review and photos by Josh Bis (Science vs Romance)
After the late rainy night with Michael Stipe and tens of thousands of his closest friends, we decided to sit out the sunbreaks and take in the sights and sounds of nearby Trinidad in favor of rushing to the Gorge and getting wet and rocked. By the time we arrived, Tegan and Sara were well into their mainstage set. They sounded fine, but watching them from the crest of a very big hill is certainly not the best vantage. I’m guessing that the people flocking around the edge of the stage had a much better time of it.
Instead, we found our way over to the “meadow” of the Wookie Stage to wait for Rogue Wave. The most meadowlike characteristic: the aroma of fertilizer (charitably) or overspilled honey buckets (realistically) lends a pastoral touch when the wind occasionally shifts unfavorably.
I last saw Rogue Wave at Coachella last month. At that time, they played to an early afternoon crowd while Zach was fighting off a pretty severe cold. Now seeming healthy and well rested, the band’s spirit was higher although their sound was more reverby, dissonant, and open with usually subtle parts jumping out of the mix. They opened with a trio of songs spanning their first three albums — including “Every Moment” from Out of the Shadow — that led through “Publish My Love” and into a “Medicine Ball” shiny happy clapalong.
Pausing for breath, Zach reflected that two years ago they had been on the Sasquatch mainstage, but that this was better. I think he’s right: Rogue Wave are best suited to venues where they can see everyone, feel closer, and at least attempt to connect with the assembled masses. Alternating mostly between Descended Like Vultures standouts and newish material from Asleep at Heaven’s Gate they eventually arrive at “Bird on a Wire,” which they play in “we got sick of playing the album version of this a hundred shows ago, so let’s render it fresh and a little bit unrecognizable, shall we?” version. The seamless transition that usually leads from drum circle to “Lake Michigan” is bested by a noncompliant amp, but the crowd gamely plays along for a reboot. Cue the beach balls! Cue the clapping along! Try the amp one more time and hope that it holds! All of the sudden we’re back and it’s a summer rock festival season all over again.
After nearly a decade of holding down the “cutest couple in all of indie rock” award, it’s not surprising that Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel thought that bringing other people into the relationship might be just what they need to spice things up. No, sickos. I mean into their band. Yes, Mates of State have added a string section to their adorable duo lineup for some of their songs, making the improbably great back and forth intertwining vocals all the more charming when they’re over a blissful cushion of cello and violin.
Aside from the massive sound booth screwup that turned their cover of “These Days” from a sweet pared-down duet into a lonely one-sided solo (note to sound guys: when the guy leaves his drum kit to sing but you can’t hear him, turn on his microphone. Otherwise the whole bit about turning Nico’s song about isolation on its ear just doesn’t work), their act works remarkably better than it might look on paper. Dueling antique circusy organs versus drum kits, no guitars, trading/treading guy-girl singing? It has the potential for chaos, but comes out as the kind of sonic perfection that gets stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
During the long set-up break after Mates of State and before The Kooks, we got to really get a better sense of that the sound booth operators would rather be listening to a whole lot of metal and Kid Rock rather than all of this indie rock that’s so popular with the kids today. It was like an alternate radio station universe waiting out the very very long sound check. But, forty minutes late, The Kooks finally huddled up, had a group hug, and bounded out before the throngs of onlookers who had congregated on the meadow, either to see the magnetic appeal of the Brits in person or simply to avoid Spearhead and Michael Franti.
Alas, after a quiet acoustic rendition of “Seaside” they launch into the angular and bouncy dance rock that everyone wanted to hear. All of the anticipation really paid off, and happy to be free of the all metal channel, the kids up front were riled into a wild sea of motion.
I, however, wasn’t able to stick around for the rest of the show. The delay meant that after three Kooks songs it was time to sprint down into the canyon to catch Seattle-by-way-of-Bellingham’s favorite indie sons Death Cab for Cutie claiming the sunset spot on the mainstage.
