Central Washington’s Columbia River Valley is some of the most beautiful natural landscape in the U.S., and the headlining acts at the Sasquatch! Festival, at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, WA, over Memorial Day weekend knew it. “Give it up for the Earth!” shouted Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio as his band played a Sunday night Gorge set. Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, who followed TV on the Radio, went further. “This is one of my favorite places in the world to play,” he said. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be than here right now.”
Several thousand music fans agreed. Sasquatch! has become one of the most reliably well booked festivals in the country, but its Northwest base and inclusion of many area bands give it a homegrown feel as well as national pull. Sets by up-and-comers abounded, from Portland power-poppers Viva Voce to the bookish indie of Seattle’s Pica Beats.
The biggest Northwestern band on the bill was the Decemberists, who played Saturday evening, shortly before sundown. Colin Meloy, in a black suit and tie and long muttonchops, led the ensemble through a committed rendition of the songs from the band’s new album, The Hazards of Love. Unfortunately, the band were upstaged by a couple visibly having sex far up in the bluffs behind a venue fence. When security finally escorted them out they were cheered as loudly as the Decemberists.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs followed with a triumphant dozen-song set, with Karen O in white shorts, a white-and-neon kabuki poncho, lime green tights, and neon hot-pink gloves, her bandmates Brian Chase (drums) and Nick Zinner (guitar) in basic black, and the whole band mixing material from all three YYYs albums into a brilliant whole. “Heads Will Roll,” from the new It’s Blitz!, kicked things off with O in athletic form as the others pounded out the tribal groove of “Dull Life” and battering it home with a final trio of “Zero,” “Maps” (done acoustically), and a steaming “Y Control.”
Kings of Leon seemed an odd fit with the rest of the acts — in a word, they’re not especially arty. But they were generous, playing 20 songs to close out Saturday night including the driving “Crawl,” “Be Somebody,” and the hit “Use Somebody,” which incited an instant mass sing-along 16 songs into the set.
The weekend was remarkably hot, each day warmer than the last. Sunday was a good day to catch some shade, and a lot of kids did so in the Comedy/Dance tent (comedy in the day, dance music at night). By the time Aziz Ansari (of NBC’s Parks and Recreation) appeared, there was simply no room to move inside the tent.
They were packed just as tight in front of the main stage when TV on the Radio started an early evening set with “The Wrong Way,” from their 2004 album, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, and hurtled through ten more storming art-rock jams. “I wish I could go back in time to tell my teenage self that I would someday be playing on the same stage as Jane’s Addiction,” guitarist-singer Kyp Malone said before the band jetted into “Blues from Down Here,” of 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain. And “A Method” became a percussion jam involving a handful of onstage guests, including Aziz Ansari.
Who’d have figured Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor would look so joyful while playing his songs of plagued love and horrifying isolation? But that’s what happened when NIN came aboard and steered the crowd as the sun sank appropriately in the background. Resembling Alec Baldwin all in black, Reznor paced his set perfectly, bounding between material from the 20-year-old Pretty Hate Machine and newer instrumental work, all of it meshing naturally. And while older material like “Terrible Lie” and “Head Like a Hole” induced the most raucous singing along, one of the biggest cheers came for Reznor’s whispering, “Heh, heh, heh, heh,” during “Echoplex,” from 2008’s The Slip.
The first song by Jane’s Addiction, “Three Days,” announced the band with real, amazing force: Perry Farrell in pimp-dandy velvet, parading the stage with authority as the fully reunited band, including original bassist Eric Avery, who kept things grounded with rock-simple grooves. Farrell’s between-song patter was as shtick-filled as a Vegas act, albeit pitched to a different demographicâ€”kids who want sex, drugs, and mystical experiencesâ€”but the music helped make up for it, with “Mountain Song” and “Ocean Size” sounding appropriately mammoth.
Sunday featured a wider array of musical options. The Wookie Stage, one of two band-focused alternatives to the main stage, was visited by the woozy psych-pop of Black Moth Super Rainbow, heavy on the new Eating Us, and with appropriately trippy video backdrop. Later the Wookie was visited by the amazing spectacle of Israel’s Monotonix, three hairy guys who crowd-surf, climb everything taller than they are, stage dive, and conduct the audience to sit and then jump, all while playing noisy garage rock.
Back at the main stage, Santigold, clad in a purple-print-and-white jumpsuit and big earrings and exuding warm confidence, bounded the stage with authority and got even stoic security dancing during “L.E.S. Artistes.” “I’ve got a tip for you,” she said. “Never eat at Burger King before a show. Anyway, let’s see what happens… let’s see if I throw up.” Happily, she didn’t.