Sasquatch Music Festival: Day 3 in review

review and photos by Josh Bis (Science vs Romance)

As much as I wanted to see Yeasayer, getting home at three in the morning from the Flaming Lips film Christmas On Mars meant that I was even less interested than usual in getting to the festival grounds before noon. It is not any consolation to hear that people who were better Sasquatch-goers than I rate their performance among the weekend’s top shows.

With our chances to see the buzzy Brooklyn band quickly fading, we instead opted for the eight-hour plan and arrived at the Gorge around 4 pm. By this time, it seemed that the parking attendants had given up for the weekend, so we were left to our own devices to navigate a surprisingly full lot.

Although we walked in with just enough time to hear Built to Spill wrapping up their mainstage set, I spent most of the day either taking photos or listening from a distance while chatting with friends new and old. The day had a decidedly more relaxed feel, both out on the lawn and in pressland, where weekend weary seemed increasingly willing to kick back and enjoy themselves during the welcome summer afternoon.

I did dash up to the Yeti Stage to catch a few of Siberian‘s shimmery shoegaze. Although the crowd they played to was small, their hearts were big. Finn Parnell’s vocals are well-matched to the wall of guitars; they compliment each other and work collectively rather than competitively. Whenever I see this band I’m always a bit surprised at how well polished they are and am always expecting them to be just on the verge of intense fame. For now, though, their fans are just lucky to be in on something of a local secret.

About twenty minutes later, I found Rodrigo y Gabriela occupying a small platform on the center of the Mainstage. Metal-inspired classical guitar from Ireland by way of Mexico is the kind of thing that is so entirely unexpected that it has to be either awful or brilliant. In their case, it’s the most definitely latter. The main question that I always face when watching them is where, exactly, they’re hiding the rest of the band. It takes a few songs to come to terms with the fact that all of the things that I’m hearing are coming from two acoustic guitars — there are slides and drops, percussion, and a whole range of astonishing sounds. Even more breathtaking is when a guitar malfunction barely forces a pause in the action. While Gabriela is offstage tending to repairs, Rodrigo holds down the fort all on his own and it feels nearly as full as when they are playing a duet.

With both guitars fixed and ready, they round out the show with an awesome call and response that feels like a game of one-upsmanship before going into their big hit: a stunning cover of “Stairway to Heaven.” By the time both of them are playing, it is an overwhelming assault that makes most electric guitar players look like slackers in comparison. As the live video feed closes in on their hands, there is a fantastic visual joke in seeing their otherworldly dexterity on display above a banner for RockBand.

They are followed up by an entirely different sort of duo, New Zealand comedy music act, Flight of the Conchords. Familiar to HBO viewers from the quirky, compelling television series of the same title, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie arrive to greet massively applauding fans. After an extended intro to take care of set-up and tuning, they orient newbies to their act: singing, talking, and telling jokes; all the while pondering whether they are actually a band (yes) and just how many blowjobs they’ve gotten backstage (at least 47). This leads them right into the much more funny than sexy “Business Time.” I spend the rest of their charming set half listening from a distance in the company of a refreshing adult beverage.

I have nothing at all nice to say about The Mars Volta. Not only have they gotten far too prog and experimental for me to follow, but in the span of just one song lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala threw himself to the ground spastically about a half dozen times, scaled and leapt from speakers, hurled his guitar into the crowd, tried to tear the live video camera away from its operator, and assaulted a photographer. I was so excited for their set to be over so that it would be time for The Flaming Lips.

Speaking of Wayne Coyne’s band of merrymakers, I had the good fortune to be able to join them on stage in Teletubby costume. It was pretty much the best dance party ever and the only sad part is that not everyone will get a chance to do it some time in their lives. The show began with the giant UFO finally descending from the rafters, Wayne inflating himself into a bubble to roll out above the crowd. I’d like to write more, but right now the whole performance is a sweaty blur of confetti, inflated aliens, smoke machines, naked girls, and lasers, but I am pretty sure that along with getting everyone to sing along to “Yoshimi” and playing “Taps” on an automated bugle while the entire crowd extended their arms in peace signs, the Flaming Lips saved Sasquatch and maybe just a little bit of the world.

[view more photos from Day 3]

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19 Comments

  1. Mars
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Was interested until the Mars Volta negative comments….
    You wouldn’t know a rock show if you were standing in the middle of one.

  2. zephyr
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Mars Volta was hard to sit through. But at least I didn’t get decapitated when the idiot singer threw a set of cymbals into the crowd.

  3. Adam
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I *absolutely* agree on the Mars Volta show.

    I had worked my way to front center anticipating the Lips — in fact, I just noticed I’m in that crowd picture, two back from the guy in the Santa hat. You can see the disgust in my eyes, even though it’s blurry!

    Volta put on an embarrassment of a show and maybe the most unbearable 90 minutes of my life.

    To have that many obviously gifted musicians on stage and have it just be a complete train wreck where one song is indistinguishable from any other is a shame.

    Yes, there were admittedly some people really excited to see the Volta who seemed to be enjoying themselves, but most of them appeared to be so high it probably didn’t matter much to them that the quality of musicianship The Mars Volta displayed was a total insult to everyone who had to endure it with faculties intact.

