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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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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.

    Ryan Adams

    natalieprassandryanadams cai5 Sasquatch! 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to BestPhoto by Lilay Cai

    Of course it had to happen. Despite Ryan Adams recently covering Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69” and hopefully putting a tired joke to rest, someone in the crowd repeatedly requested the song. Adams first shrugged it off by saying he’d play the songs he wants. Then, when it happened again, he gave the fan a verbal version of the People’s Elbow.

    “You’re so smart!” Adams said sarcastically. “I’m surprised when you go to sleep you don’t forget to breathe … little prick. Fuck you, here’s another song.” Despite the minor setback, Adams took the aggression and put it into a most kick ass version of “Dirty Rain” that climaxed with him screaming and pummeling at his guitar.

    Everything about the set was quintessential Adams, from the arcade games and comically sized fake amps on stage to the facetious quips. He wasn’t one to shy away from blissful moments either, especially when he brought out — second surprise! — Natalie Prass to sing backup for “Oh My Sweet Carolina”.

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    Needless to say, Adams was in top form, hitting all the landmarks fans have come to expect from his performances.

    Strand of Oaks

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

    Photo by Lilay Cai

    It’s hard not to root for Strand of Oaks‘ Timothy Showalter. The tatted up and grizzled frontman is about as earnest as they come. Almost every band gives thanks between songs, yet when Showalter does it, his words seem particularly genuine and moved by the audience’s enthusiastic responses. This same emotion persisted throughout the set, reaching its peak during closer “JM”. Between fits of guitar mastery, Showalter would pull at his hair and scream into the mic, pleading with the ghost of Jason Molina. It was a powerful moment to experience. The tragedy of his lyricism was only outranked by seeing a guy who’s seen hell overwhelmed with praise.

    St. Vincent

    stvincent cai1 Sasquatch! 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to BestPhoto by Lilay Cai

    Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, channeled Star Trek: Voyager borg Seven of Nine during her main stage set. Her robotic movements, synchronized with her keyboardist, were jarring at first, but quickly settled in with the music’s aesthetic. Wearing a black dress that matched her dyed black hair, Clark would scuttle across the stage. These small and deliberate movements paid off anytime she would make a grand gesture, like a vocal wail or a frantic guitar solo. This was especially true during Strange Mercy single “Cheerleader”, as she stood on top of a pink platform with her fist in the air. It was a proclamation. Now, it’s just a question of whether or not she can pass the Turing Test.

    Sleater-Kinney

    sleaterkinney cai10 Sasquatch! 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

    Photo by Lilay Cai

    From the opening fuzzed out riffs of “Price Tag”, Sleater-Kinney‘s presence commanded attention. Unfortunately, more people weren’t there to get the marching orders. It was the least attended headliner of the weekend, with most festivalgoers opting for Flume instead. But it didn’t matter. Sleater-Kinney was going to sonically demolish the amphitheater. Carrie Brownstein still brought out her trademark high kicks, even with a skirt. She and Corin Tucker seamlessly played off of one another. Meanwhile, Janet Weiss ferociously pummeled her drum set. They may not have been the headliner festivalgoers wanted and promoters imagined, but they were one Sasquatch! deserved.

    Gogol Bordello

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    Photo by Lilay Cai

    In a weekend that actually boasts Robert Plant on the bill, Gogol Bordello‘s Eugene Hütz drew the energy of a younger version of the Led Zeppelin frontman. His power stances and erratic behavior only heightened throughout. There was no hesitation to throw himself across the stage. He was so eccentric that it’d be easy to miss the theatrics of the accordion player wearing a studded leather vest with no shirt. His wine-guzzling antics set a precedent for the main stage, proving that gypsy punk can stand up formidably with any rock band.

    Little Dragon

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    Photo by Eric Tra

    Neon diamond lights flashed beside Little Dragon, matching their neon electronic aesthetic. Lead vocalist Yukimi Nagano’s hypnotic dance moves added levity to the flourishing synthesizers and glowing drums. Each member executed with precision, but played it off as effortlessness. It was one of the most “in vogue” performances of the weekend, especially with Nagano’s poses.

