Sasquatch Festival: Day Three
Well kids, it's my final transmission, and today's theme is "missed connections." After spending the last few weeks setting up my two biggest interviews of the festival—chiefly Built To Spill and The Flaming Lips—today I watched as all of my best laid plans went totally fucking awry due to various scheduling conflicts, a dollop of miscommunication, and various other last-minute excuses that made a mockery out of the already shaky gentlemen's agreement between publicist and publisher. As such, for my final round of Sasquatch coverage, I have no one's voice but my own to contribute; no rock stars or underground comedians will be making cameos today. I'll at least try to keep it brief. (I will also try not to let the fact that today I lost my motherfucking iPod somewhere in a fucking field of grass in George, Washington in any way color the tone of my review. No, I won't even mention how much it sucks sucks sucks and goddamn it why didn't I just leave it in the car??? Because really, that's not what you're here for. Um, unless you're the guy who found it, and you're playing the good Samaritan by Googling "lost iPod Sasquatch festival." In which case, drop me a line.)
12:30pm I arrive at the Gorge about 20 minutes too late to catch the beginning of Yeasayer's set, but I'm still fully confident that I'll be able to see at least a couple of songs. Of course, then I notice the loosely defined line out front, which stretches in every direction. It seems as though the loveably bumbling guards checking bags have suddenly taken on reinforcements from Homeland Security or something, herding people in at a pace that makes LaGuardia circa 2001 look good. It probably doesn't help that some of these yahoos are trying to sneak in everything from a magnum of champagne to a 12-pack of Coors. (Seriously: If you're going to sneak in your own beer, shouldn't it be a step up from Coors?) I spend nearly half an hour waiting for my turn among these barbarians at the gate, whereupon my designated inspector demands that I empty out my precariously packed bag from the bottom up before finally noticing my press badge and saying, "Oh, never mind." As it turns out, I didn't miss much: I later find out that Yeasayer—as is Yeasayer's wont—took approximately 45 minutes to set up, leaving them with only enough time to play four songs during their allotted hour. You know, I'm starting to wonder if this is a calculated move on Yeasayer's part, as they've definitely pulled that shit before (most recently at SXSW). Maybe it's all just misdirection to hide the fact that they only know how to play four songs.
2:10pm Another missed connection: The iffy wireless network in the press trailer is making it extremely difficult to get my Day Two write-up done and uploaded. Also making it harder than it should be: The woman from another publication who's talking very, very loudly about how she works for that particular publication, and all the cool people she's interviewed this weekend. For that particular publication. Which she names repeatedly.
2:30pm Luckily the press trailer is situated to where I can listen to The Hives while I'm racing to meet my long-since-blown deadline. Lead singer Pelle Almqvist acknowledges the warmer-than-usual temperatures (though still nothing compared to Texas, you Pacific Northwest pussies) by saying, "It's hot out here! But it's not just the weather—it's me!" The group charges through its amped-up pub-rock with the kind of shameless rock 'n' roll swagger that these days only the Swedes can muster. "Because we love you, here's a song we call 'Die, All Right!'" Kind of an odd way to show your love, Pelle, but I do actually fucking love this song. Even though the group is still beholden more to gimmicks than anything genuine, it's an invigorating set. Or, uh, from what I can hear.
2:45pm And here's the moment where I find out that my scheduled interview with Built To Spill has been bumped, because Brett Nelson's chat with Seattle Sound has run incredibly long, and now it's too late because they're due on stage. It's also 15 minutes past the time Wayne Coyne was supposed to come around to run his own promised press gauntlet. From what I hear, he's still stuck near the front entrance, signing autographs and mingling with his fans like the incredibly personal sweetheart that he is. Hard to begrudge him that, really, but it does mean I won't get to ask him my brilliant, carefully thought-out questions about Christmas On Mars. Namely:
AVC: What the fuck?
AVC: No, seriously. What the fuck?
