It is time for the summer festival season. Everywhere across the country there are different music festivals for outdoor entertainment. It is always an exciting time when the lineup gets announced for your favorite festival. Everything seems so positive; the list of acts is thrilling, all of your favorite bands are playing, and the weekend is going to be a blast. But when push comes to shove, a festival attendee has to make some tough decisions about who to see.
Most of these festivals have more than one stage, with some of the bigger ones going up to four or five stages. This is great because the variety of stellar bands can be increased but it can also cause frustration when some of your favorite acts overlap each other.
I am personally headed to Sasquatch Music Festival in a few days. Sasquatch takes place at The Gorge in Washington State annually every Memorial Day weekend. The festival has been getting bigger and more popular every year. This year there are five stages spanning a four-day weekend with over 130 performers. Some of the headliners are Pretty Lights, Jack White, The Roots, Tenacious D, Childish Gambino, Starfucker, Of Monsters and Men and Beck. Some acts are certainly obvious choices (Is anyone really going to miss Jack White?) but other decisions can be very tough. Right now I am going to go through some of the pros and cons of some of Sasquatch’s toughest decisions.
Beats Antique vs. Explosions in the Sky
Explosions in the Sky is one of the most successful post-rock bands today. Seeing them live, there is always one thing that is certain: it is going to be EPIC. They’re playing around sunset and just the thought of beautiful mini-symphonies of rock music stretching across the desert sky while the sun disappears is enough to make a grown man tear up. That said, you kind of know what to expect. You know it is going to be epic and glorious and will have walls of billowing noise and clashing theatrics. Yet, Beats Antique brings the unexpected. They are a side-trance, world fusion group. Mixing genres, sampling heavy beats with hip-hop, jazz and afro-beat influences, and this is all on the CD. On stage they have live instruments, unlike many other electronic groups. What live instruments are used is usually undecided until the show begins. It could be violins and other strings or a flock of horns. There are also usually belly-dancers and other momentous artists onstage bringing the spectacle. Explosions in the Sky is a must-see for someone who hasn’t seen them but if you’re looking for a truly unique experience check out Beats Antique.
St. Vincent vs. The Shins
The Shins are currently making a comeback. With their first album in five years, James Mercer and company are out to make an impression on the main stage. We all know The Shins are pretty much Mercer and whoever he currently has behind him. The current lineup, established for the new album Port of Morrow, is very instrumentally suave. The question is, is it going to be compelling to see them play live or will their lack of history make them seem one dimensional or hollow? I am thinking St. Vincent will be a safer bet when it comes to artistic and onstage power. St. Vincent is Annie Clark, a woman who makes chamber rock with complex instrumentals featuring magnetizing guitar work. Her stage performance often includes intense strobe lights and Tim Burton-esque theatrics. Her backing band is a drummer and two keyboardists who are also masters at sampling. St. Vincent will bring an artistic flurry onstage and James Mercer will reply with his hits for a crowd-pleasing sing-along. The choice is yours.
Bon Iver vs. James Murphy (DJ Set)
James Murphy, the frontman of LCD Soundsystem, is a Sasquatch favorite. LCD created one of the “big” moments at Sasquatch in 2010 when they united the whole crowd in “Dance Yrself Clean” and many are hoping he will conjure up another “moment” at this year’s event. Murphy isn’t with his band this time but he is doing a solo DJ set in the Banana tent and it is expected to be a nonstop party. I was fully expecting to be dancing myself clean in a packed and sweaty dance tent, mostly because I missed the hype of the Bon Iver train. My thinking was that Bon Iver would probably be dull live and a late-night set might put me to sleep. Everything changed when I had some friends come back from Coachella raving about his performance claiming he was hands down the best of the whole weekend. Bon Iver is songwriter Justin Vernon but he is touring with nine people and a stage full of instruments. Every single person on stage is a multi-instrumentalist who trades instruments multiple times during a song. Supposedly if you’re not a fan, the live performance will make you a fan. For sheer brilliant musicianship, watch Bon Iver, but if you want to get down and rub with some hot bodies then go to the dance tent for James Murphy.
Tenacious D vs. Spiritualized vs. SBTRKT vs. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Monday is the most stacked day this year, which means you can’t leave early to get back to school or work on Tuesday. The first big conflict comes when Tenacious D, Spiritualized, SBTRKT and Ted Leo are all playing at the exact same time. Tenacious D is fresh off of a new album and while many other comedy-rock acts can’t capture a dynamic essence onstage, Tenacious D isn’t one of those groups. The D always brings 100% rock energy to the stage. They often talk about being the greatest rock band of all time, and while most don’t take them seriously, they take themselves seriously. Jack Black (Hollywood Jack) and Kyle Gass (Rage Cage) are surely going to bring a loud boisterous performance on the final day of Sasquatch. Spiritualized is a space rock group from England who doesn’t tour the United States very often. Their new album Sweet Heart Sweet Light is more pop-oriented than most of their discography but the guitar solos and uplifting melodies are still moving. SBTRKT is one of the most futuristic DJs out there; he brings the world into a post-dubstep landscape and shapes it with jungle limbs and a fresh weirdness. If this was any other concert I would say he is a must-see, but unfortunately this time slot is packed. Out of all four of these artists you have the best chance of seeing Ted Leo somewhere else. The man and his Pharmacists are one of the hardest working indie-rock bands as they’re always touring and putting out new albums. This decision ultimately comes down to what you’re in the mood for. There is also the consideration of who is playing afterward and if you want to be at the right stage to set up for the main event. This leads us to…
Beck vs. Mogwai
Our favorite scientologist Beck is one of the premier musicians of the ’90s-’00s generation. He may be laying low right now, mostly producing and writing for other musicians, but it is still exciting whenever he plays a show. With such a long catalogue he could play any number of songs. Will he break into acoustics with Sea Change or jam on his classics of Odelay or play a lot off 2008’s Modern Guilt? Is it possible he will debut new songs? Regardless, he should be an excellent way to end the festival. It is just too bad he is playing the exact same time as Mogwai. Mogwai, touring off of their 2011 release Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will, will surely be an energetic and magnificent performance. Coming from the post-rock helm they bring a fierce energy, tearing down roofs and smashing through walls. I shouldn’t have to decide between these two bands but I do.