We arrived at the Gorge (in George, Washington) a little after noon and decided that we should probably set up the tents while it was still light outside. This resulted in us missing U.S.E. while we used our collective problem solving skills to assemble a tent from before the dawn of time [flickr]. We finished with what we believed to be enough time to see Bloc Party, but this was false hope because the campsites are about a million miles from the concert space. After making the long march, there was still hope for hearing Bloc Party. But alas, "will call" means "will wait in a gigantic line until the people in the understaffed trailer finds everyone's tickets." This bit of waiting in the hot sun as I missed one of the bands that I really wanted to see made me wonder about the programming geniuses who decided to put two of the better bands in the earliest timeslots. Maybe there were other people who would have been equally disappointed to miss Jem and Ray Lamontagne, but I doubt it.
There was also an incident in which I had to hide my camera in a bag of Triscuits because some of the gate people decided that digital (but not analog) cameras were prohibited. I do love shoddy enforcement of senseless policies.
Ellen and Juno were smart enough to have ordered early or paid the extra $2.50 to have actual tickets; so they got in to see part of Bloc Party and set up a blanket on the hill to be our base of operations. When I got in, we listened to Jem, walked over to the other stage to hear the Dears and (later) A.C. Newman and eat yakisoba. After lunch, we paid a visit to the Tobacco Smokes You booth, heard maybe one Visiqueen song, and went back to the mainstage for the Arcade Fire.
Seeing the Arcade Fire was completely worth the price of admission. Their show was more than amazing, even in the great outdoors in the oppressive heat and the band still in formal wear. Richard Parry's percussion antics (the motorcycle helmet!), the band's general earnestness and enthusiasm, the somber french horn player, all of it was so incredibly good. I would try harder to convey how much I loved it, but I'll just re-remind you of Mathew Derby's article from the Believer. [#]
One the way back, we secured a better place on the hillside. I waited while Ellen fetched Juno and the blanket and the supplies. Trying to occupy space, I observed a very drunk guy possibly dying on the grass. The people on the adjacent blanket sprayed him on the face and he woke up enough to tell them that he had "hit something" and that he "used to have wheat thins." The good samaritans continued to mist him and shared some of their precious crackers before packing up and leaving for safer locations.
I enjoyed (and Ellen and Juno suffered through) Wilco from the comfort of our new closer location. I really really like the songs from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but I haven't quite fallen in love with A Ghost is Born. We also had fun watching Beverage Enforcement chasing down drunks -- a brilliant new policy in which people could drink anywhere as long as they were wearing wristbands. This seems pretty fun for drinkers, but kind of like a lot of pointless effort.
Along with everyone else, we made the genius decision to use the pre-Modest Mouse time as the "dinner hour." We each tried standing in several lines, but all came to the conclusion that we weren't hungry enough to wait in gigantic lines to buy overpriced food that we didn't even feel like eating.
Instead, I watched Joanna Newsom's set. When you first hear one of her songs, you might think that you'd stumbled into a renaissance fair with a sort of crazy woman with a screechy voice playing a harp. But after a song, it turns out to be completely wonderful and just the right thing as the sun is getting ready to set and the sweltering heat is dissipating. There was a good sized crowd of people paying rapt attention (here, the programmers actually chose to schedule acts that were about as different as possible at the same time: Kanye West was on the mainstage during her set) and I think that she said something about it being truly the best time of her life, and I sort of believed her.
We went back down to be among the crowd for Modest Mouse and the Pixies. A girl in our general vicinity commented that Modest Mouse didn't seem to be as drunk as usual, and I think she may have been right. Their set, mainly consisting of songs from the new album and Moon and Antarctica along with a few classics, was solid and thoroughly enjoyable. One of their stagehands [?] was wearing a suit.
The Pixies were good, too. I've seen them three times in the past year and a half, and I'm not now, nor was I ever even a fan. At least I recognize a few of their songs.
After the show ended, we made our way back to the campsite and ate our dinner of Newman's Ginger-O's and pretty promptly went to sleep. The wind made the rain flaps expand and contract creepily throughout the evening and we all forgot to bring pillows; so it wasn't the best night of sleep ever. Yet, given the circumstances -- car camping with thousands of drunk people -- it wasn't that bad either.