My intention was to have regular updates from the Sasquatch Festival up on the site while the festival was going on, but the Internet service at the event had other ideas. I conceded defeat quickly and decided to instead spend my time concentrating on the almost overwhelming amount of music at my disposal. I think I made the right decision as almost every one of the bands and performers that I saw on Sunday and Monday hit their marks with deadly accuracy, leaving the often-overflowing crowds ravenous for more.
I say almost every band, as there was one rather notable exception to this rule in the guise of Pavement. Much ink and pixels have been spilled about this much-vaunted reunion by the indie icons, and anticipation has been running high about seeing them on stage again (the band sold out their upcoming shows in New York a full year in advance and they were the first name announced as playing Sasquatch months before the rest of the lineup was released). Seems to me a lot of wasted energy of the part of both the band and their fans. They played with an aggravating nonchalance, with leader Stephen Malkmus being the biggest offender. The lanky front man dropped lyrics, whipped his guitar around his head at the end of songs, and in general acted like an entitled brat. It may fit the image that he has cultivated for himself over the years leading the band, but it was tough to stomach especially considering the bands that Pavement was sandwiched between: LCD Soundsystem and Massive Attack. The former took a no-nonsense approach to their fiery dance punk anthems. They colored over the lines of the comparatively stripped back material that occupies the band's three albums, by giving them a full band treatment (the live LCD features a drummer, guitarist, bassist, percussionist, keyboardist as well as James Murphy leading the charge on vocals). This meant stretching out the snappy grooves of "Yeah" and "Tribulations" out to extended lengths as well as putting extra gas in the tank for their current single "Drunk Girls" and their instant classic "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House". The latter expressed their audacious themes of modern alienation, lost love, and other dark topics through sheer excess of imagery and volume. The live version of Massive Attack was also brought to life by a full band (two drummers, bass, guitar and plenty of keyboards) that combined to drive the intensity of the songs deeper into the cerebral cortices of the audience. And settled behind the band was a large LED display that acted like a malfunctioning computer spitting out random words, characters, images, and bits of data. It was a commanding performance however, aided ably by the inclusion of a rotating cast of singers (Horace Andy and Martina Topley-Bird, among them) and the forbidding darkness that surrounded the Gorge by the time they hit they stage. The Sunday mainstage lineup hewed to the musical aesthetic that rules the festival when it first started: music that the indie kids and the jam band fans could agree on. This meant a festival closing set by the LSD-tinged rocker Ween, the Southern punch of Drive-By Truckers, retro-leaning folk pop by way of Band Of Horses and She & Him and the radio-friendly soul/funk of both The Heavy and Mayer Hawthorne. It gave the day a cohesive feel, which most other fests rarely maintain, and it also helped the exceptions to this mode blare out loud and clear.
Not that Passion Pit needed anything more to call attention to their lucid, '80s-inspired slices of pop nirvana. The area around the main stage was teeming with bodies, almost all of which were left a sweaty wreck thanks to the fantastic set by the band and the ripping heat that cut in and out for the duration. Front man Michael Angelakos noted that it was just a year ago that the band played one of the smaller stages at Sasquatch and it was obvious how much has happened for them in that time. All six members have had time to let the songs sink deep in their pores to become like a reflex. I don't mean they played by the numbers, but rather that they were locked in from the first keyboard strain to the last note crashed in to oblivion. The rest of the day continued the hot streak, thanks to command performances by a gloriously worked up Quasi, and a boisterous set by The New Pornographers featuring at times up to six people singing A.C. Newman and Dan Bejar's slinky, booming power pop. While I kvetched early on about the people who came to the Gorge over the weekend simply because it was the thing to do, it didn’t take much for me to realize that those folks were largely outnumbered by those folks who were just as passionate about the music as I was. The record store booth on the crowds was constantly surrounded by people and the number of people who thronged the tiniest stage for the local acts and other lesser-known groups was quite heartening. The big names drew the people in but they stuck around for the little guys. Could one of those groups achieve what Passion Pit did, moving from one of the smaller stages at last year's Sasquatch to the main stage in just 12 months? Time will surely tell, but I, and 25,000 of my friends, will be there in 2011 to find out.