Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sweetlife Festival -- Merriweather Post Pavilion - May 12 2013

Lindsey Sterling - It is 12:30pm and there is a good enough crowd to get things rolling. I hear some chords emanating from the second stage as Shark Week got started a few minutes earlier, but I am seated at the main stage for a violinist, keyboardist, and drummer. Ms. Sterling is the violinist who creates interesting enough music with even more mesmerizing dance moves. The drums are strong and the keyboards will provide a bit of background but more often provide the bass lines. This is melodic music and works well enough for this 40-minute set, mostly due to her graceful maneuvering around the stage. She has hit it big via Youtube and was received warmly enough here, but I would think that just one more instrumental element may elevate this to the point that the set could be closing a club show rather than opening for one. Still, I kind of preferred that she leaned a bit more to Nash the Slash rather than go Jean Luc-Ponty on me.

Solange - Next up on the big stage is Beyonce... 's little sister. The voice and overall style don't seem entirely dissimilar, but it would take someone who listened to both a lot more than I to really discuss the distinctions. She comes out in a colorful spring dress with drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, and a couple of back-up singers helping out. The music is fairly low-key and sounds like it would do very well in the dimly lit club, late at night. The R+B pop hybrid with light traces of funk still works well enough here today, although everything is a bit on the safe side of things. The crowd was lightly enjoying it, but really picked up toward the end when the material picked up pace and volume. The strong finish worked well with me and had me feeling pretty good about the set and her prospects. Whether she will be remembered more as a Stevie Ray Vaughan or a Simon Townshend remains to be seen.

Gary Clark, Jr. - Speaking of Stevie Ray Vaughan, there is a Texas blues connection here with gunslinging guitarist, Gary Clark, Jr. He is joined here by a guitarist, bassist, and drummer who are not just here to play the blues, but to push it into crushing rock territory. Guitar-wise, there are elements of Cream and the early blues to heavy rock moves from various British bands. But the backing band reminds me more of Ten Years After, the way they so smoothly find the groove and let the lead guitarist consume the spotlight. And when you can play as well as Clark, there is not much need for a whole lot else. But of course, they vary their songs nicely from hare, hard rock to more blues/rock, and even a Chuck Berry style rock'n'roll number. This 57 minute set was smoking hot and a lot of eyes and ears were opened here, although he clearly had plenty of knowing fans as well.

MS MR - I did take 5 minutes away from the main stage to check out the band I skipped the other night at the U Street Music Hall. It was similar to the other bands that night with a gut gutsy brand of pop from what I could tell in so brief a listen. This stage was off to the side with a lawn for people to sit on or dance on and it was nice to see that it was well packed even as the main stage was now full with a crowded lawn as well. So the Sweetlife Festival has certainly pulled in music fans with its diverse line-up today.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - I was never much a fan of the No No Nos, as I unoriginally dismissed them many years ago. Since then, I have warmed more to the two instrument line-ups that have proliferated due to the White Stripes and the Black Keys. So I was quite happy to see another Yeah filling in on bass and keyboards (and they likely have been doing this for some time like many bands). Still, the songs varied in quality for me with some still sounding a little on the thin side like some sort of twee-psyche genre. But when they pushed things with some heavy and interesting guitar moves, and strong drumming, they could be quite vibrant. And the vocal work of Karen O is always a high point. She had loads of energy in delivering her pop-Penelope Houston sounds taking command of the song and the stage. They even reminded me of a highly abrasive Eurhythmics a couple of times. The crowd was huge (and it was even getting a bit claustrophobic for me) and the band won them over quite easily. Still, a little mixed for me, but the talent is much clearer to me taking in this 52-minute set.

