My ‘Best Of’ Round-Up from Sasquatch 2012

I’d been looking forward to this year’s Sasquatch Festival for a long time, and I’m happy to say it was just what I’d been hoping for. I’ll admit I got tired of the ‘festival’ part of the festival—walking through a knee-deep crush of drunk, sunburned, half-naked college kids to pay $13 for a PBR got old after about a day, but hey—I went to see a ton of good shows, and a ton of good shows is what I got. Right now, I’m in that comfortable spot in festival recovery where I have my hearing back, but my legs still insist I stay on the couch, so I thought it’d be a good time to write down some impressions from the festival. (In a convenient ‘awards show’ format, even!)

Without further ado: Charlie’s Best-Of awards from Sasquatch Festival 2012.

Best use of a huge stage: Bon Iver. The band had a well-attended set at the main stage, Sunday night, conveniently following M. Ward, The Head & the Heart and Beirut to cap a string of big-name indie-rock sets. They filled the amphitheater, and they filled out the stage pretty nicely, too, forgoing the festival’s default lighting rig in favor of their own draped sculture, which dressed the stage to the rafters and added tons of visual appeal to their light show.
Runner-up: Tenacious D, for the ‘rising phoenix’ sculpture that really, really looked like a dick. Bonus points for dressing one guitarist, at various points, as both a sasquatch and the devil.

Expectation most defied: Tune-yards. Their work has an interesting ‘post hip-hop’ leaning, in that they take inspiration from sample-driven styles of music, but perform it all live. Seeing them on stage drove that point home, and earned them a lot of respect from the crowd, including me.
Runner-up: M. Ward. Someone I closely identify with the trend towards world-weary, lugubrious hipster indulgence just happened to throw down one of the most rocking sets of the day three. My sweetheart and I were in the pit for that one, and couldn’t resist dancing to his cover of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On”.

Expectation best met: Mark Lanegan. He was the top of my list of reasons for going, this year, and his set got my festival-going experience off to a great start. True to form, he greeted the audience with almost total indifference, railroading from one song to the next without so much as a ‘hello’. But the songs were fantastic. His set focused on tracks from his latest album, but mixed in a few songs from earlier in his solo career, too. The fanatical crowd that makes up the first few rows at any Lanegan show made a strong showing at Sasquatch, and Mark didn’t let us down.
Runner-up: Spiritualized. During a conversation about favorite UK bands, a campsite neighbor told me I had to catch Spiritualized’s set. I have no excuse for not knowing their music already, since they’ve been doing exactly my kind of ‘space-rock’ for over 20 years, now. My neighbor’s recommendation was dead-on, though, and their set (only slightly confused by a schedule change to fill in for Mogwai, who canceled late in the festival) was an absolute joy.

Best sound mix: St. Vincent. She/they put on an all-around great set, Saturday night, for an appreciative crowd. Much credit to the band, and to the sound crew for getting every note through the PA in a sharp, clear mix. Festivals aren’t known for great sound mixes, and there were a few stinkers at this fest (notably Shabazz Palaces, whose sound techs seemed totally unprepared,) but for the hour St. Vincent took over the stage, the mix was pitch-perfect.
Runner-up: Explosions in the Sky. Their brand of ‘pedal porn’ free-form noise rock is notoriously tricky to mix live, but the crew at the Bigfoot Stage pulled it off in aces Friday night. The fireworks going off during the end of their set were really from Girl Talk’s stage show, but you could be forgiven for thinking they made a better fit for Explosions’ set.

Most pleasant surprise: Poliça. Considering the amount of ink spilled over this band lately, it’s hard to believe they just put out their first album in February. I’m a firm believer that the true test of any electronic rock act is in their live performances, and I’m pleased to report that Poliça on stage is every bit as tight, expressive and charismatic as Poliça on record.
Runner-up: Alabama Shakes. Uniting a folkie band under the driving Motown chops of vocalist Brittany Howard, Alabama Shakes can kick out tunes that get right under your skin. I was fortunate to catch part of their main set, and their later acoustic set in KNDD’s tent, and I wouldn’t miss a chance to see them perform live again.

Most welcome trend: Popular rock finally getting back some traces of 60s bar rock, as exemplified by The Sheepdogs, Deer Tick or Black Whales, among others. It’s nice to hear that sound thriving.
Runner-up: Grown-ups on stage. One of my long-standing gripes with my fellow music listeners is our habit of tuning people out once they reach their mid-thirties. Even ignoring vets like Spiritualized or Wild Flag, the median age of performers at this Sasquatch seemed refreshingly adult.

Least worthwhile use of Michael Lerner: Portlandia. I heard a lot of griping about Portlandia’s audience-participation set on Saturday, and I tend to agree that, for a comedy set, they managed to pass the time with a minimum of comedy. But the worst part, for me, was watching Telekinesis’ Michael B. Lerner wait behind the drum kit at the back of the stage, just sitting there. I can’t help thinking it would have been a better set if Fred & Carrie had just wandered off and let Lerner tear it up.

Most surprising trend: The enormous preponderance of Gibson guitars on stage. I’m as big an SG fetishist as anyone, but I can’t remember the last time I left a festival thinking Fender had been under-represented. What’s up with that?

So, thanks for reading, and if you were one of my fellow attendees this year, thanks for sharing a great time!

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