For me, large music festivals are great for two reasons: I see local favorites on gigantic stages and I get to discover new non-local bands I probably wouldn’t ever see outside of a festival setting. And as thrilling as it was to see The Head and The Heart on the main stage or watch Macklemore control a crowd of thousands, my favorite sets of Sasquatch this year came from three bands I’d never seen or heard before and whose records I came home and purchased immediately: Black Mountain, Cotton Jones and Other Lives.
BLACK MOUNTAIN – Vancouver, BC
Black Mountain ::: photo by Josh Lovseth
The Sasquatch band that had me asking, “where have you been my whole life?” answered politely, in Canadian clip. “Good afternoon Sasquatch,” they formally greeted the crowd, “we’re Black Mountain. We’re from Vancouver, that’s in B.C.” But lest you think this is another twang-tinged folk band (those come later), you’re wrong. Black Mountain is a classic stoner rock band, marrying powerful female vocals like Jefferson Airplane with Deep Purple through-a-Led-Zeppelin-lens groove. Though she stood meekly as her band-mates shredded on riffs as sharp and stoney as a knife hit, there’s nothing delicate or soft-spoken about Amber Webber’s singing and her powerhouse vocal performance left me mouth agape on the Sasquatch lawn. Had I been imbibing on fungus, as Black Mountain’s grooves all but beg your brain to do, you would not have been able to convince me we weren’t watching Grace Slick’s reincarnation wailing on 2011′s version of “White Rabbit.”
Powerful, but polite. Psychedelic without getting weird. Retro without sounding tired. Black Mountain’s sexy stoner grooves took me on a trip I’m not wholly certain was legal. Unlike the bad shit you picked up in the parking lot that one time, this is a trip you want to relive and thanks to NPR’s recording of their Sasquatch set, you can.
COTTON JONES – Cumberland, Maryland
Cotton Jones ::: photo by Josh Lovseth
Cotton Jones was paired against Typhoon on a Sunday morning in a battle of bands I’ve been told I will adore, but that had never grabbed me. And Cotton Jones, playing to a small but appreciative crowd not much larger than the band Typhoon itself, won that fight so handily it felt like it might have been fixed. Cotton Jones might have had a small crowd, but they were fervent in their love, calling out requests and seeming to know every word. I sat on the hilly sidelines, watching as couples two-stepped and hippie slow-danced together to the band’s slow-burning, country soul. The crowd, much like the band’s sound itself, was an even mix of tie-dye and cowboy boots.
Cotton Jones writes songs for road trips with the windows down, rolling on dusty back roads. Hazy summer songs, new country soul classics and tie-dyed twang with a trombone. It should come as no surprise, Tall Hours In The Glowstream was the first record I picked up after I crossed the mountains.
Here’s the song I’ve had stuck in my head since their Sasquatch set:
Cotton Jones ::: photo by Josh Lovseth
Cotton Jones ::: photo by Josh Lovseth
OTHER LIVES – Stillwater, Oklahoma
Other Lives ::: photo by Abbey Simmons
Other Lives is a band made of talented multi-instrumentalists. Five musicians held down at least 10 instruments from cello to trumpet in a soft set that featured moody ballads reminiscent of both Radiohead’s ghostly strings and the hymnal harmonies of the Fleet Foxes with a touch of Damien Jurado’s lyrical sinisterness. Their song “For 12′s” string introduction is so spot-on “How to Disappear Completely,” I thought for the first few moments it had to be a cover. But then the quiet gallop of hand drumming starts and the guitar riff takes a turn towards the cinematic American West. Other Lives paint wistful Western landscapes with their music, but despite sounding and looking like Seattle archetypes, they hail from Stillwater, Oklahoma. While a festival setting was a less than ideal introduction to Other Lives, this is music to be listened to in enclosed spaces like your headphones or in a small club in the shadows of dim stage lights, their brooding and beautiful songs managed in their quietness to rise above the antics of countless other Sasquatch acts and tamely steal my heart.
You can stream the band’s brand new album Tamer Animals below and after a listen I predict many of you, like me, will be running out to buy it.
