DAY 3: SUNDAY, MAY 26TH:
Between Earl Sweatshirt, Killer Mike, El-P, Shad, and Danny Brown, Day three was very hip-hop heavy, and having not really seen any yet (unless you count Macklemore), that was fine by me. I hung out in the campground a bit longer on this day, but eventually headed in to sample a little bit of the L.A. based indie-pop group Youngblood Hawke, Sean Nelson, and Washington rap collective Kingdom Crumbs. Kingdom Crumbs had the best line I heard all day “I’m in love with Mary Jane / Call me Peter Parker”, which is pretty indicative of their lyrics as a whole.
The first band I really wanted to see was DIIV, an indie-rock group from Brooklyn, who ran through almost all the songs on their debut album “Oshen”. Frontman Zachary Cole is a bit of an awkward oddball, but their dense shoegazey reverb drenched beach rock kept the crowd sufficiently engaged. I’m pretty sure the second guitarist was peaking pretty hard on some illicit substance as he stared off into the horizon for pretty much the entire set, with a nirvana-like transcendent smile on his face.
I ran over to catch rapper Danny Brown on the main stage, but unfortunately only saw the last five madcap minutes. According to people that saw the entire set, Danny mention dozens of time how absolutely obliteratingly drunk he was. Oh well. Next up was Wild Belle on the Yeti Stage, whose debut album has been in heavy rotation all spring. More soundcheck issues ensued, but eventually the brother and sister duo of Elliot and Natalie Bergman and the rest of the band got things moving. Their slinky reggae infused rock had the perfect summery vibe for yet another sunny day, and the band’s chops were tight, but frontwoman Natalie was a bit stiff and wasn’t able to engage the crowd. Her one attempt “who all went swimming today?” fell flat, as she didn’t seem to realize that between all the music there wasn’t really time to LEAVE the Gorge for a quick swim: a good problem to have, I guess. Her brother Elliot is also the saxophone player for an incredible post-afrobeat band known as NOMO, and as the set wound down with the single “Keep You” I found myself wishing that they would get back together. Wild Belle is perfect music for sitting on a nice grassy lawn on a hot day or spinning on your record player, but certainly not for getting down.
Tallest Man on Earth, the stage name for one-man show Kristian Matsson, was midway through his set on the main stage, and knowing nothing about him, I thought I’d give him a try, but his laid-back acoustic stylings just weren’t what I was looking for at the moment. It’s always hard for me to meet a Dylan-esque folk singer halfway when I’m not familiar with their tunes, so I focused on his voice which was very impressive in its range. He threw a verse of “Graceland” into one of his songs for the 15 minutes I was there, which was a nice touch, but I figured I’d enjoy EL-P over on the Bigfoot Stage a lot more.
That was an understatement to say the least, as the Brooklyn rapper delivered a fiery, thought provoking set. He also eschewed the standard back-up of a DJ, instead utilizing a duo that played drum-machine, guitar and keys. Both of these instrumentalists were crazy good, to the point that watching the two of them jam out before El-P even came out had my jaw on the floor. At one point, after sampling and jamming on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It”, the keys player came out to the front of the stage with a keytar and absolutely wailed on it, with a quick solo that ended in “Echoes” era Pink Floyd screeches and shrieks. It would prove to be the only keytar solo of the weekend, and in pretty much the last place I would’ve expected it. At any rate, El-P wasn’t content to be overshadowed by his two musicians, and continued to spit our rhymes at a furious rate in perhaps the most impressive display of rapping I saw all weekend. An honorary mention has to go to Killer Mike, who I only caught a few minutes of, but also dropped bombs all over the Columbia River gorge. Needless to say, I am excited for the two rappers’ collaboration project Run the Jewels album which comes out later this month.
I took a quick trip over to the Yeti Stage to check out Vancouver rapper Shad, whom I knew nothing about, but he impressed me with his off-kilter flow. It was all the more doubly impressive because apparently his usual DJ was sick, so he had someone else subbing in — a fact I never would’ve noticed had he not mentioned it. Highlights from his set included rapping over a sample of the first 10 seconds of The Breeder’s “Cannonball”, and leading the crowd in a closing rendition of Lenny Kravitz’s “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”, which he introduced by saying “ya’ll will recognize this next one from the dentist’s office”.
The main stage was packed for Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, whom I hadn’t seen since High Sierra 2010. I never got into their second album, so I was curious to see how it would translate live. Anyone who has ever seen this seemingly ragtag collective of vagabonds knows they put on an energetic show that can drift into passages of new-age hippie gobbledy-gook from time to time at the hands of frontman Alex Ebert, but only the most jaded of fans would not be swayed by the band’s feel good aura. They opened with the one-two punch of “40 Day Dream” and “Janglin”, the former of which even had a 45 second breakdown/acid-like freak out section which put me on notice. There were probably a dozen musicians on stage, sometimes employed just to simply shake a maraca or whistle, but these guys had certainly tightened up over the last 3 years.
