Pemberton Music Festival: Day 2
At Pemberton on Saturday, July 19
To the considerable shock of those who’ve partied at Pemberton in the past, Day 2 of B.C.’s newest music festival wasn’t marked by dust storms straight out of ’30s Oklahoma, L.A. freeway–style traffic jams, and Port-A-Potties more heinous than Trainspotting’s worst toilet in Scotland.
And the changes from 2008—the last time the Sea-to-Sky Highway community hosted a major multiday blowout—didn’t stop there. In fact, proving that sometimes you can reinvent the wheel, the Pemberton Music Festival gave B.C. a new kind of concert experience.
What stood out as the day progressed was that every act on the bill turned in an actual full-length set, sometimes playing for a good hour-and-a half. Never mind having your performance limited to 40 minutes, and then being bum-rushed off the stage. Given time to stretch out, artists like Hayden could not only dip deep into their catalogues, but also throw in treats like a golden-sunset cover of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger”.
After Hayden’s Blackcomb Stage performance, the Violent Femmes disappointed no one as they took the Whistler Stage, top-loading a sweatin’-to-the-oldies set with the songs that folks want to hear, which is another way of saying nothing released after 1990. Following a faithfully recreated “Kiss Off” and a great Brian Ritchie bass solo in “Please Do Not Go” everyone suddenly looked skyward. What sounded like the helicopters from Apocalypse Now launching an air strike was, luckily, just TV on the Radio bringing the noise across the field at the Pemberton Stage.
All eyeballs were quickly back on the Femmes, however, when singer-guitarist Gordon Gano, in a voice that was part Ethel Merman and part Nardwuar, launched into the “Daaaayy after daaaaayyyyy” intro to “Add It Up”. The generation-spanning dance explosion was officially on, and not just because Gano shredded a song that he should have rightly grown tired of singing 30 years ago.
TV on the Radio has come a million miles from its Williamsburg hipster beginnings, but the band seemed right at home in beautiful BC. Guitarist-singer Kyp Malone announced "Dreams" with "Thank you—we made this song for the mountain." Even though there probably wasn't a person there who remembered seeing the group’s first Vancouver performance at the old Pic Pub on Pender, TVOTR kept the masses enthralled, with “Staring at the Sun” receiving a rapturous reception. The love-in was mutual, with the band’s members thanking the audience profusely for paying attention, dancing freely, and basically being alive. A nice touch was singer Tunde Adebimpe singling out Spider-Man, Mountain Man, and every other freak-flag flyer in the audience for having the courage to be themselves.
There's a time to wear black, and a time when wearing black makes you stick out like a goth at a Roman Catholic Mass. On that note, you had to feel for the coffin-coloured posteverything Gold & Youth on the Blackcomb Stage. Sporting a look inspired by Lou Reed during the Velvets years, the Vancouver-based band tried gamely but didn't draw more than a hundred or so onlookers. That might be because a good chunk of the revellers at Pemberton looked like they wouldn’t have known Joy Division from their joy prongs. One fellow accurately shouted, "You guys deserve so much more," but then again he was lying on his back 100 yards from the stage, staring at the sky, so it's not like he was stepping up in the fan-appreciation department.
The lack of action at Gold & Youth might have been explained by the fact everyone was busy losing their shit over at the Bass Camp Stage with RL Grime. Backed by a barrage of trip-tastic visuals (water geysers, trees that seemed to move of their own accord), the L.A.-based dubstep DJ made you glad no one had strip-searched folks for drugs at the front gate. Concussion-inducing beats, depth-charge synth-bombs, and screaming air-raid sirens suggested a heavy indebtedness to everything from M.I.A. to Skrillex to the Nuremberg rallies, with RL Grime making sure the energy never flagged.
As for his audience, mad props to the grimy urban hillbilly whose faux-fox pelt was accessorized by a crotch-level Mickey Mouse purse, the beardo who was like Paris-bathtub Jim Morrison fused with Pancho Villa, and what may or may not have been Rupert from Survivor.
A world away, Gold & Youth was still gamely giving ’er, with the dark-candy bonbon "Jewel" deserving something more than two frantically dancing girls in neon-green husband beaters.
