At Logger Sports Grounds and Hendrickson Fields on Saturday, August 9
Win Butler wasn’t the first person to say it on the day, but there’s a very good argument to be made that he said it best. At the front end of a set that was as dramatic as the backdrop for the Squamish Valley Music Festival, the Arcade Fire frontman made a between-songs announcement.
“I’ve been to a few places,” he announced with a mixture of awe and genuine appreciation. “This is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and I’m so happy to be here.”
On that front, he wasn’t alone. Day 2 of the summer’s marquee musical event was pretty much a golden-hued dream, the sun beating down from a cloudless sky, the festival grounds kept pleasant and cool by a breeze blowing in off Howe Sound. To look at the landscape around you—and not just at the mighty Stawamus Chief—was to wonder why in the hell anyone would choose to live anywhere else in the world.
When Austra’s Katie Stelmanis finished up her band’s deliriously dreamy set crouching on the stage and staring off into space, it was hard to tell if she was lost in the moment, or contemplating loading up the moving van and leaving Toronto for the West Coast.
No less enamoured were her fellow Ontarians in Tokyo Police Club, which blended an enchanting strain of indie-rock with cold-pressed new-wave on the massive Tantalus Stage. The Newmarket-based quartet marvelled at the way that B.C. is filled with tanned and beautiful people who seem to consider it their moral duty to live life outdoors. And the Eastern Canada imports didn’t stop there.
On the other end of a site that made the average football field look like a Lilliputian postage stamp, Kevin Drew showed that he’s more than that guy from Broken Social Scene. Sporting a look that was part Main Street bagman and part fellow in need of a serious sponge bath, the Torontonian didn’t attract the largest crowd to the Stawamus Stage, but what the audience lacked in size it made up with enthusiasm. From the wildly gyrating bodies in front of the stage, it’s clear that B.C.’s fabled hatred of Hogtown doesn’t extend to that city’s musical stars.
As Drew unplugged and left the stage, it was time to take stock of the Squamish Valley Musical Festival’s dramatically expanded grounds. The site is bigger and better than in years past, to the point where things never felt crowded despite there being an estimated 30,000 people onsite.
As Straight reviewer Michael Mann correctly noted in his review of Day 1, getting from the Tantalus Stage to the Stawamus involved some leg work. (Still, one has to wonder what kind of feeb the Straight had reviewing Day 1. Mann argued that it was a 15-minute hike between main stages, that perhaps being true if Abe Vigoda was doing the walking, and only after someone duct-taped his legs together and then strapped a ball-bearing-weighted oil drum to his back.)
As a bonus, the forest pathway that connected the two stage areas provided some of the day’s comedic highlights. Even though everyone onsite was generally well-behaved, the bushes just off the pathway were littered at times with people who seemed to think they’d just discovered the world’s most awesome place to pass out. Judging from all the rustling going on, the bushes were also big with what may or may not have been: public urinators, open-air fornicators, or bears who got lost on their way to the dump.
Rather than wasting compliments on the scenery, Sam Roberts buttered up an already transfixed crowd by announcing, “You guys are beautiful,” right before the Caribbean-scented rocker “Metal Skin”. As mellow as chunks of the set were, that didn’t bother the toddler with the pink diaper happily high-fiving everyone in sight from her father’s shoulders. As for Roberts, let’s just say that he's cleaned up well from earlier Commodore appearances where he looked like his spare job was hydroponic hair farming.
One thing rang false about his set, though. When fans who seemed to be having the time of their lives joined right in on the “I Think my life is passing me by" part of “Brother Down”, it was hard not to call bullshit, but in the best possible way.
Word to the wise: if you are making the trek you are obligated to high-five everyone who extends their hand. This may or may not include: two chicks in Pikachu costumes; shirtless meatheads wearing what appeared to be dead raccoon pelts on their noggins; the Fuzz, the Lizard King, and his flower-power girlfriend; and the Skipper and his long-suffering little buddy Gilligan.
