Friday, May 30, 2008

Sasquatch Festival, Gorge, WA 5.24-25.08

Sasquatch 5.24-25.08 (from super secret correspondent Ray Suen)

One of the best things to come out of the Louis XIV tours was meeting Chris Chandler. As tour manager and front of house man, he had to put up with a lot of shit that a man with a lesser patience would surely have collapsed under the weight of. Seeing his work with the Flaming Lips though, made me realize that our experience with Louis was child's play compared to what we did at the Gorge in Washington for two days.

I had been looking forward to working with the Lips ever since the end of the Louis tour. The anticipation had been building and building until the Killers called a few weeks ago and my world became about learning how to play keyboards. After that situation finally settled, nothing was more of a relief than getting to fly out to Seattle and see how the Lips do things. They had just finished playing two festivals in Chicago and Philadelphia, running on almost zero sleep for the two days previous. We went straight from the airport in Seattle to the Gorge in Washington.

The two big things about this particular show for the Lips were the return of the giant UFO show, and the world premiere of the Flaming Lips movie, "Christmas on Mars." Wayne bought a revivalist tent to screen the movie, and as soon as we stepped off the bus, we set to work building the theater. There was a lot of work to be done between driving four foot stakes into rock hard dirt, setting up the lighting and PA, and figuring out how to make the damned popcorn machine pop.

Nothing builds a sense of team like uniforms. The Lips crew all had matching orange suits and hard hats that made people stop and move out of the way when we would walk to lunch. There was no place in the entire festival that was off limits to us and people knew we meant business. I made the mistake of walking around alone a few times. You can be badass in a team of orange suits or a freak just wandering around. The tripped out masses were less reticent about poking and hitting my hard hat when I was by myself.

read the rest by clicking the jump.

After the tent was built, I checked out Mates of State, the Kooks, and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. The Jicks were solid, Stephen being a surprisingly virtuoso guitar player, and I finally got to fulfill my dream of watching Janet Weiss play drums.

Hundreds of people had been waiting to see the movie all day, we were busy doling out popcorn, and unfortunately we had to turn most people who wanted to see the movie away. I got to see the first screening at 10 PM (as the Cure played at the main stage, apparently with a new drag queen Liza Minelli as their frontman), and I'll say this. It's loud, it's crazy, and there's a lot of vagina in it. Highly recommend it.

The crew got a few hours of much needed sleep before the 3 AM load in at the mainstage for the UFO. The main stage at Sasquatch is massive, and I learned later, it requires a massive stage to support the giant UFO show. It was made more epic by its backdrop, the great Gorge whose magic I was too unskilled to capture in my pictures. Imagine the Grand Canyon but greener and full of water. The UFO took five hours to build and we worked as the sun was coming up. Most everyone's coffee jolt had worn off at this point (even though it was damn good coffee the Portlanders brought, Stumptown, check it out) and we were all getting a little loopy. I, doing this all for the first time, put my head down and tried to do as much as I could without breaking anything. The end result was this massive, metal, orange jellyfish that would loom silently over the acts on the mainstage, forewarning the festival goers of the jubilee to take place later. Again, highly recommend any chance to see the UFO show.

Wayne Coyne is an amazing human being. He is genuinely curious about people and their stories and spent limitless amounts of time talking to fans and signing things while supervising the stage setup. He and his wife Michelle are one of the loveliest, most sophisticated, well-dressed couples I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. There is no other crew or band in the business that is so interlinked. You'll see Michael Ivins in a few of these pictures setting up as if he was merely a part of the crew. There was no sense of ego with these guys, everyone just wanted to do good work from the band on down.

After all the building was done, I got to watch the Hives, Built to Spill, Rodrigo y Gabriella, The Flight of the Conchords, and the Mars Volta all on the main stage. The Hives were so much fun, and their schticky power pop and ribald Swedish energy really should have earned them a spot playing later in the day. Built to Spill played a pretty low-key, low-energy set which lulled me into watching Rodrigo y Gabriella instead of going to watch Battles, my one regret for the weekend. If you've not seen them, Rodrigo Y Gabriella are two flamenco guitar players who play well intentioned covers of Metallica and other rock groups with gusto and great skill. But, in my opinion, that kind of material needs to be kept strictly to college quads and youtube. I had been looking forward to the Mars Volta all day and was disappointed as I was smacked in the face by in an incomprehensible wall of prog-noise that sent not a few folks in the crowd to find dinner. I love the Mars Volta, don't get me wrong, I love their recordings and have been to a few live shows that were brilliant. But the manic energy of Cedric combined with the growth of the ensemble and penchant for free jazz breakdowns and schizophrenic solos really turned a lot of people off. For a whole 90 minutes. Cedric came out and threw a cymbal stand into the audience as soon as he stepped on stage later proceeding to fuck with the camera guys almost throwing a few cameras on the ground. This from a man who refuses to play if his audience is moshing. I don't get it.

Time for the Lips! It was damn near the closest thing I've had to a religious experience at a rock and roll show or in my life, even. The band descended from the giant UFO and Wayne did his famous ball routine over the audience. Balloons, confetti, teletubbies, smoke, lasers, and general fun and mayhem made for an audience response I've never seen before. Everyone, from the kids in the front, to the people on the hill in the back had their hands up singing along and rocking out. It was near impossible not to, with the show the Lips put on. Wayne has said, "rock bands just don't try anymore and it's a shame. We should be trying our hardest to put on a show for these people." Words to live by. The highlights of the show were the Lips' rendition of Zeppelin's "The Song Remains the Same" when we recruited five girls to come up and dance naked and, as it was Memorial Day, played Taps through Wayne's horn speaker. The entire audience held up peace signs, the reverence was deafening.

I've never had this much fun busting my ass for 48 hours. Even during teardown I couldn't help thinking that this was the way to live, to be rock and roll, to do good work and love every minute of it. In any case, I'll hopefully be going back out to do a few more Lips shows this summer. I can't imagine a better way to spend my time before going on tour with the Killers in August. That tour will have a lot to live up to.


Anonymous said...

Very cool read Ray! looks / sounds like an amazing time.

Anonymous said...

Wow, fascinating! My favorite blog post so far this year! Thanks for taking us backstage and onstage -

Anonymous said...

first of all, i want to say THANK YOU for the behind the scenes photos! they are incredible! i saw the flaming lips for my first time ever and i am a changed woman because of it--the show was EPIC!!! and the energy was amazing! and you were right about everyone rockin out...i kept crackin gup at the guy dressed up like a penguin near me--he was havin a killer time!

what i really want to know, though, is how do i get your job???

lizardlizard81 said...

Thanks for this!!!
I'd had my mind blown by the religious experience of a Lips show several times before and I was sad to miss this one.
Thanks for the wonderful commentary!