The mainstage, closed by high winds most of Sunday, reopened in time for The Cure, Allen Stone and Alabama Shakes, but not in time for Seattle’s Tacocat, who had to play indoors, and Leon Bridges, who just set up and played in the grass.
GEORGE – One of the attractions of the Sasquatch! Festival, which ends today (May 30), is its spectacular setting on the east rim of the Columbia Gorge.
But the beautiful scenery bit back Sunday, with high winds blasting across the river, shutting down the festival’s main stage for nine hours and nearly forcing the cancellation of three of the festival’s biggest draws – comeback kids, The Cure; the soul stirring Alabama Shakes; and Seattle’s blue-eyed soul man Allen Stone.
In the end, festival producer LiveNation weathered the near-disaster with poise, keeping in touch with its patrons via Twitter as it announced the cancellation of some acts (St. Motel, Frightened Rabbit, Houndmouth), moved others to smaller venues and got the main stage open by 9 p.m., just in time for scheduled appearances by Alabama Shakes and The Cure.
In a year when attendance was down – by as much as 5,000, according to vendors and employees (LiveNation does not officially share attendance figures) – the winds were particularly disappointing, especially since the programming was artistically excellent, if not chock-a-block with Billboard-charting hitmakers. At one point Sunday, a wildfire also blazed within three miles of the festival, sending a brown haze up behind the Bigfoot stage, but it was quickly contained.
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Seattle’s cheeky feminist surf punkers Tacocat, originally slated for a “big break” slot as the noon opener on the main stage, were philosophical about their transfer to a later, indoor slot.
“That gave us time to get drunk,” joked Tacocat’s lead singer Emily Nokes, who added that when they were optimistically setting up on the big stage, a tech asked if they were the “backup dancers” for the next act.
Uh, no. In fact, they’re a band that pillories clueless guys like that with songs like “Hey Girl,” about street harassment, and “Men Explain Things to Me,” which she good-naturedly dedicated to the fellow at the main stage.
The dance tent setting actually worked better for Tacocat’s intimate humor and the band probably drew a bigger crowd for its crisp, catchy, melodic set there than it would have on such an early outdoor slot.
It was a day of just such serendipitous surprises. At the amphitheater lawn, soulful singer-guitarist Leon Bridges, whose performance had been lost to the gale, suddenly turned up on the path halfway up the hill and delivered a short acoustic set. Thousands of fans flocked to the lawn to hear him and though he was barely audible, when he bulked up his voice for a repeated chorus of “Take me to the ri-ver…” the crowd sang along in what was a sweet moment.
Other delights over the course of a decidedly mixed day included Portland’s Jessica Dobson of Deep Sea Diver, wailing out a dark, pining “Always Waiting” and a bouncy “You Go Running” on the Bigfoot stage. At one point Dobson assured the crowd she wasn’t crying, just tearing up because of the dusty winds.
Canadian singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco also charmed the Bigfoot crowd with his good-natured cross of rootsy rock and new wave edge, closing his set with the romantic “Still Together,” then crowd surfing across the breadth of the audience.
Seattle coed punk-pop trio Wimps, at the Yeti stage, offered a characteristically tight, funny and fun set, involving blunt, hyper-literal tunes from its Kill Rock Stars debut, “Suitcase.” Also on that stage was Bully, one of Nashville’s most significant non-country exports of recent years. The band had ‘90s alt-rock revivalism on lock, recalling Clinton-era radio faves Green Day and even a little Gwen Stefani in frontwoman Alicia Bognanno’s explosive vocals.
Londoners Savages gave a passionate, post-punk performance at the Bigfoot stage, providing a much-appreciated jolt at the peak of the midday malaise over the main stage situation, as the band took unexpected left-turns into Krautrock and Scandinavian black metal.
The Gorge grounds are designed to prevent sound interference between stages, but a couple of groups transgressed the topography in a way that bordered on the oppressive. Angsty Scottish crooner James Graham of The Twilight Sad saturated the area with such a wall of agonized whining that the stand-up comics in the dance tent, Lauren Lapkus and Todd Barry made a running joke out of the band – well-deserved. Yo La Tengo, on the same stage later, played an inflated four-note bass line for nearly 20 minutes, making conversation nearly impossible 200 yards away.
But the bands much of the crowd came to see – Alabama Shakes and The Cure – overshadowed any shortcomings. Brittany Howard, lead singer of the Shakes, was especially primed for action, reaching deep down into her soul again and again, pulling up raw passion and pain on “Heartbreaker,” “Joe” and “I Don’t Wanna Fight No More.”
The Cure, the ‘70s British band that helped usher in the dark, downer, gothic style of the ‘80s, delivered a set that in its consummate professionalism, mature musicality and understated confidence – no jumping around or fancy light shows for these guys – ranked with the festival’s other welcome comeback on Saturday by Digable Planets. Their sets shared something else, as well, in the way they both highlighted the roots of now contemporary styles, in The Cure’s case, its early exploration of the synthesizer sounds that rule pop music today.
On classics like “Pictures of You,” “A Night Like This” “Push” and “The Hungry Ghost,” lead singer Robert Smith, wearing makeup, as in the old days, delivered songs whose lyrics and story lines bristled with clarity, even if they were also a relentless litany of sturm und drang.
The set also went on far too long – an hour and 45 minutes. Watching a band come out for two encores when only 20 or 30 people are clapping and 95 percent of the crowd has fled was just one of the anomalies of a Sasquatch day that will be long remembered.
Monday afternoon update: Once the winds died down and the sun came back up Monday, a mellow vibe descended on the gorge, amplified by the gentle breezes of neo-soul. At the main stage, The Internet delivered a romantic, jazz-inflected set fronted by Syd tha Kid, formerly of the Los Angeles collective Odd Future. As the high-voiced singer crooned “Just Sayin'” and five-string bassist Patrick Paige II laid down sinuous lines beneath her smooth phrases, couples swayed and smooched to the music.
At the Bigfoot stage, Seattle emcee Dave B chimed into the feel-good vibe, backed by warm guitar chords and offering smooth, melodic nonstop patter that hovered between singing and rapping. Also at Bigfoot, Philadelphia singer-songwriter Son Little offered one of the most original sets of the weekend. Stylistically a distant, quieter cousin of Jimi Hendrix, Son Little combined the inflections of blues guitar, the gospelized uplift of soul singers and a singer-songwriter’s sense of story and song. His sexy invitation, “Lay Down,” and haunting plea, “The River,” sent the crowd into a blissful state.
This year’s edition of Sasquatch! featured an impressive number of bands led by women or comprised completely of women, from Northwest groups like Tacocat, Childbirth, Wimps and Deep Sea Diver to national acts such as Alabama Shakes, Florence and the Machine, The Internet and Grimes.
That theme continued Monday, with Seattle’s all-female hard rock trio Thunderpussy opening the main stage with a well-honed set featuring Whitney Petty’s scribbling guitar solos and arena-ready moves by statuesque vocalist Molly Sides, dressed in a brief silver outfit she called her “disco ball” gear.
Over at the Yeti stage, the hard-charging Seattle feminist punk trio Childbirth took aim at machismo and misogyny with contemptuous glee on “Tech Bro” and “How Do Girls Even Do It?” Four crowd members expressed solidarity by wearing the band’s costume of choice — maternity gowns.
Sasquatch! closed Monday night with mainstage performances by Florence and the Machine, Sufjan Stevens, James XX and others.