Sasquatch! 2013 Sunday: Killer Mike, Grimes, Earl Sweatshirt, & More

If Friday and Saturday felt a little lite in the hip-hop department, Sunday was like an all you can eat buffet. I indulged quite a bit, but before the hip-hop marathon started, Sunday may have had the best start of the weekend with Deep Sea Diver’s early 2pm set. You may not have heard of this Seattle band, but you’ve definitely heard front woman Jessica Dobson, one of the best hired guns for touring bands in the last few years. I’m told she was here last year playing with the Shins, but now she’s finally working on her own project. Good thing too, because Dobson is an incredible front woman and as the set grew to a shred heavy peak. In a sort of premonition of what Grimes would bring later that night, Deep Sea Diver tore through a brilliant cover of Mariah Carey’s “Close My Eyes.” Afterwards Torche tried their best to get hippies to headbang, but that surely must be impossible, right? Well they came close, but if there’s one thing Sasquatch ain’t, it’s a metalhead’s festival.

Next I squeezed my way in front of the main stage for Danny Brown’s afternoon set. Eventually summoned to the stage by a loud chant of, “pussy, pussy, pussy,” Danny finally came out to meet the small, but dedicated audience. It was an interesting set, if not a particularly strong one. Danny noted multiple times that he was very, very drunk, which might have contributed to it a bit. On top of that sloppiness there was a little too much dependence on the audience finishing lines they didn’t seem all too familiar with (the final “Blunt after blunt after…” shout was so awkward and tired people cringed). That said, when Danny is on which he certainly was for good parts of the set, he’s incredible. The range he brings is spread into widescreen –- his humor and charm are amplified against the aggressive attack of his delivery and it’s thrilling.

Sort of on the opposite spectrum of things was El-P, whose performance was razor sharp in focus, but without Danny’s overwhelming charisma. Nothing could have summed up El-P’s set better than when he looked up at the sky and said, “Oh clouds… those are appropriate. No sun -– let’s face it, no fun.” He may revel in bad vibes, but he also wins people over with his superb live band. The man knows what he’s doing, and he wisely balanced out some of the darker material with some Key-tar solos from his bandmate, a rendition of Tribe’s “Can I Kick It?,” and closing with the moving, angry tribute to the late Camu Tao, “$4 Vic.” Shad, a Canadian rapper, was a nice afterthought to El-P. On a smaller stage, but with a bigger audience, he delivered a laid back, unpredictable, and funny set. It’s not even that he’s a mind-blowing rapper — he doesn’t have to be, his conversational flow got a huge response.

If only to change things up before I saw (you guessed it!) more hip-hop, I checked out Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes on the main stage playing to well over 10,000 people. Definitely one of the big draws to the festival for many, they brought in a much bigger crowd than the man they were opening for, Elvis Costello. It’s funny to see the modesty of Costello’s setup after the massive stage filling assault of Edward Sharpe. That band is pretty much a small army, and they all play multiple instruments, AND they all sing. Yet, somehow it sounded so profoundly bland and simplistic to my ears. Costello’s set was tight, and the definition of more-with-less. It’s really something to see him just throw himself into his songs emotionally.

A little bit before Costello performed, people were packed by the Big Foot stage for the super hyped Earl Sweatshirt performance. After a warm up by Syd Tha Kid on DJ duty, Earl eventually came out with a big “What’s up Coachella!” which I found funny, but some didn’t. The new Pharrell-produced track “Burgundy” went over really well, as it has during many of his recent shows. “Chum,” was prefaced with warning that it’s depressing, and the performance was perfectly sobering in the midst of his set. Also: still no release-date on Doris though he did tease it again.

Around dusk I went to check out Killer Mike’s set on the Yeti stage, easily the best set of the day and possibly the festival as a whole. Mike had all of the anger, precision, and focus of the El-P show, with even more of the humor, charisma, and warmth of Danny Brown’s set. Moving through some of R.A.P. Music’s highlights, but going back to older classics (“Ric Flair,” anyone?), Mike packed so much into a short 45 minute set. In addition to the most furious take on “Reagan” I’ve heard, we also got “Butane,” with the El-P guest spot I was hoping for, and a closing freestyle that left much of the audience speechless — a strange thing at such a crowded music festival. Killer Mike’s unbelievable strength as a performer comes from the way he communicates with his audience. He said during his set that he doesn’t use a hype-man; he doesn’t need one because he has the audience. Earlier I mentioned Macklemore had a speech before almost every track, yet they feel almost like monologues — planned, scripted, and rehearsed. It’s a depressing thing to hear something said on stage that seems off the cuff and from the heart, and then see it repeated at a different show for another audience. It makes you as an audience member feel duped. I have seen Killer Mike perform three times now in drastically different parts of the country (geographically and politically), yet I have never seen him repeat himself or any sentiments he’s made. He really strikes me as one of the most sincere and authentic performers working today, and this set helped make me feel sure about saying that. The audience must pick up on it too: he was the only performer I saw who almost had fans push down the backstage fence just to try and shake his hand.

Though Killer Mike was not to be topped, the rest of Sunday went extremely well. Grimes killed on the main stage with fuller, bigger versions of the songs that made Visions so great. It’s refreshing too to see a pop star so in control of her music. Boucher is making everything happen at once on stage, often playing something, running to the front of the stage to dance, before rushing back to trigger a different sound. During the closing Blood Diamonds (who were absent) collaboration “Phone Sex,” it amazed me to hear and see this musician who has cited TLC, Mariah Carey and the psych-noise legends Black Dice as influences, somehow combining them all and creating something that moves thousands.

I decided to skip out on Mumford & Sons and enjoy Azari & III. It was a little confusing because one of them was definitely absent, but it’s hard to complain when their form of deep house is so welcoming, lush, and gently sad. But this was really just a warm up for the final act of the night, Primus in 3D no less.

So full disclosure (and it’s a little embarrassing): I used to listen to only Primus. I don’t mean I just really liked them, or listen to them a lot. I mean for a while in the beginning of high school the only band I listened to was Primus. Obviously I moved on to other things, and the truth is I hadn’t listened to the band since I was maybe 14-years-old. The excitement kind of snuck up on me, but as soon as “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers,” kicked in I found myself singing along with no trouble. I never thought something could make me feel like I was that age again in a good way, but this did. And it turns out it’s not impossible to get Sasquatch! to enjoy some metal even if it’s something as niche and strange as this. Most of the crowd was tripping out to the (like many of the things the band does) intentionally alienating visuals of flying elephants, old sci-fi movies, and Lee Van Cleef. 3D is doomed to be a gimmick, however gimmicks are fun sometimes, and the band handled it well. I’m actually surprised by how well the band has adapted to things. They’ve never sounded better. In fact the stretched out 10 minutes of “Southbound Pachyderm” wasn’t that far off from the Flaming Lips’ material in the last couple years, all anxious vibes and bad trips. This show also accomplished my inner tween-dream of seeing “Over The Falls” live — we did it buddy!