Recap: Life is Beautiful Festival Day 3
By Mandi Kimes & Spike Brendle
Phoenix local favorites Jared & the Mill greeted the audience at the Ambassador Stage at three o’clock in the afternoon with the sun at its peak, to which singer and guitarist Jared Kolesar joked, “This is a nice winter evening in Arizona.” They started their set with “Crawl,” the opening track for their 2015 release Life We Chose. The band moved flawlessly through their set with smiles on their faces, interacting with the audience with smiles and excited eyes. Audience favorites from Life We Chose included “Hold On,” “Young & Dumb,” which the band jokingly mentioned was about bassist Chuck Morriss III; and “Messengers,” which begins with all six band members singing harmony around Kolesar’s microphone, before accelerating the song into a dance jam. Keyboardist and accordion player Gabe Hall-Rodrigues resonated his raw talent and fast fingers on the keys of both instruments throughout the whole set, which left me regretting the time I quit taking piano lessons. The audience enjoyed “Breathe Me In,” the breakthrough single from their 2013 debut album Western Expansion. Peaking in throughout the set were unreleased new songs, in which the band progressed in musicality, including guitarist Larry Gast III who used effects and pedals to drive the new songs to its full potential. Morriss III has switched his upright bass for an electric bass to show off his impressive bass melodies on new tracks. The set ended “Life We Chose,” with drummer Josh Morin playing three different instruments throughout the song: he began up-front and personal with mandolin, then back to his home behind the drum set, then made his toward the front behind a kick drum and dressed himself in everyone’s favorite Jared & the Mill crowd-pleaser: the washboard. The band used the second half of the song to show off their talents with solos from Gast III on guitar, the always smiling and incredibly talented Michael Carter on banjo, and Morin on washboard, before concluding with one last chorus, and gratitude from every member before leaving the stage.
I decided to check out Halsey after hearing (seeing) a lot of “hype” online in various social media outlets. She came out and the crowd screamed, which was unmistakably the sound of a few hundred teen girls excited to see her. After becoming aware of my surroundings, I did in fact notice the about 9-to-1 girl-to-guy ratio in the crowd, but I stayed regardless. Once again, another young artist that really knows how to work the crowd, and get exactly the response she wants. She did not sound bad, so please don’t think I did not enjoy seeing her. In my opinion, she comes off as a more casual Pink with a little bit less intense teen girl anthems. Like I said, good… but not necessarily my jam.
Brandon Flowers came out to his hometown on the main stage with a huge smile on his face. In support of his latest release, The Desired Effect (which was also displayed on the huge screen behind him throughout the show), he played quite a few tracks from that until he got to “Crossfire” from his debut album. “Remember this one?” he asked the crowd, as the piano and the drums brought him to the first verse. I love this song, so it was that point I started singing along while all of my worries drifted off into the sky. After playing another track from his new album, a strange fuzzy noise appears and Flowers explains to the crowd that his keyboard is broken and the crew is bringing him a new one. While he is talking, his band mysteriously disappears and the “new” (and rather larger) keyboard is brought out and covered with a blanket. Once the keyboard is plugged in, the blanket is taken off revealing The Killers’ signature “K” keyboard and their name appears on the three-story screen behind the stage. As much as this was suspected to happen, there was still a slight element of surprise to the crowd and everyone went nuts. They played about six of their hits, most of which were from their 2004 debut Hot Fuss, with a couple of Sam’s Town tracks sprinkled in. The crowd especially loved “All of These Things That I Have Done,” where they repeatedly chanted, “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier!” Flowers talked with the crowd about the band’s beginnings, their love for the city of Vegas and everyone there that night. Sorry Kendrick, I think The Killers may have just stole the best show of Sunday before you even took the stage!
Wu-Tang seems to always have some presence at most festivals, and Life is Beautiful was no different. Ghostface Killah was scheduled (for the shortest performance of the weekend?) to play with Badbadnotgood. This was pretty awesome. Four pop-punkish-looking white kids building the framework for the delivery of one of the top rappers since hip-hop became accessible to the mainstream. Although not familiar with most of Ghostface’s solo work, hip-hop over a live band is always a treat. Badbadnotgood is another band I am unfamiliar with, but after watching them collaborate with one of the rap greats, I will definitely seek out more of their music.
Having been a fan of Death Cab for Cutie since high school (weren’t we all?), I was pleased to finally see them live. I walked just as they were finishing “No Room in Frame,” the album started for their 2015 release Kintsugi. I was disappointed to see they were not playing the main stage, as the Ambassador stage does not have screens to project the small figures on stage to large images, so with me being so far back, I could see tiny bodies on stage that I could only assume was Benjamin Gibbard and his band of cuties. Gibbard had asked the audience to send any positive vibes towards their hometown of Seattle where bassist Nick Harmer’s wife was currently in labor with their child, followed by the announcement that long-time friend David Bazan was playing bass for the band that evening. The set spanned through a good chunk of the band’s discography, with songs from Kintsugi such as “Black Sun” and “Ghost of Beverly Drive,” songs from 2008’s Narrow Stairs such as “I Will Possess Your Heart” and “Cath,” and hits from their 2005’s Plans album, including “Crooked Teeth” and “Soul Meets Body,” all of which were met with fans singing along and feeling the nostalgia from their high school years. Superfans were excited to hear Death Cab for Cutie reaching back to their groundbreaking album Transatlanticism, which brings out the existentialist in all of us. As the band played “The New Year,” you could see fans looking to their friends with almost a look of “Remember this song?” One huge disappointment for this set was that about halfway through, Kendrick Lamar’s set was beginning, so you could see people leaving to grab a good spot for Lamar at the main stage. By the end of the set, over half of the people were gone, which really upset me since this was a band that had made a huge home in my heart (see what I did there?) The set ended with a risky but successful set ender: “Transatlanticism”. Risky because it begins with Gibbard at the piano, before it slowly builds to a crashing anthem that is “So come on! Come on! I need you so much closer!” Feels were felt, tears were shed, and hands were raised and sixteen-year-old me finally got her wish to see Death Cab for Cutie. And before you ask, no they did not play “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” and I’m not that upset about it. Every other song they played was fantastic.
Kendrick Lamar took the stage right on time and went right into “Money Trees.” This is probably my favorite Kendrick Lamar song, so after he was finished I left (just kidding). Headlining Sunday night at a weekend music festival is a huge deal, and I would hate to miss anything if any more “special guests” were to show up! The sound was incredible with, once again, a live band backing a rapper; and the low end had enough power to rattle your bones all the way in the back of the viewing area. I was super pumped he played another one of my favorites, “F**kn’ Problems,” which is really an A$AP Rocky song, so I was then hoping for a cameo appearance of some sort, which didn’t happen. Towards the end of his set he released a whole bunch of large balloons with LED lights inside, (Arcade Fire circa 2012 Coachella, anyone?) which got the crowd even more excited. He left the stage abruptly and returned for a one song encore, then left the stage again. It was then that the confetti cannons went off a little behind on time, and that marked the end of Life is Beautiful 2015.