Day 2 was far and away the best day weather-wise, which just made a lazy Saturday that much lazier. Bear Mountain kicked off the first full day of music, playing to a crowd that probably grew fourfold between by the end of their too-brief set. Having just expanded from a duo to a quartet, the band appeared to be quite comfortable playing together. They shed the demure electronic of their album XO in favour of prominent dance rhythms, and the audience shook off their hangovers for a surprisingly upbeat opening slot. XO standouts “Two Step” and “See You Through” stood out on stage as well, along with a batch of new material, backstopped by magnificent psychedelic visuals.
I sat down to chat with Bear Mountain after their show. The Vancouverite duo shared their thoughts on concept albums, shifting from a duo to a quartet, and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
Grimy garage rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club were the first act we caught at the Sasquatch Stage. The trio emerged swathed in leather, and all I could think about was how hot they must be. The band proceeded to pound out mid-tempo rock to a modestly sized audience. In an apparent attempt to cultivate the band’s dirtbag rep, Guitarist Peter Hayes had a cigarette in his mouth for almost the whole time we watched. A muddy mix and overwhelming volume seemed an attempt to compensate for the lack of diversity in their set. Afterwards, we happened to stumble on the rather surprising Caveman at the Yeti Stage. The members of Caveman have been active denizens of the New York music scene for years, and proceeded to form when most of their projects simultaneously dissolved. Their all-embracing blend of rock and folk was a nice change up, and they conjured up some serious grooves. The mountain of pedals gave their songs a sense of weightlessness, even though the bass was too loud and threatened to undermine their impressive melodic chops.
From there it was back to the main stage for Andrew Bird. I’ve always enjoyed Bird’s music, even if I’ve never gone out of my way to really invest in him. It took the man three minutes to make me rethink that decision. Walking out onto the stage alone with a violin and xylophone, he quickly created an entire backing orchestra for himself with loops. What followed was one of the most impressive displays of musicianship I’ve ever seen in my life. I was both dumbfounded and consumed by a feeling of inadequacy. Bird was joined by his band shortly thereafter and they delved deep into his catalogue, with intermittent jams that gave each member a chance to show off their ability. Their closing song, a reimagined take on “Fake Palindromes” was probably the closest they ever came to rocking out. From a purely musical standpoint, this was the most impressive display of talent I saw all weekend.
Midway through their evening set as the Sasquatch stage, Bloc Party frontman Kele Okerke described their last appearance at Sasquatch 2005 as their “worst gig ever.” He also declared the band’s desire to rectify this failure during their first appearance at the Gorge in 8 years. Did they ever. Zigzagging through an spirited set, including the watermarks of “Banquet” and “Four,” the British indie quartet brought the nearly the entire crowd in attendance to their feet as the sun began to swell above the Gorge. I’m convinced that drummer Matt Tong’s knee must be made of titanium he was hitting his kick drum so hard. The band also played a new song, with Okerke half singing, half rapping over a fast, jittery rhythm, and it was one of their strongest moments. Both hugely enjoyable and a genuine surprise, this set wasn’t just energetic, but energizing.
Opening with “Baby Gets Worse,” Divine Fits rocked the Bigfoot Stage with a kitchen sink performance, including some entertaining banter with the audience. “The last time I was here I was high as balls on mushrooms,” singer/guitarist Dan Boeckner confided in the audience. “I had a vision of myself getting skeletonized by coyotes.” Britt Daniel’s voice could have been mistaken for a recording, particularly on a spectacular cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lost.” Boeckner was equally impressive, and his feisty antics on-stage resulted in him tripping over his guitar cords more than once. Drummer Sam Brown and utility man Alex Fischel more than held their own with their better known counterparts, and tunes like “Civilian Stripes” and “Would That Not Be Nice” made a strong case that these guys were the tightest band I saw all weekend.
Earlier in the day, I sat down with Divine Fits to talk about discarded name ideas, their writing process, and the legend behind Wolf Parade’s debut album.
Standing so close to the front for the opening tracks of Spanish producer John Talabot’s set was difficult. The sub bass from opener “Depak Ine” was rattling my ribcage, and by the time “Oro Y Sangre” came around everything was shaking so hard I was having trouble swallowing. Still, Talabot and his foil were a pleasant surprise, playing many of their instruments manually to a snugly packed El Chupacabra tent. Very little of the music was preprogrammed. All of the vocal samples from Talabot’s debut, fIN, were adapted live, as was most of the percussion and keyboards. In a weekend with its fair share of stale DJ sets, this was incredibly refreshing show. Missing a reportedly drab set by the xx was a tough price to pay, however.
Troubles moving amplifiers at the border was the official story for Tame Impala’s late arrival. Scheduled to start at 10pm at Bigfoot Stage, but later moved to the slightly smaller Yeti for 11:45, my highly impatient wait for the Aussie psych-rockers resulted in my missing Sigur Ros. I saw Tame Impala back in March, so when you consider that they played almost identical sets and factor in the opportunity cost, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. Their music is also much better suited for an indoor setting, where the natural echo helps to bulk up their trippy interludes and jams. Singer and band brain Kevin Parker also had a few microphone issues, including on “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.” But “Keep On Lying,” “Elephant” and “Solitude is Bliss” were all phenomenal. They haven’t missed a beat since losing bassist Nick Allbrook back in March.
On our way back to the campground we caught two tracks by Empire of the Sun, whose set on was so bright and bizarre I’m sure it was meant to scare anyone who’d taken acid into calling an early night. If people in the 1960s imagined music in the 2010s and how weird it would be, I’m sure this garish display would have been something like what they pictured.