Tuesday, May 27, 2008

SNAVE'S SASQUATCH EXPERIENCE, 2008

This post is a work in progress. Come back now and then during the next couple of days, as I will be adding more pictures and notes!


Sasquatch was lots of fun this time around. My daughter and I heard many kinds of music, and nearly all of what we saw was good. There were big names and small, and just like it was for us in 2007, we found some of the smaller names to be the most entertaining. This year, instead of doing a day-by-day write-up, I'll list the bands I saw in order of how I liked them, starting with least first and working my way up to the best of the best.

First, The Mars Volta:
This band has a high degree of musical talent. However, I believe talent is a terrible thing to waste. As the band opened with several minutes of sheer cacaphony, I was thinking the emphasis was on the "caca". During the mind-numbing barrage of chaotic noise, the vocalist hopped about the stage and threw a music stand, a cymbal, a cymbal stand, AND a stage spotlight into the audience. He had to be restrained by the band's lead guitarist. I thought that kind of behavior, potentially injurious to fans, is inexcusable from a performer. I also have always thought that being hot musicians shouldn't necessarily mean the band should play incomprehensible gobbledegook to prove how technically proficient they are. Their music must be for younger, less tired brains than mine, because I find it not entertaining, but rather more like hard work to listen to.

Modest Mouse - (I didn't take photos here.) Just plain weird. Rumors were circulating that their strange singer Isaac Brock was drunk on stage... I hope not, because getting ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to play for Modest Mouse was something of a coup and it would be a shame to piss off Johnny and give him reasons to want to quit. I caught the end of their set, and Brock was doing some irritating guitar feedback maneuvers in front of his amplifier for what seemed like an eternity before finishing off the set with some "crazy voice" singing. Their overall sound isn't all that bad, they generally just aren't my cup of tea.


Built to Spill:
I have never understood the appeal of this band. I actually started getting pissed off while listening to them, and had to get away from the main stage area to go somewhere else. I went from the main stage to the medium stage to watch a pop band called The Little Ones, and it was much, much more to my liking than BTS. Sorry BTS fans, I just don't get 'em.


The New Pornographers - (No pictures here either.) I caught some of their show, and was not overly impressed. I find one of their singers, Neko Case, almost worthy of worship... but after being disappointed and rather bored by the group's recent CD "Challengers", I had lost enough enthusiasm for them that I hardly even noticed if Neko was in the band or not for this show. I like some of their older material, but thought it might be more interesting to hear The Grand Archives. It was.

The Grand Archives:
Fronted by an ex-member of Band of Horses, this act tended toward upbeat tra-la-la sunny pop music. Their keyboardist played and sang like a Sunny Jim kind of guy... but hey, they are GOOD. If you like music that is not too heavy in content or sound, but that still rocks, check these guys out. I like Band of Horses better than this offshoot, but The Grand Archives are a good band. Not necessarily grand, but very good.

The Heavenly States:
This four-piece band from the Bay Area is not half bad. When the keyboardist gets out her violin, they sound best. They play lots of fast, uptempo rock and roll, and the vocalist is good. Almost kind of punk at times, and mostly a hard-rocking group.

Rogue Wave:Fronted by guitarist/singer Zach Rogue, this Bay Area band plays good rock and roll music. A very talented bunch. The vocals are very good, the songwriting is good as well.

Jamie Lidell - (Too far away for decent pictures.) Techno fun! Good dance music! Good vocals, lots of creative electronic sounds. Playing at the same time as The Mars Volta, which I left after only a few mintues in search of music that wasn't as brain-scrambling and to which I could tap a toe. I went to the medium-sized stage and found Jamie Lidell there, playing to an ever-increasing throng of music lovers in their mass Mars Volta exodus. The sax player wore a bathrobe, and Lidell wore zebra-striped parachute pants. Just a lot of good fun!


The Maldives:I think these guys are from Seattle. Their brand of alt-country is VERY pleasant. They were great to listen to from under some protective cover during a brief rain.

Dengue Fever:
This was in interesting band. The main singer, Chhom Nimol, is from Cambodia and much of what she sings is in Khmer. The music is psychedelic, rhythmic rock music with Asian and Mediterranean and Middle Eastern overtones.


