Air + Style Festival At The Rose Bowl, Sunday February 22nd 2015
Remind me to check the weather next time I buy a ticket for an outdoor festival, but who really cares about the weather in Southern California? It never rains in California,right? Well, almost… The Air + Style festival, organized by superstar snowboarder Shaun White, was a 2-day action mixing sports competition and music concerts, with a very attractive line-up. I was already regretting to have passed on the Saturday edition, which featured Kendrick Lamar, Portugal. The Man, Phantogram, The Black Lips, and Metz among others, so I decided to check out the festival on Sunday, having even spotted some $11 rebate coupons (may be because of a low sale count?). I hadn’t checked the weather forecast, but I was close to resale my ticket on Sunday morning when I saw the first drops of rain. I know what you’re gonna say, you’re afraid of a few drops of water? But it was far from a few drops, it poured almost all afternoon long and I froze my bones watching some of my favorite bands dancing in the rain. Let’s keep in mind that I call 57ºF cold,… but again, I live in California.
I didn’t care much about the sports, although they had installed the most impressive ski slope I had ever seen, but unfortunately had to cancel some ski finals due to bad weather… no joke! ‘We think we can control the weather’, said Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ frontman Alex Ebert during their set, alluding to the fact organizers had dared to bring fake snow in California, ‘But the weather said fuck you!’ and he was very right.
Sunday lineup included Steve Aoki, The Flaming Lips, Edward Sharpe and Magnetic Zeros, Deap Vally, Sleigh Bells, Cults, the Black and the White, Surfer Blood, Tennis System and I managed to see most of them. However, once on the field, I realized the organizers had made another big mistake beside not checking the weather, it was Oscars weekend!! So I blamed the low attendance on these two things – although the crowd naturally grew a bit bigger at the end of the afternoon for the big acts.
There were two stages, not too far apart, and I was happy to see Tennis System play on one of them – appropriately called Flood stage – as I have been following them around… I must say that whoever booked these bands (is it Shaun White himself?) this person has a very-indie-oriented taste, to my great satisfaction. Tennis System brought their mad sonic psychedelia and explosive sound and did stop the rain for a little while. Although one of them was struggling a bit with his guitar strap, their pop-noise songs, buried in loud distortion, raised a loud energy, a sort of guitar-generated vortex swallowing you.
On the main stage, the girls of Deap Valley said it was the first time they weren’t playing barefoot because of an eventual risk for electrocution due to the rain, but they nevertheless looked very California girls. Wearing sexy leotard, sunglasses and colorful hair, they trashed around on stage, giving a badass and defiant number of riot grills, with raucous vocals, Led-Zeppelin screams, plenty of distortion and a taste for extreme blues,… it’s just a matter of time till Jack White becomes irritated by these two rebellious girls’ sound.
The Black and the White had a funky R&B feel, in the old-school sense of the term, and, with a Prince-falsetto and lots of guitars, they opened a dance floor and made people move… they had themselves excellent dance moves and sounded like a funkier and more intellectual version of Kenny Kravitz. I didn’t see much of Surfer Blood unfortunately, as I ran to see Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, but that’s part of the tough choices you have to make at every festival… Surfer Blood has very catchy pop songs and they looked cute even below the pouring rain (again). I left when they were playing the playful ‘Miranda’, just try not to get hook with this one!
I have seen Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros since their humble beginning and meantime they have lost a few members (no more female voice now) but they are still a grand folk ensemble. They still play these super-uplifting songs, and if I am not mistaken, they did a lot of oldies off their debut album, such as ’40 Day Dream’, ‘Janglin’, ‘Up From Below’, ‘Home’ as well as ‘Man on Fire’ off their album ‘Here’… This time, Alex Ebert did not really play his barefoot Christ-like character, it was way too cold for that and he was drenched by rain rather than by sweat, but he certainly did whistle and showed his usual charisma by interacting with the crowd, making people sing and playfully taking a cell phone from a girl. Their songs are not rainy music, they are happy-hippie-uplifting numbers for the beginning of summer or a trip to the desert, so it seems appropriate when they did ‘All Wash Out’, a song about the rain. May be they have played these songs too many times, may be they get a bit bored with them, so that’s why they transformed them in long jams, with a large part reserved for crowd participation, but Ebert was relying so much on the audience that the whole show became a giant singalong… call me annoying, but I didn’t pay $50 to hear some random girl having the time of her life, singing in the same mic that the guy she is in love with… Still their set was a big success, everyone was freezing in the cold while Ebert was dancing on the watery stage, splashing around while singing his heartfelt tunes and delighting everyone.
The Flaming Lips did what they are best known for, they put up a very psychedelic show with giant mushroom, rainbow, butterfly, sun and other cartoon characters in the middle of the rain. Yes, it hadn’t stopped raining and they had some difficulties with the set up of their material, but it’s true that they have so much stuff!! Wayne Coyne is still the wizard of his Oz playground, and I forgot for a few minutes his mid-life-crisis escapades with Miley Cyrus to fall under the magic. There were no confetti this time, but they had brought a fantastic LED screen, flashing garlands and they built a giant sunshine under the grey low sky… With his usual grandiloquence, Wayne told us that we should not complain about rain in drought-suffering California, and that ‘it was just a show’… True, but my biggest complain certainly came from the forest of umbrellas obstructing my view… it’s one thing to be behind a pit full of VIPs but it’s another thing to be standing behind VIPs holding umbrellas! Wayne put a flashing light box around his neck, hugged the sun after ‘The Abandoned Hospital Ship’ and sang in front of a red explosion of LED lights during ‘Feeling Yourself Disintegrate’ and ‘The W.A.N.D.’… they also did ‘Yoshimi’ and close with the unavoidable ‘Do You Realize?’, but their set may have been shortened because of some technical problems due to the rain… Beside this, a concert of the Lips is still truly Wayne’s world.
It was dark and still raining, so I carefully walked in the mud to see Sleigh Bells,… if the Lips had overwhelmed our senses with rosy sunglasses and a rainbow psychedelia populated with Alice-in-Wonderland characters, the Brooklyn duo overwhelms us with a black and white psychedelia, with harsh lights thrown in our faces and Alexis Krauss’ childish screams. She marries sweetness and aggression with style and she is still this aggressive frontgirl sweating her very sexy ass off for everyone’s pleasure. When I was walking to the stage, I heard someone say that Sleigh Bells were like a female version of Rage Against the Machine… really? Never thought of that one, but this speaks volume for the aggression part… Sleigh Bells’ songs have an efficient formula and I still prefer their first album than anything they have done later, but everything works because Krauss is an enthusiastic cheerleader all set long, who doesn’t hesitate to surf the crowd several times. Alexis told us that they hadn’t done a show for a long time so that a crowd like this one meant a lot for them, ‘You guys have been in the rain all day!’ Yeap, she was right about this, but at least it had stopped for a little while.
Give me 100ºF instead of this freezing rain, I simply don’t do cold and wet, and music festivals look so much better under the sun, that’s why I left when Steve Aoki had just started his EDM party. I couldn’t feel my feet anymore, and I didn’t want to endure more pain listening to his redundant techno house,.. not worth it for a second, I don’t do boring either! I know it’s just me, as EDM DJs are all the rage at festivals these days and I suppose this is the reason why Diplo (on Saturday) and Aoki (on Sunday) had been added to this otherwise excellent lineup. Anyway, I hope the Air + Style festival is here to stay, they just need a better date and more sunshine next year.