Recap: Life is Beautiful Festival Day 1
By Mandi Kimes & Spike Brendle
We arrived at the festival just in time to catch the second half of BORNS. This is an artist I’ve had my eye and ear on over the past year, and with every new single release on Spotify, I play it on repeat until I know all the hooks and archs and lyrics (BORNS is definitely my #SOPE). Just as we walked up to find our place in the crowd, he was beginning “Past Lives,” which unmistakably starts with a recognizable “Oooh” line that is so perfectly written. Once he kicks into the beat, he’s dancing and the audience is catching on. One thing I wanted to confirm at his set was his voice: on recordings, he hits the high notes with very little ease and pinpoints the note to perfection. I was pleased to see that the same followed suit live. He is a very talented singer, his band is electrifying, and it doesn’t hurt that the man is very attractive. He played three new songs from his anticipated upcoming album, and the crowd had mixed reviews about how to react; some were dancing and enjoying the new jams, like “Broke,” while others were struck with unfamiliarity and used it as an excuse to grab a drink or use the restroom. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the new tunes and cannot wait to play the songs on repeat once the album is released. He ended his set with his single, “Electric Love,” which had everyone dancing, jumping and singing along.
Multiple people have told me that Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros is absolutely amazing live, and having been a fan of theirs for about six years now, I think it was time to finally witness their live performance. Recently, singer Jade Castrinos left the band, causing a stir of confusion in the music scene: Why did she leave? Who will sing her iconic parts? Will the Magnetic Zeros replace her? I was finally going to answer this question tonight. Upon stepping onto the stage, I’m first relieved to see that the Magnetic Zeros have graduated from their long, hippie tunics to flannel and collared shirts. This was a new incarnation of the once “dirty hippie” band. Don’t be fooled, though: the weed was still imminent in the air. They started their set with an eight-minute (maybe longer) jam of the title song from their 2009 release Up From Below. Alex Ebert did a magnificent job conducting his band, almost in the style of improvisation, as he motioned each band member to quiet down, play louder, or take a solo. Each band member sat on the edge of their seat waiting for their cue, and Ebert gave the spotlight to those who truly shined. He then moved into “Man on Fire” from the 2012 release Here, before transitioning into a favorite of then night, “I Don’t Want to Pray”. During the parts usually sung by Castrinos, Ebert gave the microphone to various audience members for them to “make up their own verse,” while also allowing an audience member to dance onstage before he himself joined the crowd in dancing. After dancing and leading the audience into a choir during “40 Day Dream,” he eased right into “Janglin’.” To end the set, he asked the audience to sing Castrinos’ lines for “Home,” the famous single that sky-rocketed the band into festival spots. During the bridge, where Ebert and Castrinos would normally tell a story, Ebert gave the microphone to random people saying “Who’s got a story they wanna tell?” The set ended with sweat, sore legs, and a happy heart, as Ebert proved to me that seeing the Magnetic Zeros live really was worth the treat.
Rebelution were sandwiched between Edward Sharpe and Hozier, just next to the main stage. This made the short trip to catch part of their set a very easy task. I had been introduced to Rebelution back in 2006, at a house party in Santa Barbara. Their catchy, feel good reggae-pop caught my attention immediately, and I have been a fan ever since. It was the opening guitar riff of “Safe and Sound” that started it all, and that’s exactly what song had just stared as I was walking up to the stage. Nostalgia had then swept me into a time warp and I felt like it was another cool night on Del Playa, at some bro-ey frat house party. There were no red cups this time, but still a huge crowd of people dancing and feeling the music. That led into another throwback, “Attention Span” which was also one of my favorite songs that dates back to their first EP, which I do (or did) own on CD. Glad to see Rebelution is still working hard and are just as amazing as I remember.
I squeezed my way up front for Hozier, this being my third time seeing him. He began his set differently this time, by starting with “Like Real People Do,” instead of “Angel of Small Death & Codeine Scene,” which was second. “Like Real People Do” was an interesting set-starter, as it begins subtle, but after the first chorus, the lights and the band jump in and the audience grew more alive. He moved from song to song, not really stopping to talk, but it was probably because of the strict festival schedule. He moved through his set from “From Eden,” to “Jackie & Wilson,” to “To be Alone,” where he played a rocking blues riff before diving into this dark high-energy ballad. He took a break from his original songs to play two covers: one of which was The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” which possessed tightly-knit harmonies and the same staccato-styled finger-picking, reminiscent of Paul McCartney; the second cover being Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” which follows the tradition of Hozier choosing a pop song to cover. He finished the second half of his set with B-sides “It Will Come Back” and “Sedated,” while also feeding the fans the enjoyment they were looking for with “Take Me to Church.” Before ending his set, he played one of my favorites, “Work Song,” where he asked the audience to clap along and sing with him. Every Hozier concert I go to becomes more sentimental than the last, and Hozier’s take on a classic Beatles tune was the icing on this Beautiful cake.
The last artist of the evening was the legendary man himself: Stevie Wonder. By this time – which is almost eleven o’clock – everyone is sweaty, drunk, and ready to party; which is perfect, because Wonder was ready to party as well. His set spanned over two hours, ranging from long jams of classic tunes, such as “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and “Higher Ground,” while also energizing his love-filled ballads like “My Cheri Amore” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” Similar to BORNS voice as mentioned earlier, his voice did not falter from his recordings one bit, no matter how long he’s been singing the same songs. He also took time to highlight his band members, by allowing his percussionists and keyboard player to have various solos throughout the night, while also taking a moment to highlight each of his five backup singers in a sing-off with Wonder himself. Not a single musician on that stage failed at their job. Wonder also played a favorite of mine, “Superstition,” with not a single person standing still. Every person turned into the funky, soulful dancer that has always been hidden inside, just by igniting the switch with a walking bassline and Wonder’s fingers massaging the piano keys. Stevie Wonder, thank you for the perfect to the first day of Life is Beautiful.