Ozomatli:
This party band from L.A. has so much energy! I couldn't help but move around a bit during their show. My daughter and I christened one band member "the tambourine guy", and he may have been the most fun part of their show. They play a fine brand of Latin funk-rock. Check them out!


Matt Costa:
I didn't expect to like this guy's music very much, but I was quite pleasantly surprised. When I heard he was a protege of Jack Johnson it raised all kinds of red flags in my mind, but I think that while Costa may be a southern California dude, his thing is closer to Dylan than to Jack. Costa plays good acoustic folk-rock. He uses nice melodies, he is a good singer, and from what I heard, I would say he is a very good songwriter. He is worth seeing if you get a chance, especially if you like earnest, honest musicians. I talked to him briefly at his signing at the CD stand, and he seems like a very nice person. He had the Dylan hat thing going from circa Rolling Thunder Revue too!

The Flaming Lips:
I have been a fan of this band for about the last decade. Their stage show is amazing. Where else can you see people dressed up as Teletubbies and dinosaurs, naked women cavorting on stage, and all sorts of colorful movie projections as part of a rock show? Singer Wayne Coyne played a sort of new-age master of ceremonies, and to be honest, much of the program seemed to be about him at least as much as (if not more than) about the music. At least the band wasn't dreseed in uniforms like the Polyphonic Spree were last year... But the music was quite good. My favorite tune I got to see them do was "Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung" from their most recent CD, "At War With the Mystics". They also did a very nice cover version of Zeppelin's "The Song Remains the Same"! The music was good, and even if you aren't a fan, I would recommend the show for the "eye candy" aspect anyway. I watched them from a couple hundred yards away with binoculars, but it was still excellent.

The White Rabbits:
They play as a good guitarist/keyboardist duo with a good backing band. The keyboardist has a good voice and good chops. Same with the guitar player. Their overall sound is very, very good if you like uptempo rock music with a pop flair. If you get the chance to see them, I'd recommend taking a look/listen.

Truckosaurus:
This is a techno band from Seattle. They are a bit different than normal techno in that the sounds they use are largely sampled from old video games of the 70s and 80s. It makes for a rather comical sound, and I found myself laughing out loud as I recognized sounds from things like Ms. Pac Man. On stage they are rather odd to watch. One of the foursome has an old movie screen on which he projects strange images during the show, including bad 80s pro wrestling, among other tacky and weird things. The band members are on one end of the stage, and the rest of the stage space is taken up what appear to be the band leader's brother and one of the band member's girlfriends, with other people, dancing around, getting the crowd excited, throwing things like t-shirts to the crowd, etc. They provided a fascinating, captivating show for an enthusiastic crowd of at least 500 people at the smalls stage.

The Hives:The Swedish punk darlings, decked out in their black and white uniform garb, literally rocked the venue. Loud, brash, and FUN, they got the crowd going in a thrilling way. The singer made too many humorously egotistical comments to count, and he was a wonderful entertainer. The guitarists were great power chordists, and the bass and drums were tight. Huge, animated fun!!

Battles - This quartet is one of the oddest groups I have seen in ages. Their lineup looks innocent enough at first glance, with two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer. But
guitarists and bassist also have keyboards and devices through which they loop sounds. One starts by playing a guitar or synth lick and looping it so it sounds like a skipping record for 10 or 20 seconds, then the drummer will start playing along with it, often in a somewhat unexpected way. Before you know it, the rest of the band has jumped in and they're off on a rhythm-based excursion, often lasting 5-10 minutes. There really isn't much in the way of melody. Their stuff is mostly rhythm exercises with subtle and gradual shifts which occur throughout the songs, but they are fascinating and incredibly talented. The drummer is one of the best I have seen. And as much as this kind of music would not seem to lend itself to emotion, these guys put everything they have into what they are doing. If you love rhythm, onstage innovation and mathematical precision, you should thoroughly enjoy this band.

Flight of the Conchords - I only caught the end of their show, but what I saw was hilarious. I bought their CD, and I know I will have to watch their DVD set at some point. Their song about David Bowie (called "Bowie") is excruciatingly funny.

