Sasquatch! Music Festival with Die Antwoord, HAIM, Rodriguez

Gorge Amphitheatre, Quincy WA, May 23-25

BY Alan RantaPublished May 28, 2014

There was a hint of struggle looming over this year's Sasquatch!, after their failed attempt to split the festival into two weekends, but once it all started, it was top form, as always. Early on Friday (May 23), Connecticut funkateers the Stepkids seemed to harness supernatural powers as bassist Dan Edinberg and guitarist Jeff Gitelman took the stage in capes monogrammed with the initials "SK." With ace drummer Tim Walsh holding it down on the kit, Edinberg and Gitelman constantly performed synchronized riff turns, axe raises and other playful moves in their execution of shimmering funk jams.

Hailing from New Albany, Indiana, Houndmouth served up a loving spoonful of Southern fried rock that would go down smooth next to the likes of Dawes and Deer Tick. The chemistry between singers Katie Toupin and Matt Myers smouldered onstage as they tapped a pure vein of Americana, singing about mining towns, penitentiaries, selling cocaine, and all the expected tropes that make outlaw country so colourful. Myers hammed it up for the crowd, his voice intentionally squeaking in the manner of Mr. Haney from Green Acres for "Comin' Around Again" while a cigarette dangled from his mouth, but his performance was rounded out with killer guitar work.

Best known for his roles on Delocated and Flight of the Conchords and his voice work on Bob's Burgers, Eugene Mirman's set was well balanced and researched, occasionally dark and sexual yet ever whimsical with a hint of childish innocence, not PC but not too crude, and dynamically delivered with impeccable timing.

South African zef rap-ravers Die Antwoord closed Friday with their expert exploitation of the inherent darkness of the human soul. DJ Hi-Tek's brutal rave beats sounded massive, ripping sounds from hard house, gabber and Miami bass, giving Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er the proper base over which to showcase their stunningly unique flows and larger-than-life personalities while a couple backup dancers rolled out for some synchronized twerking and raving. Whatever one thinks of their onstage personas, none can doubt their commitment to the show.

Deap Vally kicked off Saturday (May 24) with a righteous set of sexy but empowering blues-rock. Guitarist Lindsey Troy didn't have the most dexterous fretwork, but she had all the fuzzy, whiskey-soaked riffs she needed, and the rest was made up with attitude.

Suffering the festival jinx, the Growlers started late, and Brooks Nielsen's vocals were low in the mix at first, but they powered through. Though he was spewing chunks before their set, Nielsen rallied to deliver his addictive shamanic drawl in all its glory, lingering nonchalantly over every word, as he slinked around the stage. Meanwhile, his well-rehearsed quartet played their jaunty ditties cloaked in psychedelic whimsy with almost studio-like perfection.

Halifax producer Ryan Hemsworth killed the dance tent with a liquid-smooth DJ set, dropping his dramatic electronic sound with traces of R&B and trap. Unsolicited claps and chants from the crowd showed how deeply his sound resonated, elevating to full sing-alongs for some of his spectacular remixes. Yet, he used the mic to cop to a barely perceptible mistake, one of the few things he said to the crowd his whole, showing that he still has humility despite his immense and well-deserved hype.

Then, Seattle post-grunge trio Sandrider, featuring two former members of Akimbo, served serious head banging riffs with a dose of stoner rock and hardcore. There was moshing from the get-go, with guitarist Jon Weisnewski defending a guy who tried to jump off stage, saying "This is America, man!" They were one of the most musically dynamic groups at the festival, always seeming to find another level, grinding metal gears with the precision and flair of a gear stunt driver.

Starting Sunday (May 25) with a sugar rush, everything about Seattle pop-punk quartet TacocaT seemed cute, at a glance: they had a bubble machine, cartoonish hair, happy doll dresses, and while singer Emily Nokes banged a tambourine, drummer Lelah Maupin looked like she just dropped in from outer space. Early on, they sang about dumping someone and getting to second base, but before you could give them the cuddlecore crown, they quickly showed an aggressive streak, with songs about the Volcano vaporizer, yeast infections and menstruation. They were having so much fun that they stayed onstage and danced to the entirety of "Party in the U.S.A." by Miley Cyrus after their set, then hung around the side of the stage signing autographs.

Hannibal Buress had the comedy tent eating out of the palm of his hand with his hilarious rants on how steroids bring families together, his experiences with drugs and sex and incredible examples of how many rap flows start with morning wood (which, as he pointed out, does not make you cool). One dude in the crowd threw confetti for all his punch lines, and line of ballerinas came out for his hilarious "Gibberish Rap" parody, adding to the rich overall experience.

To see them live, it's hard not to compare HAIM to Fleetwood Mac. They have a similar kind of polished-yet-adventurous pop rock sound, but sound expanded and contemporized, presented with unforgettable star quality and a little kink. They can shred soft rock and R&B with the same skill as Stevie Nicks and company did at their age, but it remains doubtful that Fleetwood Mac could pull off trap-influenced rap-rock track "My Song 5" the same way HAIM did, while professing a love for "shaking titties" in their lead-up banter.

With the Academy Award-winning Searching for Sugarman documentary bringing his work to mass public consciousness in the Western world, after so many years quietly working demolition in Detroit, seeing Rodriguez led stiffly across the stage to the mic looked like someone coming back from the dead, but once he had a guitar in his hand and started singing "Climb Up on My Music," it was as if the world leaped back to 1971. His acoustic guitar strumming was snappy and soulful, his life experience exposed with each vibration, and his voice hardly showed any wear, retaining the slightly nasal Arlo Guthrie meets Bob Dylan quality heard on his first two albums. James Caan's best line from The Way of the Gun, where he says, "The only thing you can guess about a broken down old man is that he is a survivor," seemed apt.

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