(Photo: Mat Hayward/FilmMagic)
Winds as high as 40mph, and a 600-acre wildfire just three miles south of the Gorge Amphitheatre, threatened to ruin day three of Washington’s Sasquatch! music festival. The main stage was shut down for safety reasons for most of Sunday, leading to the cancelation of sets by Saint Motel and Houndmouth, while several other artists (Allen Stone, Frightened Rabbit, Tacocat) were relocated to smaller stages at the last minute. One main stage attraction, R&B revivalist Leon Bridges, wound up with nowhere to play – until Sasquatch! promoters sent out a cryptic tweet, ordering, “Get to the lawn at 8:15!” – a message also broadcast on the dormant main stage’s video screens.
Fans who heeded this mysterious command found Bridges playing on the Gorge’s grassy hill – acoustic and unamplified. He was almost impossible to hear, but aside from a few frustrated spectators shouting, “Give him a mic!” or “Let him on the stage!,” everyone remained hushed and polite, sitting attentively on the ground while Bridges did his darnedest to give festivalgoers a show. His impromptu mini-set was hardly a substitute for the full electric concert he’d been slated to play, but it was a charming and genuine moment from a true entertainer who clearly didn’t want to disappoint his fans.
Earlier in the day, on the smaller Bigfoot stage, the shows went on as planned, although during ‘90s indie veterans Yo La Tengo’s set, the elevated V.I.P. platform was closed off. That left actor John C. Reilly, last seen Saturday introducing Major Lazer and dancing with Nathaniel Rateliff, no choice but to brave the elements – and brave the masses of selfie-requesting fans who ambushed him the instant he ventured out to watch Yo La Tengo among the general admission crowd.
London’s Savages, also playing the Bigfoot stage, didn’t let a little wind (or broad daylight, which seemed like the absolutely wrong environment for the surly, black-clad post-punks) bring them down. Androgynous, frequently crowd-surfing, French-born frontwoman Jehnny Beth was as fierce, ferocious, fearless, and full of righteous anger as ever. Towards the end of the four-piece’s pummeling, confrontational set, when introducing “I Need Something New,” Beth advised the crowd: “Only go see the good stuff today. Don’t let anyone bore you. If you’re bored, leave.” Suffice to say, no one left Savages’ stunning show, wind advisories be damned.
By evening, the winds had settled down and the main stage finally reopened – and there was no better act to christen that stage Sunday than Alabama Shakes, one of the greatest bands working the festival circuit today. “We’re so happy to finally play for you!” declared jubilant frontwoman Brittany Howard; “This made it all worth it!” one relieved and elated concertgoer shouted back. Howard oozed sincerity onstage – repeatedly expressing her appreciation for her fans’ support and promising to never take that for granted. And she and her crack band played a perfect sundown set full of heart, grit, soul, and the kind of stellar, stratospheric vocals that American Idol or Voice contestants would sell their souls to possess. Forget about Kylie Jenner, Vanessa Hudgens, or any other flower-crowned celebutante out there; Brittany Howard is the true rock festival queen.
Earlier in the day; the rumor flitting about the Gorge grounds was that Sunday’s headlining set by the alt-rock legends Cure would be moved to the Bigfoot stage – which would have resulted in the most intimate Cure concert in years. That didn’t happen, but it turned out that the Cure’s set (on the main stage, as scheduled) was relatively intimate – since the earlier weather issues, lack of communication on Sasquatch!’s part, and conflicting sets by Purity Ring and Big Grams all led to the Cure playing to a much smaller audience than usual. (Keep in mind, this is a band that sold out three nights at the Hollywood Bowl just last week.) Perhaps that’s why seemingly mildly disgruntled frontman Robert Smith ended his set a full 45 minutes early, encoring with only two songs. (Keep in mind, also, that the Cure’s current tour has boasted three-hour, four-encore concerts.)
The low turnout was a shame, as the Cure – Smith, longtime bassist Simon Gallup, on/off keyboardist Roger O’Donnell, Bowie associate Reeves Gabrels on guitar, and drummer Jason Cooper – are at the absolute peak of the powers as a live act right now. Even during their truncated set, they did not disappoint. The Cure opened with a glorious trifecta of Disintegration classics (“Plainsong,” “Pictures of You,” and “Closedown”); added a few leftfield numbers, like the Head on the Door track “Push,” Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’s “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep,” and the underrated 2004 single “End of the World”; and sprinkled in some perennial favorites (“Inbetween Days,” “The Walk,” “Just Like Heaven,” “Lovesong,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” “A Night Like This”). Smith’s iconic, instantly recognizable voice magnificently echoed through the windy, cavernous Gorge, and fans didn’t want to the Cure to say goodbye on a night like this, indeed.
The plus side, however, of the Cure’s early goodbye was that it allowed particularly ambitious Sasquatch!-goers to hightail it over to the Bigfoot stage for Big Grams, the odd-couple side-project of Outkast’s Big Boi and NYC electropop duo Phantogram. Big Grams thrilled with an updated version of Outkast’s mother-centric “Ms. Jackson,” but not before Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel brought her own mom onstage for an expletive-filled but cute speech about Mrs. Barthel’s “hotness” and single status.
The younger Barthel tried to create a similarly celebratory and affectionate onstage moment for bandmate Josh Carter, surprising him with a unicorn piñata for his recent birthday. But things went awry when, after busting the piñata open, Carter inexplicably hurled the bashing stick, with considerable force, into the crowd. Barthel looked shocked, even slightly horrified, as she asked if everyone in the audience was OK. But after surviving wind warnings all day, fans seemed nonplused by this little stick-throwing incident.
The final day of Sasquatch! hopefully won’t be affected by the Northwest’s sometimes unpredictable weather. But regardless, you can watch it from the wind-free comfort of your own home: Yahoo will be live-streaming select Sasquatch! acts Monday, including Florence & The Machine, Sufjan Stevens, X Ambassadors, and BØRNS, at this link or in the video player below.