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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Beck, Cage the Elephant, Spoon and Starcrawler made a Night Running Tour stop at the FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine on Wednesday, July 17.

While the tour did not make a Coachella Valley stop, all of the performers are familiar with the area, having made appearances at Coachella, Desert Daze or Pappy and Harriet’s.

Spoon was its usual great self, flawlessly executing the band’s hits, with Britt Daniel jokingly praising Arrow de Wilde, lead singer of Starcrawler, for “finally calming down.” (However, her performance was anything but calm: Arrow de Wilde is a female version of Iggy Pop, someone who never stands still and runs around like she just escaped from an insane asylum—in a wonderful rock ’n’ roll sort of way. Unfortunately, I missed most of her performance.)

Spoon’s “The Way We Get By” is always a smash with audiences—and is even more popular after presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg shared on social media his piano version of the song. In early April 2019, Spoon shared the video on its social media with the caption: “So this guy can just do everyone’s job, huh.” That garnered a response from Buttigieg: “Hey it’s just the way I get by.”

Spoon is always fun, and “Knock Knock Knock” got the fans stirred up. “The Underdog” was also a hit with the audience, perhaps due to its placement in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, which exposed many to Spoon for the first time. Fans also got to hear a new song, “No Bullets Spent,” on new compilation release Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon. The song is a reflection of our time, as Daniel sings, “Don’t know what you got ’til you’re 22. Got a mortgage hung around your neck. What we need now is an accident. No one to blame and no bullets spent.”

Cage the Elephant’s performance started with lead guitarist Brad Shultz playing offstage as his brother, lead vocalist Matt Shultz, walked onstage in a hyper-controlled motion, subverting in a way the pedestrian task of walking on to a stage—but everything Cage the Elephant does is destabilizing yet contagious.

This was my first time seeing Cage the Elephant, and I became entranced by how Matt Shultz moved about and sang at the same time. As Matt shed layers of his outer skin, it became apparent he was here to rock your heart out, and the nearly 80-minute set ran at a frantic pace. The only pauses were when Matt or Brad went into the audience to interact with the cell-phone-obsessed crowd. Cage the Elephant played the hits, starting with “Cry Baby” and then following up with flames burning from the back of the stage for “Broken Boy.” The performance also included the cynical and sad joy that is “Ready to Let Go”: “We met up; we broke bread. I was blue; your dress was red; ain’t it strange? We both knew this day was coming.”

At one point, Matt walked into the crowd with what appeared to be a battery-powered LED light with a chicken leg or a banana tied to it (it was too dark to tell); he took the occasional bite. Of course, Cage the Elephant played mega hit “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” He acknowledged the women in the audience by saying, “It’s not the journey; it’s the destination. Thank you, ladies.” A young woman next to me jumped up and yelled: “I want to make out with you!”

Sometimes lyrics connect and allow people to feel and pause and reflect, like the beginning verse of  “Teeth”: “Electrified harmonious, I think I’ll take it out to the streets. Will someone please help me? Call the doctor, but don’t call the police.” It was the best performance I have seen all year by a recording artist that got its start in the 21st century—but the headliner had yet to perform.

Beck walked onstage to cheers. “What’s going on this beautiful evening?” he asked as he led with his classic “Loser,” following up with fan favorite “The New Pollution.”

Beck asked the audience, “Any güeros out there?” (“Beck, it’s Irvine!” I mentally responded, with a chuckle.) Beck added: “This is a story about growing up in Boyle heights. This is about some of the people were I grew up,” introducing “¿Qué onda Güero?”

A potential jam-band session was in the mist, but Beck pivoted when the lyrics were not coming out of his mouth correctly. “I think someone is smoking something up here—makes you forget lyrics. Lyrics fighting for a lost cause,” he said as the attempted improvisation fizzled.

Ending with “E-Pro,” Beck said, “Órale,” and walked off the stage. He soon returned and stated, “Let me take you down,” with his encore of “Where It’s At.”

