A problem shared by more than a few patrons at Sasquatch is the ongoing struggle to keep cell phones charged. When you’re milling around in a horde of thousands, there’s practically no hope of meeting up with friends if your phone is constantly on life support. Available power adapters are hard to come by in the camping grounds, so my plan for Sunday morning was to get into the festival early and get a little exercise on one of the bikes hooked up to outlets that can charge a battery as you pedal. Waiting in line after line has been the bane of my existence at Sasquatch this year, so when I saw there were more than three people waiting to ride I quickly convinced myself I could make it without my phone for a while. There was no way in hell I was going to wait more than 30 seconds to ride a stationary bike (I later discovered that I could get my phone charged while someone else rode the bike. That’s more like it!)
Un-exercised, I split my time early between Midlake, playing on the Main Stage, and Local Natives, who were up the hill at the Bigfoot stage. Hailing from Denton, Texas, Midlake play a western brand of country rock that draws comparisons to the Allman Brothers, Neil Young, as well as CSNY, especially with their use of cascading vocal harmonies. In addition to what you’d expect from such a band they, frequently featured a flute, which added an epic, lofty quality to their music and was an effective complement to their style. Their music was also a perfect fit for the Main Stage, sounding as if their songs could have been composed specifically with the Gorge’s desert-like river canyon in mind.
After getting my fill of Midlake, who were a pleasant surprise, I headed up to catch Local Natives, the indie-pop LA … natives. For how early it was, the Bigfoot stage was packed and the band sounded great. I’m usually not a fan of bands that use two drummers, but it suited the Local Natives drum-driven tribal-sounding beats well. They played a nice cover of “Warning Signs” by the Talking Heads, but their original songs, all off their album Gorilla Manor, were more impressive.
After a quick chicken yakisoba break, I was back at the Bigfoot stage for the Tallest Man on Earth, who was on stage with nothing but himself, a guitar, and a basic folding chair he sat in for some songs. I am usually quick to roll my eyes at wannabe Bob Dylan types, but the Tallest Man on Earth, while sounding similar to Dylan, is not as contrived lyrically or image-wise as similar artists sometimes tend to be. His songs are genuine and heartfelt and it translates through his live performance as well as I had hoped it would.
As the evening approached, we pushed up to see The XX, whose smooth, subdued rhythms went perfectly with the cool breeze that had begun to blow through. We had to leave a little early, however, to rush over to the Main Stage for LCD Soundsystem. After a first day that was spent relaxing, getting acclimated, and seeing most of the performances from a distance, we were ready to get in the thick of things. A mob of people was slowly being let through a bottleneck that led down to the pit, and after a little nudging and side-stepping we were a few “rows” from the rail. The show was a mind-blowing tour-de-force through and through. The band members are precise, exacting masters of their craft and nailed every single song from start to finish. It is all orchestrated by front man James Murphy whose voice, presence, and overall control over the show was truly something to behold. Murphy worked especially well with drummer Pat Mahoney. Several times Murphy moved over to the front of the drum kit and while Mahoney played one half of the kit Murphy would play the other. There were also times when Mahoney would crash a cymbal and Murphy would lackadaisically walk over and deftly mute it with a pinch, perfectly in time as Mahoney continued to play. It goes without saying that it was pandemonium down front; it was not hard to dance to LCD Soundsystem. This was undoubtedly one of the top tier highlights of the festival.
Heading back up the hill after LCD Soundsystem, the weather was finally pleasant for the first time all day. The plan was to see the Dirty Projectors play a few songs and then go stake out a spot to see Pavement at the Main Stage. DP sounded great, had a cool dynamic, and the few minutes I saw of them definitely convinced me to get deeper into the band, but my mind was on making sure I wouldn’t miss Pavement come on, which they did just as I made my way over and found a spot in the grass.
Stephen Malkmus and company, whose presence at this festival had been announced well before most of the other bands, were a disappointment to say the least. The sound was an issue throughout the set, there were sizable delays, each band member seemed to be on a different wavelength, and there were even disagreements on how the songs were played. When one of the band members announces “This is fucking pathetic. I’m sorry” during a delay, you know it’s not a good sign. Nevertheless, it was Pavement, it was a thrill to hear their songs live for the first time, and there were a few brief moments when they didn’t sound terrible.
I did a good deal of wandering during some of the lulls in Pavement’s set, making my way over to Public Enemy, who were good but plagued by sound issues as well. I also meandered over to the dance tent which was a non-stop, throbbing world unto itself that would have eaten me alive if I had tried to get into the mix. I returned to the Main Stage to find Stephen Malkmus complaining about pressure not to go over time, and a few minutes later Pavement was done.
Next up was Massive Attack. The stage was bathed in blue light as the crowd anticipated their arrival, but when they finally came on the effect wasn’t as dramatic as it could have been; Chuck D was ranting about Arizona and its “Nazi” governor well within earshot. Nevertheless, the show was spectacular and a refreshing end to the night after a disappointing Pavement set. Now it was time to find my friends somehow, who I had lost sometime after LCD Soundsystem. Unfortunately, of course, my phone was dead again.