Waking up early has its advantages at a music festival (“early” being a relative term and meaning roughly 8:30 in this case). First: hot water and no line for the showers. Although not an option at all campsites, hot water especially is still a “hot” commodity when this many people are involved. Secondly: a few moments of quiet, the calm before the storm if you will. There will, undoubtedly, be a group of guys playing Lawn-Pong (much like Beer-Pong but substituting a large, grassy area for a ping-pong table, buckets for Dixie cups, and full beers for… well, not everything’s different)either starting early or continuing the previous night’s festivities, but joining it isn’t the worst way to start your morning. And thirdly: the opportunity to go back to sleep in the sunshine on a somehow more comfortable spot of lawn than the one beneath your tent.
As the festival gates open up to a new day, the first must-see of the day is the Vancouver based synth-pop, techno-rock pioneers, Bear Mountain. With choreographed digital graphics interspersed with the camera shots on the big screens, these BC boys threw one hell of a party for those lucky enough to have shaken off their hang-overs. The twin brothers, Ian and Greg Bevis, lead vocals/rhythm guitar and percussion respectively, Kyle Statham on lead guitar, and the tech genius/creative co-ordinator of the group, Kenji Rodriguez pushing out up-tempo hit after hit, they kept the one o’clock crowd dancing from open to close. Looking around the fan-base in the audience, every girl with a tall guy in tow used the shoulders offered to them; partially to get a better view, but mostly just to show off their dance moves and love of the music blasting out of the massive speakers. I got the chance to sit down with a couple of the guys later on in the day so be sure to look out for that interview posting later this week.
The Bigfoot stage seemed to be where it was at on Saturday and it was honestly hard to abandon as the day progressed, regardless of the acts you knew were happening all around you. Atlas Genius garnered a nearly packed area in the middle of the afternoon full of pretty ladies and pretty men. I’m not sure if it was the music or the sunshine, or the combination of the two, but everyone was letting their freak-flag fly by this point and I, for one, was not complaining! With good vibes and moody guitar riffs, the brothers Jeffrey, Keith on vocals and Michael on drums (familiar sounding… are brother musicians the new black and I missed it?), these Adelaide, South Austrailians on stage connected with their fans not only with witty banter and jokes in between songs but also, at one point, Keith jumping into the crowd, still strumming his guitar. Even though there was some humour to the fact that he couldn’t find a way back onstage, it only served to endear him to the fans even more. Once their single, “Trojans” hit, the crowd was in frenzy and calling out for more. Truth be told, the vocals seemed a touch generic at times but there wasn’t much to complain about and the tightness of the music the Jeffrey brothers created made for a hell of an afternoon rock event.
Then the personification of soul walked onstage. Michael Kiwanuka, unknown to me until the moment he walked on stage, I have already found his album, Home Again, bought it off iTunes (because you’ve got to pay to hear music this good in my opinion) and have listened to a number of the tracks every spare second my ears get. With a single song often split between Hendrix-inspired grooves picking you up and then Withers-esque slow jams that force your eyes closed to fully appreciate what you’re hearing, Michael takes his job very seriously, and everyone is the happier for it. His lead guitarist for the show who’s name I couldn’t catch, a Washington State native on his home turf, with full afro in tow, had a non-chalant swagger about him and, once picked out, he didn’t seem to stray more than a foot or two while wooing the crowd into submission with his numerous solos. Had Ben Harper been in attendance, he would’ve applauded and shook the hands of the man that might finally push him to retirement. This, as shown on the faces of all those wandering off aimlessly afterwards, was exactly the relaxing re-charge we all needed.
Devendra Banhart, much to the excitement of the throng of young girls in the front rows, took the stage following Michael Kiwanuka and continued the unique musical stylings that would be the category-defying trend of the day. Fabrizio Moretti, the now recognizable drummer of The Strokes helped Devendra out on the kit and really added some pinache to the already interesting grooves. Opening with a number of songs of his album What Will We Be, Devendra kept the vibe laid back to start, strolling around the stage tipping his hat to his fans and smiling coyly when they responded with affection. The interesting mix of soul, funk, latin-infused folk, and a little bit of rock kept you guessing from song to song whether it was time to sway, swing, or shout along with the band. Already making waves, having just released his seventh studio album, it’ll be exciting to keep an eye on this Texan-born, Venezuelan raised singer-songwriter.
And then Bloc Party happened. Near to the top of my own personal favourites list, the re-united Brits filled the Gorge’s main stage with a fury of sound! To open their set with the smash hit “Banquet” from their debut album, well, screaming like a little girl was a thing many grown men found themselves doing for the first time (or maybe I’m alone on that one). After getting the capacity crowd fired up, a simple, “We’re Bloc Party from London… So let’s get this party started…” was all they needed to launch into “Hunting for Witches”; the lead-off single to their sophomore effort. With a catalogue full of hits, playing one after another including, “Waiting for the 7:18”, “Pioneers”, “Positive Tension”, and “Talons”, you could visibly watch as the four bandmate’s smiles get bigger as the set progressed. Lead vocalist /rhythm guitar Kele Okereke played in gym shorts and high-tops showing that playing music is just what he was meant to do, he doesn’t need an image or a look while lead guitarist Russell Lissack, Gordon Moakes on bass guitar, and Matt Tong on drums all did and looked however they pleased to follow suit. A quick note by Kele expressed what everyone was feeling, that they were witnessing something special: “The last time we played here was, no lies, the worst show we’ve ever played. We are having a brilliant time up here forgetting that experience and having the best time while doing it.” To close up an unbelievably upbeat and energetic show, Kele offered up a song he stated, “…is an old song. I don’t know if you’ll remember it.” Less than four notes into “This Modern Love”, Kele broke verse and laughingly played witty with his fans, “…oh, you do remember.” We all remembered and we all crossed off another notch on our bucket lists after seeing a Bloc Party show we’ll never forget.
