Day 1 of Life is Beautiful in Las Vegas full of fire and funk

Updated September 22, 2018 - 4:03 pm

We came.

We saw.

We got singed by flame-spewing arcade games.

There was plenty to do and see as downtown’s Life is Beautiful music, arts and comedy festival kicked off its sixth year on Friday.

How did it all go down? What were some of the highlights? Where do I get my Air Jordans polished?

You’ve got the questions.

We’ve got the answers.

“Are you ready for some Spanish dancing notes?”

Rhetorical question, obviously. Still it was voiced with enviable enthusiasm by Ana García Perrote, singer-guitarist for indie rockers Hinds. She and her bandmates pulsed with kids-on-Christmas-morning energy levels despite the fact that their late afternoon performance at the Huntridge Stage was the opening date of their current U.S. tour and that they had flown 12 hours from their native Madrid the day before, then driven another seven hours after that just to make the gig. Still, they betrayed no fatigue during a punchy set that was an early highlight of the day, where guitars growled and harmonies soared in songs that cooed and concussed at once, defying jet leg with a giddy wallop.

Justice served

Made sense that they took to the stage backed by Judas Priest-levels of Marshall stacks behind them: This was dance music delivered with heavy metal thunder. Parisian electro duo Justice united the once-warring factions of disco and prog rock during their hourlong set at the Downtown Stage with a performance that intermingled the latter’s far-out, experimental synth sounds with the former’s limber bass lines and splashy rhythms. Think of it as electronic funk as full-contact sport, enhanced with a light show that would have had Rush taking notes.

Best cover song

The sun was slowly setting as he delivered his words just as deliberately, a fitting visual complement to the performance in question. “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,” Two Feet (aka Bill Dess) sang during his eruptive version of the Bill Withers classic, letting the longing sink in at the Bacardi #Soundofrum Stage as dusk approached. It was a powerful moment, Dess’ bluesy guitar licks adding still more heat to a song of inflamed passions, but it was so in more ways than one: Last month, Dess was hospitalized after attempting suicide, forcing him to cancel other festival appearances. Glad he was able to make this one.

R&B’s yin and yang

“Please don’t leave me,” one pleaded.

“Woke up by a girl. I don’t even know her name,” the other boasted.

Singers Daniel Caesar and The Weeknd dueled for hearts in entirely different ways as they closed the Huntridge and Downtown Stages respectively. Caesar practically turned the festival grounds into one big outdoor bedroom with his low-simmering soul, his lithe voice hugging robust, rubbery bass lines with similar elasticity.

If Caesar’s performance was akin to a sensual strip tease, The Weeknd’s was more like a sweaty pole-grind. Equally energetic and unrepentant in song and on stage, The Weeknd pairs a soft voice with a hardened heart. As he raced through hits done in collaboration with hip-hop luminaries like Future, Drake, Belly and Kendrick Lamar, he betrayed more of a rapper’s street-wise mentality than an R&B crooner’s come-hither emotiveness. His are love letters penned in battery acid.

Winning one-liner from The Kicker Comedy & More stages

“I think that Amber Alert should be a term for when there’s too many white girls at a party,” quipped Brandon Wardell.

The couples moment to end all couples moments

Life is beautiful. Death? Not so much. And yet there was Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard, alone on the Bacardi #Soundofrum Stage, acoustic guitar in hand, sweetly delivering one of the most romantic songs ever about kicking the bucket. “Here’s a love song for you,” Gibbard said by way of introducing “I Will Follow You Into The Dark.” “Grab your sweetheart.” Couples didn’t need to be told as they clung together while Gibbard chronicled a lovers’ bond that not even death could break, arms locked, hearts open.

The hipster moment to end all hipster moments

Definitely goes to the dude in the thick of the crowd during The Weeknd’s set snapping pictures … on a Polaroid camera. Do believe that’s how one earns his hipster black belt. Take that, technological advancement.

Diversions of the day

5. Getting your Nikes buffed by a fellow in a blue tracksuit at the sneaker cleaning service in the El Cortez parking garage.

4. Free yoga sessions at the Market in the Alley.

3. Blowing 20 grand on a portrait of Abe Lincoln done to look as if he was made of wood, a steal at the Crime on Canvas gallery.

2. Copping some shade under the luminous Stereobot art installation piece near the Huntridge Stage.

1. Playing some Fire Skee Ball at the corner of Ogden Avenue and Eighth Street. Because what childhood pastimes aren’t way better with pyro?

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

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