    On top of this — the Mars Volta fans I knew looked bored out of their mind and most were irritated by Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s hypocritical aggression. (Didn’t he give some rant against moshing?)

    Without question, Mars Volta should never be a main stage act unless they can stop acting like a sideshow and give some respect to their audience.

    Theirs was a pretty pathetic show, in my book.

    Hey, Mars: I was standing in the middle of the Mars Volta “rock show” and it absolutely wasn’t one.

    The Lips, in contrast, were stellar, as expected. Wow. Loved every minute and wished it went on another hour or more!

  4. Dan
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    The Mars Volta had the best performance by far. People need to get the bug out of their rear and realize that performances don’t have to be cookie cutter shaped (“Hi, We’re The Mars Volta”, “For our next song”, etc.). People who don’t like them are either more of the sit down crowd or prefer the traditional pop song structure. I think the problem with many is they have these blinders on and think what a concert should look and sound like. Progressive rock might not be for everyone, but The Mars Volta puts on one of the best live shows around, especially yesterday. They have a who’s who list of fans as well:

    Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Damo Suzuki, Holger Czukay, Rick Wakeman, Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson, John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy, Warren Haynes, Dave Allen, Henry Rollins, Iggy Pop, Nikki Sixx, Jack White, Serj Tankian, Wayne Coyne, Matt Bellamy, Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlain, Joe Satriani, Zach De La Rocha, Tom Morello, Battles, Mastodon, Blonde Redhead, Les Savy Fav, The Strokes, The Kills, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Killers, Scott Weiland, Dave Grohl, etc.

    …all of whom have seen the band’s live show and loved it. Apparently there are some respected artists out there who appreciate what The Mars Volta brings to the table.

  5. Derek
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    i dont think people should be judging the mars volta with out knowing anything about themm.. i mean cedric is a very energetic front man.. would you rather have a singer who just stood there the whole time? and to the guy who said cedric being hyprocritical by saying dont mosh your totally wrong… who the hell wants to watch there favortie band with a bunch of asses slaming into you.. What ever if you dont like the mars volta dont listen to them.. doesnt mean you have to be so hypocritical your self to them…

  6. Anthony Lombardi
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    The Mars Volta described as a cluster***, but the Flaming Lips get lauded…interesting.

    The Mars Volta are a better band than anyone who played this festival.

  7. miles
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    my goodness! FOTC was so good! hahah but Mars Volta was pretty incredible- i missed the flaming lips though! work was too early….

  8. zephyr
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Dan, that’s an impressive list of fans. I’m guessing those are not based on yesterday’s show.

    Derek, I think it’s totally fair to judge a band on their music/performance. I shouldn’t need to research a band up-front to be able to enjoy their show…

  9. cliff
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    as a fan of early mars volta this was a complete embarrassment. The band was fighting on stage because omar had to pull cedric off the guy with the camera. I enjoyed their energy but when you start throwing stuff like a cymbal at the audience you’re just being ridiculous. Their songs all blurred together and at one point they did a 10 minute horn solo that was completely unnecessary. I wanted them to be good but yesterday they just weren’t

  10. Posted May 27, 2008 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Ok, Mars Volta are covered… Did you all enjoy the rest of the festival?

  11. Jenn
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, the Mars Volta almost ruined it for me….and I noticed that a LOT of people didnt like the set…..I like noise, I like a LOT of different styles of music and I thought that the guy was basically stroking himself and his ego onstage for all to see…They were terrible to be put before Flaming Lips…the Breeders should have gotten that spot on the bill!!! they fucking ROCKED PROPAH! I also hate to sound cheesy, but MV has just ONE hit song and its actually pretty gorgeous and epic….and (of corse) they didnt play that song….the only song that could have redeemed the performance…oh well, they obviously werent there for the crowd.

  12. Sara
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Anyone see that FANTASTIC Ghostland Observatory show? Wow! They blew me away. Sounded incredible, and their energy was infectuous. They had the whole crowd dancing. They sounded/looked a million times better than when I saw the at the Showbox in April…which is sayin’ something, cause that was a pretty damn good show too!

  13. Dan
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Cliff,

    If you were a fan of early Mars Volta you’d know that is exactly how their concerts were (2002-2004). They weren’t targeting the audience by throwing objects in the crowd, as a matter of fact they have done this at other shows during their current tour. Their fans love the “organized chaos” and how much energy they are giving on stage…sometimes for 3 hours. If you want “The Widow” followed by “Inertiatic” and “Televators”, well you’re not going to get that kind of show. They are focusing on extending their songs to give off more of a “jam” element, improve the chemistry with their amazing new drummer, and work on new material. Great, Great, Great, performance!

    Battles was awesome as well.

  14. rk
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Pretty funny how no one ever comments about anything on this blog, until someone dares to say what most of the people in the audience at Sasquatch were thinking, “this band sucks, why don’t they finish and get off stage already?”, and then the trolls come out in force to defend ‘their’ band. Must have been pretty tiring today for you few guys, going around to attack all the bloggers (and it was indeed all of them) who thought Mars Volta sucked at Sasquatch.

