Overall, it was a glorious kick off to the Pot Of Gold Music Festival on Friday Night at Tempe Beach Park. With little exception, the afternoon and evening were filled with amazing acts, danceable grooves, and beautiful people. It also certainly helped that the weather was absolutely perfect for an event like this and with the careful arrangement of back to back bands on two separate stages, there was never a dull moment as the warm blue sky day transformed into a lovely cool evening.
I went to the festival knowing full well that AWOLNATION and Bastille were going to put on stunning performances -- this was a given. Of the remaining five acts, I had heard the singles or albums, but I was unsure how they would transfer to the live stage. Almost all of them were fantastic surprises, even when they were not my typical bag musically speaking. This is always my favorite aspect of music festivals -- being surprised at just how great bands are that you wouldn't normally think to listen to, but are forced to appreciate (or hate), one of the pleasures of being a captive audience.
Joywave was one of the truly great surprises of the event and they had the honor of kickstarting the whole damn thing. Here I was only familiar with was their collaboration with Big Data on "Dangerous" and their single "Tongues," which is an affable electro-pop number that, turns out, is unlike anything in the rest of their oeuvre. They played for an hour straight with wry commentary between songs by lead singer Daniel Armbruster. To me, most of their songs sounded as though they had memorized U2's pre-Joshua Tree catalog, added keyboards to it and transformed that into dance rock band. Essentially, if in 1976 U2 had picked up a fifth member playing synths and decided to go new wave, this would be the result. This is not a complaint -- additionally, Armbruster has a better voice than Bono could ever hope to have. Their new album How Do You Feel Now? comes out April 21, and I have a feeling it's going to be a stunner.
What happened next, after the amazing opening, was unexpected. I had heard Future Islands grand slam single "Seasons" and a few other tracks and I was looking forward to their set. It's a beautiful tune bathed in synth-pop with a sensible guitar grit. I was even prepared for Samuel Herring's on stage antics and mannerisms after the Letterman video went viral, but this went beyond that in the completely wrong direction. See, I wanted to like them. I think musically they are stunning and I think their songwriting is top notch, but their performance was the most abysmal point of the evening -- I still had a good time, because I was just laughing at how bad it was. The first half of their set was pretty great, borrowing riffs from the Cure, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Tears For Fears and Ah Ha, while singing like Andrew Eldritch of Sisters of Mercy was a pretty nifty spin. It was exactly at the halfway point of the set that it began to become tragic -- like somehow the acid Herring took back stage totally kicked in. He began to roar like he was in a death metal band or snarl like Billy Idol at inappropriate times in the song -- often ruining otherwise great tunes. Every song at that point lulled me in and almost as soon as it got to the 90-second to two-minute mark he would screw it up completely. It was a complete atrocity exhibition, and it was as uncomfortable to watch as it was to listen to. Oddly, the finale of the set was perfect, the last song came off without a hitch, as though, suddenly, Herring realized he was on a stage in front of thousands of people. He has a lovely voice and vision when he actually sings, he shouldn't try so hard to fuck that up completely.
After having my ears assaulted by Future Islands, Bleachers might as well have been the greatest band in the goddamned world. They also happened to be really fucking good. If you are unaware Bleachers is the critically acclaimed side project of Jack Antonoff of Fun. and Steel Train fame. They are amazing and I look forward to seeing them when they don't follow a complete aural trainwreck. It was some of the best melodic rock I have heard in a very long time. Finally, I know that their cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way" kicked so much ass it blew my mind. The evening was back on course.
I wasn't sure how a DJ set was going to work in the set, but when it is something as amazing as Girl Talk, you really don't have anything to worry about in any capacity. Now some complained it was the same set that he played last year at Coachella, and others complained that this kind of thing had no place in a music festival, but I thought it was one of the most entertaining sets of the night. It also made me completely rethink the whole DJ thing, because Gregg Gillis is the best at his art since DJ Shadow or The Avalanches at the very least. He would make incredibly thought-out mixes that involved The Cure, Prince, NIN, Queen, David Bowie, The Pixies and hundreds more. It was energizing and astounding. My favorite mix? Him going nuts over Lorde sampling MIA sampling The Clash -- that's four fucking layers deep and that's what he does best. It's not just two songs; it can be three or four at a time and it works.
The penultimate act that I wanted to see for the evening was AWOLNATION. I guarantee that I've listened to Megalithic Symphony more than 200 times, probably twice that -- but I have never seen them live. I also can't wait for the release of RUN next Tuesday. The set was everything I anticipated -- a fine blend of their best from their debut as well as previews of what is to come. To me, AWOLNATION is probably the best original American rock band since Spoon and their performance was absolutely flawless. They opened with a weird new tune from the new album, which set even further expectations for its release, because I truly believe it's going to be fucking weird and polarizing. Then they jumped into a string of "hits" with "Soul Wars", "Kill Your Heroes", and "Jump On My Shoulders" before returning to the new songs starting with single "Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)." The set was intellectually and beautifully constructed to balance the old and the new which included "It's Not Your Fault", "All I Need", "Burn It Down" and of course the record holding single "Sail" to which the crowd chanted every word. No AWOLNATION fan left this set unsatisfied in any way.
Chromeo is not my bag -- this is not the music I reach for on a Friday night. Well, that's what I used to think until seeing their captivating performance Friday night. I was still stunned and in heaven from AWOL, but somehow Chromeo held my rapt attention for their entire set. By rapt attention, I mean I was dancing my ass off and it occurred to me at some point that I had been dancing for nearly three hours straight at that point. Seriously, though, Chromeo's brand of modernized disco. It's not the kind of music I listen to, but I've been to enough shows and listened to enough records to recognize that even if it's not my deal, it's still really good or the opposite. Chromeo is fucking great whether it's my preference or not. Still, to say that I wasn't aware of songs like "Bonafied Lovin," "Hot Mess," "Sexy Socialite," or "Over Your Shoulder" is dishonest. To see them done live on the other hand was something I am glad that I did not miss. This was a personal win in no uncertain terms.
It was time for the finale. I already knew that Bastille was going to be great. I didn't know, however, just how great they would be. I don't think anyone was prepared for that and I don't think they could have been. Friends and I had debated why AWOL wasn't the headliner for this event all day, but in the end it became apparent that Bastille had won the day somehow. They have a magnetism and a down to Earth authenticity that connects with the audience in a way that no other act throughout the evening achieved. They played nearly everything from 2013's Bad Blood including of course the fabulous singles, but they played new captivating material as well and some very interesting cover choices. I mean really interesting choices that include TLC and a mix between Snap!'s "Rhythm Is A Dancer" and DeBarge's "Rhythm of the Night". Yes they played "Things We Lost In The Fire", "Flaws" and "Pompeii", but they gave us so much more and in the end we were all dancing if we hadn't been all along. They were the perfect headliner it turns out, because upon exit, everyone was satisfied and smiling.
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