McDowell Mountain Music Festival

M3F 2019: ODESZA, Toro y Moi, and Margo Price Kick Off Day One

Jacob Tyler Dunn
ODESZA's set at M3F 2019 was astounding.
A hexagonal light bar hung above every band on the Rattlesnake stage last night at the 2019 McDowell Mountain Music Festival kickoff. This physical anticipation of ODESZA was poetic foreshadowing, and set the mood for the night’s attendees, who flocked to the (very long) entry lines with the Washington duo’s orb insignia in T-shirt, tattoo, and facepaint form. With its 2019 edition, M3F leans even heavier into a dance music preference, lighting up the east side of Margaret Hance Park with dazzling light shows and bass heavy tunes. But based on last night's action, I don’t think anyone is really complaining. Gerrit Feenstra

click to enlarge The Allah-Las rock out at their M3F 2019 set. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
The Allah-Las rock out at their M3F 2019 set.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
“You’ll dance to anything,” The Dead Milkmen once sneered. It’s a line that comes back to me every time I see crowds losing their minds to the weirdest sounds, like the time I saw an un-ironic mosh pit break out during a singer-songwriter's mellow acoustic set, or drunk people at a friend’s house party twerking to “The Monster Mash.” We often speak of music as moving us, giving us license to dance, but the truth is, music is almost beside the point for some folks. They’ve come to get buck wild and they just need the thinnest semblance of a beat to pop off. For these party monsters, you could probably spin the Goldberg Variations and that's all they need to get lit.

Case in point: All the folks grooving and feeling themselves to the fullest during the Allah-Lahs set. The L.A. psych-rockers weren’t bad. They make perfectly serviceable mellow indie-rock, the kind of minor-key stoned-by-the-pool guitar songs that would fit right in on a “Chill Vibes Only” playlist. Hazy green and yellow lights illuminated them onstage as they played in front of projections of squiggly lines and the outlines of cowboy heads. The light show was the most exciting thing about their set. While they sang songs like “Busman’s Holiday” with verve and passion, seeing the Allah-Lahs live is about as stimulating as going to a dance party that’s got R.E.M’s Reckoning spinning on the DJ table.

But that didn’t stop all those folks in the crowd from dancing their asses off. “You’ll dance to anything,” indeed. Ashley Naftule

click to enlarge Mansionair tears it down at M3F 2019. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Mansionair tears it down at M3F 2019.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Two years in a row now, M3F has given the Friday sunset set to Australians: last year to dance gods Cut Copy, and this year to rising stars Mansionair. ODESZA fans in the audience no doubt knew the band from their collaboration track “Line of Sight”, which Jack Froggatt’s gorgeous voice gives sparkling life to. Today marked release day for Mansionair’s hotly anticipated debut LP, Shadowboxer, and here, on a massive stage, they showcased the record’s seismic potential. On “Waiting Room,” a slow energy moves across the field as the sun dips below the Central Avenue horizon, and Froggatt sings, “This is the only thing that matters." In this moment, it’s hard not to believe him. GF

click to enlarge Toro y Moi perform at M3F 2019. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Toro y Moi perform at M3F 2019.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Toro y Moi
“We’ve been soundchecking all day,” Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bear says to the crowd after cutting off his band in mid-song during their first number. “We want to get this right for you.” At first, Bear seems like an intense presence onstage. He flits from one musician to another, shaking his orange beanie-clad head at them, clearly feeling something is off. Maybe the music flowing in from the nearby Coyote stage is throwing them off: Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real are pounding out a cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” that seems to go on forever.

But whatever early funk Toro y Moi was in, they shook it off quickly. As they launched into their third number, it seems like a switch went off inside him. He started dancing and smiling onstage, radiating joy. And how could he not? Toro y Moi are undeniable live, playing a set full of gorgeous, constantly shifting rhythms. Nobody that night at M3F worked harder than Toro’s rhythm section: They laid down one tight, sharp groove after another, jamming so hard that not even Chaz could resist dancing to his own music. And his voice was in fine form too, crooning indelible Toro tunes like “Ordinary Pleasure” and “Freelance” with energy and confidence. It’s almost hard to remember that not so long ago, this was still a bedroom chillwave project, and now here they are rocking a festival like they’re Chic.

To be blunt: Toro y Moi’s set was so good that the rest of M3F could be straight-up garbage and it would still be worth putting up with all the hassles of metered parking and waiting in long lines to get inside. AN

click to enlarge The Knocks throw down at M3F 2019. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
The Knocks throw down at M3F 2019.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
The Knocks
The Knocks have two sculpted pigeons on stage. These are not sad blowup pigeons: These are sculpted pigeons, with gold chains and shades. These are the pigeon equivalent of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The pigeons bop on a sparking disco floor in the backing visuals, as the Knocks put down a full hour of nonstop Brooklyn dance action. Half their set is done with a full band with two costume changes, and half is a slimmed-down presentation of just Ben "B-Roc" Ruttner on the tables and James "JPatt" Patterson on the mic. The two make the crowded festival landscape feel like the best house party you’ve ever been to. They don’t care if you’ve only heard one of their songs or you’ve been following since day one. All the while, the pigeons are a mainstay. If dance music is a spectator sport, the Knocks have this thing rigged. GF

click to enlarge Margo Price closes the Coyote Stage at M3F 2019. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Margo Price closes the Coyote Stage at M3F 2019.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Margo Price
Credit where credit is due: The folks at M3F scheduled the closing acts for each stage brilliantly. There was something for each of the three factions of fans in attendance. Indie-rock and pop fans got to enjoy watching Toro y Moi close down the Saguaro stage. The glowstick brigade got their EDM fix with Odesza at the Rattlesnake. And “the olds” got to watch Margo Price at the Coyote stage.

Price made a cameo earlier in the fest when Lukas Nelson invited her onstage to jam: “We’d like to call up one badass mama," they said. She came back on at 10 p.m, taking the stage while Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” played over the speakers. Odesza’s beats could be heard thumping in the distance. The crowd that came out to see Price tended to be older or folkier. There were lots of cowboy hats nodding along to her twang.

Price, dressed in a white cowgirl outfit, looked just like Kyra Sedgwick’s Mrs. Cowboy character from the Comedy Central show Corporate. Her voice was powerful and strong, projecting her songs, like the razor-sharp keep-your-bullshit-to-yourself anthem “Don’t Say It,” over the din of the EDM happening across the field. against this cross-bleed, Price held her own. While I’m not a big fan of roots-rock in general, I must admit, it was a really nice way to cap off the evening: sitting on the steps, enjoying the cool March air, and listening to Margo Price serenade us with her dusty trail jams. AN

click to enlarge ODESZA gets it together. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
ODESZA gets it together.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
ODESZA return to Arizona after a dazzling display at the inaugural (and only) Lost Lake Festival back in 2017. Here, two years hasn’t done much to age the band or their electronic opus A Moment Apart. Where most bands begin to feel more and more distant from their audience as the size of the stage grows, ODESZA seem to be living more and more into the vision that Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight had from the beginning. As two silhouettes work against a visceral starburst LED display, they challenge the doubtful onlooker not to be wowed by the display they present. And if that weren’t enough, the full drumline and brass section that marches out front makes the night feel like a high school pep rally for your endorphins. With last night's attendance dominated by ODESZA fans, I have no doubt they got what they came for. GF