After sitting down and pointing out friends in the audience, Beck quipped: “We are on a night ride. Who do we have here?” Then Matt Shultz walked onstage wearing a red silk-like outfit with a matching red fan. Beck and Matt performed their collaborative dub-step reggae song, “Night Running”—which, of course, shares the name with this tour.

Published in Reviews

Coachella Day 2 is always the festival’s busiest—and that was evident on Saturday, April 19, as people came to enjoy numerous up-and-coming artists, in addition to the big headliners.

Early in the afternoon, Laura Mvula took the Gobi stage. I was in the nearby press tent, and the drum beat coming from the Gobi stage captivated me to the point where I had to get up and see what was going on. Mvula’s drummer turned out a unique set of beats throughout the entire set, while Mvula’s stunning soul-style vocals resonated through the whole tent. People were dancing and grooving, with some simply amazed by her performance. Meanwhile, a man in a marching-band outfit stomped through the crowd as people took photos of him.

Speaking of soul, The Internet (yes, that’s what they’re called) followed Laura Mvula. Fronted by a woman named Syd Bennett (aka Syd tha Kyd), the neo-soul band immediately captivated the audience with smooth bass lines, jazz piano and some chill vibes similar to those of Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. Bennett knows how to entertain and sing deep songs without weird spiritual elements or outrageous costumes: She was wearing a Beach Bum swimsuit, a T-shirt and colored socks with marijuana leaves on them.

As I made my way to the Outdoor stage to see Ty Segall, I noticed that Cage the Elephant had a much smaller audience than the band should have had. The group managed to capture the mainstream with the single “Shake Me Down” a few years back; apparently, the band did not act fast enough to put out compelling new material after that. The band put on a great show; it’s just that the crowds were scattered elsewhere.

As for Ty Segall, he and his band were given an intro by a surprise guest: flop-comedian Neil Hamburger (who will be performing at Pappy and Harriet’s in May; look for an interview with him soon in the Independent). The dry-comedy maestro delivered jokes about Skrillex, Arcade Fire, Fred Durst, his nemesis Carrot Top, and Britney Spears before introducing “Ty and the Boys.”

Ty Segall’s much-publicized love for Hawkwind was evident throughout his performance. His first two songs were loud and heavy psychedelic. During the third song, a tall, shirtless skinny guy managed to start a mosh pit. A man with an inflatable pink dolphin was in the pit the entire time, holding up the dolphin; he even went crowd-surfing a few times. Half-full bottles of water were thrown into the pit, as was a quarter of a watermelon. Segall ended his set with a cover of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” and Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love.”

The Head and the Heart took the Outdoor stage as the afternoon transitioned into evening. The folk-rock band from Seattle put on a great set that makes you ask: Is rock music really dead? The band’s folk-rock sound featured beautiful harmonies and violins. Many people were dancing; a group of people even held hands and danced in a circle. The Head and the Heart proved that unique bands can captivate an audience with a mellow sound.

The ladies of Warpaint took to Mojave stage at 6:15 p.m. and turned in a stellar set. Frontwoman Theresa Wayman’s guitar puts out haunting echoes, while Emily Kokal’s synthesizer adds a dark vibe. Warpaint’s echoing vocals and a dark sound are supported nicely by the rhythm section of drummer Stella Mozgawa and bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg.

The High-Energy Performance Award of the Day goes to Future Islands, who rocked out the Gobi tent as the early evening took hold. Beth Clifford, chief doorwoman at Pappy and Harriet’s, told me that the Future Islands show that took place after the Pixies show this past Thursday (April 17) was one of the best shows she’s ever experienced at Pappy’s. Frontman Gerrit Welmers was jumping all over the place as the band opened up with “Back in the Tall Grass.” At times, it sounded as if he was out of breath, but he always kept on going. The band offers a unique modern twist on new wave and synthpop, with a heavy rock sound added in. Given the fantastic stage performance and the recent album success, we should be hearing more from this band in the future. I would not be surprised to see the group back at Coachella on a much grander scale.