I love classically styled soul, but I’m also a fan of taking it somewhere else and breaking a few rules as Fitz and the Tantrums have made a national name for themselves doing lately. The Motown era might have been far too prim and proper to support the sort of jaded-heart love-sickness that FATT can’t seem to shake in their latest record Pickin’ Up The Pieces as they unapologetically call out every do-wronger in the book. The funky multi-instrumentalist big-band of only four, curiously sans an electric guitar but heavy on the fuzzy organ, gives life to the tumult of love that ringleaders Noel and Fitz relate in anthemic fashion via songs like “L.O.V.E.,” “Moneygrabber,” and “Breakin’ The Chains of Love.” She in a black feather dress, he in a pink suit, they led a fashionable mainstage work out for the heart, a sweat-it-out exorcism of that demon Cupid always causing so much trouble. Instead of a round of harmonies or another saccarine routine, the audience was called on for grunts and fast handclaps to complete the various moments. Yeah, I usually look to a band like this to help me get a little love, but FATT seem to have turned that notion around without sacrificing the excitement for life that’s a primary ingredient of Motown’s vibrant sound. Now if only I could actually confront my problems in real life with such alacrity…
Sometimes things don’t go according to plan but they still turn out alright.
When Robyn originally pushed back the starting time of her Easy Street Records merchandise booth signing appearance and then canceled it shortly thereafter, hundreds of electro-pop dance fans felt uneasiness in their stomachs. Their evening plans to groove suddenly put at a standstill.
“Is she not coming?!?” said a bewildered young girl to an Easy Street employee.
I heard that question asked about Robyn many times amongst the crowds gathered in areas surrounding the main stage and the Easy Street booth. I was starting to feel uneasy myself, what if my ludicrous scheme never took flight? Robyn canceling her signing appearance wasn’t a crushing blow, I was still in possession of the magical all-access orange fabric Sasquatch bracelet. My biggest problem was that I had not seen Robyn in the backstage area at all. It was around 7pm and I wasn’t sure if she had arrived at the festival yet. I didn’t make a nuisance of myself by asking questions, I just kept vigilant and waited.
I waited. You waited. Photographers, passionate fans, security guards, all of the onlookers, waited. It appeared that there were some sound issues on the Big Foot stage. The sound crew was shifting around like worker bees, tapping inaudible microphones and buzzing into their headsets with inquiries. Robyn was supposed to come on at 9pm PST.
Robyn fans directly behind the photography pit started to sing Journey. My fists clench on their own at the sounds of dozens of pretend Steve Perry’s.
It approached 9:30…Suddenly the sounds of sirens and a robotic female public service announcer transformed what was once a stage into the setting of a nuclear reactor having a meltdown.
A few men clad in white laboratory coats took the stage, the crowd erupted into cheers. I was too busy trying to connect the dots to offer any visible enthusiasm. Earlier in the day I thought I saw men wearing funny white lab coats throwing a frisbee. Then I saw some more eating ice cream on the lawn, then I thought I saw them on-stage during Iron and Wine. What is going on here? Before any of my unasked questions could be answered….
Robyn appeared in a flurry of flashbulbs. She was working the angles of lenses and playing to the camera like the late great “Macho Man” Randy Savage. There wasn’t a turnbuckle for her to climb, but there were drum risers and boulder-like sound monitors that offered ample elevation. Hip thrusts, a timely use of “The Running Man,” songs about femme bots, protecting yourself from love and being “Indestructible,” were charismatically executed to both agog and patient. The highlight of her set may have been “Dancing on My Own” in which the crowd erupted in squeals of ecstasy from the first note of the keyboard. I was still lurking in the photo pit with my inadequate camera at that point, losing myself in the moment, feeling the air of Robyn’s words from the stage and the masses of those singing the words right behind me. It was great. I feel even sheepish writing these words (pretend tough guy stuff perhaps?), but it’s a great, infectious song with a story that we most of us can identify with. What’s not to like? I’ve listened to the song a handful of times since Sasquatch came to a close. Don’t tell anyone I said that.
Though Robyn didn’t wish my friend a happy birthday (unanswered tweets and prayers make for a fancy raincheck), started her set late and wrapped it up slightly early, she was still one of the top performers I saw all weekend. Consider her a blonde electro-pop comet that is only going to orbit within our pacific northwest atmosphere on a limited basis. Gentle readers, you pretend to be a romantic by staying up at ungodly hours in order to gaze upon fleeting stars in a universe that might as well be a trillion miles away. The next time you want to observe something that is gauranteed to be worth the wait, you know where to go.
Following in the funky footsteps of Wheedle’s Groove isn’t an enviable task, but a newly expanded Moondoggies line-up stepped up to the challenge Sunday afternoon at Sasquatch. Taking the stage as a six-piece after an all-night drive from Montana, the central harmonies of Kevin, Carl and Caleb were joined by Jon Pontrello on tambourine/guitar, Micah Simler on bass and Jeremy Bruno on lap steel. Simler is recognizable to local music fans as the bassist of SHIM and The Golden Blondes, while Bruno is being borrowed for shows from former Moondoggies’ tourmates Quiet Life.
It wasn’t just the line-up that was different, the band played three brand new songs amidst old favorites like “Black Shoe” and “What Took So Long” that the mid-afternoon crowd happily sang along to. The expanded line-up and two of the new songs highlight a more robust Moondoggies, a return to the driving hooks and harmonies of Don’t Be A Stranger. “Don’t Ask Why” is a boogie blues rocker, where Caleb Quick’s masterful work on keys overtakes Murphy’s throaty twang, culminating in a jangly jam of keys, guitar, lap steel and drums that even The Dead could be proud of. Sasquatch set ender, “Do You Love Me?” was so new it seemed all but the skeleton of a pop song. The tune took the Moondoggies out of their three-part-harmony sweet-spot and featured Dahlen, Murphy and Quick singing the same plaintive howl of “Do You Love Me?” in crisp solo rounds. It was one of the few moments where the newness hurt more than helped, ending the set on a tentative note rather than with an exclamation point proclaiming the promise shown in these new explorations.
To my mind, Aloe Blacc “won” Saturday at Sasquatch (followed closely by recent Sub Pop signee’s Washed Out), though with the caliber of performance on display that day, one could make a decent argument for a bevy of bands who took the stage that day coming out golden. Backed by an ace band, he is one suave SOB, and not in that sleazy shifty-eyed always-a-player manner. No, this is a gentleman with manners, who apparently actually cares about women and relationships. His video hints that he might even be good with children! I know, hard to believe! In other words, he’s setting a bad precedent for ladies’ expectations out of us low-key lover types. Either that, or setting a good example for us to live by. After seeing how Aloe Blacc in the flesh affects ladies of all stripes, I’m pretty sure this is the guy I need to start taking notes from. And fast.
“Lovin’ You, Is Killing Me…” was the refrain floating around my head all weekend long following his set. Today I went to Easy Street Records to pick up a vinyl, and none were to be found. It’s true Mr. Blacc, at least until I can find your record, “Lovin’ You, Is Killing Me…”
It appears that we have collectively left our brains somewhere East of the mountains and while we’re awaiting their return from Ellensburg, we thought it was time we shared some daily photos from Sasquatch.
Instead of closing out my Saturday night with what I’m told was a well done Death Cab mainstage set, I opted to feel the heat of the makers of my favorite song of 2010, Sleigh Bells, in the Banana Shack. To be honest, lead songstress Alexis Krauss could probably just stand there an she’d still be a star, but she takes none of that for granted, feeding the hungry crowd charisma slathered on top of charisma. It was loud, just like the record, which to my mind sounded too loud and messy for popular embrace. Lights and music, Sleigh Bells is sensory overload, and if nothing else that is the mark of the modern generation. “Too loud” apparently wasn’t a concern to anyone but me. Above the volume, front row for the first three songs and then stepping back for eardrum relief, I still had no trouble hearing the mob screaming along at Krauss’ prompting. I did a little of it myself even. I effing love “Rill Rill!”