It's safe to say that the first day of the Summer Ends Music Festival was a pretty great success, at least from a talent perspective. It honestly didn't feel much like a festival so much as a concert in the park. Sure there were vendor, tents, and a massive stage, but it didn't have a festival feel. I imagine that will change over the course of the next three days. No instead, last night just had three powerhouse acts that drew a crowd in the thousands for a four-hour event. The evening was concise, well-run, and kept to a perfect schedule. I have to admit it was nice that there were breaks between bands, which is something that will be missed over the coming days with back-to-back acts on three stages. Last night Cold War Kids, Brandon Flowers, and Hozier all put on their best and gave the crowd exactly what it wanted.
It was still in the triple digits and the sun hadn't quite set when Cold War Kids took the stage, but neither the heat, nor the sun stole anything from their performance. It was a light crowd at first, but it was also 5:30 p.m. on a Thursday. The band kicked off the set with "Mexican Dogs" from 2008's Loyalty to Loyalty, and it was a great way to break in the crowd and warm them up, in case they weren't warm enough already. The set was a stunner filled with singles and album tracks. Cold War Kids played tracks from its latest album Hold My Home and dazzled with "All This Could Be Yours." "Miracle Miles," from 2013's Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, followed in its wake.
The band travelled throughout its entire catalog, hitting 2009's "Audience" before coming around to their current radio hit "First." I have to say that "First" is even better live and the entire performance was amazing. Going back to their first album in 2006 they rolled out the now classic "We Used To Vacation" with a great groove found between the piano and the bass. "Hot Coals" from their new album was up next before immediately going back to the start with "Hang Me Up To Dry," the band's breakout single from the band's debut album. The bass line alone got the crowd going and clapping along. By now the crowd had grown exponentially and Cold War Kids worked toward the end of the set, evoking their inner Cramps for "Drive Desperate," then delivering the finishing trio of "Hospital Beds," "Something Is Not Right With Me," and "Saint John."
Brandon Flowers was up next. I've seen the Killers a few times and knew they never give a bad show, so I expected the same from their lead singer on a solo run. However, I wondered if he would play any Killers songs or just stick to his two solo albums. I didn't have to wait long for an answer. Flowers opened the set with The Killers' hit "Human," to which many audience members responded that "we are dancer." One thing that must be said, in addition to Flowers being a fantastic vocalist and musician, he's also a hell of a performer and probably the most engaging one of the evening. In an hour he threw the best of Flamingo (2010) and The Desired Effect from this year at the crowd with a few Killers hits, and everyone loved it. He kicked it out with his most recent Top 40 hit "Can't Deny My Love" and followed quickly with his first solo hit "Crossfire." He told the story of the Mexican pilgrimage that inspired him to write the song "Magdalena" but didn't get to far into it before he saw a woman collapse in the audience. He stopped the song immediately and did not resume until he was sure that she was all right, which in my book is a total class act. They started again at the bridge and finished the song properly.
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"Jilter Lovers & Broken Hearts" was up next, and it too was a stunner. It seems that his solo work translates better as a live performance, more than it does on record. He kicked up the electronica a notch with "Lonely Town" and it was apparent that he was going all out with amazing backup singers, horns and a full band—it was impressive. My favorite song from The Desired Effect has to be "Diggin' Up The Heart," and it was just as true for his show. He warned the audience ahead of time, "Don't pass out during the next song." After some amusing banter in which he asked the audience to pick one of three covers, the audience clearly responded to "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" by Rod Stewart, to which he immediately launched into "Read My Mind" by The Killers. "Still Want You" was a highlight if for no other reason than that he got the entire audience singing along with him. He gave the audience on last solo song in the form of "Only The Young" before laying out the coolest arrangement of "Mr. Brightside" I've ever heard.
It was finally time for the headliner — the poster child for the man bun himself, Hozier. I have to admit, I've been kind of on the fence about Hozier. I've given his album a few spins and I enjoy it, but I know a lot of people obsessed with it and that often turns me off from really digging in. I have to say that his live performance tipped the scale in his favor in a big way. While the album is great, live there is this fantastic mix and the backup singers are more prominent. The entire sound coalesces, and this occurred right from the start with "Like Real People Do." From there, honestly, his set never let up and he immediately launched into my favorite song of his, "Angel of Small Death and The Codeine Scene." It was the bass that stood out on "From Eden" and it occurred to me that he pretty much had time to play the entire album and with the exception of two tracks that's exactly what he did. With a stunning, crunchy guitar line he took on "Jackie and Wilson" wonderfully, then broke out a cherry red box guitar, for the sexy, slow burning blues of "To Be Alone."
Hozier announced "The next one's a fun one" and he delivered that announcement with "Someone New," which grabs a riff or two from "Sweet Jane," and then takes it to a whole other realm. It was fun and for some reason it struck me as early Dave Matthews, but Irish. Hozier's cover of the Beatles' "Blackbird" gave me chills — it was totally lovely and unexpected. "It Will Come Back" was bluesy as hell, and I must give mad props to Alana Henderson, Hozier's touring cellist. She was the only one in the band he called out, and her work was absolutely amazing during the entire performance. Hozier went solo acoustic for "Cherry Wine" with the band returning for the absolutely brilliant "Arsonist's Lullabye." The pure rock 'n' roll of "Sedated" was simply fantastic. He followed that with an interesting cover choice in the form of Ariana Grande's contemporary hit, "Problem" — as unexpected as the other cover. The one-two punch of "Work Song" and the finale of "Take Me To Church" finished off the evening nicely. Both songs carry a certain spiritual feeling that is present in a lot of his work, but at the forefront here. I had questioned why Hozier was the headliner above Cold War Kids and Brandon Flowers, but after that powerful hour, I realized it couldn't have been any other way.