Strolling through the grounds after that show, I was pulled back to Bigfoot Stage hearing the unique vocal stylings of Divine Fits co-frontman, Dan Boeckner. The Canadian/American “mega-group” is composed of Dan, formerly of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, Britt Daniel, formerly and currently of Spoon, Sam Brown, formerly of The New Bomb Turks, and Alex Fischel (formerly of something I’m sure). Dan and Britt along have played enough shows to know how to rock a crowd proper and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Playing the majority of their tracks off their debut album, A Thing Called Divine Fits, the guys also had fun covering Tom Petty’s classic “You Got Lucky” and finally closing with Britt’s heartbreak cover of “Shivers”, the latter happening after the lights dimmed to deep reds and muted purples conveying the high school pain Nick Cave and the rest of The Boys Next Door no doubt felt when writing the song all those years ago. These boys are good, and they’ve only just begun this mega-group’s work.
The next two shows to hit the main stage were The XX and Sigur Ros, one moody and incredible experience after the other. The XX walked out in all blacks onto an all black stage and immediately started playing a show using stripped down special FX consisting mostly of strobe lights and the occasional white laser light. Although their music is dark and brooding in the best way possible, their stoic facial expressions hit the joy they felt and conveyed to their fans. Romy Madley Croft took the mic after finishing a haunting rendition of Shelter to say, “Three years ago we played the second stage during the day. We watched Massive Attack from the lawn and dreamed of this moment. And it’s all because of you. Thank you so much.” Weaving their way seamlessly through their hits, “VCR”, “Crystallized”, and “Islands” all off their 2009 debut studio album, it was surprising that such highs (both vocally and beat related) came from such sombre-sounding beginnings but there was something undeniably sexy about their presence that pushed the music to another level as they often stood facing each other on stage, forehead to forehead, eyes to the ground, using their guitars with and against one another finding the perfect reverb at precisely the right moment. The climax came with “Infinity”; melodic and tranquil right until the clash of the synthed-up symbol hit and lights and sound combined, actually shocking the audience momentarily with the effect of lightning crashing onstage time the chorus hit.
Sigur Ros, who are capable of an equally moody and down-tempo show, came out in matching uniforms to deliver, seemingly, just that. With the crescendo of the first song hitting however, everyone in attendance knew we were about to witness something entirely out of this world. With visuals ranging from lead crystals reacting to magnets, the cellular growth of membranes, and eerily beautiful underwater close-ups to over-exposed decimation of entire forests akin to nuclear blast waves, the visuals, as per design, were fully a third of the show. The other two thirds, you ask? Frontman and creative wonder-being, Jon “Jonsi” Birgisson. Taking pieces from all of their studio albums, Agaetis Byrjun, (), and through to their latest, Kveikur, the lack of ability to pronounce or even understand any of the lyrics is surprisingly a non-issue to newcomers and a welcome, often spiritual experience for the initiated. Some of their more “popular” songs including “Hoppipola” had the crowd dancing and swaying as digital sparks reigned across the screen behind while other songs took the audience to Pacific depths only to leave them stranded at Everest Heights much to their delight and wonder. The images of burning forests and vehicles often juxtaposed the symphonic moments of quiet reflection within the music before hitting a fever pitch harder than the most intense heavy metal imaginable. This man screams in a more beautiful register than most highly paid performers can sing. With a very simple, “Hello, thank you for having us…” Jonsi is deep into a creative space throughout. So much so that you find yourself waiting for him to look directly at you in the few brief periods he addressed the audience in the vain hope that you might, for just a moment, see the world as he sees is; see things the way someone as creative as this man sees them. This group takes dream-stuff and crafts ethereal, often hypnotizing sounds out of it. And if, on the off chance you didn’t know this was what your dreams were capable of, well, put on any one of the albums they’ve created, or, had you been lucky enough to catch last night’s performance, simply close your eyes and wait.
Stumbling away for an incredible night of unbelievable performances, I was awakened while walking by the images of insanity made real. “Oh yes,” I thought, “Empire of the Sun is performing on Bigfoot Stage.” Four men on pink, furry stilts slammed down on massive, double-deck, neon guitars, all angled out from the god-figure that was Luke Steele who stood on a raised platform covered head to toe in gold with an ornate gold headpiece reminiscent of the Mayan and Incan kings of old. And then shit got weird. By the time their insanely popular single, “Walking on a Dream” began (look it up if you’re unsure, you’ll know it well, I guarantee), my mind couldn’t cope and I decided that I either needed some mind-altering drug to keep going or to just accept that there are still two more days of music to come and prepare myself for the terrifyingly epic dreams that would come with sleep. Sleep it was.