McDowell Mountain Music Festival

M3F 2019: Kurt Vile, Empire of the Sun, and Jungle Kept the Vibes Going on Day Two

Empire of the Sun at M3F 2019.
Empire of the Sun at M3F 2019. Jacob Tyler Dunn
Flashy glam-pop, funky garage rock, and blissed-out folk — the second day of M3F 2019 had something for everyone. Marquee acts Empire of the Sun and Kurt Vile delivered for their hordes of fans, while intrepid festivalgoers could discover new favorite acts like Chicano Batman, NoMBe, and Jungle. Whatever fans were there for, they left satisfied. Here's what Phoenix New Times reporters caught on Saturday.

click to enlarge Kurt Vile strums one out at M3F 2019. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Kurt Vile strums one out at M3F 2019.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Kurt Vile and the Violators
This year’s Saturday sunset went to the Philadelphian indie rocker Kurt Vile and his backing band the Violators, and once again the organizers of M3F nailed it with the right artist for such a crucial time slot. When Vile started playing “Bassackwards,” a nearly 10-minute psychedelic folk rock song that bounces back and forth from tales of night and day, the entire crowd became wrapped in a calmness that was anything but boring. Halfway through the set, as the sky grew dim, Vile perfectly captured the mood of the moment as he performed "Wakin' on a Pretty Day," singing “It's hard to explain my love, in this daze.” It was a spiritual rejuvenation in anticipation of the night ahead. Julian Hernandez

In heavy contrast to Friday’s dance music lean, Saturday at M3F was all about long hair and loud guitars, and starting the day off at the Coyote Stage, JJUUJJUU gave full servings of both. Festivals are nothing new to frontman Phil Pirrone. When he’s not shredding his way through hazy rhapsodies, he’s running psych rock festival Desert Daze out near Joshua Tree, California. Pirrone knows his loves and knows his craft. While JJUUJJUU deserved a much larger turnout than the sparse one they got at 2 p.m., the band gave us a fantastic example of just what kind of blisters these scorchers can give you. Gerrit Feenstra

click to enlarge Chicano Batman lookin' fly during their M3F 2019 set. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Chicano Batman lookin' fly during their M3F 2019 set.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Chicano Batman
There are few better ways to kill an afternoon than to watch Chicano Batman do their thing live. Dressed to impress, the dapper band were the second act on the Rattlesnake stage on Saturday — Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra warmed up the sound system for them with an energetic, joyous set. Nobody in town can get a dance party started like PAO, so it’s extra-tragic to watch that massive ensemble play for a small crowd with their butts parked on the grass. But that’s to be expected: Not even James Brown could get things popping at a 2 p.m. festival slot.

The audience for Chicano Batman was a bit better, but the teeming masses of double-fisted revelers wouldn’t start showing up until the sun started to set. Those late arrivals really missed out, though, because they put on a hell of a show. They tore through their tropicalia-inflected psych-rock and soul mixture with an intensity that few bands at M3F (or elsewhere) could match. Their sartorial flair and energy made me think of The Hives and The Make-Up while their ability to make old-school rock 'n' roll flair recalled the work of fellow rock-soul-garage showman King Khan. Tearing through numbers like “Itotiani” and “Jealousy,” Chicano Batman played each song as they were headlining the fest. Maybe next time they should. Ashley Naftule

click to enlarge Kevin Morby plays a stripped-down set at M3F 2019. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Kevin Morby plays a stripped-down set at M3F 2019.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Young & Sick
M3F was not ready for Young & Sick at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Nick van Hofwegen, wearing an outlandish ensemble of chains, a huge scarf, and a heavily doodled Pabst hat, looked out at the tired crowd and knew his work was cut out for him. “How are those hangovers?” he asked, to a groaning response. Solution? Jump in the crowd and get the energy going firsthand. New single “Jet Black Heart” is built to be a singalong, and by the time it was done, the whole Saguaro stage lawn was singing along. Following this up with an extremely fun cover of Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left To Cry,” van Hofwegen showed off some serious vocal chops, as well as a general ability to win anyone to his side. Today, Young & Sick guaranteed a place in our hearts for future Phoenix visits. GF