Starting first with a track from Narrow Stairs ( “Bixby Canyon Bridge”), Gibbard and company dive a bit into the recent (but not ancient) back catalog with “the New Year” and 2001 anti-Los Angeles anthem / angry love letter to smog, “Why You’d Want to Live Here” in all of their buoyant and sometimes rock jam glory.
As I notice Ben Gibbard’s conspicuous lack of conspicuous glasses and the younger members of the audience going crazy for the once-unavoidable “Soul Meets Body”, my friends and I have the realization that Death Cab for Cutie are now a band beloved by the twenty-year-olds of today and not just the twentysomethings of the turn of the century. It’s kind of unsettling, but also reassuring. This is a good kind of generational transition aided and abetted by Seth Cohen and a major label: the old fans like the new music, the new fans like the old music, and we’re all united in a sometimes awkward romance with a band that is overly fond of peppering their albums with at least one or two creepily obsessive love songs. Everyone wins.
Before launching into ultra-depressing love ballad “Follow You Into the Dark”, Ben stops to explain his dark wardrobe and exceptionally long hair: he’s stoked to see the cure. That, and “[he] wears black on the outside because black is how [he] feels on the inside.” Just in case we missed the message of his tortured soul, they follow-up with Narrow Stairs‘s dark foray into romance, “I Will Possess Your Heart”. This is the first time that I’m hearing most of these new songs and I’d classify my feelings about them as “fond, but not in love”. They’re nice, but I think I need a little more time with them before they become etched into my consciousness like Something About Airplanes.
Eventually, the impossible happens. A kid in our general vicinity who had been jumping up and down by himself reunites with his tribe during “Crooked Teeth” and tiny mosh circle coalesces and spreads its borders in the outer reaches of the floor. By the end of the show, Ben Gibbard has decried the perfectly wonderful movie, Juno while telling Tegan and Sara’s perfectly lovely mother to fuck off, and Chris Walla has led the crowd in a massive demonstration of birthday wishes for his father (For extra credit: compare and contrast the personality traits of key DCFC personnel), and hundreds of guys have seatbelt-danced with their ladies to a nice song about meaningless groupie sex. As the all build-up, no resolution finale “Transatlanticism” arrives, the sun has set and the fog machines and spotlights are in full swing and everyone is applauding.
Somehow, I managed not to be a depressed teenager at the right time for becoming immersed in The Cure. As such, all of their songs sound vaguely familiar but aside from one or two are immediately recognizable. Throughout the set, I got so many confused looks of disdain when I couldn’t place apparently deeply meaningful songs that I mostly gave up, started slogging through my photos, and let the music wash into the background.
What I can report is that they still sound exactly like the Cure. And Robert Smith, looking larger than life with his massively unkempt hair, smeared lipstick and eyeliner, has the same voice you remember to carry a show for more than two hours. While I couldn’t identify most of the tracks, even I could tell that they were playing the hits and that there were far more hits in their catalog than just about anyone remembered.
The Cure was still playing at midnight while we were waiting by the popcorn cart near the “Eat Your Own Spaceship” tent to get into the second ever screening of the Flaming Lips’ seven-years-in-the-making art film, Christmas on Mars. Inside, we encountered a strange world of wooden benches, glowing green orbs, cascading laser beams, and a small movie screen.
Wayne Coyne provided a introduction before the projectors rolled and the screen flickered to life. The show was preceded by a little documentary explaining the genesis and aim of the movie, which actually helped a little in terms of making sense of the very odd story that followed. In brief, an Earthling-inhabited station on Mars runs into trouble with existential crises and insufficient oxygenation on Christmas Eve. Along the way, indie comedians Fred Armisen and Adam Goldberg show up among the cast, Wayne Coyne arrives from a large vaginal comet to put on a Santa costume, visions and actual infants appear, and there are a whole lot of intense noise interludes, and occasional flashes of vibrant color. I don’t want to spoil the whole plot (and there isn’t much of it to give away); so I’ll just say that it is an incredibly weird, slow-paced, and jarring thing to be watching from midnight until two in the morning and it just might be about saving all of our souls.
Also, that I can’t wait for the UFO SHOW tonight.