M3F Day Two: Recap
By Jason Shoff
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I was going to enjoy the second day of McDowell Mountain Music Festival. I mean after coming off of the thrill of seeing one of my personal favorite artists ever live, day two had a line-up of artists that, for the most part, I was unaware of prior to it being announced. I also was curious to see how attendance would be impacted by the fact that it had to compete with the VIVA PHX festival going on that same day. Yet throughout the evening the festival was packed, so much so that you wouldn’t have been able to tell that there was another event going on if you didn’t know better.
But speaking of packed, that’s what Phoenix’s freeway system was like last night, and this caused me to miss about half of Fairy Bones’ set on the local stage. Treating the crowd to a heapin’ helpin’ of cuts from their Dramabot album, along with some new tunes, it showed why the band has been such a talked about force in the music scene as of late (well, one of the reasons, anyway). Then it was to the main stage to catch Bloc Party, who brought their style of Factory-era post-punk to the desert for what appeared to be a well-received performance. After opening with “Only He Can Heal Me,” a mid-tempo number that was an interesting choice for an opener (although it was a great showcase for the drumming chops of Louise Bartle), they picked up the pace with the upbeat new wave of “Hunting for Witches and “Song for Clay (Disappear Here),” an atmospheric Cure-like tune that was perfect for front man Kele Okereke’s Robert Smith-tinged voice. It was here that he excused the band for not normally playing mid-afternoon sets outdoors, saying “I feel like I’m melting” (here’s hoping they never have to play here in July then). The rest of their set was a good balance between moody Smith-esque songs like “My True Name” and the raging punk rock of “Banquet” and Helicopter,” in addition to a cover of “Heroes” that, honestly, left a lot to be desired, and was by far the weakest part of an otherwise solid set.
After grabbing something to eat at a restaurant nearby (because I refuse to pay $7 for a tiny slice of pizza ever again), I caught some of Carlos Arzate & The Kind Souls’s acoustic blues set on the Freezone stage, which basically looks like a giant wooden plank (it’ll be interesting to see WYVES play on this stage on Sunday). But for the most part they were drowned out by the funk rock of The Main Squeeze, who have one of my new favorite singers ever in Corey Frye (seriously, he could give Brittany Howard a run for her money, which is saying something). It was music so infectious that it was impossible not to move to it (especially with Rob Walker absolutely slaying it on bass). In fact, seeing such a monster live band made the next main stage act, GRiZ, seem slightly underwhelming. First the positives: the music itself was highly enjoyable, definitely living up to its self-described “futuristic funk” vibe. He can also slay it on the saxophone, playing the kind of ‘80s soft rock hooks that would make George Michael jealous, and he brought along a guitarist who brought some much needed rhythm to the set. But their set is the perfect example of my personal conundrum with electronic and EDM music: even with the instruments, most of their set was basically played off of laptops and DJ equipment, meaning it sounds exactly (or at least close to) their albums. So is their really a need to see them live when I can blast the same music at home? Of course I’m probably in the minority with this opinion: the crowd certainly was eating it up, and the EDM scene appears to be more of a community vibe than anything. But it also didn’t help that, during their second-half DJ set, I had to hear Pitbull’s “Don’t Stop the Party” and Lil’ John’s “Turn Down for What” for the millionth time each. The second stage’s next act, organic house artist Goldfish, basically sounded like GRiZ Jr., although one of their members, David Poole, can play a mean flute.
But at least they had some live instrumentation. Porter Robinson, whose music sounds like something you’d hear out of the Final Fantasy series, and in itself it was pretty enjoyable, it was basically just him playing off of a laptop on a giant futuristic table as anime cartoons were projected behind him (although he did play a mean electronic drum kit on one song). Then, just as my hopes of seeing an actual band were starting to diminish, St. Lucia saved the day on the second stage. Our own Spike Brendle has been hyping them up to me for what seems like forever now, and they delivered on my heightened expeditions. Playing on a stage that looked like they took some cacti that were along the freeway and put them in some pots on the way over, they opened with “Rescue Me,” which sounded like their idea of what the theme song of an ‘80s Star Trek movie should sound like. The rest of their set sounded like a perfect mix of vintage Duran Duran and tunes that would fit right at home on the Miami Vice soundtrack. “Wait for Love,” which I can’t believe isn’t a single I’m hearing everywhere, is a perfect hybrid of Paul Simon circa Graceland and Phil Collins’ production, while “Love Somebody” sounds like it could have been a love theme in a John Hughes movie. Front man Jean-Philip Grobler also knows how to work the stage and a crowd, none more so than during “Dancing on Glass,” showing off his newly-purchased wireless microphone by jumping into the crowd (“but don’t hurt me,” he requested, “I have to get back there at some point.”). In short, if you love the 80s and need a new favorite band, listen to St. Lucia immediately.
The night then concluded with an energetic headlining set from Kid Cudi, whose set design reminded me of the haunted forest scene from The Wizard of Oz. But before playing a member of his team had two requests: don’t throw anything on stage (which is reasonable enough) and don’t tape the show with cellphones or cameras. “He wants you to be in the show with him,” he said, “not on your cell phone.” Not that anyone seemed to heed these instructions, as I saw people recording his set the entire time. But regardless, as soon as he jumped out of what looked like a giant phone booth, he was in full-on performance mode, displaying the kind of theatrics that one would expect in a production of Hamilton. And just like Beck the night before, he played a set that was strong on crowd pleasers, and if he’s still dealing with some of the personal issues that lead to the cancellation of his Especial Tour, they certainly didn’t show tonight. After a night where a good chunk of artists relied on laptops and DJ equipment to create, it was nice to see someone lay their vulnerability out there for the festival-goers to see.