“That was some next-level light shit,” one of the members of Gogol Bordello assessed as we drove Downtown following Daft Punk’s night-capping set. He was right. Contagious as the French electronic duo’s uber-danceable sounds might have been, their light show stole the show, winning over most anyone who doubted Daft Punk’s ability to headline a major music festival ... setting a ridiculously high visual bar and then climbing right past it, each time eliciting monstrous roars ...
I lost count of how many microphone replacements Iggy Pop needed at Vegoose on Saturday. He destroyed two or three by rolling over them while writhing around, swung one hard into the stage and literally ripped another from its chord. Every time Iggy momentarily lost sound, folks around me lamented the lost lyrics, a couple even booing as stagehands rushed to provide the shirtless 60-year-old wonder with new mics. I say, if everything went smoothly it wouldn’t have been a Stooges show.
For all her political flag-waving and heavy topics covered in song, M.I.A.’s music live is pure fun. During “Bird Flu,” she encouraged people to come up onstage. Folks poured in from the floor and sides, filling the entire performance area and causing her to say, “Stop the people, the stage is shaking!”
Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme (at top) is a bear of a man. Standing at around 6 foot 8 and easily carrying about 230-250 pounds, Homme is huge. Even from one-16th of a mile away, the man still looks like he could drop his guitar, run towards you and beat the ever-living crap out of you. So the lesson here is simple: Don’t piss off Josh Homme.
The hour-and-a-half-late opening of the gates very nearly coincided with Gogol Bordello taking the stage. There were only a couple dozen fans already in place. But Eugene Hütz and Co. made the most out of their kick-off slot. The growing crowd pumped its collective fists to the driving, double-time drums, jigged in homage to the manic eightpiece and grinned dumbfoundedly as newbies discovered themselves converted to the “think locally, f--k globally” mind-set. In my mind, the rest of Vegoose weekend is all downhill from here.
Hot Debate 1: Rage Against the Machine
While never a big Rage fan in their heyday, I at least appreciated the band’s gnarled funk-rock-rap hybrid and political stances. It was one of the smart bands in the 1990s, dedicated to educating through its art.
But the Rage I saw at Vegoose bore little resemblance to that time. Their music was harsh and ugly. The volume was simply eardrum-bursting. And Zack de la Rocha’s vocals were even more nasally. While musically awe-inspiring, the shuddering riffs and rhythms were almost frightening in scope.
The crowd at Vegoose oozed testosterone, more interested in the aggressive, surface aspects of Rage’s music—and not really into why Rage’s music sounds so angry and in-your-face.
For this longtime Rage fan who never saw the band live in their ’90s heyday, it was more than good enough. I found the loudness and intensity impressive rather than bothersome, and the band’s tightness was phenomenal. ... It was odd that frontman Zack de la Rocha didn’t indulge in any political speeches, but as someone who’s always preferred the band’s music over their politics, I found de la Rocha’s reticence refreshing.
I gotta go with Josh on this one. I thought they administered a sonic beat-down that easily ranked as one of the two-day festival’s overall best. Coachella might have had more audience intensity, but Rage sounded tighter and more powerful at Vegoose.
The air quality at Vegoose took a turn for the worse. I had trouble breathing as I made my way from the entrance toward the far stage for Muse. However, I suspect it wasn’t residue from the California fires drifting our way. Instead, judging by the insane haze hovering over the Umphrey’s McGee crowd—seriously, it looked like a chemical spill—the clouds of smoke from various substances both illegal and legal seemed to be the culprit.
Patrolling around the back perimeter of Muse’s (chronically insane) crowd, I saw a guy drop to his blood-encrusted knee and propose to his slutty-fairy girlfriend. She happily accepted, and the pair proceeded to roll about the ground in full make-out frenzy.
Hot Debate 2: Muse
Muse’s Epic—with a capital “E”—live show completely destroys its studio albums, thanks to an insane light show, skyscraper-sized riffs and (sometimes) apocalyptic videos. What the UK trio’s shows seem to lack is appropriately sequenced setlists, however. When I saw them at Lollapalooza, the gig suffered from a pronounced mid-set drag, where early momentum completely drained away because of too many delicate songs in a row. The same thing happened at Vegoose, sadly.
I lost my girlfriend in the crowd, leaving all 90 pounds of her to battle for her life. I repeatedly had my neck and back jabbed, punched and elbowed, leaving me battered and sore. I was convinced I was going to die or have my shoulder broken ... but I was perfectly fine with that. Because if you can say you had a bone broken during a performance as awesome as Muse’s was tonight, you could brag all the way to the emergency room.
Undeniably Not Happening
I had high hopes for Ghostface Killah’s performance, in part because the Wu-Tang rapper ranks near the top of all MCs in the game today and in part because backing him would be the Rhythm Roots Allstars, a crack 10-piece team of pro LA sidemen. Intriguing as the concept sounded, its reality fell flat.
“Where are my real hip-hop fans at?” Public Enemy’s Professor Griff asked moments before the legendary hip-hop group took the Jokers Wild Stage on Saturday. Well, Prof, I think I got your answer: The real hip-hop fans were one stage over, watching Cypress Hill. Cypress Hill sure seemed like the more professional outfit, beginning their set on time (versus 15 minutes late for Public Enemy) and sounding like a tight, seasoned unit, rather than one that emerges from hibernation for ragged semi-occasional performances.
Blonde Redhead wasn’t much to look at during their hour-long set. Kazu Makino, sporting a plain white dress, and guitarist Amedeo Pace, also dressed head-to-toe in white, barely acknowledged the crowd. That would have been okay, had their tunes—mostly faithful renditions of songs from the new album—been much different from their studio versions. They weren’t. While technically perfect—the band jumped from Sonic Youth-style freakouts to Radiohead-like pop puzzles—there was little engagement with the crowd.