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Life is Beautiful: Day 1 standouts include Eilish, Portugal

Of course there were taco-shaped teeter-totters to mount.

How could you miss them?

They were right next to where you could snap a selfie with platinum-blond “instagrama” Baddie Winkle, a “bad lil baddie stealing ur man since 1928” — or so she describes herself on the aforementioned social media app.

Welcome to Jack’s Playground, sponsored by Jack in the Box, naturally, in downtown’s playground: Life is Beautiful.

The overheard quote of the day as the music and arts festival sprung to loud, bright, pupil-shrinking life on Friday: “I feel like a dog off its leash,” a dude said while passing by House of Yes, a “performance spectacle”-discotheque inside of which revelers cavorted with giant inflatable pink flamingos.

This was the point, sir, to run wild through these blocked-off streets for three days.

So, what’s new for 2019?

Well, the festival’s 18-block footprint has been largely solidified for some time now, so the layout was familiar, though this year the Fergusons Downtown retail and residential complex was open, meaning you could chill in the grass and watch DJs perform on a stage erected in the foyer or grab a Tecate at its newly opened Mexican restaurant, La Monja.

As for the crowd size, it seemed about as robust as in 2018, when LiB drew 195,000 fans over the weekend, an average of 65,000 a day.

It’s the art offerings then that give each incarnation of Life is Beautiful its own distinct feel — along with the music lineup, of course.

This year, the move toward more and more interactive offerings continued: You could turn yourself into a human black-light poster of sorts with free “body marbling,” a type of temporary tattooing, done on the bottom floor of a parking garage; attend cocktail school at The Bunkhouse; write down where you traveled to Life is Beautiful from on a sticker and attach it to one of the towering stacks of suitcases in the Bacardi Art Motel — our favorite response? “Your mom’s house” — or discover your spirit animal at a booth in Market in the Alley. (Who knew a Turd Panther was even a thing?)

The murals and installation pieces continue to dazzle year in, year out. A few standouts: the massive, glimmering “Monumental Mammoth” sculpture near the Downtown Stage; the luminous “Electric Dandelions” on Sixth and Stewart Street; Mantra’s stunning butterfly case mural on the Fremont9 residential complex.

That’s a bit of what we saw.

Here’s a sampling of what we heard.

Best in fest, Day One

High tension in a low register, that’s what the 17-year-old with an AK-47 earring and a mouth for war was all about.

“Don’t be cautious, don’t be kind,” Billie Eilish instructed a rival in song over a pinging, Sonar-like beat on “Copycat,” merely demanding the same treatment she was about to give.

Fingernails like daggers, clothes baggy, fists clenched tight, Eilish had the crowd in the palm of her clawed hand at the Downtown Stage from her riotously received show-opener “Bad Guy.”

From there, she sang of chewing up boys like bubble gum, burying friends and ruling the world over a whipsaw beat that felt forceful enough to cleave an aircraft carrier in half.

She impressively pistoned up and down on the stage like she was trying to crater the thing, all while outfitted in a walking boot.

“If I can jump, you can jump,” she told the audience, demanding mosh pits for the electro battering ram that was “You Should See Me in a Crown.”

Eilish’s songs are by turns bedroom-intimate and bar-fight confrontational, tongue-waggingly snide and tear-wringingly sincere.

Sometimes she whispers them in your ear.

Sometimes she spits in them your face.

She has this voice capable of having a codeinelike effect, slowing pulses and raising hackles simultaneously.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn ya,” Eilish sang on “All The Good Girls To Hell,” clearly headed in the other direction.

Eilish’s command performance rivaled that of alt-rockers Portugal. The Man on the Bacardi Stage for the set of the day.

Portugal’s profile has risen greatly since they last played Life is Beautiful in 2013 during its inaugural year, and they’ve invested in themselves since, fleshing out their touring lineup with backing singers and a string section.

They took a similar tack with their songs as well, expanding and re-shaping a number of them live.

This was palpable from the start, when the band merged the martial stomp of the opening bars of Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” with the chorus from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” with their own “Purple Yellow Red &Blue,” the song’s Bee Gees-like harmonies enhanced by saxophone, another new addition from the original recorded version.

An explosive “Live in the Moment” was played relatively straight, but they incorporated the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” with their “Creep in a T-Shirt” and gave Black Sabbath a nod during “Modern Jesus.”

The band paid tribute to their influences to help you understand where they came from, musically speaking, because there certainly was no telling where they were going.

A feel-good fight to the death!

It was like two of those “Hang in there” posters with the little kitten dangling from a tree branch or a power line or something punching each other in the face.

OK, it wasn’t exactly like that.

Still, it did kind of feel that way when synth-abetted rockers Arizona and Walk the Moon performed back-to-back on the Bacardi and Downtown stages respectively in a battle between which act could more capably serve as musical life coach.

First, there was Arizona, who is from New Jersey, and whose soft-voiced, big-hearted songbook swelled with cresting guitars and rhythms intended to catalyze the dancing of one’s troubles away.

This was rock ‘n’ roll as reassuring shoulder rub.

“If you’re not doing what you love, with who you love, you’re wasting your time,” explained singer Zachary Charles, who definitely rocked the day’s best, most Burt Reynolds-worthy ‘stache.

We immediately chugged a beer with a cat.

Not to be outdone, Walk the Moon’s buoyant-yet-beefy, ever-earnest electro pop came loaded with self-help maxims (“You’re not alone”; “All is not lost”; “Growing up is a heavy leaf to turn”; “Taking this one step at a time” — We could go on. They did.)

That last lyric came from the band’s hit “One Foot,” which they performed with 11 Cirque du Soleil aerialists twirling themselves to the rafters.

Afterward, frontman Nicholas Petricca recalled how he and his family used to come to Las Vegas and see Cirque shows when he was a kid and that he never thought he’d actually be on stage with them.

For all the follow-your-dreams platitudes he might have espoused, credit the guy for backing ‘em up.

He led by example on this night.

Portugal. The Troll

The sun had set long ago, and yet, shade was still being thrown.

During Portugal. The Man’s aforementioned set on the Bacardi stage, a message was sent on the video screen behind them to another act performing at the same time.

“Nobody goes to a festival to be taken to church, Chance,” it read.

Of course, the playful jab was directed at Chance The Rapper, the Chicago MC was who playing Life is Beautiful for the third time and second as a headliner.

To Portugal’s point: It may have been Friday, but it really did feel like Sunday when Chance performed, stage doubling as a pulpit, rhymes in place of communal wafers.

There were pronounced gospel overtones in plenty of Chance’s material; enhanced by backing singers, he’d occasionally engage in some Four Tops-worthy synchronized dance moves with, as well as in his own emotive crooning, in which he sounded like he was testifying to something bigger than himself.

He frequently was.

Whether he was extolling the virtues of his better half (“Eternal”), recalling his struggles to change his ways in order to save the marriage in question (“We Go High”) or looking back on his childhood in his native Chicago, growing up when the neighborhood around him began to come crumbling down (“Summer Friends”), it was all done with religious fervor whether the songs were overtly religious or not.

Ultimately, though, his message was nondenominational, embodied by something that fellow rapper 2 Chainz once told him, which he shared from the stage on Friday.

“You’re not crazy,” Chase told his flock. “Life is.”

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

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