3:35pm I'm still stuck in this increasingly trash-filled trailer as Built To Spill plays to a warm and receptive crowd. Doug Martsch's voice is in perfect, pinched form, and I can hear the familiar strains of "Carry The Zero" and "Big Dipper," two sentimental favorites that make me a little nostalgic for my carefree college days, when music was just a passion instead of a profession. The band's meandering fuzz is the perfect soundtrack to a breezy, sunny afternoon—or, uh, so I imagine. Meanwhile, the press trailer has run out of water. There's still plenty of Cheetos, though.
4:30pm Yep, still stuck in the trailer, trying to get these damn photos to download from the Sasquatch Flickr site. Pleasant surprise, though, in the form of Seattle's Siberian drifting over from the Yeti stage. The band's slightly mopey indie rock is both as chilly and expansive as its name suggests, with layered guitar textures meant for much larger arenas. Expect to hear more and more about them until you're totally fucking sick of them soon.
6pm Free at last! I make it to the main lawn in time to see Flight Of The Conchords settle in on stools near the lip of the stage, the chorus of screams growing to Beatlemania proportions. Who knew so many people had HBO subscriptions? With little more than a shy, "Hello," New Zealand's formerly fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a capella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo get this irony party started with "Too Many Motherfuckers (Fucking Up My Shit)" as the not-as-tiny-in-real-life Bret McKenzie wields a fiery red key-tar. While the songs are laugh-out-loud funny (though their TV show and CD have ensured virtually no surprises), the best bits are the in-between patter. Witness this exchange, and try to imagine, say, The Mars Volta pulling it off: "We're a real band," Bret says. "We're a band that does songs, then we talk about things between songs, then it's time to play another song." "Yes, that's pretty much the structure," Jemaine Clement concurs. "People say we're not a real band, but look, we've got all this band stuff." "Can I get more feedback in this thing?" Bret says. "Can I get this thing removed?" Jemaine says, pointing to the microphone. "It's making my voice too loud." "So, because we're a real band, we've been hanging out backstage doing band things with the other bands. Jemaine, how many blowjobs did you get?" "47. You can hear some of them cheering out here... Thank you." (Believe me, I could go on and on.)
6:15pm Although it's perhaps more suited for the cozy confines of a club—and here it's nearly drowned out by this easily excitable crowd—The Conchords' set is one of the far and away highlights of the weekend. During "Business Time," someone in the front row sets a blow-up sex doll aloft—which seems like quite a lot of planning (and inflating) for a silly concert prop that gets confiscated quickly. During "Robot Song (The Humans Are Dead)," Jemaine improvises some lyrics about how, now that the robots have all taken over, the architecture is all about domes—"including the Honey Buckets. Domed Honey Buckets for everyone." [Note: For those of you who, like me, are not from around here, the portable toilets here are all emblazoned with the word "Honey Bucket"—which I found amusing enough to take a photo of on Day One, prompting my haughty new friends from The Stranger to sniff that "everybody in Seattle is so over that." Well what-fucking-ever, ladies.)
6:35pm Shortly after "The Most Beautiful Girl In The Room," somebody throws a bra up on stage. "That's our first bra!" Jemaine exclaims. And it probably won't be the last, judging by the amount of love the women obviously have for these dudes—such as the two teen girls I see with matching, homemade, glitter-paint "Flight Of The Conchords Fanbase" shirts. (The back reads, "That IS what I'm into." Referential!)
6:55pm The Flaming Lips' publicist finds me to apologize about standing me up on our scheduled interview (and apparently I wasn't the only one, which makes me feel a little better). He takes me down to their tour bus and tries to hook up a few minutes with Wayne by way of recompense, but unfortunately Wayne is a total diva who's far too important to be talking to any little pissant calling himself a journalist just because he has access to a blog. Just kidding. Everybody knows that Wayne is one of the nicest guys in the biz, but no, he's far too busy getting ready to get into an interview right now. Then the publicist mentions that Steven Drozd might do it, because he's such a huge fan of The Onion. Unfortunately, Drozd is nowhere to be found, and that's when I finally give up on trying to interview anyone at all today, because clearly nothing's clicking. Besides, Josh keeps sending me text messages that say things like, "Enjoy yourself!" which leads me to believe I've been giving off too much of an "all work, no play" vibe in these write-ups. So I may as well take this opportunity to stop the hustle and just go join the flow.