On the Stawamus Stage, Chvrches was doing an above-and-beyond job of re-creating the sound of the ’80s, the Glasgow group’s neon-lit wonders coming off like the soundtrack to the nightclub sequence in The Terminator. Diminutive singer Lauren Mayberry—who takes a glitter-bomb approach to her makeup—almost managed to get through the set without being hit in the head with a beach ball, someone finally hitting the mark near the end of her performance. The ball was clearly fired at her out of love, though, the massive cheers for “The Mother We Share” leading to a roar of approval and a full-blown dance party.
The best act you didn't see all day set up right after Chvrches in the middle of the Stawamus field on the grass. A pop-up band that literally seemed to show up out of nowhere, the group rocked in a March of the Zapotec kind of way, from the iron-lunged tuba player to the Shuffle Demon disciples on sax to the Captain Jack Sparrow doppelgänger playing the snare drum. Someone get those guys a gig on a main stage.
Those looking to get into the wildly popular Blueprint Arena for Ryan Hemsworth faced a lineup the size of Long Dong Silver’s wang. Taking some of the sting out of that was the sight of a clad-in-red ringmaster riding a seven-foot-tall bicycle around in the dirt and dust to the DJs’ rib-cage-rattling bass drops.
Firmly of the opinion there’s no point showing up for a festival unless you look like Wavy Gravy’s first-born? Knicker Nation Tie-Dye Empire sells summer-of-’67 sarongs for $10 each, or three for $25. Incense and Orange Sunshine acid are extra.
Trippy red-bathed visuals gave Broken Bells a ’70s shag-carpet vibe over on the Tantalus Stage, the crowd seemingly genuinely enthusiastic when the supergroup launched into mid-tempo indie-electronica jams “Holding on for Life”. The laid-back side project of the Shins’ James Mercer and platinum-producer Danger Mouse inspired lots of sitting on the grass, parking baby carriages on the grass, eating gigantic corn on the cobs on the grass, smoking grass, passing out on the grass, and telling kids who should probably have been in bed to stop eating the grass and watch the fucking band or you are going to go straight to fucking bed. On the grass.
Note to festivalgoers: the guy in the conical Asian hat lurking in the bushes off the between-stages path as night began to fall wasn’t Viet Cong—he was piss-stinking drunk.
The Roots looked like they were going to be the band-to-beat on the day, and not just because it’s not every day you see someone strutting around a festival stage with a giant sousaphone (take a bow Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson).
The first sign things were going to be what Jimmy Fallon would call "right off the hook" came on the trail as you headed to Broken Bells. For every three people headed to the Stawamus stage, there were 20 stampeding toward the Philly faves. And those who weren't were walking around asking anyone with a lanyard "Is this the way to the Roots?"
Even when things downshifted into '70s-porno-soundtrack territory, crutches were hoisted in the air and white people boogied like they were auditioning for Kool & the Gang. The Roots weren’t afraid to challenge an audience that seemed to stretch right from the Stawamus Stage to the waters of Howe Sound; the patience of the less adventurous was eventually tested by a late-set free-form-jazz exploration that included a tuba solo and a jazzbo scat-singing breakdown. Those who didn’t join the mini-exodus were, however, rewarded by a speed-punk version of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, which, if possible, was even more awesome than the band’s earlier reworking of “Jungle Boogie”.
And just when you thought the Roots were the band to beat Arcade Fire showed it’s learned a thing or two since the group’s Vancouver debut at Mesa Luna.
Disco burners like "Reflektor" would give way to thumping indie-nation anthems like “Rebellion (Lies)”. It was impossible to not be wowed by the swaying mini-horn section, the furiously sawing string section, and the sweat-dripping backing-band members who were every bit as captivating as Win Butler.
Arcade Fire certainly knows how to work a crowd, bringing the noise in the feedback-sprayed Velvets-meets-the-Fall robo rocker “Month of May”, and downshifting effortlessly with the post-folk melancholia of “Suburban War”.
Butler—wearing a black suit jacket that seemed to have lost a battle with Liquid Paper—was completely drenched in sweat a half-hour into the set. Consider that a sign he was easily the hardest working man in show biz on the day. Can you say magnetic?
Arcade Fire didn’t put on a concert so much as an old-school revival. The added bonus there being that, as far as natural settings go, you couldn’t have asked for a backdrop more heavenly than that of the Squamish Valley Music Festival. As Butler noted, he’s seen a lot of places. Few are better than this one.