Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

I didn’t realize until I was deep in it, but Sunday was packed with more acts that I wanted to see and/or photograph than any other day. Considering there’s more music on Saturday, that’s a pretty hefty feat. Who was I excited about? Japanese Breakfast, Tank and the Bangas, Jacob Banks, Phoebe Bridgers, Alex Lahey, Gifted Gab, and Slowdive. Of course I was looking forward to the National (slow and sad, that’s right up my alley) but new music gets my engine revving and it’s been a hot second since I’ve had the opportunity to smash in a bunch of new stuff in a very short period of time (aka a music fest). Enough of my gushing, on with the photos!

Charly Bliss:
I waver back and forth on this band. Their energy on stage is infectious with little hops and jumps peppering the stage throughout… but the singer’s voice is so high and munchkin-like, it’s off-putting. However, I continued to photograph them and the music faded away a little as I went about my work. When it came back to me, surprisingly the annoyance had cooled and the heavy guitar and reverb took over. I’m almost positive if I tried listening to their music through headphones (which I’m attempting to do right now) I would be done with it after a song or two. They’ve got that throwback to the 90’s/Gwen Stefani sound and have a lot of stage presence (both of which I’m totally into), but not sure I can get past the vocalist (which kind of stinks, their music is pretty good).


Gifted Gab:
This lady is talented. So at ease at any given moment, so chill (could have been the blunt she was smoking) and the music seems to come so easy to her. I can almost guarantee she works her a$$ off to get them exactly the way she needs them, but it’s that effortlessness that takes her music to the next level. I had the fortune and unique opportunity to get acquainted with her music several years ago while photographing her KEXP in-studio. I can tell you that even then she had a lot of raw talent but it’s gone beyond that by leaps and bounds, I’m not surprised she starting to see some serious attention.

Phoebe Bridgers:
The first thing I thought as I slid into the photo pit was “she must be seriously hot”, then I looked around and thought “they all must be seriously hot”, because the entire band was donning suits and/or black dresses. Wearing a short-sleeved shirt and jeans myself, I was acutely aware of the effect the heat was having on me. I know it’s all part of her aesthetic and sometimes clothes can tell you way more about a band and their sound than any stage show possibly could, and then my last thought before shooting was “damn they’re melancholy”. I realize hardly any of this is a proper review of their music, but then again it’s a style they’re cultivating that add to their live show… so maybe it is? After all was said and done, I enjoyed the set, melancholy and all, because that’s my jam.

Jacob Banks:
I had been looking forward to this set all weekend. I took a sneak peek at his music before I set food on Sasquatch soil and his voice gave me the googley eyes. I was raised on Muddy Waters and that gruff, powerful voice hits me in my soft spot. Not sure why, but the discovery of his gold tooth was an added bonus when I arrived on the scene for his set so I worked and worked to get that thing shining in a shot. I wasn’t exactly successful, but I had a lot of fun trying. I’d really love to see him on tour where he’s the point of interest for everyone to get that energy in the room and have some “one on one” time with him and his band. There’s a lot of tribal influence in his beats with soul and blues not far behind… it’s gorgeous.

Too Many Zooz:
These three dudes were SO MUCH FUN. I had no idea what to expect, I just liked their name, had a few minutes, so I figured why not! A fellow photographer ran over after taking a portrait because she “just had to find out what was going on”, and that just about sums them up. Having been a sax player in my younger days, breath support and oxygen are the key to projecting the full sound of the instrument. The bari player was dancing around, doing seriously impressive Michael Jackson-esque choreography and not missing a beat. It all seemed pretty improvised too, I was totally blown away. Yes, it’s a big show, but for those of us with experience on woodwinds… you can understand why my mouth hung open then drew into a huge grin that lasted the whole time I was there. No vocals, just big band sound that was easy to dance to and magic to watch.

Alex Lahey:
It’s been a while since I got a sense of a band or its lead singer like the Alex. She’s sort of reminds me of myself: strong, determined, self-reliant… don’t ask me how I got that merely from her singing. There’s just a sense of strength and authority behind her banter not to mention her playing. It could be that I get that sense from most ladies who choose to be in the punk rock business. Either way, it wasn’t the most exciting set of the festival, but I remember it even now and I look forward to getting to know the band and their albums.

Tank and the Bangas:
This band was the big winner win for me as far as new music goes. What wasn’t a surprise is they hail from New Orleans… the city of big bands and big personalities. Every musician on stage was incredibly talented but what really stole the show were the three vocalists. I was thinking to myself during the set that they didn’t need to be so boisterous, their voices spoke for themselves (no pun intended)… but I was so very glad they had personalities to match. The joy they spread with their music, and excitement brought the house down and while their crowd numbers may not have matched that of Lizzo or Japanese Breakfast, they slayed and there were plenty of people there to love every second of it.

Japanese Breakfast:
This one was another surprise set. The name alone was driving me to see it, but the excitement surrounding them in the media room drove it home. I’m going to venture a guess that they had the biggest audience of anyone on the Yeti stage and maybe even any of the secondary pages. It could have been the timing where there was no main stage show close to their set time (though Neko Case did start somewhat soon after), but I think it was the band itself that drew the crowd. She’s apparently a Pacific Northwesterner (hailing from Eugene) turned Pennsylvanian, mentioning how much she’s missed the area and was glad to be back in town. She’s adorable and has quite the stage presence, I can tell she’s an artist in every sense and have no doubt that goes beyond music. Another band I’m look forward to diving into while in my living room deep in my headphones and maybe a good book.

Neko Case:
Neko is magic. I firmly believe that. Anytime I hear her sing it’s like home: comfortable and a reliably happy place. I can’t say much more than that other than her set was criminally under-attended. I want to blame it on the exciting Japanese Breakfast set up above, but that’s just not a good enough excuse.

Perfume Genius:
You know how you have those bands that you will always see, then people ask you if you’re going to watch them and you get this ridiculous look on your face and yell “Of course!” That’s me and Perfume Genius. I fell in love with his sound and style long after he came on the scene but way before he was shot to super stardom with his most recent album. The slinky-like dancing he has come to be known for was in full-effect and of course after I finished taking photos, I laid on the grass, closed my eyes and enjoyed the cool evening air as his music filled my ears. Perfection.

While I was hoping to end my night capturing the crazy stylings of Tokimonsta, fate dealt me a slower hand (get it?!). I can’t say I’ve sought out the sounds of Slowdive, but they’ve always been a mainstay in the festival scene and again, a reliable source of solid music and an interesting light show. That doesn’t always translate to great photos, but this time I was delighted to cut through the fog and really capture not only the feel of the set itself but the aesthetic of their sound: moody, beautiful and and even a little ominous. If I hadn’t been quite so tired, I would have done a double session of sky-gazing and music absorbing like Perfume Genius earlier in the day.

While I wasn’t able to capture Tokimonsta (sad face), the juxtaposition of The National’s music wafting up from main stage bleeding into hers as I passed the El Chupacabra tent (aka the EDM stage), was just the right amount of awkward that I could have worked as a mix given a little effort. It was a good way to cap off the night, weirdly perfect. The whole festival was just a little bit uncomfortable: the heat, dust getting on everything, fans and press alike constantly sneezing from all the dry grass and pollen, smaller stages, and fewer people. It was teetering on the edge between good and bad staying even at happily satisfied. More than once I came to the conclusion (along with others) that this is the festival the curators wanted. There was no pandering to get higher sales, no compromise, just good music. I may not have liked some of the acts, but I can’t say there were any genuinely bad acts just to get younger crowds driving the 2+ hours to the Gorge. A perfectly satisfying experience.
(The National)