Sasquatch! 2013 Monday: The Postal Service, Ariel Pink, Death Grips, & More
If there was one constant during the Monday at Sasquatch! it might as well have been “failure.” The rainy final day, riddled with many sound problems, cancellations, and absences, brought that word to mind in some context with nearly every set. Yet, in spite of this, band after band delivered their all and by the time things came to close these failures felt transcended. Despite the problems, I think this might be the day of Sasquatch ’13 that I’ll remember the most.
The bad news came early. Gold Fields, a band I had been excited to see, cancelled at the last minute, as did Azealia Banks. When I showed up for Chvrches they were playing their cold, romantic synth-pop for a crowd of people desperate to stay dry. Leader singer Lauren Mayberry even made a joke about slipping on the wet stage, and thanked the crowd for coming out despite the rain. As drizzly as the weather was, the cold, windy fog made the Scottish group’s set work even better. The band’s sound is far more fitting for this than some warm day out in the sun.
I was just leaving Mike Birbiglia, a favorite comedian of mine who has made a career (and a great movie) by turning his painfully awkward life stories into stand-up gold, and was on my way to check out Dirty Projectors on the Bigfoot stage. I was determined to see this band again since my only live exposure to them was several years ago, right before Bitte Orca blew everyone away. Back then, on a similarly rainy day in Central Park, they played one of the worst shows I’d ever seen at the time, though I’ve always suspected it was a fluke. Here though the band held its own with the weather and delivered a tremendous set. A great deal of praise needs to go to Matt Littlejohn, the band’s sound tech who I saw work while finding shelter from the rain in the tech tent. The best part of Dirty Projectors comes from hearing all their moving parts clash and crash into one another, and Littlejohn operates a sound board with as much precision and passion as David Longstreth and his guitar, making every dynamic texture pop. (I wasn’t surprised in the least when he told me he wasn’t working that Central Park show back then.) The band brought out nearly every song you’d want to hear. There was the obligatory performance of “Stillness Is The Movie” in all of its funky glory, “Useful Chamber” as a heavy sweeping closer, and “Gun Has No Trigger” sounding even better than on Swing Lo Magellan with enough drama and energy to be a Bond song.
Relaxed by a dip in the electronic tent to catch some of Odesza’s set of aquatic, smooth downtempo, I was ready to have my face blown off by Death Grips. I had heard word that drummer Zach Hill would not be at the festival as he is currently laying down groundwork for the band’s next album, and some disappointment came over the crowd when it became clear that the set-up was finished without any sort of drum kit on stage. But you know what? Despite how cool it is to see Zach Hill absolutely destroy on drums, I think this is the best possible thing that Death Grips could be doing right now. Much like some shows last year where Flatlander was absent, temporarily touring as a duo has seemed to strengthen the interplay that each musician has with Ride, his caustic rap flow. With just Flatlander on beats the show took on a leaner, more electronic feel that the crowd went crazy for. Very crazy in fact -– by the time Get Got’s geyser of hook came blasting from the speakers, the front of the stage had turned into a full on warzone. It occurred to me during the crushing assault of “No Love Deep Web” (so dense and lurching that even the mosh pit seemed to slow to a halt) that Death Grips could have become just as popular in any live form, that is how strong each of its three members are.
After Death Grips stormed off stage without a word (whether they were pissed about their set, or that’s just how they are, is a mystery to me) I headed over to see Menomena, a band I’ve loved for the better half of a decade and had never gotten the chance to see live. Playing not too far from their Portland home, their performance was particularly satisfying considering the drastic changes they’ve been through. The band’s future seemed critical last year when Brent Knopf left, simply because Menomena was always a trio that created its songs through constant collaboration between the three members. Well, last year’s album Moms proved that Danny Seim and Justin Harris can work wonders as a duo, and their performance reinforced that. With two additional touring members the band recreated their studio magic, stacking piece by piece into an organic whole. Menomena have always been a band that can balance colorful, earworm melodies with a gloomy sadness, and at times even, real darkness, and when they’re at their absolute best when they let these two aspects get uncomfortably close to each other. “Heavy are the branches of my fucked up family tree,” Harris intoned on the Moms highlight “Heavy Is As Heavy Does.” Meanwhile the performances from tracks off Mines just reinforced how incredibly underrated that album is. “Five Little Rooms” let Harris play some of his most menacing sax lines, and the heartbreaking “Queen Black Acid” reached a soaring, devastating peak. I know they’ve had a tough year, but this set provided a huge relief for a worried fan, and made me excited for what’s coming next. Also, I do hope the band heard the girl in the front row screaming, “You’re so hot,” during a majority of their set.
Following the trend from the previous days the Yeti stage had turned into a complete mess by around 7 PM. So with the delays giving me plenty of time before Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffitti I strolled over to the electronic tent. Disclosure’s set was summed up for me quite literally: a girl in the crowd grabbed my notebook and pen and returned it to me with “This is great deep house UK” simply written. Thanks! I couldn’t have said it better myself, because when you boil it down that’s what these two brothers are doing better and bigger than anyone right now, and I’m looking forward to a near future where they won’t have to open for the likes of Steve Aoki.
The thing about seeing Ariel Pink is it can be a bit of a gamble. I’ve seen him play when he’s off; completely disinterested in performing (or even singing … or staying on stage and finishing his set for that matter). But if you’ve been lucky enough to see him when he’s on, the dude will make you believe in a high power. Which it was going to be I didn’t know, but the problems with this stage left me worried. Overwhelmed with feedback and sound issues, Ariel Pink’s set would have been abysmal if it had been nearly anyone other than him performing –- instead it was fucking magical. Blown out, hissy, and filled with feedback, it was unclear whether all the problems were intentional or just a resurgence of the sound problems the stage had dealt with all weekend. After a few songs it didn’t even seem to matter, as the set brought the sound of his classic debut The Doldrums to life in a way I never expected in the live setting. Clearly not for everybody, the grand finish of “Round And Round” marked most of the crowd leaving to catch Postal Service (Pink’s set was running about 45 minutes late at this point, bleeding into the headlining spot) condensing the crowd to roughly 50 dedicated fans.
Those who stayed though pretty much got the ultimate Ariel Pink set as things just got stranger, taking the hypnagogic bliss to an extreme. Deep cuts, new material, hits, and jams all showed up. I freaked out a little during “Grey Sunset” off The Doldrums, with a hook that just kills me every time I hear it. A new song called “Hang On to Your Life” and “Baby” caused cheers from the small crowd with good reason. There was even a little banter from the man himself, something I’d never seen even during his good sets. He closed with the epic “Nostradamus and Me,” an eight minute drone and drum machine assault that just built and built as so much smoke filled the stage it practically looked like a Sunn O))) show. Finally they waved good bye, leaving the stage smoking and glowing, like some weird alien meteorite, and sound still blaring and looping. At such a major event like Sasquatch! it was incredible to have someone perform such a non-festival set and deliver something really special for those willing to listen. Not only the best performance of the day, this set was the day. It was every fuck-up, delay, and frustration, it was Azealia Banks blowing us all off at the last minute, it was no Zach Hill, it was Mike Birbiglia puking on his teenage crush, and it was rain –- that constant, trickling rain -– it was every sound problem on that stage amplified and distorted into something perfectly-imperfect and musically cathartic.
And perhaps the perfect coda to that, the Postal Service, newly reunited and back in Ben Gibbard’s home state, played a hypnotic set under a clear sky. At Coachella, Claire gave a fantastic recap of the band and touched on the sense of nostalgia from finally hearing these songs live. Well, I’m plunked down on the opposite end of the spectrum, going in with almost no knowledge or expectations. My only exposure to the Postal Service can be quickly summed up with, “Yeah, I know that one song … you know, the one from that movie.” I mean no disrespect by the way; rather, I was really excited for the show. It’s common knowledge that people just weren’t making records like Give Up when it came out, and a hell of a lot of the bands at this festival wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that album’s perfect blend of indie rock and electronica. So going in tabula rasa was a great experience, the sound was perfect in every way, and it was possibly the only time during the festival when everyone -– from the glow stick carrying club kids to families or just people who fell in love with them the first time around -– came together in one place to see this band that had finally come home. It was a special show and there couldn’t have been a better band to close out the festival.