Mates of State:
If you listen to their lyrics, you might think this duo of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, a married couple, does not get along. Their songs are all about dealing with an unsatisfactory mate, or about dealing with heartaches in a close or married relationship. Their song "Get Better" is absolutely beautiful and practically makes me want to cry. She plays keyboards, often a couple at once, and he plays drums. On stage this time they had an upright bass player and a violinist.

Ghostland Observatory - I saw them for the first time last year at Sasquatch, and knew that even though they were playing at the same time as Flaming Lips, I would have to see at least SOME of their show... so I watched for the first half hour this time around. This tecnho duo has added a fantastic light show to their stage program. Keyboardist/drummer/computer wizard Thomas Turner drives the music, and singer/guitarist/dancer extroardinaire Aaron Behrens leads the crowd, totally controlling them with his sheer awesome talent. This band is not to be missed! Tecnho may not be my bag under normal circumstances, but for great techno dance music, this is one of the best bands around.

REM - (I was too far away and it was too dark for pictures.) They can still bring the energy. I was wondering about them after their last three CDs... it seemed like they were about to fade away into the sunset, but then came their new disc "Accelerate". The new stuff translates extremely well into the live experience. They played just about all of that new CD, plus a few of my older favorites including "Auctioneer" (singer Michael Stipe introduced it as "one we wrote back in 1640 for our second album") and "Life and How to Live It" (the latter is one of favorite songs ever by them, and it was like a dream come true to hear them play it live!) Stipe is an energetic and charismatic performer, Peter Buck is a great rhythm/texture guitarist, and Mike Mills is super-steady on the bass. The drummer and second guitarist were good as well, and I have to say that if you are an REM fan, it is good to know this great band is alive and well.

Rodrigo y Gabriela:
This Mexican acoustic guitar duo is incredible. Gabriela plays rhythm chords and what sound like drumbeats on her guitar, while Rodrigo plays horrifically fast and precise leads. The music has a semi-Flamenco flavor at times, but it also contains enough rock and roll structures to keep most listeners interested, and in many cases, in awe. Their CD is excellent. They do original material, but a possible highlight is their version of "Stairway to Heaven". Check them out if you get a chance... the fans at the Sasquatch main stage loved them!

Fleet Foxes:
Think of the vocalist from My Morning Jacket, with some great four-part harmonies and some of the oddness of Grizzly Bear, and you have Fleet Foxes. This young band from Seattle has huge potential. The lead singer and songwriter is Robin Pecknold, who seems like a very humble and affable sort of guy. They were the first band to play on the main stage on the first day of the festival.
After the Foxes performed, Robin was helping some of the other bands set up afterward, and he kept getting ovations from the crowd when he would reappear on stage or when he would turn to face them. When The National's bus problems caused that band to arrive late, Fleet Foxes got to play in place of The National late in the afternoon, thus they played twice on the main stage in one day! They only have an EP out so far on Sub Pop records, but their first full-length CD is due out June 3. They are a treat.
When I spoke to Pecknold at the Foxes signing at the CD stand, he very much appreciated my comment about how I think his band's music is cross-generational and that it transcends musical stereotypes.

Beirut:
Zach Condon isn't very far into his twenties and he has already come up with some amazing semi-19th century sounds that would seem to have required years of musical experiences to create. It is not easy to find popular acts these days that do not use electric guitars, bass or keyboards. Beirut uses trumpets, flugelhorns, baritones, accordions, mandolins, ukeleles, drums and violins, among other things, and the sound they create is part eastern European, part Mediterranean and part "oompah"! I think Condon has a beautiful voice, and his compositions are amazingly good. Beirut's "Gulag Orkestrar" is worth a listen. I picked up a copy of it as well as their most recent full-length, "The Flying Cup Club"

The Kooks:
This English band is sort of like a neo-British Invasion thing with some 70s and 80s sensibilities thrown in.
They sound old and modern at the same time. The lead singer is highly charismatic, and he jumps around all over the stage.
He sounds like Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits once in a while when they band plays pop material, but then he belts with the best when they rock out. The lead guitarist is very good, as are the drummer and bassist. Their music is totally infectious, and it is impossible not to jump around like a loony during their show. Simply an amazing band, with nowhere to go but up! See them if you can, but don't stand too close to the speakers... this one was LOUD.