Kevin Morby
You shouldn’t be performing at M3F as a practice session, even if it’s just an early-evening slot on the small stage tucked away in a corner of the festival. Saturday was Kevin Morby’s first show since early December and his first performing with a trio since Meg Duffy left to focus on her project as Hand Habits. Considering his last show was an hourlong special performance of “Harlem River” where multiple guest musicians rotated on and off stage, and this week’s announcement of his seven-person tour band for his upcoming album, I couldn’t help but feel short-changed after Saturday night’s performance. Of course, Morby and his crew weren’t off by any measurable means. When the singer gets in the groove with “Aboard My Train,” you can’t help but love him. The small crowd that gathered for his performance certainly did. He could make it up to Phoenix if he added a stop in our city for his Oh My God tour. JH

click to enlarge Jungle get down to it at M3F 2019. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Jungle get down to it at M3F 2019.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
As U.K. dance ensemble Jungle bounced through their set, a neon sign behind them undulated with every drop and fade of the bass drum. The pulsing sound and vision gave the night a heartbeat that Jungle rarely broke from. The sonic brainchild of Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson rarely make time to focus on these two individuals. In fact, no single face breaks from the two-dimensional space they share. Rather, the seven-piece is meant to be digested in continuum. This allows the crowd to simply enjoy what spectacular dance music they are being showered in. It's refreshing in today’s landscape of bludgeoning LED screens and bass drops that in Jungle, we are reminded of how much of a difference intentional execution can make. I could watch these guys sidestep all night. GF

click to enlarge An alien invasion? Or just Empire of the Sun's M3F 2019 set? - JACOB TYLER DUNN
An alien invasion? Or just Empire of the Sun's M3F 2019 set?
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Empire of the Sun
Seeing Empire of the Sun live feels like being sucked into The Fifth Element’s universe for awhile. The duo of Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore put on a live show that would be right at home next to blue-skinned opera singers or Chris Tucker cosplaying as Prince in a skintight cheetah print suit. The Australian electro-pop stars were accompanied by a quartet of dancers clad in silvery outfits. Littlemore and their drummer wore black veils over their faces for the first number, while Steele prowled the stage with a spiky crown, a painted strip of makeup across his eyes, and shoulders covered in black feathers. He looked like a cross between Maleficent and Charlize Theron as Furiosa.

Both the band and the dancers would change costumes throughout the set. For “We are the People,” the dancers came out wearing capirote hats with neon lights attached to them while they strummed giant neon guitars. Steele played the role of alien pop star with aplomb, his voice in fine form throughout their set.

There was even a moment of sincerity in between all the space-age glam trappings: Steele delivered a heartfelt speech praising the festival for their charitable work, which led to him talking about how his teacher mother used to work with sick children. This segued into the band playing a song they said they hadn’t played live before: “Chrysalis” (a song that Steele said he wrote the day after Bowie died).

They played their best song, “Walking on a Dream” (for my money one of the best pop songs written in the 21st century), toward the end of their set. Steele’s voice rose to the stratosphere on the chorus, sighing “is it real now” while the dancers acted like they were walking on treadmills behind the band. All their set was missing was Milla Jovovich in bandages and Gary Oldman with half his head in a plastic bowl, and 13-year old me would have been in heaven. AN

click to enlarge NoMBe closes out the Coyote Stage at Day Two of M3F 2019. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
NoMBe closes out the Coyote Stage at Day Two of M3F 2019.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
It is baffling to me how Noah McBeth isn’t a household name at this point. The 27-year-old, who performs under the name NoMBe, has had TV spots on shows like HBO’s Ballers, as well as direct nods from the likes of Pharrell. His debut album, They Might’ve Even Loved Me, came out just under a year ago, and showcased a songwriter beyond his years, channeling inspiration from P, D’Angelo, and even Prince. Last night, closing out the action on the Coyote Stage (slotted against the stiff competition of Empire of the Sun at Rattlesnake), NoMBe showed us exactly why he deserves our love and attention. A perfect cocktail of steamy content and sultry execution, the next time NoMBe comes through Phoenix, it will be on a much bigger stage. GF
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Phoenix New Times Music Writers