by Tara Kelly Kearns
The sun was shining when groggy concert goers raised from the dead this morning. Avoiding hangovers, bloody marys and mimosas abounded while folks attempted to erase the fatigue in their faces from the day before.
The Mainstage hosted the first act of the day I had been recommended to see. New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band was already in full swing (pun intended) by the time I walked down to the main floor. Their soulful, happy old-timey jazz tunes incited dancing and smiling throughout the entire audience. Made up of eight musicians, including a trumpeter, trombone player, two tuba players, a clarinetist, a saxophonist, a pianist and a drummer, these men, most of whom looked to be over 55 years old, dressed the part of a classic jazz ensemble in black and white suits. Their age certainly didn’t slow them down and they kept high energy for the entire 45-minute set, sweating and bobbing around. A few of the band members took turns singing the jazz – blues vocals, but the trumpeter, whose trumpet solos had the crowd reeling, was their frontman. The sometimes revival-style singing and playing turned the crowd into a bunch of believers – at the church of the PHJB. This was the perfect way to start Sasquatch Day Two.
Shifting gears into the realm of electronic music, I headed up to the Bigfoot Stage to check out one-man-band Robert DeLong. Usually with solo electronic music, you don’t expect to see much happening on stage, except maybe the occasional break from the laptop to hit a drum pad effect. DeLong’s show is all about moving around on stage in order to create his pop-electronic sound with his unique equipment set-up. Colored in black and marked in orange Xs, his machinery is utilized to the fullest. He had two laptops, two keyboards, a drum pad, timbale, and a joystick he used to control other effects. Although sometimes it was difficult to hear the individual effects being created live, this all was very impressive, especially since he was busy jumping and dancing between orchestrating his show. As if this wasn’t enough, he sat down at a live drum kit for part of the set and then later used a remote control – shaking and waving it – in order to create choppy vocal effects. DeLong’s goal for his crowd is singular and best expressed in his own lyrics, “Did I make you fucking dance?” Yes, Mr. DeLong, you certainly did.
After a short break to eat and enjoy the beautiful clouds and sun, I went back to the Mainstage for the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Folks, it didn’t appear to be just a clever name, as the two lead men were dressed in all-black – jeans and leather jackets. Trying not to sympathetically overheat, I took in their sound, which is pure and simple rock – guitar, bass, drums (with occasional keyboard) – with heavy bass and guitar riffs. After listening for a bit and watching the two lead men share vocals (one sounded quite a bit like Bono) and change instruments , I looked back at their drummer, who held it down quite well, and realized she is female. Well, they officially took the award for “Most Badass Band” today. The badass-ness was solidified when, during the one of the last tunes, the guitarist was also smoking a cigarette. This rebel-like persona did not overshadow their genuine gratitude felt in the bassist’s final: “You guys have been beautiful. Take care of each other, alright?”
Time after time, artists expressed how beautiful a performance venue the Gorge is. During Andrew Bird’s set, the clouds put on a beautiful show over the Columbia River gorge desert valley that perfectly complimented the beautiful music. Bird mostly plays the violin, occasionally bowing the instrument and other times plucking it. In both ways, he creates lovely melodies that were orchestrated well with three-part harmonies backed by a full band. A few times, he even picked up the electric guitar, which created a different, but equally lovely aesthetic. Bird’s vocal melodies blended seamlessly into his mellow folk sound, which was sometimes interrupted by short psychedelic-grunge instrumental jams.
England’s Bloc Party gathered a large crowd and immediately had them all cheering. Made up of drums, bass and two guitars, their sound is a throwback to ‘90s pop-rock.
For the final two shows of the night, I found a spot on the coveted terraced grass steps where one can lay back and enjoy, which was perfect for the mellow music to come. The xx was a highly-anticipated performance and did not disappoint fans. The sound is simple, slow, and laid-back, though the beats were heavier and reminiscent of club music. The two lead male & female performers shared vocals, not harmonizing, but often singing in octave-unison. Their duet-like vocals were mirrored in their movements and interaction on stage – slow, quiet, and smooth, often moving together in unison with guitar and bass in hand. The music was complimented well by the light show, which was best seen from my vantage point on the grass. The lights interacted with the fog machine effects in such a way that it created the illusion of clouds above the Mainstage floor. The fans showed their appreciation for it all by cheering loudly between songs, and staying quiet during the music. While they didn’t speak often, The xx did express gratitude for being on the Mainstage after having played a smaller stage at Sasquatch three years earlier.
I was most anticipating the final show of the night: Sigur Rós (which I still have trouble even saying). Though they hail from Iceland, their music crosses over borders and language barriers because it is just so damn beautiful. Led by Jonsi on vocals and guitar — with which he uses a bow to create a haunting effect — the full 11-piece band took up the entire stage in floor space and filled out the entire venue sonically. While at times I thought maybe he was singing in English, Jonsi mostly sings in Icelandic and his incredibly pure and perfect falsetto voice sits beautifully atop the large and powerful orchestrations. The music often starts slow and quiet, and then builds into near chaos, bringing in the help of the 3-piece string and horn sections. Piano parts fit perfectly in with the sound, as well as the bass, another guitar and various percussive elements, including a xylophone. Behind the stage was a wide and narrow screen playing slow-motion scenes of people, water, trees, and wind, which illustrated that perhaps the songs are much more melancholy than the music itself led me to believe. Scattered on the stage were uncovered light bulbs set on posts at varying levels, which the lighting director choreographed in tandem with the music. As the night grew colder, the set moved forward and sadly the crowd thinned out, I decided to move closer for a better view. Setting myself center stage near the front enhanced the experience exponentially, as I could now see Jonsi step out from behind the mike toward the audience during some of the epic build-ups, peering into the crowd, occasionally bent over thrashing his guitar, or throwing the weight of his head toward one side of the audience or the other. When the set ended, he threw down his instrument and immediately left the rear center stage. After some prodding from the crowd, Sigur Ros came back out for a two-song encore. The first song was one a few during the entire set that I recognized from an album that I can neither spell nor pronounce. The second encore was unrecognizable, but the most important song of the night. The build was slow and eternal, bringing in different instrumental parts one by one. The climax went on forever, and the insanely talented drummer kept the band moving forward, both in energy and tempo. Unsure when it would end, I found myself wishing that it wouldn’t, as I came close to tears at the beauty of the scene, the lights, the instruments, the vocals, the incredible talent of each musician, and the unified perfection of it all. Alas, it did end and the band exited the stage, but came back out, after some of us could not stop cheering, to bow, clap for us, and give non-verbal thanks. Sigur Rós is not only a class act, but also put on one of the best and indescribable (even though I clearly tried) performances I’ve ever been to.