7:15pm Splice-and-dice soul singer Jamie Lidell, "the hipster Justin Timberlake" (or is Justin Timberlake still the hipster Justin Timberlake?), is throwing himself a sexy party on the Wookie stage, bounding around the stage, jumping into the crowd, and clearly having the time of his life. His band exits halfway through the set, leaving Lidell to return to his bedroom-pop roots by building loop upon loop of his own beatboxing, creating the burbling backdrop for a remarkably killer take on "When I Come Back Around" that manages to leave behind all those Jamiroquai comparisons. Actually, Lidell has more modern ambitions: On half the songs, he's Auto-Tuning the shit out of his voice for some of that T-Pain sound that's so hot with the kids right now. In his regular, wee British lad speaking voice he asks, "How many of you have my new album? Ah, that's sweet as candy. How many downloaded it for free? That's sweet as candy. No worries, mates. Music's free! You know that." So, uh, you heard it here: Download the fuck out of Jamie Lidell's new album for free. And then get yourself some candy. You've earned it.
8pm A guy walking out of the Jamie Lidell show says, "Wow, that wasn't what I expected Ghostland Observatory to sound like at all." Ah, yet another missed connection. (Told you it was a running theme.)
8:40pm Wayne Coyne is absolutely the most hands-on rock star I have ever seen. Not only did he stay up even later than I did last night making sure the Christmas On Mars movie tent was arranged just so, and not only did he spend most of the day tending to a never-ending line of admirers anxious for a little personal attention, right now he's currently out on the stage with his crew helping arrange the set-up for The Lips' massive "UFO Show," moving props and amps around and pausing every few minutes to shake more hands with screaming sycophants in the front row. If Sasquatch had a student council, he'd be a shoo-in for president.
9pm The images of deep space and the giant screen counting down from 10 means that it's launch time, and as the massive crowd near the stage becomes a literal crush, a giant orange flying saucer begins descending slowly from the rafters. The Flaming Lips' equally hardworking crew—who have been running around all weekend dressed in their orange jumpsuits and yellow hard hats—ready it for landing by hooking up giant ladders underneath. At the same time, two flocks of folks in fuzzy alien costumes all the colors of the rainbow rush out from either wing, starting a joyous, jumping dance that won't let up until show's end. Drozd exits the craft first, taking his position on guitar, followed by Kliph Scurlock and Michael Ivins in his trademark skeleton suit. Once they're situated, Coyne—looking every bit the indie-rock evangelist—emerges from the top hatch in his signature man-sized bubble, then (very carefully) rolls it down the treacherous lip of the saucer and into the waiting arms of the audience. Not since Diamond Dave flew in on a surfboard has there been a performer who recognizes the importance of making an entrance.
9:10pm Remember that (probably apocryphal) scene from Man On The Moon where Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman is planning his Carnegie Hall performance and he says, "I want it to be everything joyful in the world, piled one thing on top of the other, until the audience can't stand it and they turn into children"? I have a feeling Coyne has that line memorized. Whizz-bang start to grand-slam finish, The Lips' performance redefines the very notion of "spectacle," bursting with trippy colors, flashing lights, dancing aliens, and bouncing balloons—and more streamers and confetti than a Super Bowl victory parade and the American Idol finale combined. Punctuating every swelling string section from opener "Race For The Prize," confetti explodes from all directions—including the tip of a high-pressure hose that Coyne wields himself, grinning manically like a walking id turned loose (which I guess he basically is). It sure is pretty, but I pity whoever has to clean all that up. (Though some volunteer out there is probably scooping up a free iPod right now for his troubles. Hope you enjoy all my exhaustively crafted playlists, guy. I guess you earned it.)