The National:
This was my favorite band at Sasquatch this year.
Singer Matt Berninger is an odd one, to be sure. Watching him, I thought he might have been somewhere on the autism spectrum but then I thought not, once he began to emote.
Maybe it's more like he was just depressed. If you are familiar with his lyrics, that might be the wiser assumption. Whatever.... the guy is dynamic. He seemed nervous, at times in agony, at times happy, chewing his nails, looking scared... but vocally, always in command.
The band did not seem as polished as some groups I saw, but they put more emotion into their performance than most bands I have ever seen. Listening to their performance of "About Today" was gut-wrenching and caused me to have an emotional experience.

Today you were far away
and I didn't ask you why
What could I say
I was far away
You just walked away
and I just watched you
What could I say

How close am I to losing you

Tonight you just close your eyes
and I just watch you
slip away

How close am I to losing you

Hey, are you awake
Yeah I'm right here
Well can I ask you about today

How close am I to losing you
How close am I to losing

"Secret Meeting" plumbs the depths of depressive paranoia like no other song I've ever heard: "I'm sorry I missed you, I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain..." Here is a picture of "Secret Meeting":
"Fake Empire" can be taken on so many levels; I can't help but think of it as a statement about America today.
The best part of seeing The National at Sasquatch? Their bus broke down during the afternoon, so they arrived late and had to play the small stage around sundown... and I was in the very front for their entire show!
"Fake Empire"

Stay out super late tonight
picking apples, making pies
put a little something in our lemonade and take it with us
we’re half-awake in a fake empire
we’re half-awake in a fake empire

Tiptoe through our shiny city
with our diamond slippers on
do our gay ballet on ice
bluebirds on our shoulders
we’re half-awake in a fake empire
we’re half-awake in a fake empire

Turn the light out say goodnight
no thinking for a little while
lets not try to figure out everything at once
It’s hard to keep track of you falling through the sky
we’re half-awake in a fake empire
we’re half-awake in a fake empire


All in all, the Sasquatch experience was once again great. I'm already looking forward to going again in 2009!

6 Comments:

Blogger Tom Harper said...

Sounds like a neat concert and experience. Mars Volta is the only group I've heard anything by (and REM of course). I thought I'd like Mars Volta from descriptions I'd read about them. I usually like groups that play chaotic fast solos, even if they're over the top. But I played a few YouTube videos of Mars Volta and they were disappointing. I don't know what they were trying to do but it didn't work.

And now I'm going to commit blasphemy: REM is too bland and their songs all sound the same. There, I said it.

A lot of the other groups sound interesting. And with that kind of setting you can't go wrong.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Randal Graves said...

I have to second Tom on Mars Volta. They have talent, and I normally don't mind chaos and dissonance, but they are almost trying to be askew simply because they can. And that vocalist. Yikes. Bruce Dickinson is about as air-raid as I like to get.

I haven't heard of a lot of these bands - I suppose I should get out more! - but I'll have to check some of them out. Thanks for the report!

12:39 PM  
Blogger J. Marquis said...

Great reviews, Snave. I have to agree on the Mars Volta...I about puke when I hear people compare them to Rush. Just because your music is busy doesn't mean it's fun to listen to.

Do you think I'd like Fleet Foxes? I was reading about them recently and they sounded pretty cool.

5:44 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

Yeah, I just don't get The Mars Volta either. They're good musicians, but it's all gobbledegook to me.

I also don't understand Built to Spill or The New Pornographers. I have tried to enjoy both those bands, but I just can't make myself do it.

6:32 PM  
Blogger David said...

Great, great summary, Snave! I'm envious of the good times -- especially The National.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Snave said...

David, The National has become one of my favorite bands. I was getting excited about seeing them prior to Sasquatch, and then getting to see them up close and personal maybe vaulted them into my current top five or so bands. VERY good stuff!

9:58 PM  

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