Kendrick Lamar - Lamar has a DJ providing the beats and he does the rapping full of many of the cliches I have heard, and I really don't even hear that much of this genre to get as tired of it as I do. I know punk and metal have serious issues with cliches as well, as does every genre (in part causing the separation). But I cannot detect anything thoughtful in the lyrics here without a lyric sheet, but do hear all the eye rolling buzzwords that get ever so annoying. He probably is quite clever (and his website does say that we all know he is a lyrical genius), but I can't get beyond the annoying lyrics of something like P&P (based on my quick scan of titles, so I am offering an educated guess). I need a lot more from hip hop than this, also on the musical side of the equation, and I have gotten it in the past from Public Enemy and some local acts, but this still worked up enough of the crowd. So you can check with some of them for a more complete review.

And that finished the day for me. I would have liked to have seen Passion Pit and Phoenix, but I have an early train to NYC to catch Mudhoney tomorrow night. Perhaps, a certain one of my readers who stopped by to chat can fill us in with what I missed. I am sure it continued the pattern of diverse music that pulled in the large audience here. This place was full, people were happy, so you would have to rate this as a success.

Quote of the Day - Posted on the screen after a rainstorm really hit hard in the early evening... "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain."


ChrisO said...

Here are my reactions to Passion Pit and Phoenix. My reactions to the 2 bands were very different. I guess they both would be loosely classified as electronic dance pop. As one who dances like a statue and always has, this genre has to work as music for me to enjoy it. I was actually thinking of seening Holy Ghost! at the Treehouse stage and miss have of Passion Pit, but a report of widespread mud convinced me to settle into my seat. I had seen Passion Pit do a few songs at Earth Day a few years ago, and I was unable to see what all the fuss was about. This time I saw a full set, and I was again unable to see what all the fuss is about. It's a big production, with a big backdrop and things that looked like balloons flashing lights. The music, however, left me cold. It was inoffensive enough, but I did not find the songs to have the musical hooks to grab my attention, and there was no vocal or instrumental virtuosity on display. A high-voiced lead singer struck various poses as he hopped around onstage, as if he rehearsed in front of a mirror. The crowd loved it, of course.

Phoenix was another matter entirely. They and the YYYs were the basic reason I went to the festival (that and the fact that someone had to drive my daughter and a friend up there and back). I didn't record all the instumentation - a drummer with a full kit, another one with a smaller kit and a keyboard, guitar, bass, maybe one other guy. A high-voiced lead singer who was thoroughly engaging, songs there were catchy, hooky, and played by a good tight band with a very energetic drummer. The visuals projected behind the band were good enought to be a positive contribution to the show - lights and colors, a slow pan of a city somewhere in France (I guess), sometimes the band pretty much in the dark with their silhouettes in multiple instances on the screen. The songs are ridiculously catchy, and the singer does such a great job with them that resistence is futile. My daughter and her friend both said it was the best show they had ever seen, but they are seniors in high school. I'd say that it was one of the best shows, maybe they best, by a band whose music I'm not already a big fan of. Seeing them and the YYYs was worth the price of admission (and with the good view and the rain, it was well worth paying up and getting pavillion seats).

Dave - Kendrick Lamar really was on a lot of top 10 lists last year, though after seeing his set, I have no idea why. Sorry if my telling you that fact was what made you sit through his set. Other than a lot of cussing and such exhortations as "Make some noise DC!" and "Hands in the air!", I have not idea what he was saying. I found him to be a bore.

ChrisO said...

One correction: line 3, "have" -> "half". CO

David Hintz said...

Thanks a ton Chris. Actually, no, I was hoping to get through Lamar's set to go deeper in the night, but with the rain, mud, and crowds making the 2nd stage difficult and the mood I was getting in suffering through his set, I decided to head home and get some sleep before my 5:00am alarm. I really hope hip hop fans start asking for a lot more than this. It is 2013 folks, if these cliches aren't annoying you by now, I hope it is because you are really young.

Yeah, I am sorry I missed Phoenix, but I'll keep them on my radar now. There certainly was enough to enjoy at this festival with a good array of styles, and some strong talent.