At Pemberton on Friday, July 17
Speaking volumes about the entertainment on display, the greatest moments on Day 2 of the Pemberton Music Festival weren’t always on-stage.
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t competition from the artists who were being paid to peform.
Evidently not content with completely destroying the EDM–fixated Bass Camp tent, Dada Life upped an already impressive ante by inviting a couple dozen giant dancing bananas on-stage, where they proceeded to totally lose their shit.
Fantastically, the Decemberists didn’t look like a band so much as extras ripped from the set of Deadwood. And ukulele-wielding Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs showed up in a striped dress only marginally less out-there than the way she spells her band’s name.
Still, it was the crazies in the audience that made the second day of the second edition of the Pemberton Music Festival so much fun.
Basically, the festival grounds were overflowing with those who arrived hell-bent on unfurling their freak flags. Thumbs up to the daredevil who, before taking the plunge on the giant on-site waterslide, decided to peel off all her clothes and go in her birthday suit.
Give the above-and-beyond award to the guy who—evidently not giving a shit that it was hotter than hell’s kitchen at high noon—hit the festival in a head-to-toe gorilla suit. And what was up with the furniture fetishist who, invisible except for his arm in an endless sea of people, spent Kid Cudi’s chilled-out set hoisting an antique wooden chair up over his head?
There was also music, although sometimes it was hard to focus on what was happening on-stage.
Portugal. The Man’s set was marked by folks waving flags, and not of the freak variety. Stage right featured what seemed to be the national flag of Finland sutured together with Old Glory, while stage left flew what seemed like a tribute to Tintin’s The Crab With the Golden Claws. Portugal. the Man meanwhile played a Mount Currie Stage set that shifted easily from Sublime dub to American hardcore thrash to bong-friendly classic rock, sometimes in the same song.
Despite singer Johnny Gourley belting out “Tear this motherfucker down” in “Chicago”, everyone was evidently too stoned, sun-fried, and generally blissed-out to start going Woodstock ’99 on the porta-potties.
Happy to give the people exactly what they wanted to hear, Gourley at one point announced, “Obviously, this is a really beautiful place we’re playing, and there’s a bunch of really beautiful people watching.” No one argued as Portugal. The Man finished things with a synth-splashed rendition of “Modern Jesus”.
Sorry Courtney Barnett, tUnE-yArDs, and everyone who’s ever dreamed of a recording contract with Merge Records, but, as wonderful as you are, the overriding message at this year’s Pemberton Music Festival was the same as last year’s: large chunks of the population no longer care about guitars. Once again, the EDM tent was where the party raged hardest. What So Not’s Emoh Instead started out by dropping a little Missy Elliott, bounced some Kanye West and Dillon Francis onto the dance floor, and then began unleashing death-from-above bass drops that would have terrified Skrillex. If you want to become the 2015 version of a rock star, kids, ditch the Gibsons and Fenders and learn how to use Fruity Loops.
You’ll also have a 90 percent better chance of getting laid, mostly because the Bass Camp dance floor practically oozed sex.
As What So Not continued to nuke the dance field from afar at Bass Camp, Passion Pit gamely attempted to transport the audience back to the glory days of Duran Duran during the Rio years. To truly pull things off, project mastermind Michael Angelakos probably should’ve been dressed in something other than a plain-Jane button-up shirt, tan pants, and a blue baseball cap; dude, invest in a tailor-made white suit and the package will come together nicely. Then again, given the rapturous dance-your-ass-off reaction to reinvented new-romantic numbers like “Take a Walk”, maybe there’s no need for Angelakos to reinvent his wardrobe on Rodeo Drive.
There are two ways to look at the Decemberists. One is that singer Colin Meloy and company were completely overdressed for the occasion, hitting the Whistler Stage in undertaker-black suits, straight-from-a-saloon ties and vests, and the kind of plumage not seen since Miss Kitty shuffled off into the sunset. But as everyone who has ever seen Tombstone will attest, scorching Old West weather shouldn’t stop you from looking as styling as Doc Holliday.
