Of the two dozen bands on the Gorge Amphitheatre’s summer concert opener – Sasquatch! Festival – the biggest draws were surely Wilco, Modest Mouse, and Pixies.
And they each had the expected stellar performances.
But the show stealer was the uber-energized set by The Arcade Fire.
The Montreal experimental indie-rock quartet was all over the place – flying around onstage while playing each other’s instruments in a well-orchestrated musical maelstrom.
The packed Gorge audience went berserk for Arcade’s late afternoon set on Saturday as if it were by one of the after-dark headlining acts.
And truthfully, The Arcade Fire deserved to be placed with the night’s heavy hitters, far more than rapper/producer Kanye West, who was awkwardly slotted between Wilco and Modest Mouse.
West played a budget show, accompanied only by a DJ, and rapped over instrumentals, many of which weren’t even of his songs.
It was more like a singalong show of West’s favorite iTunes playlist. Regardless of his Grammy nomination sweep, West’s skills as a rapper are marginal compared to his producing prowess, and his singing voice is plain awful, especially when he was flatlining classics by Al Green.
And yet West garnered praise from fans crowded around the stage. When he took a break between songs they chanted, “Kanye.” At the same time a counterchant of “Gone, yeah!” was started by a less-loud pocket of the audience, obviously put off by West’s crass lyrics about bling and promiscuity.
Having a couple of hip-hop acts on Sasquatch’s mostly-indie rock lineup is a welcome change-up pitch, but Common or Talib Kweli – more politically conscious emcees West has produced – would have fit better than West’s pseudo-smart club-hop.
Other lulls in the show happened on the Wookie stage, with Joanna Newsom’s suffocating rendition of Bjork-meets-Little-Orphan-Annie, and on the Yeti stage with She Wants Revenge, which is helping to close the coffin on the obsessed ‘80s wave-pop trend. Even those lackluster acts were met with warm applause from hardcore fans.
With bands on three stages, even the most dedicated fans found themselves split between popular acts like Hasidic reggae singer Matisyahu and Dublin-based alt-rock band The Frames versus Modest Mouse, or earnest roots-rocker Bobby Bare Jr. versus whacked-out rock by Wilco.
Here are some fan quotes on Sasquatch hits and misses:
Bill Shearer, 27, of Pullman, on The Arcade Fire: “You could tell their music means a lot to them because of their passion onstage. You don’t see that kind of energy from most bands. I wasn’t expecting all the theatrics, running around slapping cymbals and everything. Plus I really like the swells and climaxes from song to song.”
Charlie Quaglieri, 26, of Spokane, on Wilco: “I’ve seen (singer Jeff Tweedy) in a small bar with a stool and a guitar, and I thought the songs were represented better in that atmosphere.”
Natalie Postma, 31, of Australia, on Wilco: “They didn’t impress me. I thought they were good until the music turned into noise.”
William Kafka, 27, from Portland, on Wilco: “I thought the mix of chaos and musicality was done in a very clever way.”
Patrick Dundon, 23, of New York, on Bloc Party: “I thought they were kind of pretentious so I didn’t like it as much.”
Ben Stuckart, 33, of Spokane, on Bobby Bare Jr.: “He’s got a good voice and he looks like he sounds on his records – crazy. I like his camaraderie with the audience.”
Jenny Garlini, 31, of Seattle, on Bobby Bare Jr.: “I saw him play solo acoustic. He’s got great energy with the live band. I liked him both ways.”
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