Jack White slays, Alabama Shakes impress & NW hip-hop looks good at Sasquatch!

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Jack White at Sasquatch! 2012 Photo by Kyle Johnson

The ever-changing variety show that is the annual Sasquatch! Festival only got more broad this year, and it was especially evident in Saturday’s lineup. Here’s the prevailing stories that entertained the dirty, sweaty and ridiculously dressed masses.

Jacksquatch!

You won’t know how good Jack White’s new band is until you see them — even though you’ll forget again every time White decides to stomp on the overdrive and melt your face, as he is so apt to doing. Sure, it’s not The White Stripes, but who cares? White has surrounded himself with an ace backing group that can start and stop on a dime and give him room to breathe for as many scorching guitar solos as his little heart desires (and we’re just talking about the all-male band that accompanied him Saturday, not the all-female band that he chose to let sit this one out).

White had his new buddies add both weight and country flair to select tunes from the Stripes, Racounteurs and Dead Weather in a set that rarely if ever wavered in energy. Even takes from his solo debut, Blunderbuss, were open to interpretation.

Opener “Missing Pieces” was more honky-tonk thanks to extra fiddle, while “Freedom at 21” somehow got heavier with stand-up bass. Of course the crowd reacted best to the classics — a jerky “Steady As She Goes” (another song improved through stand-up bass) started a string of singalongs, which included a fleshed-out “Hello Operator” and the incredible encore of “We’re Going To Be Friends,” “Hotel Yorba” and “Seven Nation Army.” And you simply have not lived until you’ve seen White take about 30 solos on “Ball & Biscuit,” which had much less emphasis on verses and much more emphasis on rocking the fuck out than usual.

Owning an entire day of a festival is no easy task, but I think it’s safe to say that on Saturday, Sasquatch! became Jacksquatch!

The Maine Stage

In case you didn’t know, this hip hop thing is catching on around these parts. The Maine Stage, a tiny spot nestled into a grassy knoll in the middle of just about everything, caters to just that, and it really picked up steam throughout the day. In fact, Sol’s early-evening, stage-closing set was nearly overrun by a huge mass of people, and it got so hectic he had to ask everyone in the crowd (many of who had taken residence on the front of the stage) to take five steps back, because “I ain’t Snoop Dogg. I don’t need this shit.”

I saw good sets from both Sol (aided by a live band) and Grynch (with a DJ), but the latter, a diminutive Ballard native and Volvo driver, definitely sticks out as the more memorable performer of the two with lines about his short “height vertically” and Mr. Rogers. Then again maybe it’s very possible I wasn’t hearing what Sol was saying because of the insanity around him.

Other hip-hop acts on the day included locals Thee Satisfaction, who had trouble getting a lethargic Yeti Stage audience to get on board with their highly-inventive, melodic and rhythmically-interesting brand of rap, and Childish Gambino (actor/comedian Donald Glover of Community fame), whose main stage set was eerily similar to Kanye West’s own breakout performance at Sasquatch! 2005.

Too big for Bigfoot

Every year there’s at least one Sasquatch! band that you can tell is on the brink of stardom simply because it’s impossible to penetrate the huge second-stage crowd they attract. Like Mumford & Sons in 2010, Alabama Shakes was that act, and with good reason — their Stax/Muscle Shoals-esque brand of rock ‘n soul is fun to dance to, sing along with, and frankly just listen to. People were running from the hills to make sure they caught hit single “Hold On” (surprisingly played second in the set) before they moved on, and they all stayed to shake their shit until the burgeoning stars had shook for all they were allowed for one day.

In a similar vein, Seattle’s own purveyors of new indie soul, Pickwick, did an admirable job opening the main stage at noon. Their stage presence was in rare form and made them seem right at home, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say these boys have the potential to make a go of it as a full-scale touring act.

Winners/Losers

The Shins new lineup is incredibly talented, and it made for probably the most pleasant surprise for me on the day. They came out swinging with well-known songs like “Caring Is Creepy” and “Phantom Limb,” and new hit single “Simple Song” is already a crowd-pleasing singalon.

Blitzen Trapper, one of my favorite bands for quite some time, went full-on 70s classic rock for their early-afternoon main stage set. They opened with a trio of Jackson Browne-esque acoustic songs, then gradually built their way up in intensity with each song until ending with the ball-busting combo of “Street Fighting Sun” and “Miss Spiritual Tribe.”

St. Vincent was my favorite set of the day thanks to Annie Clark’s intense highwire act of avant-garde guitar riffing and soaring vocals. Clark managed to look like an incredibly sinister angel when a lone yellow spotlight focused on her face, and the backing of drums, keys and Moog only added to the atmosphere.

Metric misfired on the main stage with its new stuff, which mostly sounds like electronic music with rock accents as opposed to the other way around, which I always found to be their strength. When the synths take the lead, it’s usually not a good a thing — especially when the clock is starting to reach the decade mark in a band’s career.

Brent Stecker

About Brent Stecker

Brent is a journalist and small-time musician based in Wenatchee, Wash. His passion for music wasn’t discovered until his teenage years, however, when he first got his hands on a Rage Against the Machine CD. He spent the rest of his adolescence broadening his musical tastes, obsessively learning guitar, and harnessing his writing abilities in journalism classes.