It was like a blanket party of percussion, bodies worked over by brick-wall-hard beats in place of bars of soap.
In the waning hours of Sunday night and Life is Beautiful alike, the festival should have been winding down, at least in theory, after three long days of nonstop music gorging, art gazing, ferris wheel riding, selfie snapping, Porta-John braving and, of course, snickering along with comedians sharing stories about attending tapings of the “Price Is Right” buzzed on mushrooms.
But as the onset of Monday morning and the looming work week threatened to spoil the fun, there was Major Lazer to serve as noble party preservationists. They did so with concussive, reggae-informed electronic dance music delivered amid a full-on riot of confetti, Beavis-approved levels of fire bursting from the stage and twerking dancers who shook their bodies like human maracas.
Yeah, Major Lazer’s cheery cacophony may be rooted in reggae and dub, but whereas that music is all about finding a groove and not just lingering there but practically taking up residency in the thing, this bunch takes a different tack entirely. They may co-opt the music’s bottom-heavy rhythms, but then they perform the dance music equivalent of firing them through a particle accelerator, speeding everything up to near-terminal velocity and hopscotching hazardously from one jam to the next.
The music’s manic rush was so immediate, it was as if it was delivered intravenously.
Lazer’s performance capped a three-set run of dance music that both closed Life is Beautiful’s biggest stage and opened eyes as to what the fest’s future may hold. (Yes, Life is Beautiful is coming back in 2017. More on that later.)
The trio was preceded by Australian DJ-producer Flume, who lubricated gnarled rhythms with splashes of melody, and self-professed “funk lords” Chromeo, who did indeed live up to that billing, with the clapping electronic drums, vocodered vocals and analog synth blasts of ’80s pop, catalyzing lots of stiff-armed robot dancing in the crowd.
All of this begged the question, was this the year that electronic dance music took over Life is Beautiful?
That argument could certainly be made.
In addition to the throngs of fans drawn to the aforementioned acts, perhaps the most consistently packed of the festival’s four stages was the domed, football-field-sized Troubadour Stage, where thousands clustered beneath a canopy of pupil-shrinking lights and video screens, lured by popular EDM acts like Keys N Krates, Excision and Bassnectar.
Though the DJs who performed there didn’t attract quite as many fans as the headliners did on the main stage, it was almost always jammed, whereas there was much more of an ebb and flow to the crowd size at other spots. It turned the corner of Eighth and Fremont streets, where the stage was positioned, into a human traffic jam, a near-constant gridlock of bodies. The stage was especially big with younger fans, which bodes well for the fest moving forward.
Attendance as a whole seemed strong for Life is Beautiful this go-round, at least judging by eye and, more tellingly, the length of the beer lines, with Saturday’s installment ranking among the biggest in the event’s four-year history.
Prior to the fest, there was plenty of talk about how this year’s lineup lacked the superstar headliners of the past, when such big names like Foo Fighters, Kanye West and Stevie Wonder topped the bill.
That criticism seemed fair on paper, but in practice, the fest scored with eagerly received midlevel acts like Jimmy Eat World, who drew a massive crowd to the Ambassador Stage on Sunday, with seemingly everyone in attendance mouthing the words to heart-in-the-throat hits like “Sweetness” and “The Middle.”
While EDM had its moment this year, so did its opposite, the much more corporeal, warm-blooded sounds of folk-derived acts like Mumford &Sons, who headlined the main stage Friday and, on Sunday, Canadian alt-country troupe The Strumbellas and the cello- and accordion-enhanced The Lumineers, who turned in a feisty cover of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
And then there were veteran pop rockers Third Eye Blind, who made explicit their disconnect from the electronically enhanced performers on the bill.
“We are not a DJ band,” announced frontman Stephan Jenkins, with just a hint of disdain. “We have no backing tracks. We have no pitch correction.”
They needed neither to endear themselves to a large, adoring crowd whose voices supplied the backing tracks that the band eschewed.
“Let’s get carried away,” Jenkins suggested, and the audience obliged.
Toward the conclusion of the band’s time on stage, Jenkins bemoaned the end of the summer festival season, this being the band’s last show on the circuit.
But the goodbye became a hello soon enough: At the end of the night, the dates for the next Life is Beautiful, Sept. 22-24, 2017, were flashed on the video screens at some of the stages.
The first batch of tickets goes on sale Thursday.
Read more from Jason Bracelin at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at email@example.com and follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.
What: Life is Beautiful
Where: Fremont East Arts District downtown
My five favorite Life is Beautiful sets:
1. J. Cole
2. Crystal Castles
3. The Shins
4. Kamasi Washington
5. Major Lazer