As the sun started to vanish behind the clouds, they went into their biggest hit “Home” and predictably, everyone in the crowd went nuts. This song even contained about five minutes worth of Alex going into the audience asking them if anyone had a story they wanted to share. This led to some incredibly bizarre and hilarious exchanges, which mostly consisted of 16 year-old girls saying things like “This one time, I went to an Edward Sharpe concert and it was AWESOME! WOOO!!”. This experiment was going off the rails — at one point Alex asked one of the teens professing their love of his band “but what about YOU?!?” which caught the young festival goer completely off guard. Luckily, the final audience member that got handed the mic provided something that actually resembled a story, and I was able to capture it for posterity in the compilation video — it’s a pretty good indication of the weirdness that abounded during this set. Alex lumbered back to the stage, the band closed the song out, and having caught all 4 songs that I knew (along with a beautiful sunset), I headed off to recharge my phone at the media tent in preparation for the night ahead.
The act I was most excited to catch on Day 3 was Grimes, the electro-pop chanteuse who really defies categorization. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from her show, but I’d heard her performances could be a mixed-bag: either transcendental or an unorganized mess. Luckily, the Vancouver native treated us to the former; however what could’ve been the set of the weekend was marred by (you guessed it) sound issues at the Bigfoot stage. Grimes’ vocals, the most crucial aspect of her music, were entirely too low in the mix for the duration of the set. It was so honest-to-god bad that the massive crowd assembled managed to get not one, but two “TURN IT UP!” chants started. I can’t be positive, but it may have been the only time I’ve heard a festival crowd organize itself well enough to voice their wrath at the sound guy. After all, what’s the point of booking all these great acts if you can’t hear them?
Mix issues aside, Grimes was a revelation — unlike anything I had ever seen before. Alternating between standing behind an array of knobs and keyboards and coming out to the front of the stage during some of her more intense vocal sections, Grimes was a flurry of activity both in her presence and the musical journey she took the crowd on. Switching between soft coos, banshee-like wails, and jumping around the stage, there wasn’t a second of down time, and the crowd was completely engaged, even if they couldn’t hear every note. Naturally, “Oblivion” and “Genesis” got the largest cheers of the night, but the Sasquatchers weren’t fazed in any way by whatever outlandish soundscapes Grimes threw their way; it felt like we all had an invitation to a dance party from the future with Grimes as our adorably awkward, insane, bubbly MC at the helm. Before walking off the stage, she offered up a heartfelt “thanks for letting me be weird up here”. If you like adventurous electro-pop, make sure to see her at all costs.
After catching my breath, I ran into some friends and we made a perfectly timed trip over to the main stage to see a bit of Mumford & Sons, where we caught both the massive hit “Little Lion Man” and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” with pretty much all of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes sitting in. Booyah. While their brand of folk-rock is not my cup of tea (or whiskey, as the case may be for these Englishmen), Marcus Mumford and company certainly know how to put on a show.
Soon though, it was time to head over to the one sure thing of the day, and that sure thing, of course, was Primus. There was no question that the insanely talented Les Claypool, Larry Lalonde and Jay Lane were going to put on a mind-numbingly incredible show, it was just an issue of which songs they would play. In a festival that generally seems to be about the overall sonic textures and vibe, a band displaying true virtuosity can be a real breath of fresh air, and in this regard, Primus stood out like a sore thumb. Also of note was that this was a special “Primus 3D” show, the psychedelic spectacle that the band has been touring behind which featured eye-popping visuals and Quad Surround Sound. I hadn’t had the chance to see this tour yet, so I was stoked that we were getting the full 3D treatment at The Gorge. Everyone picked up a pair of 3D glasses in a huge box on either side of the stage before the show, and waited for the rock to commence.
Almost certainly the oldest band on the lineup with the exception of Elvis Costello & The Imposters, these three musicians have been on the circuit for a while and it showed. The trio was no nonsense right from the get go, and over the course of 90 minutes, the power trio hit on every part of their career, playing crowd favorites like “My Name Is Mud”, “Those Damn Blue-Collar Tweakers”, “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” and “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver”. The 3D visuals, while not mind blowing, were certainly a welcome and unique addition to the proceedings that were not distracting in the slightest. Turning around every once in awhile to find a sea of people in black rimmed glasses smiling behind you was a trip, and in some ways, the 3D element seemed to free the band from worrying about the entertainment aspect of the show so that they could just focus solely on the music (that’s not to say that they had ever neglected it before, but all three of them seemed especially locked in on this particular night). While it goes without saying the Les’ rumblings bass lines shook every inch of me to my core, I think Larry’s searing guitar wizardry might have stolen the night. The encore of “Harold of the Rocks” was an emphatic exclamation point on a whale of a set, and just like that Day 3 was over. “PRIMUS SUCKS!” chants could be heard during the walk back to camp — clearly, Primus had won the day.
Read on for our recap and photos from Monday…