Music for the Day...
Sunday was rather an easier choice for me than Saturday; the Presidents of the United States of America were opening on the Sasquatch stage at 5. Although I'm not a huge fan the way some people are, they have come up with a number of light-hearted, catchy tunes over the years and since I was already here, why the hell not? The only band not playing on the main stage that I'd heard anything of was Rogue Wave, and since I knew them more by reputation than by actual music, we decided to just camp out in front of the main stage all evening. We had made arrangements to meet up with our Idahoan friends on the inside, but it was so noisy that when we called them it was impossible to understand anything, so we never met on the inside. The Presidents were great; how could you not sing along with "Millions of peaches, peaches for me. Millions of peaches, peaches for free." Goofy, fun, and certainly not a group to take themselves too seriously.
Michael Franti and Spearhead were next. I've seen him once before at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, where he's one of the headliners again this year. (This is one of the best reggae festivals you can go to anywhere in the world; I've only gone once but it's probably the best music fest I've ever been to.) He's a legend in the socially conscious hip hop community, and has been doing his thing in various incarnations for a long time now. The sometimes reggae-inspired hip hop and very danceable beats certainly speak to why he's been so popular over the years, but still, I was biding my time.
Death Cab for Cutie came next. I've got a bit of a conflicted relationship with this band. This was the third time I've seen them, and each time I'm less impressed than I was the last. There's no question they can write some good songs, sometimes poppy and catchy, sometimes hauntingly beautfiul, deeply lyrical and oh-so-self-consciously introspective (like any emo band worth its salt) but I'll just say this: Death Cab is not a band that needs to be seen live in order to appreciate their music. My favorite sardonic comment from the weekend was my own, when I said "I don't need to drive 250 miles to be bored by Death Cab for Cutie; I can stay home and do that for free." (And you can be sure I said it loud enough for all around me to appreciate.) I think this is a group that means a lot more to the generation born after mine as a general rule. (God I sound old...) Still, I'll hand it to them: The Sound of Settling and especially I will follow you into the Dark are really, really great songs. Yes, those are their two biggest radio tunes, and no, there aren't many more gold nuggets to be found by mining their LPs. At least not for me. They played right at sunset, and kudos to the schedulers, they were an appropriate warm-up act for the main reason I came to Sasquatch, and that was to see...
Sunset at Sasquatch. Note the two UFOs we captured in the lower portion of the photo.
This is another group whose influence on what came after them, and whose worldwide renown and barrel of hit tunes simply cannot be overstated; this group coupled with R.E.M. are what made me say, immediately upon seeing the line-up for this year's festival: "My first Sasquatch will be 2008."
Like so many other things, I came to this band after their big radio smashes in the U.S. following the release of their seminal album Disintegration in 1989. By that point they'd been around for 13 years, since I was 4 years old, and in the years since I discovered them (following the smash hit Love Song that still receives ample radio play,) I've gone back and dug into all their works from the beginning forward. They have definitely been the most enduring of the bands from the post-punk explosion of the late 70s, and they preceded and helped found the Goth rock movement in the 80s, although they seemed to go their own way once they helped germinate the seeds of that genre. Frontman Robert Smith has been a somewhat stern taskmaster with his band, but no one can argue with the results. (My cool cousin made out with him at a seedy punk club in L.A. in the early 80s. This the same cousin who hung out with rock god Perry Farrell and got stoned with Dave Navarro and then made a trip to 7-11 with him to get Slurpees.) The Cure is often known for their gloomy dirges, long, depressing anthems to despair, apathy, self-loathing and loss, but for every song of this type there is another where Smith shouts at the top of his lungs about the glories of love, the heady ecstasy of lust, screaming in his strangely boyish voice and exploding in self-immolating odes to the simple joy of being alive. To focus completely on one type of song or the other is to gouge out one of your eyes when analyzing the music of this band.
Since there's no way I can list one, I'll list a handful of my favorite tunes of theirs: Hot Hot Hot!, Just Like Heaven (yes, that's everyone's favorite and there's a good reason for that), Disintegration, Lovecats, The Caterpillar, Boys Don't Cry, Plainsong, 13th, To Wish Impossible Things (the list goes on and on and on). Invariably there's always a whole horde of people who lambaste all the music that comes after a band's first mainstream commercial success (in this case Disintegration), and who imply that people who don't worship the oldest and/or most obscure and/or least accessible tunes are somehow shallow and johnny-come-latelys (you get this attitude often with image-conscious Cure fans) but to them I say: screw you, there's a reason that certain songs become popular (often, though not always, because they're good) and that doesn't mean a group sucks forever thereafter. In my opinion The Cure got better in the 90s, as Robert Smith matured and appreciation for alternative music grew. I heard some Gen Y chick behind me, explaining to a companion who had never heard of The Cure (I had to shake my head in wonder at that) that "they're, like, the first emo band ever." Kristin and I looked at each other and laughed, but actually from that girl's perspective that probably wasn't a bad way to explain it. She knew how to relate this music in a way that the person she was speaking to would understand.
The Cure rocked long, and they rocked hard. I was especially impressed with drummer Jason Cooper. He busted out solid lick after solid lick, and the percussion for this group's music is incredibly difficult, subtly shaded and nuanced and he nailed it all with machine-like precision. Robert Smith is only as tall as I am but he looked a lot taller (must have been platform shoes) and a lot heavier (hey, he's 49 now) but he looked disturbing and ghoulish as ever: his trademark smeared lipstick, pasty makeup, ratted hair and hollowed-out, blackened eyes were as unsettling as they were when he first took this look (and kept it unchanged ever since) almost 30 years ago. They all looked super cool, like retro demon-ghost rockers from some obscure 80s alt-rock video. They actually were still playing as we left; this night I'd left my fleece on the shuttle and there was no rain but the wind was freezing, it was after midnight, and I'd been drinking (moderately of course) for 12 hours at that point, so it was time to go home. The Cure rule! and I'm glad I finally got to see them.