburg – then a car ran over it – was surprisingly sanguine about her loss, as she imbued her set with offhand ecstasy.
One of the surprises of the afternoon was the theatrical Columbus, Ohio, duo Twenty One Pilots, whose album “Blurry Face” is expected to ascend the Billboard charts. Lead singer Tyler Joseph combined speed-demon rapping with brisk, Brit -pop melodies. He was so kinetic, if you blinked you’d lose him, as he raced across the stage, leapt over his spinet piano and swaggered on top of it.
With the rampant rise of electronic dance music, one might have thought the death knell of guitar rock had long been rung, but this year’s Sasquatch! argued otherwise.
The power trio of New Orleans guitar shredder Benjamin Booker flooded the main stage with Jimi Hendrix-heavy feedback and over at the more intimate Yeti stage Chicago guitarist Ryley Walker cranked up a 12-string with jangly open tunings.
Nashville’s unfortunately-named Diarrhea Planet came with four – count’em, four – electric guitars, closing with an elated cover of The Who’s rousing “Baba O’Riley.”
Guitars were again on tap with the infectious Vermont trio King Tuff (signed to Seattle’s Sup Pop records), with Kyle Thomas’ snarling vocals adding a personal touch.
Father John Misty has moved away from Seattle, but his set late Saturday still seemed special. His act is partly artifice, but his earnest folk rock — more guitars! — still struck home. “Glad to be back in my home Gorge,” said the new Los Angeles resident.
In other genres, crisp L.A. hip hop duo Dilated Peoples got the Bigfoot Stage crowd pumping fists as the group cleverly rhymed “Muhammad Ali” with “Salvador Dali” and protested our troubled times with the lyric, “Love is love, war is war. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”
Over in the enormous, hot-and-sweaty El Chapucabra dance tent, Seattle’s formally inventive Perfume Genius (Mike Hadreas), wearing all black and some red lipstick, swayed with svelte, gender-crossing confidence as he registered his own protests, which ranged from a shriek that the “the planet is in trouble” to short, stop-and-start stutters of lovelorn confusion.
Early Saturday evening, the sun went behind a cloud. It was the perfect weather for the moody, heartland pop of Philadelphia band The War on Drugs. The darkening sky fit Adam Granduciel’s dense treatises on loss, sung mostly with eyes closed. “In Reverse” may have been the entire festival’s bleakest song, but it also was one of the best.
Later Saturday evening, Portland band the Decemberists also explored moodiness, though Colin Meloy’s voice made it go down easily. “The Island” a haunting tale of murder and mayhem, conjured the band’s balladic background and “Down by the Water” was a particular highlight. But with the sun setting just then over the river, how could it not be?
Later still, at the main stage, Issaquah multi-instrumentalists Modest Mouse revisited its odd blend of muscle (lead singer Isaac Brock) and twee (dit-dit-dit-dit riffs).
As usual, the majority of the huge crowd wanted to finish off the night dancing cheek by jowl in the tent. Seattle’s Odesza gave them a throbbing beat and spectacle to help them celebrate, splintering the hot air with synthesized sound and blinding laser beams. Periodically, four columns of smoke arose in front of the stage.
Earlier that day, Mercer of the Young Evils had shouted out to the Sasquatch masses. “Make this the greatest weekend of your life.”
The crowd appeared to be taking her advice.
On Sunday, Shovels and Rope created a big sound for a two-piece, though their inspiration was more Johnny Cash than White Stripes. At the comedy show in the dance tent — a Sasquatch perennial — Aparna Nancherla killed with an inspired route that riffed on models (“self-esteem pickpockets”) and online dating responses (“I really like hairy Indian women,” one guy told her).
St. Paul and the Broken Bones had only played one tiny Seattle club show before Sasquatch!, but their stirring, gospel-influenced R&B revue — think horn section, Hammond B3 organ and a singer who won’t stop until every audience member is aboard — won thousands of new fans. Their cover of Sam Cooke’s “Shake” was the weekend’s dance-party highlight, and the fest’s young crowd seemed to know this was a band bound for stardom.
Robert Plant and the Sensational Shapeshifters were the headliners on Sunday night, an example of the cross-pollination that is the festival’s greatest charm. Plant, old enough to be a grandparent to most in the crowd, was the perfect pick for an event playing to hip-hop-loving youth and fans of legacy artists.
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Said Whitney Petty, 30, a member of Seattle’s Thunderpussy, before the set: “I can’t wait to see him in this setting. This will be exactly the kind of moment that makes Sasquatch! great.”
The festival concludes Monday with an outstanding hip-hop lineup including Seattle’s Porter Ray, Run the Jewels, Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar.