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Sasquatch! 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

A rising star tops the Gorge's fantastic four-day weekend

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    Four days of a festival can be grueling. Living long on a campsite, with so many neighbors not showering, is a lot to ask of people. Yet this year’s Sasquatch! Music Festival made it an easy choice, boasting one of the season’s solidest lineups. It was a chance to see legends like Robert Plant and Sleater-Kinney and witness the birth of future myths Kendrick Lamar and Lana Del Rey. Not to mention that The Gorge Amphitheater isn’t all that bad of a backdrop either.

    Photo by Eric Tra
    ca
    Photo by Eric Tra

    The headliners may have been the big draw, but this year’s undercard provided some of the biggest surprises. Sasquatch! has long been an outlet for young artists to make their break into something bigger. Tame Impala even recalled their chance booking in 2010 and how they made it a goal to one day play on the main stage with the picturesque landscape behind them. They wouldn’t be alone as many of this year’s rookies showed potential to make the same leap within the next few years.

    Photo by Eric Tra

    Photo by Eric Tra

    Sasquatch! is also an absurd place. It’s a festival where you can dance to Jungle next to a girl dressed as a banana or vibe out with a dinosaur at James Blake. At times, the crowd looks like unlockable costumes for Tekken characters, and that’s all part of the charm. There was a snarky vibe in the air, too, as jokes about corporate sponsor Twix floated left and right. Even artists got in on the fun, mockingly encouraging people to eat the candy and feigning enthusiasm about its chocolatey goodness. But if the worst thing to happen at a festival is candy, that doesn’t sound so bad.

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    Ahead, you’ll find our coverage of the best and worst of the festival.

    –Dusty Henry
    Staff Writer

    Jungle

    jungle cai2 Sasquatch! 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

    Photo by Lilay Cai

    P-funk outfit Jungle matched the vibe of the scorching and sweaty opening day. They served as the ideal primer to hype up the crowd, even getting people on the lawn to dance without inhibition. After a few tracks, though, the set became monotonous; it was hard to tell when an extended funk jam began and the last one ended.

    S (Jenn Ghetto)

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    Photo by Lilay Cai

    Seattle songwriter S, aka Jenn Ghetto, has been a local favorite since her days in Carissa’s Wierd. Her Sasquatch! set let her thrive in the laid-back attitude of the early afternoon. Switching between guitar and piano showed her prowess for downer indie rock. Sometimes, however, Ghetto’s music was a bit too subtle and nondescript for the festival setting. Ghetto is an act better savored with headphones alone, not on a bright and sunny afternoon. She kept her commentary playful between her melancholic songs, offering anecdotal quips about the festival like, “All your favorite stars in the same place!”

    Hiss Golden Messenger

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    Photo by Eric Tra

    With Ryan Adams going full rock, Hiss Golden Messenger held things down on the alt-country front. Donning trucker hats and tattoos, the group wistfully played through tracks off the band’s great 2014 album, Lateness of Dancers. The live set struggled to capture the energy of the record, however, with many people passing by unenthused. The group also had the unfortunate luck of following a rousing set by Kate Tempest, making their acoustic-tinged tunes feel a bit underwhelming in comparison.

    Bishop Nehru

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    Photo by Eric Tra

    Before Bishop Nehru hit the stage, his DJ hyped the crowd with classic Brooklyn bangers. But as everyone was bouncing up and down, he delivered the ultimate buzzkill as he shouted out “R.I.P. all the dead rappers.” Despite the quell in hype, the young rapper dominated the stage with old school bravado. Nehru constantly repeated his joy for music, drawing from the crowd’s vibe. At 18 years old, he’s still following the standard MC moves, no doubt learned from watching his more established peers. While he plays it off well, Nehru still needs to find a new dynamic to set himself apart.

    Flume

    Flume_Eric-2

    Photo by Eric Tra

    Electronic music was the big draw this year for many attendees, making Flume a consistently circled act on schedule pamphlets. The massive crowd hung on every beat and sample. 3D-generated visuals kept people engaged even on the outskirts. With so much hype around the producer throughout the day, it seemed like there would be a bit more of an edge to his set instead of the classic and overdone DJ-with-video model.

    Merchandise

    merchandise cai2 Sasquatch! 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

    Photo by Lilay Cai

    On a blistering, hot day, Merchandise relied heavily on waves of reverb and rumbling bass lines. It was a much-needed reprieve to relax in the shade and many used the set as a brief moment to recharge before jumping back into the chaos of the festival.

    Will Butler

    willbutler cai3 Sasquatch! 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

    Photo by Lilay Cai

    If the crowd wasn’t sure which person on stage was Will Butler, he had them covered. Each wore a black sweater with their name on it. The Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist howled and danced across the stage like a millennial Elvis without irony, especially during a wild rendition of “Take My Side” straight from his debut solo album, Policy. It was all of the fun of Arcade Fire without any pretense or sweeping statements.

    Perfume Genius

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    Photo by Eric Tra

    In a low-cut, black jumpsuit, Mike Hadreas sashayed across the stage as Perfume Genius. Despite being relegated to the acoustic suck of the El Chupacabra EDM tent, he made the best of the situation. He hit breathtaking high notes with grace and shook his shoulders to the industrial beats of “Grid”.

    Real Estate

    realestate cai2 Sasquatch! 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

    Photo by Lilay Cai

    Real Estate was quite possibly the most sedated act of the weekend. Their lush sounds were the ideal soundtrack for the dust and haze of cigarette smoke. The mix gave clarity to the Atlas tracks, highlighting the aching lyrics hidden beneath the dreamy guitar jangles.

    The War on Drugs

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    Photo by Lilay Cai

    Just over a year after the release of Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs have already transformed into young festival veterans. Their nebulous guitar tones permeated throughout The Gorge. The painted scenery behind the band could’ve easily been album art for one of their records. It was a rich atmosphere that made them the perfect band to see on the lawn.

    Natalie Prass

    natalieprass cai2 Sasquatch! 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

    Photo by Lilay Cai

    At the beginning of her set, Natalie Prass deemed the festival “Prassquatch”. In some ways, it was an apt description. She found herself taking part in two of the weekend’s biggest surprises (both of which everyone totally saw coming). The first came during her own set, in which she brought out Ryan Adams to play a dynamic guitar solo on “Reprise” while she picketed wiht a plush Godzilla in the air. (The second surprise would come later.) Even without Adams, Prass wisely held down the Yeti stage on her own with material from her self-titled debut and an exceptional cover of Janet Jackson’s “Any Time, Any Place”.

    Sylvan Esso

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    Photo by Eric Tra

    Sylvan Esso‘s spacious beats were matched with an equally spacious stage. The duo’s minimal setup gave them plenty of room for vocalist Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn to slow dance across the stage. It vibed with the crowd, culminating in an upbeat rendition of “Play It Right”.

    Hot Chip

    hotchip cai7 Sasquatch! 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

    Photo by Lilay Cai

    Fresh off the release of their latest record, Why Makes Sense?, the British electronic outfit Hot Chip supplied the last dance party of the weekend. Whatever energy people had left after four days under the Eastern Washington sun was expelled to its last sweaty drop during this hour. It was a celebratory note to end on, with the echoes carrying far beyond the campgrounds.

    Courtney Barnett

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    Photo by Eric Tra

    As a three-piece, Courtney Barnett and her band had one of the most minimal setups of any rock band over the long weekend. Yet with just the key components, they delved into brutal noise jams and massive guitar odysseys. Barnett would get on her knees and solo, holding her guitar to her amp for maximum noise. Songs like “Small Poppies” and “Pedestrian at Best” were the best iterations of themselves, becoming huge rock epics ready to burn down arenas.

    Ought

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    Photo by Eric Tra

    Ought‘s dark art-rock might seem best fit for a musty basement. Yet their mean guitar riffs transcended the festival atmosphere. “We don’t know what to do with this temperature,” frontman Tim Beeler Darcy joked. The Montreal act even plumbed the depths of weirdness with a new song that saw them reveling in dissonant keyboards and distortion mayhem.