As the blazing sun beat down, the Decemberists rolled out a harmony-rich mix of crazy-horse classic rock, cello-burnished Americana, and Celtic-tinted folk, topped by the gunsmoke excellence of lines like “I will dress your eyelids with dimes upon your eyes.”
Pot bales were ablaze long before Kid Cudi sauntered out, the space in front of the Mount Currie Stage at a premium as party people finally seemed to find a good reason to drag themselves away from Bass Camp.
Things started out dark and menacing, waves of synths slow-rolling off the stage. Then the Cleveland MC arrived, demanded everyone get their fucking hands in the air, and eased into the languid “Soundtrack 2 My Life”. Lines like “All these emotions are pouring out of me” would have been even more touching if Dada Life hadn’t been launching a vicious one–DJ Tet Offensive over on the Bass Camp stage.
Still, the vibe remained relentlessly upbeat as Kid Cudi countered the Dada Life assault with the pneumatic “Mojo So Dope”. The top of the set was also unintentionally hilarious as stroller-pushing parents vacated the premises at speeds that suggested a preschool Daytona 500. The bolting for less profane pastures seemed doubly smart when Cudi began screaming “Fuck yeah, fuck yeah, fuck” call-and-response style, and then suggested everyone wish motherfucking “Double D Fucking G” a happy motherfucking birthday.
Holy fucking shit. That’s the only thing you can say when there’s two dozen wildly dancing bananas on-stage as Dada Life screeched “Are you ready, are you ready, are you ready” over and over again at Bass Camp. He was clutching a bottle of champagne as he did this, and when he finally popped the cork, showering every person in a 15-foot arc, the hard-banging electro assault impossibly kicked up a couple of notches.
Once again, the Bass Camp tent looked like the kind of superclub you never want to leave. That was doubly true when Dada Life hopped on the DJ table and began firing T-shirts into the enraptured faithful during the double-heliumed “So Young So High”. Can you say “EDM nirvana”?
Bass Camp was also the best for people-watching. Unless, that was, you were hopelessly stoned, in which case the sight of folks mounting each other in rubber-chicken, unicorn, and show-pony masks probably freaked you right the fuck out.
Back in the real world, it was hard not to feel like there’s a time and a place to breast-feed your screaming, red-faced, and entirely miserable-looking baby, and a blanket 100 yards from the bombast of the Black Keys isn’t one of the them. And by the way, lady, either get a babysitter next time or a second pair of headphones for your five-year-old because, sooner or later, someone is going to call social services.
As for the Keys—which everyone except terrorized seven-month-old diaper dumpers loved—singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney slunk through a polished Pemberton Stage set that picked up steam as it rolled along.
The cesspool blues of “Strange Times” got the helicopter-dancer hippie chicks going early on. Just as into it were the utterly blotto hordes lining the fence of the Sketchy Red Irish Pub adjacent to the Pemberton Stage field. Perhaps unaware that the Black Keys are more enamoured of black folk than Black Sabbath, a gaggle of particularly ploughed loogans kept yelling “Play some Sabbath.”
The Keys never did. But judging by the dozens of Freedom 55ers banging their head to “Your Touch” inside the Sketchy Red Irish Pub’s holding pen, no one went home disappointed.
As much as the crowd loved them, Auerbach and Carney faced some serious competition from a bathrobe-clad hippie who was wailing away on a giant inflatable palm tree. The tree was wrapped in Christmas lights, but that didn’t stop its utterly out-of-it owner from going air guitar on it, complete with moves that suggested the best of Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, and Johnny Ramone. When the bathrobe was ditched, it was like watching Jeffrey Lebowski mixed with Slash as rendered in the video for “November Rain”.
The lasting message, then, from a brilliant Day 2 of the Pemberton Music Festival? Sometimes the best entertainment isn’t on-stage.