Young the Giant singer Sameer Gadhia isn't the most rock ’n’ roll–looking of frontmen, with his button-up shirt and slacks rolled up at the ankles. But proving that fellows who take their fashion cues from the IT department can be as charismatic as the next alt-pop frontman, he gave a noble and committed effort on-stage. Gadhia even got those lounging at the back of the Mount Currie Stage field up off their asses and dancing during the crowd-pleasing smash “My Body”. The area up front was packed with shiny, happy people waving their hands like they just didn't care. And that included someone who appeared to be wearing the horse head from The Godfather.
A brief lull in the festivities turned Jeffer's Fryzz poutine truck into the busiest spot in showbiz. And then it was time to make a choice: mushrooms or weed.
The shrooms won out at first—two folks in red-capped Amanita muscaria suits dancing next to an inflatable rainbow as the Flaming Lips arrived on the Whistler Stage. With a Home Hardware store's–worth of twinkling lights hanging from the rafters, the pride of Oklahoma turned the festival grounds into a rock ’n’ roll version of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Singer Wayne Coyne donned a jacket made of flowing silver tinsel for “She Don't Use Jelly”, spending part of the song dumping garbage pails of confetti on the crowd. An almost-symphonic “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1” brought out two towering spawn-of-Mothra caterpillars (complete with crowns fit for an Imperial Margerine king), and an inflatable dancing sun, which looked even cooler if you happened to be on three tabs of Orange Sunshine.
It didn’t matter if you’d finally made it to the counter of Jeffer's Fryzz food truck only to discover they were out of Poutine, being miserable was suddenly impossible.
Hilariously, more than one parent was seen fleeing the Pemberton Stage once Snoop Dogg—sporting a Canucks jersey emblazoned with a marijuana-leaf-green 33—was in the house. After all, there’s no better way to get a call from social services than to be huffing a blunt while boogying away to Long Beach’s finest as he sings, “’Cause you gave me all your pussy.” (Further on that tip, one woman was frantically dragging away three preschoolers while the crowd, at Snoop’s command, loudly chanted, "Fuck that shit.")
For the duration of the rapper’s set, the pit in front of the Pemberton Stage was predictably obscured by a impenetrable cloud of pot smoke, B.C.'s number-one cash crop going up in flames by the bushel. When Snoop casually inquired "Is everyone having a good time?” during a soul-jacked "Gin and Juice", the response was a definitive “Hell, yeah,” even from those roasted enough to make their eyeballs bleed.
Precisely 37 seconds after the end of Snoop Dogg’s set, the Our Little Donut Factory stand was attacked and looted . There were no survivors.
The New Pornographers showed plenty of indie-rock muscle with tracks like "Moves", but the long-running local supergroup played to a small audience, Pemberton attendees instead flocking to Chance the Rapper at the Bass Camp Stage.
The Chicago-based MC gave a master’s clinic in connecting with the crowd. Repeatedly he asked the jam-packed pit to take ownership of his set by yelling "This is my show," and when his fans obliged, it was like they actually meant it. In addition to plenty of motivational speaking, there was something classy about Chance the Rapper’s set, this coming courtesy of some sweet trumpet work on the cool-jazz jam "Cocoa Butter Kisses".
Smart as he was flawless on the mike, the MC got the artist-of-the-day award. That was partly because of the reception given to standouts like “Juice”, and mostly because, as powerful a performer as he already is, Chance the Rapper seems like someone whose best work is still ahead of him.
Is there anyone else out there who doesn't get Metric?
As the sun set and darkness fell, all that was left was the day’s headliner. Ever since deadmau5 argued that all most EDM DJs do is show up and push a couple of keys on the old Apple, it’s hard not to begrudge him as a live performer.
But, really, who gives a shit if he’s not doing anything but standing there in his trademark giant rodent mask, because he offered up a retina-popping visual smorgasbord upon taking the Pemberton Stage.
The superstar producer started things off with a delicate classical piano loop and then proceeded to draw on everything from towering electro-prog to sense-numbing trance.
On the eye-candy front, the screens and Salvador Dali-like cubes piled on-stage displayed a barrage of images: kaleidoscopic hieroglyphics, bong smoke bombs, vintage comic-book ads for ’50s beauty schools, metallic octopuses with red Terminator eyes, and, well, you get the idea.
Equally trippy was the towering bank of Douglas firs behind the Pemberton Stage. Projected on them were giant faces, so subtly rendered it took a while to pick them out. Mostly, they stared solemnly at the revellers, but every now and then they smiled. If they looked happy to be part of the Pemberton Music Festival, they weren’t alone.