Follow the Clark Fork west into Washington state's Columbia River and you'll come to the one of the most stunning amphitheaters in North America: The Gorge. Behind the main stage the Columbia gorge canyon and the rolling Cascade Range stretch for miles. Die-hard music fans from as far away as Saskatchewan make the pilgrimage to this spot every Memorial Day weekend to catch alternative music's biggest names and hottest up-and-comers.
Don't feel bad that you didn't get tickets to Sasquatch. Most people didn't. The roughly 22,000 tickets sold out in less than 90 minutesway faster than anyone expected. Besides, there's good news. Missoula is the next stop for five of the most promising acts rocking the Gorge this weekend. So you might not see the stunning amphitheater, or peruse the endless campground parties, but think of it this way: You get to see them in a much more intimate setting. And at least you'll get to shower afterward.
Electronic wunderkind Will Wiesenfeld, better known as Baths, hits Missoula the day after the release of his sophomore album Obsidian. Baths builds complex and delicate layers of sounds off of sturdy drum and bass lines that could easily be mistaken for the East Coast hip-hop of 10 years ago (see Mos Def).
Baths' 2010 debut, Cerulean, brims with naïve optimism and playfulness so characteristic of youth that it brings you back to the days when every adventure felt possible. You know, before student loans and bad relationships crushed your wildest dreams. Much of the album pulsates with a visceral sound that literally pumps like a heartbeat heard through a stethoscope. The pleasant grooves coupled with soft and often indecipherable lyrics make it a solid first effort that only occasionally feels half developed.
Obsidian, however, is rumored to be just as dark as it is refined. Be prepared for a potential emotional rollercoaster if he plays songs from both albums.
Baths plays the Badlander Mon., May 27, at 10 PM. $12/$10 advance
The British indie icons are back on tour, likely to rally the fan base before releasing a fifth album. Band members dropped hints all over last year about a new release, so don't be surprised to hear a couple new tracks belted out at the Wilma show.
Clean, predictable and unpretentious, Arctic Monkeys rockbut not too hard. You can hear Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme's gritty influence throughout three of its four studio CDs. When you see the band live, the swift guitars and crash-heavy drum tracks with their aggressive fills are balanced out by the witty crooning of lead singer Alex Turner. If you like your indie with a bit of a punk attitude then this is definitely the show for you.
Arctic Monkeys plays the Wilma Sat., May 25, at 8 PM. $23/$20 advance
The Tallest Man on Earth
Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man on Earth, nails the American folk sound so well his Swedish nationality is almost unbelievable. His style isn't quite rustic but more modernly emotive. His voice drones and jumps registers both beautifully and imperfectly with lyrics that will make many an English major hang their heads in shame when they hear how gracefully he sews words together from his second language. His music is neatly composed and unwavering, which is excellent much of the time but can be ill-fitting and too gentle at others.
The Man can be very shy and unrevealing in interviews but is notoriously commanding when he's on stage. And his acoustic guitar, scruffy looks and earnest vibe are fitting for a Missoula crowd.
The Tallest Man on Earth plays the Wilma Tue., May 28, at 8 PM. $20
Ariel Pink and his accompanying band Haunted Graffiti harken back to a previous timeexactly which time depends on the track you're listening to. Like an unsorted box of vinyls scored at a garage sale, the band's beauty lies in its unpredictable and vintage familiarity. You've never listened to it before but you swear you've heard it a thousand times.
Certain songs reminisce of '80s funk masters, some reflect The Cure. Others rip a page from 1960s glam rockAndy Warhol could make a cameo at any moment without anyone remembering he's been dead for 26 years.
Like a much less overt Girl Talk the fun is in the mash-upthough Pink takes his meticulous production seriously. His dynamicism makes him one of the most creative acts in the business today.
Ariel Pink plays the Badlander Tue., May 28, at 9 PM. $15/$12 advance
With his croaky voice and simple lyrics, Ryan Bingham could easily be confused for Bob Dylan's talented, dreamy nephew. In fact, Bingham will be accompanying the folk legend on tour this summer with heavy hitters Wilco and My Morning Jacket.
Much about his style fits the pedigree of the established American singer/songwriterTom Waits, Steve Earle and Willie Nelsonthat came before him, but Bingham needs more time to mature before he'll reach their status.
Ryan Bingham plays the Wilma Wed., May 29, at 8 PM with Wild Feathers. $25.