By Jonathan Zwickel
Special to MSN Music
A sighting as rare as Sasquatch himself: Jack Black speaking the truth.
"The Pacific Northwest is a nexus of creativity and brilliance!" Black said during Tenacious D's main stage set Monday night, the penultimate performance of the 2012 Sasquatch! music festival. His rubbery mug filled the massive monitors flanking the stage. "It always has been! It always will be!"
Carrie Brownstein of Wild Flag battles the Sasquatch! wind tunnel (©Willie Fitzgerald-MSN)
Backed by a three-piece band, Black and musical partner Kyle Gass settled into a joke-song bit about -- what else? -- Sasquatch that featured the elusive cryptid himself sneaking onstage and ripping into an electric guitar solo. Arch, ironic and self-congratulatory, Tenacious D were an odd choice for one of the festival's most primo time slots, but Black's comment rang true. The last two days of the best fest in the Northwest flaunted the region's embarrassing wealth of talent.
Bing: 2012 Sasquatch!
On Sunday, the Head and the Heart exploded into a sweetly sentimental main stage set. The folk-pop six-piece have been on tour virtually since their humble, open-mic-night beginnings two years ago -- stopping for their first main stage Sasquatch! set last year -- so this easily could've been a homecoming victory lap for them. Instead they introduced a handful of new songs, surprising the thousands of gathered fans ready and willing to sing along with every familiar word. Traditional set-closer "Rivers and Roads" offered plenty of opportunity for interaction, for better or worse: On the final note of the song, as it seemed all of the Gorge sang along with the band, keyboardist Kenny Hensley beat his piano bench so hard he broke his hand.
Earlier in the day, Portlander M. Ward played a simmering set of boogie-inflected rock on the main stage. The Him-half of She & Him (his collaboration with Zooey Deschanel), playing with a five-piece band, mostly eschewed material from his just-released eighth solo album, "A Wasteland Companion," in favor of songs from 2009's superior "Hold Time" and 2006's "Post-War." His cover of Buddy Holly's "Rave On" suggested his affection for proto-classic-rock; his original "Chinese Translation" was itself a genuine classic.
Though members of Wild Flag dwell on both coasts, lead singer Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss originally rose to fame in Olympia, Wash., in the band Sleater-Kinney, so we'll claim them as Northwest locals. The quartet thrashed the Bigfoot Stage on Sunday, braving some of the weekend's strongest wind. "We're happy to be here in this Whitesnake wind-tunnel video. It's so windy up here -- I'm sure we look amazing," Brownstein said, her "Portlandia"-style sense of humor showing through. The band tore into "Glass Tambourine," guitarist Mary Timony upending her axe and dredging major feedback for the song's blues-noise coda.
Photos: 2012 Sasquatch! Festival Preview
Damien Jurado is a Northwest innovator whose integrity and work ethic have earned him iconic, elder-statesman status to current Seattle folk faves like the Head and the Heart and Fleet Foxes. Rather than the intensely introverted folk he's known for, his Bigfoot Stage performance on Monday flared with the psych-rock fireworks of his recent material. Songs like "Nothing Is the News" and "Working Titles," both from this year's "Maraqopa" album, were alternately seething and soothing. During "Mountains Still Asleep," Jurado dropped his guitar, turned his back to the audience, and howled -- "Love is a circle! It's never broken!" -- an unusually unreserved catharsis. He was so immersed in the moment he toppled face-forward onto the stage and stalked off.
Seattle's Gold Leaves, too, worked the seething-soothing duality, somehow simultaneously intense and mellow. Lead singer Grant Olsen is another Jurado acolyte, all poetic, imagistic lyrics and Lee Hazlewood-esque delivery. Their Yeti Stage set early Monday afternoon boomed during "The Silver Lining," an extended noise-groove jam.
Speaking of Fleet Foxes, Seattle's Cave Singers played their second-ever show with Foxes multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson on bass. The trio turned quartet debuted a slew of new songs that veered from their droning, rootsy stomp into more groove-oriented rock 'n' roll. They appeared absolutely ecstatic on the Bigfoot Stage, having taken a major leap commercially and artistically from their first Sasquatch! performance in 2008.
Lest anyone believe the Northwest is all folk-rocking white guys, the misleadingly named Maine Stage -- added to the Sasquatch! stage panoply for the first time this year -- featured local hip-hop all weekend. Its highlight came on Monday afternoon with Don't Talk to the Cops and their spazzy, punk-surf-party rap/performance art that spoke directly to the Northwest experience. Rapped lead dancer MC BlesOne, "I drink coffee/so back up off me!"
The current cornerstone of Northwest hip-hop, however, is Shabazz Palaces, who played a scintillating, ethereal, booming late afternoon set Monday at the Bigfoot Stage. The duo of Palaceer Lazaro (aka Ishmael Butler) and Tendai Maraire evolve their sound with every show, and even in this grand arena, with several thousand gathered to watch their performance, they took risks, changing beats, changing lyrics, and executing no-look high-fives midsong.
Northwest music gives Sasquatch! its unique flair, but the final main stage slot of the festival was given to L.A.-dwelling, Scientology-practicing, perpetually cool dude and dad Beck. Dressed in a black leather jacket and black fedora, he hooked the crowd immediately with old-school faves "Devil's Haircut" and "Loser." By this point, it was after 10 p.m. on Day 4 of the festival, and the sold-out Sasquatch! crowd of 18,000 or so fans were either exhaustedly absorbing his music from the massive lawn in front of the main stage or losing their minds on illicit drugs and dubstep in the Banana Shack tent, where U.K. electro duo Nero continued the weekend's Day-Glo dance music explosion.
Equal parts rave, Lollapalooza and Woodstock, this year's Sasquatch! hit a post-modern festival sweet spot. Music fans in the iPod era want everything, all the time, in one place. Sasquatch! delivered just that in one of America's most dramatic concert settings -- a music lover's playground of epic proportions where excess is just enough.
Jonathan Zwickel is senior editor of City Arts magazine in Seattle and contributes regularly to SPIN, The Believer and MTVHive. His book "Beastie Boys: A Musical Biography," was published last year by Greenwood Press.