There’s a fine line between being happy and sad.
Finer still is the line between Post Malone’s eyes being open and shut.
You could have blindfolded the “Stoney” — You don’t say? — singer-rapper with dental floss Sunday, eyelids as heavy as his heart as he closed the Downtown Stage at Life is Beautiful, bringing the three-day festival to an end.
Malone’s hit-heavy catalog comes freighted with not-so-sweet emotion.
Is he hip-hop’s saddest superstar ever?
Post-bankruptcy MC Hammer aside, maybe.
Between tunes, Malone is a beaming, ever-thankful, let’s-tap-the-keg type, frequently sipping from a blue Bud Light Solo cup.
“My name is Austin Malone, and I came to play y’all some (crappy) music and party with you,” he said by way of introduction.
And then he breaks into song and everything changes, right down to the look on his face, eyes closing, features slackening.
It’s like watching the curtains being drawn on his sense of well-being.
“I wake up every day / With this anxiety,” he confessed on “Paranoid.”
Then there’s Malone’s singing voice itself.
Worn around the edges, it’s inherently shot through with longing and a hint of the forlorn.
Malone doesn’t sound anything like Kurt Cobain, but he does possess the same quality of being able to express so much with a well-timed crack of the voice.
He even name-checked the Nirvana frontman in song.
“Me and Kurt feel the same,” Malone noted on “Goodbyes.” “Too much pleasure is pain.”
Yet Malone somehow makes it all feel like a party.
Impressively working the Downtown Stage all on his own, Malone filled the space with personality in place of production values, intermittent bursts of pyro aside. He’s a natural, gifted showman and a self-aware presence.
“I promise this song isn’t a sad song,” he told the audience before “Psycho,” acknowledging the downcast tenor of his material prior to that point in the set.
He was three songs in.
Malone did celebrate his bumpy, circuitous road to success, and the lavish spending that has followed, on songs such as “Congratulations,” “Saint Tropez” and “Candy Paint,” which were met with full-throated approval from the massive crowd.
But when Malone sat down on a stool in the center of the stage to perform “Stay” on acoustic guitar, everything came into stark relief.
“Tell me that it’s all OK,” he sang.
It sounded more like a plea than a command.
Holding the line
Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt.
Sometimes it can spur a couple costumed as lime-green aliens to boogie down even harder while an older gentleman in a 2003 Bonnaroo T-shirt smiles broadly at the scene.
This was the case at the Downtown Stage at a shade before 6:30 p.m.
“Are y’all ready for a party song you know?” Toto guitarist Steve Lukather asked.
And with that, it was “Rosanna” o’clock.
A few years back, ’90s alt-rockers Third Eye Blind probably would have topped the list of Life is Beautiful’s least likely bookings. That baton has officially been passed to these venerable classic rockers with their synth solos, gut-bucket vocals and unabridged guitar leads.
Like Third Eye, Toto went over well. They knew why they were here.
“Are you ready for that song?” Lukather wondered before launching into “Africa,” the band’s ’80s smash that got fresh legs last year when Weezer released a hit cover version, giving Toto’s profile a late-career boost.
The band jammed the song out, savoring the moment along with the crowd.
All rockers grow old, but that doesn’t mean their tunes have to follow suit.
Shouting it out
The blaring sirens that the DJ peppered their tunes with seemed subtle compared to what emanated from the larynxes of the two bullhorn-voiced MCs on the Downtown Stage.
Rae Sremmurd is “ear drummers” spelled backward.
Living up to their handle, this sibling hip-hop duo went all Neil Peart on cochleas.
In the Rae Sremmurd songbook, money doesn’t just talk, it screams and yells and makes confident advances toward your sister.
Slim Jimmi and Swae Lee got in the game early, when they were teens, and you hear it in their youthful-sounding singing voices, which they frequently employ in their songs’ verses. Along with all the hollered-out hooks, it underscores the pair’s melodic savvy, which renders nearly every tune cacophonous and catchy.
It’s an impressive feat.
On Sunday, the two worked the crowd as hard as their vocal chords, Lee bare-chested, dreads flying every which way like a flock of frightened birds.
“I coulda went to school to be a doctor,” Jimmi rhymed on “Swang.” “But I dropped out and chose to be a baller.”
Those poor nurses would have been hard of hearing in no time with that guy yelling for the stethoscope.
“I would give my soul to her.”
So gushed the near-hyperventilating, bleach-blond 20-something near the front of the stage.
His buddy hugged him as they luxuriated in the presence of Carly Rae Jepsen like felines having discovered a puddle of sunlight.
Sure, the two may have been clear Jepsen partisans — Je-partisans? Copyright alert! — but judging by the escalating crowd response as Jepsen performed on the Bacardi Stage, she was winning her share of converts as well. It was easy to see and hear why.
Jepsen is kind of like the Katie Couric of pop — she even has the same smile — sharp, adaptable and almost disarmingly likable. She seemed destined for one-hit-wonder status after 2012 earworm “Call Me Maybe” — which she didn’t avoid Sunday, performing it four songs into her set.
Since then, Jepsen has reinvented herself as a disco-lite, dance-pop diva. And if the platform shoe fits, wear it.
Taking the stage in a see-through red blouse and yellow leather bodysuit, Jepsen was a blur of hits, from the arms-in-the-air pop-funk of “Julien” to the propulsive dance-floor cotton candy of “Now That I Found You.”
It was a stellar performance rife with heart and soul — no need for any audience member donation of the latter.
Weekend wins the weekend
The high-five quotient was higher still.
Strangers slapping hands with strangers.
It started happening after damn nearly every tune midway through Vampire Weekend’s performance on the Downtown Stage.
It was a result of the sheer joy the crowd up front was feeling, grins as wide as the musical vocabulary of the band they were watching.
It began in earnest after the indie rockers’ electrifying take on SBTRKT’s “New Dorp, New York,” which Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig sings on.
The song escalated from a brooding, sung-spoke, slow simmer to a full-on psychedelic blowout the way a volcano builds toward eruption, a minute-and-a-half solo from guitarist Brian Robert Jones subbing for the climatic expulsion of lava and ash.
The high-fives were almost involuntary after that.
What initially distinguished Vampire Weekend was the group’s worldbeat leanings, which manifested themselves in exotic-sounding melodies that earned frequent — and easy — comparisons to Paul Simon’s “Graceland.”
Since then, though, the band has broadened its sonic palette, as evidenced Sunday by the raucous doo-wop-indebted surge of “Diane Young,” the soulful gallop of “Worship You” and the hard acoustic swing of “Sympathy.”
Toward the end of its set, giant inflatable balls decor-ated like the globe that adorns the cover of Vampire Weekend’s latest album, the excellent “Father of the Bride,” were released into the crowd.
By then, the band had already time-warped a bunch of grown-ups back to acting like schoolkids at recess.
As they swatted at the blow-up stage props, the transformation was complete.
It was the best performance of Life is Beautiful 2019.