    James Blake

    james blake carlo_0765

    Photo by Carlo Cavaluzzi

    James Blake‘s albums are far from party records, but the British producer still knows how to work an audience. With a massive, club-ready intro song, he’d go on to turn even obscure tracks like “200 Press” into bass-heavy crowd-pleasers. He was also able to do all of this without ever stepping out from behind his keyboard. But it wasn’t all dance-specific tracks. He still made room for experimental material like the vocally driven “I Never Learnt to Share” and the emotional “Overgrown”. Even more impressive was how he’d seamlessly transition between these types of feels. It never felt awkward; everything was placed thoughtfully.

    Jenny Lewis

    jennylewis cai5 Sasquatch! 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

    Photo by Lilay Cai

    Prism designs adorned Jenny Lewis‘ jumpsuit, taking in light and reflecting out a rainbow of color. It’s an apt description for Lewis herself. The former Rilo Kiley frontwoman radiated positivity throughout her set. “Are you guys blissed out,” she asked at one point. “‘Cause I’m blissed out.” She thrived on every cheer and applause, putting it all back into her set with immaculate vocals. It was a career-spanning setlist, jumping between her solo material and Rilo Kiley. All of the full band stuff was pristine, yet the slower moments were where she shined most. With “Acid Tongue”, her backing band all gathered around a condenser mic to sing in harmony to the chorus. There was a Carter Family vibe about the scene, with Lewis standing apart from them with her guitar. Her bouts of self-deprecation, especially for such an elating set, made the moment just that much heavier.

    Modest Mouse

    modestmouse cai3 Sasquatch! 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

    Photo by Lilay Cai

    Modest Mouse may claim to be “Strangers to Ourselves”, but they are not strangers to Sasquatch! They returned to their first headlining spot since 2011 on Saturday night with a nine-piece band in tow. Opening with “The World at Large”, they played up to both their new fans and longtime devotees. Isaac Brock’s growl hasn’t lost any of its venomous qualities. Save for his confusing ramble about doing standup comedy, the band was in top form. It was a great Northwest homecoming for the Issaquah natives.

    Sharon Van Etten

    sharonve cai1 Sasquatch! 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

    Photo by Lilay Cai

    Dressed in all black, Sharon Van Etten played under grey skies and light rain. It was a perfect combination. The songwriter and her backing band invited festivalgoers into a brief moment of lonesomeness and sorrow with tracks like the vicious “Serpentine” and the empowering “Taking Chances”. Van Etten wasn’t exclusively a brooder, though; her lighthearted banter balanced things out. She gave possibly the best description of Sasquatch!, saying, “I’ve seen some pretty cool asses and pants around here.”

    Spoon

    spoon cai3 Sasquatch! 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

    Photo by Lilay Cai

    Historically, the late night side stage sets at Sasquatch! are reserved for DJs and electronic acts. Yet Spoon‘s steady rock vibes flourished on Saturday. The Austin outfit opened with a barrage of hits, including “Rent I Pay” and “The Way We Get By”. Britt Daniel’s voice kept the edge against the band’s exceptionally tight performance. As a remarkably consistent recording group, the same can be said for their full live show; they always execute with precision.

    Fuzz

    Fuzz-8

    Photo by Eric Tra

    “This one’s for the apes!” Ty Segall yelled behind the drum kit before kicking off Fuzz‘s set. While clearly a shout-out to the fans dressed up as chimps and Sasquatch, it also captured the wonderfully weird attitude of the band. Segall was a savage behind the kit. Grimy riff after grimy riff oozed off the stage. Ape shall never kill ape, but Fuzz shall kill everything they play.

    Jose Gonzalez

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    Photo by Eric Tra

    This year’s Vestiges & Claws is Jose Gonzalez‘s first solo record to include percussion, and his live show followed suit. Still, the drumming was very subtle and tasteful throughout the set. On the title track and “Let It Carry You”, they almost mimicked his picking and strumming. He also dusted off some covers, including favorites like The Knife’s “Heartbeats” and Massive Attack’s “Teardrops”. Hearing “Heartbeats” played at sunset at The Gorge is as much of an emotional experience as one could hope for.

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