9:20pm You know those guitars that are, like, double guitars? Coyne is wielding one as he takes a moment to say, "I'm sure these past few days have been filled with excitement, drug-taking and sex—you know, all the good stuff—but I think today is the best fucking day, don't you?" Coyne (who could obviously give me a run for my swear jar money in the fine art of dropping F-bombs) then asks everyone to sing along to "Free Radicals," which he instructs us to do by adding a "Fuck!" to every line ending in "fanatical." It's followed by "a song that we've only ever played three times": a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Song Remains The Same." Rambling slightly, Coyne remarks, "When I first heard this song, I always imagined a crowd taking off their clothes to get naked and run around. But, uh, the promoters tonight said that if anyone does decide to get naked, to do it during this song and then put their clothes back on real quick." For a while the only real nudity happening is in the clip from goofy '70s spoof The Groove Tube playing on the screen behind them, but midway through the second verse, Coyne is joined onstage by five or six totally naked girls (and you could, like, see everything, Beavis) who are absolutely fucking going for it. "Holy shit! You don't see that at every show!" Coyne says. "I mean, where do we go from there?"
9:40pm To infinity and beyond, as it turns out, with pleasant, sonic boom surprises like "Mountainside" (from old-school favorite In A Priest Driven Ambulance) brushing up against Coyne's demands for sentimental sing-alongs on songs like "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots"—which could have been a genuinely stirring moment were it not ruined by the godawful electric cheese bleeding over from Ghostland Observatory's set. ("If you don't know, we're from Austin, Texas!" I can hear lead squeaker Aaron Behrens shout. And it's true: They are. I'd like to take this moment to personally apologize for that.) It gets a little louder on "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song"—finally, a tune even the kids can sing along with—which Coyne prefaces with his own version of a Stipe-style stump speech, saying, "Whether it's Clinton or Obama or neither one in November, we can't quit. I mean... Come on, motherfuckers." (Yeah! Come on!) And since it's Memorial Day, Coyne pauses a moment to eulogize those people we've lost in "this stupid war," saying he "wishes all those motherfuckers could be here with us right now," before holding up one of those military-issued, computerized bugles that can play "Taps" at the push of a button ("Though we've modified it, of course, because we're The Flaming Lips"). "Hopefully someday the only people that will need to play this bugle will be us," he says, before launching into a charged version of "The W.A.N.D." that actually ends with tons of people in the crowd holding up peace signs. "You guys, that really got to me," Coyne says.
10:10pm All good things must come to an end, and now the background screen lights up with a tongue-in-cheek clip from The Lips' notorious Beverly Hills, 90210 appearance (you know: the one where Tiffani-Amber Thiessen introduces "the cool, the crazy, the fabulous Flaming Lips" like she just learned it phonetically), heralding the grand finale of "Do You Realize?" that's accompanied by so much confetti, they'll probably still be fishing it out of the Columbia River this time next year. The fake, glittering snow absolutely blankets the crowd, mingling with the light rain that's just begun to fall—and while on any other day I'd probably be grumbling about that, I'm so genuinely moved by Coyne's massive tent revival that at this point it actually feels like ablution. Start to finish, this show has been a perfect bookend to The Cure's performance from last night—which was all about finding the bittersweet beauty in tragedy. Tonight was all about pure-cut, nose-bleeding joy and getting high on natural wonders—and really, the dichotomy between the two pretty well sums up the whole Sasquatch experience. While I woke up this morning wondering how I'd ever make it through another goddamned day, here at this very moment I have a crazy sort of wish that the festival was starting up all over again tomorrow. (Though I also sort of wish someone else had to write about it for a little while, just until I could maybe get some fucking sleep.) As I'm taking my last look around at the Gorge refracted through The Lips' exploding plastic incredible, Coyne motions to his mother ship to descend. "Goodbye, Sasquatch," he says, climbing aboard with a triumphant wave to the crowd. He came, he saw, he conquered, and now he's ready to be whisked back to his home planet. And yeah, that goes for me too.