No Weezy, no problem.
Rapper Lil Wayne unexpectedly no-showed at Life is Beautiful on Saturday, with thousands of fans waiting to see the hip-hop star at the Downtown Stage when, 20 minutes after he was scheduled to begin his set, it was announced that he would not appear.
There has been no official confirmation as to why he didn’t perform.
It was arguably the biggest disappointment in LIB’s seven-year history, primarily because the exceptionally smoothly run fest has never had to deal with something like this. (The only minor comparison we can think of is Jenny Lewis taking the stage late for unspecified reasons in 2014, leading to an abbreviated set.)
Ultimately, though, Lil Wayne’s absence registered as a blood-boiler as much as a bummer for many, with portions of the crowd leading an angry chant against the MC as they trudged to the next stage.
Besides, there were plenty of other notable musical moments on Saturday: The Regrettes coming on like the Go-Go-Go-Go-Go’s with their femme-first garage rock, an early highlight at the Huntridge Stage; nimble-tongued MC Tyler Bennett trading bars with big brother Chance the Rapper, who made a surprise appearance toward the end of his set, also on the Huntridge Stage; Of Monsters and Men’s harmony-heavy folk on the Downtown Stage; and the debut of K-pop at Life is Beautiful via Monsta X, who graced the Fremont Stage with such vociferously animated, limb-flying dance moves, it looked as if they were warring with an invisible squid.
Here’s what else stood out Saturday:
All Keyed up
Dudes in the crowd playing air guitar and Wayne Newton.
Now, there are two things you don’t normally see at Life is Beautiful.
And yet at the Downtown Stage, The Black Keys delivered both.
Playing but their second full concert in four years and the first official show of their 31-date tour in support of new album “Let’s Rock,” The Black Keys took the stage in Hunter S. Thompson-worthy souvenir Las Vegas visors to strike a little fear and loathing in anyone averse to cranked amps and decidedly nondigital jams.
Drummer Patrick Carney has characterized the band’s latest as a homage to the electric guitar, and singer-six stringer Dan Auerbach backed those words up with minute-long leads played from the back of heels in some instances, looking like a fisherman attempting to reel in something heavy.
And in a way he was, like the powerhouse riff that propelled “Thickfreakness,” a vintage garage blues blast and the title cut to the band’s 2003 sophomore album, which the band played back to back with another hard-swinging older track in “10 a.m. Automatic.”
The Keys aired a half-dozen new tunes during their 20-song-set, from the cocksure strut of “Lo/Fi” to the full-bodied boogie of “Fire Walk with Me,” Auerbach’s voice and solos equally expressive and hungry-sounding.
“I got mine,” he snarled on the show-opening number of the same name, a curled-lip blues kiss-off.
We could say the same afterward.
Django Jane rides into Las Vegas
There’s only one thing in all of humankind better than a keytar, and no, it’s not world peace or a lover’s tender caress or vodka, even — close on that last one, though.
No, the only thing better than one keytar is … two keytars.
Utilizing a pair of the instruments in question, along with plenty of trombone and boulder-robust basslines in an embarrassment ’80s R&B riches, Janelle Monae modernized Prince-derived, Parliament-Funkadelic-informed funk at the Bacardi Stage, dragging a sound of dance floors past boldly into the future.
A pelvic thrust incarnate, Monae was a commanding presence, whether she was singing or rapping or equating herself to a young Harriet Tubman in song. Her performance was highly choreographed and stylized, with a phalanx of backing dancers in checkered leggings gyrating in fight-pumping unison, and yet it still felt sufficiently lived-in and loose.
That’s one of Monae’s gifts, to inhabit the various characters and alter egos that fill her songs while never getting lost in those characters, persona never wholly consuming performer.
It enables her to give convincing voice to songs lauding the merits of feminine guile from a woman who’s frequently been told she’s not feminine enough, to songs of acceptance and assertiveness en route to becoming R&B royalty.
“This is my palace,” Monae announced early in her set, perched on a throne, a self-professed “Q.U.E.E.N.” gazing out at a court getting sweatier by the minute.
Super dad in the house
Call and response of the day — though maybe not so much if you’re a professional educator.
From the stage: “Ignorant!”
From the crowd: “Forever!”
One more time.
And so the chant went, led by a shirtless Saint Jhn, a Guyanese-American rapper who energy levels were suggestive of a gallon-drum of Red Bull after having imbided a quart of coffee.
No, Jhn wasn’t advocating idiocy here; it’s just that his set was pointedly more physical than cerebral, a visceral purge of emotion as opposed to an examination of where said emotions came from.
It was a few minutes before 9 p.m., and hip-hop partisans were about 45 minutes from learning that they were being stiffed by Lil Wayne.
But Saint Jhn did his part to compensate for said absence in advance.
Voice as muscular as his physique, he didn’t rock the mic as much as he tore into the thing like a pitbull mangling a chew toy in attempt to excavate its squeaker.
“I don’t want to slow down,” he bellowed at one point. “I ain’t tryna catch my breath.”
Nor did let the crowd catch theirs, his performance vehement enough to incite the rare Life is Beautiful mosh pit.
And though his songbook may include the doe-eyed, heart-on-its-sleeve “White Parents Are Gonna Hate This,” this wasn’t the case on Saturday.
As Jhn did his thing, a brave dad admirably entered the fray and recorded portions of Jhn’s performance as his teenage daughter went absolutely nuts beside him.
There’s a father-of-the-year candidate for you right there.
Have umlaut, will travel
In sonorous yet lilting tones, he heeded his own command.
“Take me to another place,” Rüfüs Du Sol vocalist-guitarist Tyrone Lindqvist sang, his words washing over a crowd of thousands in unison with lulling synth lines.
The song was “New Sky,” performed under the night guy as Saturday turned into Sunday at the Bacardi Stage.
With blue stage lighting engulfing the Australian indie dance trio, creating an alert yet entrancing mood, the group paired live drums with layers of keys to engender an enveloping, albeit stiff-spined sound that emanated from the stage like the clouds of dry ice drifting into the air.
Unlike plenty of contemporary dance music artists, particularly EDM acts, Rüfüs Du Sol isn’t about swiftly, insistently building toward one climax after the next.
Instead, they establish a groove and linger there.
They want you to feel it, get lost in it, be transported.
“I know a place I wanna go,” Lindqvist pined in the aforementioned number.
He took the crowd with him.