Memorial Day Weekend: Bomb pops, grill-outs, and cabin dwelling for most, but in the gorges of George, Washington lives a four-day music festival appropriately called Sasquatch. It’s hard to imagine a superior festival setting than the Gorge Amphitheater, where festival-goers hear their favorite bands — including headliners the Cure this year — echo into the valley of the Columbia River and its sprawling foothills. Over three of the four Sasquatch days, Stereogum (along with SPIN, Vibe, and Brooklyn Vegan) hung at the Toyota Music Den for our own festival within a festival featuring artists like Tamaryn, Speedy Ortiz, Protomartyr, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, Tacocat, Wet, and many more.
Detroit post-punk lords Protomartyr kicked off the weekend at the den with a five-song set of dreary, sweeping angst. Vocalist Joe Casey sang the cynically accepting lyrics to 2014 album Under The Color Of Official Right’s “Maidenhead” (“Shit goes up / Shit goes down”) to a crowd of fresh festies, perhaps not ready for the real talk dropped on them. Casey’s drawl paired well with his on-stage slouch, suit jacket, and jeans look, and the beer that didn’t leave his hand the whole set. It was an odd way to start the day — Protomartyr being perhaps the most blatantly post-punk band on the whole bill — but hearing tracks from one of the best albums of last year (The Agent Intellect) come to life was a treat.
Closing out Saturday’s den set was nomadic, New York-based singer-songwriter Tamaryn. Behind her sunglasses and vibrant orange hair, she performed three songs from her 2015 dream-pop collection Cranekiss: “I Won’t Be Found,” “Sugarfix,” and the title track among them. Compared to past releases, songs off Cranekiss showcase Tamaryn’s vocal range and power in previously uncharted ways. The ’80s aesthetic of the title track translated beautifully to the stage, Tamaryn executing her newfound vocal sounds with ease.
Credit: Tino Tran
Beach pop quartet La Luz made the couple-hour trek from their home of Seattle to Sasquatch to open Sunday’s den sessions. The harmonizing voices of the members of La Luz were like a choir of surfing angels as they breezed through “You Disappear,” “I’ll Be True,” and “With Davey” from 2015’s Ty Segall-produced Weirdo Shrine and “What Good Am I?” and “Sure As Spring” from It’s Alive. Lead singer and guitarist Shana Cleveland has solidified herself among Seattle’s best songwriters with dark, romantic lyrics atop sweeping, wind-in-your-hair guitar solos.
Speedy Ortiz are Toyota Music Den veterans, having played our stage at last year’s Outside Lands festival in San Francisco. The always-quippy Sadie Dupuis and her punk crew bring charm and wit to any stage. “This is our second time playing for cars,” she told the filled-to-capacity tent that housed three Toyotas. Speedy played two new and unreleased tracks (not featured on their Foiled Again EP, out Friday) as well as “The Graduates” and “Raising The Skate” off last year’s Foil Deer and “Casper (1995)” from their debut. As these songs age, the band continues to experiment with their live delivery, making every Speedy show a unique experience.
Credit: Tino Tran
After their main stage performance was cancelled due to a high wind advisory, Seattle punks Tacocat were eager to take any stage and give the high-energy set they’d been waiting for. Lead singer and enthusiastic tambourine player Emily Nokes brought the party with songs from this year’s Lost Time. Most notably, Nokes professed her admiration for The X-Files’ Dana Scully in the FBI special agent’s namesake song: “The truth is out there/ But so am I/ To see the world through/ Dana Katherine Scully’s eyes.”
The Toyota Den’s third and final day at Sasquatch opened with a walk into the magical world of Seattle’s Briana Marela. It’s impossible not to smile back while witnessing someone like Marela grin genuinely while performing songs like “Take Care Of Me,” “Surrender,” and “All Around Us” from her debut album All Around Us, recorded with Sigur Rós producer Alex Somers. Marela’s looped and layered springy vocals evoke thoughts of electronic duo Sylvan Esso, but with subtler beats and more atmospheric quality.
Thao Nguyen and her band the Get Down Stay Down released A Man Alive this past March. It’s a killer album produced by tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus, and the influence shows. Nguyen’s experimental, genre-merging capabilities align harmoniously with the tUnE-yArDs feel, but Nguyen brings a folkier sound to the table. At the tent, we heard songs like the jivey, accusatory “Body” (“What am I, just a body in your bed?”); “Kindness Be Conceived,” a beachy track with shakers aplenty that edges on bluegrass; and “Departure” from A Man Alive, which features Nguyen freaking out on the electric mandolin.
New York shimmery pop trio Wet took the intimate setting of the Toyota Den seriously and played stripped-down renditions of five songs from their debut album Don’t You. All three members sat and performed a synth-less, beat-less set, giving their tunes a new simplistic, pure edge and making singer Kelly Zutrau’s enchanting voice the focal point — especially her falsetto in Don’t You’’s closer “These Days.” Easy-to-love single “Deadwater” shined brightly in this cozy environment; its heartbreaking lyrics of love and loss practically silenced the tent.