    Run the Jewels

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    Photo by Eric Tra

    Run the Jewels‘ Killer Mike and El-P are still marching along triumphantly on their post-Run the Jewels 2 victory lap. “How’d you do that? Was Satan involved?” El-P claims people asked him about their success. But just moments into their performance it was clear that no deal with the devil could produce results this great. The group ran through the majority of the material between their two collaborative albums. Not even an injury could keep the two back from “burning this place to the motherfucking ground,” as Killer Mike declared with his arm in a sling. As their albums show, there’s a thoughtfulness behind the bravado, as they dedicated “Early” to Michael Brown and Eric Garner. They’re fighting for social justice, yet still finding time to trade quips over vicious beats.

    Angel Olsen

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    Photo by Lilay Cai

    Hair blowing in the wind with storm clouds closing in, Angel Olsen stood like a transplant from a forgotten era. It was a rare frigid moment in the weekend. Olsen reveled in the atmosphere with her rich vibrato giving a calm to the crowd. Even though she leaned on the rock side of her sound, her delivery on songs like “Lights Out” could quiet the chatter. For a brief moment, Sasquatch! was still.

    Kendrick Lamar

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    Photo by Eric Tra

    On Kendrick Lamar‘s excellent new album, To Pimp a Butterfly, he constantly repeats the phrase “I remember you was conflicted.” That’s as good of a summary as any for people leaving his set. All weekend, people speculated what he might do. After all, this was the first show he’d be playing since the album had come out. Once he started, there was no denying the Compton rapper has completely come into his own in terms of showmanship and being his own hype man. Tracks like “Money Trees” and “Swimming Pools (Drank)” gained a serious boost thanks to his charisma, constantly pushing his fans to be louder. Meanwhile, gorgeous footage of Compton played on a panoramic screen behind him. But there was something missing, namely the fact that he only played one song from his new album. When he finally did play “Alright”, there was palpable hype of people waiting for him to delve into the complex jazziness of the record. But that never came. Even when he came back for an encore, it was to play “A.D.H.D.” off of Section.80.

    There were no black eye contacts, no recounting of manic depression, and really no political or social statements to be had. He was most concerned with, by his own admission, turning the show into a party. And on that front, he succeeded completely. “m.a.a.d. city” became a 20-minute event within itself, with Kendrick even bringing on two audience members to separately rap the song with him. But he left many wishing that he had traded at least one of the four times he played “m.a.a.d. city” for anything from Butterfly. Yet this is Sasquatch! and not a dark, moody club. Kendrick seems to know his audience, as even people in the lawn were jumping up and down throughout “Fuckin’ Problems”. Here’s hoping he’ll soon break out the new material and embrace his darker side. The party’s gotta end sometime.

    Action Bronson

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    Photo by Eric Tra

    “I don’t see enough weed smokers,” Action Bronson screamed, already sweating through his shirt. “I’m gonna help you out.” The Queens rapper then proceeded to throw baggies of weed into the crowd. Artists love to name drop marijuana laws when they play in Washington, but Bronson showed all of them up. It’s a level of intensity that he’d keep up throughout the set. Whether it was jumping into the photo pit or throwing out countless quotables (“This shit right here makes me want to crash the Jeep into a 7/11”), he did it all screaming and with gusto. He wasn’t without his euphoric moments either, breaking out into Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” in the middle of his own “Baby Blue”.

    Lana Del Rey

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    Photo by Eric Tra

    Lana Del Rey is less of a performer and more of an aesthetic. She’s a slow drag of a cigarette while singing about blue jeans. Or she’s grainy black-and-white footage superimposed on palm trees. It’s an all-or-nothing total package with her performances that justifies her barely moving. She lets the mock skyscrapers on stage fill the void. Drawing one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, it’s apparent that she’s taking her place as one of the biggest rock stars in the world right now. When she stepped down into the photo pit for a song, fans clamored for a chance to touch her while she gracefully held out her hand and smiled. It was comparable only to old footage of Beatlemania. She’s created a culture within herself. From opener “Cruel World” to a cover of “Chelsea Hotel”, Del Rey briefly invited the masses to revel in her mysterious existence.

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