Day 3 was the lull between the hangover and the final hurrah. It was also the day where most people seemed to give up all hope of trying to resemble what they used to look like in the outside world. First up was maximalist synth pop of Youngblood Hawke, who just dropped their debut album Wake Up in April. Their jubilantly choral songs were the perfect upper after what had been a dreary, erratically warm morning. Instrument duties were shuffled around, and vocals were shared between the sextet. The more singers they had, the better they sounded. The band seemed to agree, inviting the entire crowd to sing along with several of their songs. By the time their hit “We Come Running” rolled around, the whole hill had filled up with voices.
I spoke with the Youngblood Hawke later on in the day about swimming with sharks for a music video, moving on from their old band, and their dream festival line-up.
And the prize for the band that least looked like they should be a band goes to: DIIV. Dawned in skater attire, the 80s revivalists’ brand of swirling surf rock didn’t translate as well to the stage as I had hoped. The band themselves were tight, and all of their songs got their points across, yet it all felt slightly askew. Although you do gain an appreciation for the speed of their songs, especially “(Druun)” and “How Long Have You Known,” the clusters of reverb needlessly muddled Zachary Cole Smith’s vocals. Even he seemed to lose track of all of his pedals, often forgetting to turn them off before speaking to the audience.
From there we hurried to Danny Brown on Sasquatch Stage. Making my way over from Bigfoot, I could understand perhaps 10% of the words coming from the Michiganite’s mouth. Standing on the concrete terrace about a hundred feet away from the stage’s speakers, I understood about 20%. Brown’s energy and personality were contagious. He performed nearly half of his set as close as security would allow him, and seemed genuinely pleased to be there. But despite his liveliness, something didn’t quite gel. The combination of pre-recorded material, overreliance on the audience to sing lyrics they didn’t know, and the awkward company of Brown’s DJ made for an oddly sluggish set.
“I came here for a freakshow, not a concert!” – some guy
The Tallest Man on Earth
You can imagine the murmurs of disappointment making their way through the crowd when The Tallest Man on Earth emerges onto Sasquatch State and he’s only 5’6”. Greeted with the warmest reception of the day so far, Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson looked like he’d just rolled out of bed and walked up to the mike. Alternating between acoustic and electric guitar, he lulled a transfixed audience with his warm, rich guitar playing and Dylan-esque vocals. His solo set somehow managed to fill the Gorge more fully than Danny Brown’s head-throbbing beats.
Since Schoolboy Q was a no-show, Thebe Neruda Kgositsile (perhaps better known as Earl Sweatshirt) was my hip-hop act to see this weekend. Rolling out with Syd tha Kid on the beats, the youngest member of Odd Future looked no older than his nineteen years. In keeping with Odd Future’s puckish media persona, he shouted out “Thank you, Coachella!” after his first pair of songs. I’ve always thought that those who are the best at what they do also make it look the easiest, and Mr. Sweatshirt didn’t look like be broke a sweat. His wordsmithery is just as formidable live, mostly notably on closer “Earl.” He played several tunes from the forthcoming Doris, his follow-up to his cult classic debut. New song titles included “Centurion” and “Burgundy.”
Donning clownishly heavy black and white makeup, Grimes, aka Montréal product Claire Boucher played the final set of Sunday night. A massive crowd greeted her first few songs with chants of “turn it up!” Boucher’s onstage multitasking was impressive, switching between keyboards, synthesizers, mixing boards, singing duties and dancing. She also mixed in a few improvised interludes and freaky vocal improvisations. Boucher didn’t greet the audience until after her penultimate song, which featured and endearingly awkward and super polite ramble thanking everyone coming out to see her show. “Oblivion” and “Genesis” garnered the biggest cheers from the crowd, but Boucher’s noodling between tracks was fascinating as well.
Waking up to chilly cloud cover and spotty rainfall, the final trek to the grounds on Day 4 was a difficult one. The first set we caught was Chvrches, who playing a solid handful of new tunes from their debut album, which is due to drop in September. “It looks just like a British festival out there!” declared keyboardist Iain Cook, observing the grey monochrome sky. Vocalist Lauren Mayberry’s singing takes on a totally different sense of delicacy in person. I had thought that Chvrches were veering a little to close to the overdone, scattered, major key electronica be able to carve out an identity for themselves, but these guys and girl have serious personality. “The Mother We Share” and their new track “Gun” blew me away.
Rain delays prevented the Dirty Projectors from starting on time, goading a small portion of the audience to depart preemptively. The band made it worth the wait for those who stuck around, dragging their dizzying polyrhythms and harmonies onto new terrain for a cold, wet crowd. David Longstreth’s technical skill as a guitarist was among the highlights of the day, as were Amber Coffman’s faultless vocals. The majority of their set focused on their two most recent records, Bitte Orca and last year’s Swing Lo Magellan, including wonderfully tweaked takes on “Cannibal Resource” and “No Intention.”
Minus drummer Zach Hill, the pair of rapper MC Ride (Stefan Burnett) and beatmaker Flatlander (Andy Morin) stormed to the stage in their raingear, playing “Black Jack” before promptly departing again. They reemerged five minutes later after resolving what appeared to be rain-related technical difficulties and blasted the crowed with Death Grips’ abrasive blend of punk, electro and rap. Sporting a tight-fitting hoodie, Flatlander looked positively skeletal as he jerked around behind his panels. MC Ride was deeply invested in his performance, resolute in his commitment to riling up the audience. Perhaps too much so. He seemed to exhaust himself about halfway through the set, and relied quite heavily on his own canned voice for the remainder. This performance should have been much shorter. The duo didn’t address the audience once.
British duo Disclosure was easily my most anticipated act of the day. Brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, who just turned 22 and 19, respectively, did not let me down, bringing out a full arsenal of instruments to play live for a deliriously enjoyable set of old school Chicago house and UK garage. The young gents proved themselves to be not only producers of immaculate taste, but thoughtful musicians. Guy played bass on a number of songs, including on the funky banger “When A Fire Starts to Burn,” and sang on “F for U.” Howard mostly handled percussion duties. “What’s In Your Head” (our favourite song from last year brought the house down; this seems like that jam was just the beginning for these two. You can read our review of their phenomenal debut album, Settle, here.
British exports ∆ (pronounced Alt-J) have grown on me significantly over the past few months. I was quite looking forward to seeing them but checked my expectations at the door. Their eccentricities seemed to be smoothed over in a live setting, and their musical ability was average. Singer Joe Newman’s voice isn’t nearly as madcap in person, either. Still, the crowd was massive, which suggested that they diverted a good number of people away from the folksy Canadian group The Lumineers.
Playing as a quartet, The Postal Service closed out the festivities with a mellow set complete with a gorgeous lightshow that demanded to be watched from a distance, even if it couldn’t be photographed from there. It was almost as if the afterglow had come early. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are back from the dead!” Ben Gibbard announced to an exhausted, subdued but still very enthusiastic crowd. Gibbard seemed genuinely glad to be there, and showed off his versatility by playing guitar, keys, and hopping on the drum kit a few times, including for an extended outro of “We Will Become Silhouettes.” The boyish qualities in his voice are still sharp but he seemed to struggle with a few of the notes. The lyrics from the band’s now classic “Such Great Heights” seemed a fitting resolution to the festival, providing a gentle comedown from the adrenaline and alcohol that fuelled a remarkable weekend.
‘Til next year.