Nine Inch Nails proves the band to beat on Day 1 of the Pemberton Music Festival

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Pemberton Music Festival: Day 1

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At Pemberton on Friday, July 18

Though the forecast earlier in the week warned of rain, the sun gods were good to Pemberton Music Festival for Day 1. The rays shone down, with early arrivals kicking soccer balls around the grounds and slipping down a giant sudsy water slide, among other playful preshow activities. It wouldn't be long, however, until six stages of music and comedy would stun the senses, drawing showgoers away from the casual summer fun.

Making for a dubious debut to the day was Flash Lightnin', a bearded bro-blues trio from Toronto who, despite slathering stringy licks with mud-thick distortion and shouting out to all the "sinners" in the front row, sounded like safe and saccharine basic bar-band boogie.

A walk across the field through Frisbees, the food court, and a sea of wagging pool noodles revealed Cashmere Cat rumbling the ground down at the Bass Camp Stage. Perched above an unlit LED screen, the all-black-adorned DJ mixed deep bass drops and subsonic slow jams with Ludacris's "Party Girls" as EDM disciples jumped and waved papier-mâché dandelions.

First up on the Pemberton Stage was veteran Seattle indie rock outfit Minus the Bear. The band’s "Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister" contrasted the intricate two-handed tap technique of guitarist Olympian Dave Knudson with the cotton-soft vocals of Jake Snider. There was a juxtaposition between fist-pumpers up front and a steadily building mass taking it all in cross-legged deeper out on the crisp, yellow-green lawn. 

Though an overcast sky and mountain breeze rolled in during G-Eazy's set, the slick Oakland rapper turned up the heat with a fun, foul-mouthed performance. Backed by a live drummer and a symphony of pre-programmed sounds, he sprang around the stage all rubber-legged while rolling out decadent, debauched boomers like "Loaded" and "Breathe".

Back at the Bass Camp, Shlohmo submerged the masses in murky house beats, sizzurp-slurpin' vocal snippets, and an assortment of tracks lifted from his new No More EP. The sensual smorgasbord got many grinding, especially a Point Break–era Patrick Swayze look-alike whose orgiastic wriggling wedged his acid-wash shorts between his cheeks, revealing a heart-shaped tattoo.

Though the field was an ocean of khaki shorts, straw hats, and tank tops, there were some freaky fashionistas swimming through the norms. Menacing was a troop of thugs in macramé surgical masks emblazoned with pot-leaf patterns, while a heat-beating furry paired her cat ears and claws with open-flowed denim cutoffs.

The opening chords of "One Way or Another" sent a sizable swarm scrambling to the Whistler Stage to catch Blondie. The new wavers were solid on classics like "Call Me" and "Heart of Glass",  though newer tunes like "Euphoria" dipped energy levels with dreary dub rhythms. Proving to be the day's most old-school MC, Harry then busted out the anti-Martian propaganda of 1981's "Rapture" and, more awkwardly, Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)".

Moving on from the wholesome hip-hop history display was enfant terrible Tyler, the Creator, who took the throng at the Mt. Currie Stage to task with a mouthful of venom. "What's up, assholes?"  the rap provocateur asked with a sneer after lunging across the stage during the opener, "Jamba". The performance had the crowd creepily and all-too-readily chanting "She sucks dick" on the tellingly titled "Bitch Suck Dick", and was padded with lowbrow taunts from Tyler about shaving his pubes into someone's spaghetti. 

More fulfilling was Grimes, who gave the Bass Camp Stage a show tracking her evolution from gauzy, outsider electro-pop artist into contemporary R&B singer. The heart-aching new single "Go", which she and Blood Diamonds originally penned for Rihanna, had her crumpled to the ground, though she bounced back up alongside a pair of gym-rat backup dancers during the synth-shimmering finale "Genesis".  "I grew up here and it's fucking beautiful," the B.C.-born pop performer beamed before taking one last look at an adoring fan base.

Soundgarden played the penultimate set at the Pemberton Stage, giving up grunge-era greatness like the ominous-yet-uplifting "Outshined" and the nail-driving "Jesus Christ Pose". The performance wasn't without hiccups, however, with human air raid siren Chris Cornell forgetting a few lyrics early in the set, apparently due to the copious clouds of weed smoke drifting his way. "I need a respirator," he joked seconds before calling the psych ballad "Black Hole Sun" as "something to go with the smell of dope". The 90-minute set dragged in the midsection, but Cornell and Kim Thayil later salvaged things with the unhinged guitar gloom of "Rusty Cage".

Fans at the Mount Currie Stage were soon left in the lurch, waiting for Kendrick Lamar to make his long-awaited B.C. appearance, following a pair of concert cancellations with Kanye West. A 50-minute delay nearly had the current king of Compton killing everyone's vibe, but all was forgiven once he and his band cracked into "Money Trees". With the audience going bananas, Lamar let them handle the heavy lifting on the braggadocio hook to  "Backstreet Freestyle", though he took the reins with the conflicted ode to alcohol "Swimming Pools (Drank)". The full-band approach offered a head-scratching rap-rock take on "m.A.A.d. city", but the back half of the set had highlights like Lamar and TDE teammate ScHoolboy Q  talking about copping the sticky-icky atop the hypnotic hum of "Collard Greens".

Helicopters began to hover high above around sundown as rumours of a suspicious death on the campgrounds began floating through the crowds. The fest plugged along, though, with a powerhouse performance from Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor casually walked over to a sampler as the rest of the unit creeped into "Copy of a", the first of several stellar numbers.

Strobe-light shadowselves of the quartet stood 40 feet high on the bright white backdrop, while the flesh-and-blood foursome unveiled pitch-black but perfect versions of  "Sanctified" and "Came Back Haunted" down below. Reznor snarled like a wounded beast during the brutally bashed out "March of the Pigs", later prowling the perimeter during a sinister "Piggy".

"Only", "Wish", and "Head Like a Hole" likewise kept things decadent and moody. As Reznor's voice crackled on the fragile finale  "Hurt", a brilliantly distorted doomsday boom sounded off as the band left the stage.

Among the last handful of artists to play Pemberton on Friday, ScHoolboy Q delivered a solo set that had him taking on a repeat performance of "Collard Greens" and the woozily swung "Man of the Year". Although he was good, it was Nine Inch Nails that made the biggest early bid for band of the weekend.

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