  15. chris
    Posted May 28, 2008 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    First of all, your views are automatically questionable because you failed to witness the absolute best performance of the festival, battles. You stuck around at the mainstage for…Flight of the Conchords? A joke band stemming from an HBO show. Not knocking them terribly, i think they are pretty hilarious and wouldn’t have minded sticking around and laughing a little.. But to see them, a joke band, over one of the most talented and forward thinking groups of musicians around right now, is utterly ridiculous. You don’t know anything about the music scene if you would miss that show. It was flawless, they never missed even an 1/8th of a note. Seeing members of the Mars Volta and Built to Spill backstage watching them play affirmed that they were probably a band worth checking out…just maybe?
    Secondly, your views against the mars volta are biased because you yourself are a photographer who was either onstage or really close to the stage and obviously felt threatened. I agree with you, parts of his outburst in the beginning were…out of line. But this is the mars volta….spastic at times, on the edge, and unpredictable. Also characteristics that happen to make their music more interesting than 99% of the boring predictable crap out there.
    “Cedric Bixler-Zavala threw himself to the ground spastically about a half dozen times, scaled and leapt from speakers, hurled his guitar (it was a crash from the drumset, Cedric doesn’t play guitar) into the crowd”… and you forgot the little dance number he decided to pull on top of the middle speakers. and somehow you make it seem, at a rockshow, that these are bad things. What is wrong with you? Those all sound like things I would expect from the Mars Volta and part of makes them so bad-ass. It’s funny because when I have described all of these events to my friends, these are what make the concert great. Who doesn’t want to see loud rock bands freak out onstage? The energy of their music almost demands it. Watching this unfold, i will admit i was a little dumbfounded. After he tried to take away the video camera i thought i was watching the band unravel and they would be kicked off the stage. Thank god Omar came to the rescue and broke it up. Afterward he settled down thankfully, because the rest of their set was face melting. They were as you described a bit too fast and experimental at times even for my tastes. But after they got that out of their system early on they settled down and impressed the hell out of me, and i have seen my fair share of amazing shows. The jam that led into a jaw dropping retelling of L’Via L’ Viaquez, contained both dueling solo’s between first a guitar and saxophone, and then the bassist and drummer exchanged riffs. I thought this was absolutely brilliant and one of the more memorable parts of the concert.
    The Mars Volta are one of the few brave bands that are fighting to make sure that forward thinking, intelligent, independent music survives and thrives. There are already way too many bands around right now with a lack a talent, creativity, and originality. Thank god for bands like Mars Volta who have a surplus of all three.

  16. Posted May 28, 2008 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Ok, I’m done posting pro/con Mars Volta comments. I think that the conversation has been exhausted. I wouldn’t expect that any band is going to have universal appeal, so let’s leave it as a matter of opinion. And despite any of Josh’s views on the performance (and it sounds like he’s not alone in his thinking), he took some kick-ass shots of the band… so Mars Volta fans should at least take comfort in that.

    If you have comments about the rest of Sasquatch, I’m happy to push them through.

  17. chris
    Posted May 28, 2008 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for extending a futile argument. He did indeed take some amazing shots of the band.
    Other Memorable performances of sasquatch:
    M.I.A, Battles, Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, The National, The heavenly States, Rodrigo Y Gabriela, the kooks

    Most Disappointing sets:
    Presidents, death cab for cutie, Cold war kids, Mates of state, Rem, the cure ( not to say either headliner sounded terrible, just boring) the breeders

    and i dearly hope they don’t invite michael franti again next year….yuck.

    anyone else down for arcade fire again? i know i am…one of the best live shows you will ever see in your life…

  18. Anthony Lombardi
    Posted May 28, 2008 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Not specific to TMV, who I happen to think are fantastic.

    One of the prevailing issues being discussed is whether or not the band is playing to their audience. Festivals make that fairly difficult as the bands are generally truncating their sets unless they are one of the headliners. I remember Built to Spill playing 3-4 minute versions of their songs at Sasquatch that would have generally been 10-12 minute freakouts at a bar or club. So, I think it is hard to ascertain how much or little a band is respecting an audience at these festivals.

    I tend to find the Lips show completely self indulgent and silly and often guilty of the same things that people are bent at TMV for, the difference being that the Lips do it in a much more accessible, lighter way, so it becomes easier to take.

    End of the day, as crazy as it sounds, with the price of gas, and shrinking disposable income, I wonder how much shelf life these festivals have.

  19. sam_lv
    Posted July 12, 2008 at 3:40 am | Permalink

    (currently) Seattle seems to maintain a limited capacity of open-minded music oriented mind sets. now, (note to you- based upon my understanding- in my opinion) music has reached it’s boundaries within “limitless Seattle”. the mars Volta, in acting in their selves, has seemed to challenge our limits. dare we push them? dare we judge the way they master time through sound? dare you stop trying to understand, comprehend, analyze and misinterpret; instead of simply listening and letting go? they have the ability to let themselves go and not try to comprehend and just keep going, wherever it takes them. just flowing, just going, as time and everything else permits. The Mars Volta simply and justly IS.

    Be; let be; and accept being.

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