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Billie Eilish, Green Day among Life is Beautiful bright spots

Updated September 20, 2021 - 6:59 pm

The days became a daze.

Seventy-two hours and nearly as many acts: Life is Beautiful 2021 came and went in a breezy blur over the weekend.

It was a lot to absorb; were you taking notes? No worries, we were.

More on Life is Beautiful.

Here are but a few of the highlights:

‘Happier than Ever?’

“Did I take it too far?” she wondered over a pneumatic, subwoofer-punishing beat.

It was a rhetorical question, of course. Billie Eilish posed it anyway.

Her query came on the final refrain of “NDA,” a new song from Eilish’s recently released sophomore album, “Happier Than Ever,” which she performed live for the first time on Sunday on the Downtown Stage at Life is Beautiful.

The song embodies the thematic thrust of the record, on which Eilish candidly confronts stardom’s crush on a teenager. (She turns 20 in December).

“I can barely go outside, I think I hate it here,” she sang earlier on the song. “Maybe I should think about a new career.”

Nah. Judging by the smile Eilish flashed throughout her festival-closing set on Sunday, the way she planted two feet into the stage to geyser herself into the air, grinning as much of the crowd did the same, it seems she’s handling superstardom just fine.

Eilish often sings in understated fashion, employing a whisper-purr suggestive of telling dark secrets in even darker rooms, but she screams with her body, an exclamation point incarnate clad this night in an oversized white shirt and matching shorts.

On Sunday, she returned to Life is Beautiful nearly two years to the day after she debuted at the festival on September 20, 2019. She ended her performance with “Bad Guy,” the song she opened her 2019 set with, and began her show with “Bury Your Friends,” the song she concluded her 2019 set with.

When life gets turned upside down, sometimes the songs follow suit.

The “Least Subtle Stage Imagery Award” goes to …

Haim. Prior to the trio of sisters’ set on Saturday, the video screen backdrop at the Downtown Stage displayed an image of a meat cleaver, with “Women in Music” inscribed on its handle, slicing up a sausage. Hmm … we’ll need a little more time to contemplate the meaning of that one, but what was immediately apparent was how well Haim’s harmony-heavy, instrument-swapping performance went down. Also, bassist Este Haim continues to provide the best rock face in the business. Somewhere, the ghost of Joe Cocker nods in approval.

Best T-shirt spotted in the crowd

The black-and-white one that read “4th Haim sister” — worn by a dude, naturally, on Friday.

Kiss this

A punk rock band covering Kiss? Wasn’t punk birthed primarily in response to the pomp of mainstream ’70s rock ’n’ roll, to kiss the likes of Kiss goodbye? And yet there Green Day was on Saturday at the Downtown Stage, leading the crowd in a raucous sing-along of Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite” that could probably be heard in Henderson. By this point, Green Day has evolved from a punk rock band to a straight-up rock band, and they’re one of best there is at putting on a Big Rock Show. Costumed rabbit boogieing down to the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” prior to the band hitting the stage? Check. Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong playing guitar behind his head and addressing the crowd with the wild-eyed zeal of a street preacher forecasting locust showers? Check. A 21-song set in which almost every tune was a hit single the crowd knew by heart? Check.

The weekend’s definitive I’m-not-crying-you’re-crying moment came when the band brought a 24-year-old woman in a Billy Idol T-shirt up from the crowd to play guitar during a take on Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge.” Afterward, she got to keep the guitar, weeping with joy. She wasn’t the only one.

The finest faux tantrum

“You took my Raiders from me, what the (expletive)?” Armstrong, a Bay Area native, faux-fumed early in Green Day’s set. “Now I gotta entertain you (plural version of said expletive)?!”

Yeah.

Yes, ‘Daddy’

Phone rings. St. Vincent picks up the receiver, delivered to her by a woman dressed as a waitress on the Downtown Stage Sunday evening. “How much did I lose at the roulette table today?” she repeats the question ostensibly posed to her. “Only a grand. I should bet my whole guarantee?” Why not? She’s used to taking long-shot risks and cashing in — at least in song. The singer/guitarist/art rock prime mover reinvents herself album after album, six times now, recasting herself as a throwback funk revisionist on her most recent studio record, “Daddy’s Home.” She swerved from that album’s serrated R&B to ’80s-leaning synth pop to stadium rock bluster in one of fest’s best sets. On several occasions, she’d end songs on her knees in full-on rock god pose. It suited her.

The fest’s most caffeinated rapper

How’s this for a 25-hour span: At 3 p.m. on Saturday, Vegas hip-hopper Ekoh performed at the Toyota Music Den, where he was joined onstage by the Blue Man Group. He then hopped a plane for a 7 p.m. headlining show in Reno, before heading back to Vegas for a 4:10 p.m. set on Sunday at the Huntridge Stage. Have Red Bull, will travel.

Logging on

During the banjo-enhanced “Bukowski,” Modest Mouse percussionist Ben Massarella expertly whacked on what looked like a sliced-up log as the band commandeered the Downtown Stage on Saturday, with frontman Isaac Brock’s guitar playing as sweet as his lyrics are frequently acidic. Also, he wore a bright red jumpsuit. Speaking of which …

Mean joke alert

“I just watched Modest Mouse, and they got old,” comedian Annie Lederman joked at the Comedy Kicker & More stage on Saturday night, before alluding to Brock’s aforementioned stage gear. “You’re 50 years old and you’re wearing a onesie.” Ouch.

One night, two tributes

With his vocals often heavily Auto-Tuned until they’re equally melodic and robotic, it can be hard at times to discern Young Thug’s true voice — same with his emotions. But the rapper bared both on Sunday at the Downtown Stage on new tune “Die Slow,” where he spoke clearly about the sense of loss he’s had to face in life, from incarcerated family members to missing his son’s birthday while on tour; the tune was dedicated in part to late rapper and friend Nipsey Hustle, who was killed in 2019. A half an hour later, on the Huntridge Stage, Toronto electro rock duo Death From Above 1979 paid tribute to Norm MacDonald, with singer/drummer Sebastien Grangier reciting a hilarious/unprintable Vegas-centric bit of the late comedian’s that revolves around, uh, paid female companionship. Google it — when grandma’s out of the room.

The best worst dancing of the weekend

Death From Above 1979 catalyzed the goofiest dancing of Life is Beautiful 2021 — we mean that as a compliment. The two hit the crowd so hard with their absurdly overdriven basslines and body rocking/wrecking jams that those there to witness it all just kind of … lost it, engaging in what looked like a mixture of inebriated kung fu fighting and full-body muscle spasm. When they played the timely “Totally Wiped Out,” it was a fitting summation of what it felt like to be at Life is Beautiful three days in.

Sweetest cover song

Their set had a few hiccups due to tuning issues, but Kentucky’s White Reaper made up for it with a throttling of Nirvana’s “Aneurysm” on Saturday at the Huntridge Stage, where they treated the song almost as savagely as Kurt Cobain did his vocal chords on its original recording.

The did-i-just-see-that? moment of Life is Beautiful 2021

It was 11:25 p.m. on Friday, and there was hay on the dance floor. Also on the dance floor at the Western Country Club: a shaggy-haired fellow in leopard print tights and a Gwar T-shirt spinning himself in circles to Vegas honky tonkers The Rhyolite Sound, which performed an unlikely yet stirring rendition of Alice in Chains’ “Rooster.” It was a truly odd scene: a country band covering a hard rock song enjoyed mightily by a metal dude. Then again, maybe it wasn’t, considering the setting: At Life is Beautiful, cultures don’t clash so much as merge into one. And that’s what this whole weekend was about, really.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @jbracelin76 on Instagram

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