Daytime and evening shows at day 2 of the Sasquatch! fest: the Planets, Major Lazer, M83 and plenty of sax.
Update: High winds on Sunday have kept the Gorge Amphitheatre’s main stage closed. No signs of reopening by 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Also: Grant County Sheriff reports wildfire burning south of the festival site; evacuations ordered at Old Vantage Highway and Frenchman Coulee area.
GEORGE – With four stages thumping simultaneously at the Sasquatch! Festival, which wraps up Monday (May 30) at the Gorge Amphitheatre, it’s always tempting to leave one performance halfway through to go explore another. FOMO – fear of missing out – is a strong motivator.
But that didn’t happen during the set by Digable Planets Saturday on the festival’s namesake main stage, as the legendary hip-hop group riveted the crowd with the most cleanly musical, literate and satisfying performance of the day.
With co-founder Ishmael Butler now back in his hometown of Seattle (the group formed in Philadelphia), Digable Planets was just one of many groups representing home turf Saturday. But the band also reflected another trend of the day – toward rootsy, retro styles (though closing headliners Major Lazer and M83 were clearly modern).
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How many years, for example, do you hear a saxophone three times in one day at Sasquatch? But there they were – first in the soulful horn lines of The Dip, then in the captivating, sparse orchestrations of electronic dance trio Marian Hill and, finally, even M83’s “Midnight City Saxophone” featured a keening alto.
Beyond this coincidence of old-time instrumentation, many groups Saturday looked back to the sounds of soul, jazz, roots rock, nerd punk, old school rap and surf music.
Among the afternoon’s early highlights were the fresh Seattle surf pop band Tangerine, whose lead singer Marika Justad revved things up nicely with “Feel This Way.” Guitarist/vocalist Shana Cleveland of the recent Seattle emigrant group La Luz (to Los Angeles) also lit up the afternoon with a decisive sense of mission on the band’s twangy downtempo plaint, “Call Me in the Day.”
Seattle’s Hibou, which, like La Luz, also trades in echoing guitar – though with the sheen of dream pop rather than jangle of surf – also shone brightly Saturday with twinkling guitar lines weaving through lead singer/guitarist Peter Michel’s nasal croon on its popular “Above Us.”
As afternoon passed into early evening, what started as a mildly warm day cooled off and clouds turned darker, though there was never any threat of rain. On the main stage, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats amped up the energy with gospel-infused, southern rock, urging the crowd not to worry on its disarmingly confessional song, “I’ve Been Failing.” On “We’ve Got the Whole Night to Lose,” Rateliff grabbed a tambourine, reinforcing the sanctified church roots of his music.
Portland’s obsessive Americana hero M. Ward, decked out in plaid shirt, duck-billed cap and sunglasses, also nodded to the past, sounding for a moment like a hoarse Jerry Lee Lewis on the Bigfoot stage.
Saturday at Sasquatch offered a couple of lovely discoveries, both featuring female vocalists. Philadelphia band Hop Along, with singer Frances Quinlan, recalled off-the-wall, nerdy proto-punk/grunge groups of Seattle’s late ‘80s, with thick, dissonant harmonies, vignette-like songs and vocals that leapt athletically from a twisted shriek to perfectly rounded pitches.
Over in the El Chupacabra dance tent, Samantha Gongol of the eclectic electronic Philadelphia trio Marian Hill, sang pure, delicate tones over Jeremy Lloyd’s boing-ing, blippy electronics, as the trio allowed an appealing amount of air and space to flow through its arrangements.
At the main stage, it was hard to top super-hip and jazzy Digable Planets, whose tour of its durable oeuvre featured a live band with world percussion and beyond-funky bass, plus tunes like “What Cool Breezes Do,” “Graffiti” and its most famous finger-popper, “Return of Slick (Cool Like Dat).”
But M83 and Major Lazer offered dazzling shows. Granted, M83’s seamless electronic veil of whispered vocals and synthesizers can feel a bit puffed up and soulless, but the group enveloped the after-sunset crowd on the hillside lawn with a peaceful, celestial calm and starry-night light show that felt appropriate to Gorge’s majestic setting.
Major Lazer, whose massive hit “Lean On” has more than a billion YouTube views, was Las Vegas all the way, with seriously twerking dancers, a breathtaking 3D laser show that included cartoons of gigantic, swaying scepters and a flock of geese, and nonstop demands for audience participation by toasting emcees Walshy Fire and Diplo. At a certain point, it all started feel more like an aerobics workout than a concert, and when the crowd was asked to take off its shirts and wave them, most declined, as the weather was getting far too cold for that.
As always, the fans dispersed for the warmer climes of the dance tent to finish off the night in a mass of bodies.
And speaking of bodies, there was a conspicuous shortage of them on the grounds this year. Though producer LiveNation does not disclose attendance figures, a lot of empty grass was on view most of the weekend.