As the evening progressed, Fatboy Slim performed to a packed Sahara tent. (The Astronaut even made its way into the tent behind the soundboard.) Opening with “Right Here, Right Now,” Fatboy Slim never stopped, only allowing himself brief transitions that included snippets of songs including Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapvine” and Bing Crosby singing “Let It Snow.” While it certainly wasn’t Christmas, it started to snow in the Sahara tent from the ceilings.

People who wanted to sneak in to get a good spot for Skrillex’s night-closing set in the Sahara were pretty much out of luck: It remained packed, with Empire of the Sun following Fatboy Slim.

As the Fatboy Slim show wound down, The Pixies took the stage in the Mojave to similar conditions: The tent was crammed full. The Pixies proved earlier this week that the band can perform for two hours or more; it’s odd that these legends were given just a 50-minute set that was not on the Main stage.

As for the Main stage: When locals Queens of the Stone Age walked on, they delighted their die-hard fans. While the audience wasn’t as large as it was for some acts, the band still garnered a decent-sized crowd, considering the Pixies weren’t quite done yet on the Mojave, and Sleigh Bells were tearing it up on the Outdoor stage. I’d never before seen the Queens of the Stone Age live, and now I know: The experience of seeing and hearing them live cannot be fully captured on video. The band plays with some serious power, and they were ready to rock on Saturday night. The visuals in the background were stunning; one was a dark desert sky with fierce moving clouds, and a marquee with “QOTSA” front and center.

The Queens opened up with “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire”; “No One Knows” followed. Josh Homme made note of the fact that it was beginning to get late. “Darkness is upon us … and I’m already fucked up,” he told the audience, to a loud ovation. “Little Sister” and “If I Had a Tail” were played in the middle of the set, and the band only got better as the show progressed. When Homme noticed the sign-language interpreter to his left, near the video monitor, he asked, “Are you doing sign language?” The interpreter nodded as he signed; Homme then made a request to the interpreter to sign: “Let’s go fucking nuts!” When the band finished up with “Go With the Flow,” the image of seagulls flying in silhouette was the visual.

Pharrell Williams began in Outdoor theatre right as the Queens were finished—and the Outdoor area was already filled beyond capacity. I got as close as I could, and I could barely hear or see the show. He performed “Blurred Lines” with special guest T.I. Busta Rhymes, Pusha T, Usher and even Jay-Z also showed up during his set; alas, Snoop Dogg was absent this weekend when Pharrell played “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” Pharrell’s stage show was obviously big enough to be on the Main stage, but was quite exciting to the people who could get close enough to enjoy it.

It was at this point that I had to call it a night: Someone tampered with my laptop in the media tent, and I needed to make sure it was functional enough to get me through Day 3. Therefore, I asked Dan Gibson, the editor of the Tucson Weekly, to take notes for me on what happened with the headliners—and I am glad he did, as I missed some interesting goings-on.

The second Pharrell’s set ended, the majority of the crowd from seemingly all stages rushed to the Sahara tent to see Skrillex. That left a half-empty tent for synth-pop legends the Pet Shop Boys. Clearly, the Pet Shop Boys show represented the 30-and-older Coachella-attendee meet-up; the band’s energetic performance included two dancers wearing giant cattle skulls at times—with Alexander McQueen outfits for the duo themselves.

The strobe-heavy lighting for the Pet Shop Boys proved to be too much for one attendee, who needed attention at the side of tent for an apparent seizure. Despite a seemingly over-long wait for medical attention, the woman was able to walk away with assistance.

Seemingly all of the headliners, including Nas and The Dismemberment Plan, ended their sets at almost the same time, meaning the rush to the parking lots and shuttles was shoulder to shoulder. In fact, the parking lot was still half-full at 2:30 a.m.

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Published in Reviews