Second day at Arroyo Seco Weekend, and I was more prepared, I had taken a little stool with me, to be able to see above the crowd, and was decided to focus on fewer acts I really wanted to see. I ignore more or less the Willow stage to see more bands on the Sycamore and the Oaks, although the crowd was not thinner and it became extremely difficult to get close for Fitz and the Tantrums (I can’t believe how big they have become) or for Weezer and Mumford and Sons. The crowd was still dense and most of these people were camping for a day at the beach, with folding chairs and blankets, especially in front of the main stage, so I spend more time at the Sycamore stage, which had a fine and more indie rock lineup. The highlight of the day? Probably the Shins for me, but it’s a very personal opinion coming from someone who find Mumford & Sons a bit… boring?
The heat was more intense than on Saturday, but it didn’t prevent Rachel Platten to dance and jump at the sound of her upbeat electro-pop. She had a good energy with emotive light-R&B vocals, half-way between Katy Perry and Ellie Goulding, and her songs seemed to be the radio-ready type that could make a new generation of teens dance and bounce.
And this enthusiasm was not too far from the feeling coming from the Mowgli’s performance on the Oaks stage, as they were asking for a maximum of participation and singing from the crowd, during an uplifting and optimistic set. I had seen them before in much more smaller places, and they are obviously getting more and more attention, although I am not sure how long they can keep up with this exuberance… ZZ Ward, who followed them on the main stage, didn’t bring the mood down, this is the least I can say. She carried the same enthusiasm with her bold, hand-clapping foot-tapping stomping songs and her big hit ‘Help Me Mama’, even calling her friend Fitz (from Fitz and the Tantrums) on stage for a song.
Nevertheless, none of this looked too surprising and was even a bit too predictable for a music festival. However Alice Smith at the Sycamore stage was the early-afternoon excellent surprise for me. She had the attitude with an amazing voice and a few badass jazzy tunes, she was simply the anti-thesis of boring, with a touch of R&B and soul and I was tempted to stay longer for a set. ‘I won’t take it personally if you want to move’ she told us looking at the crowd standing in the hot sun.
Con Brio was also a sort of revelation, the young and super dynamic band had one of this vibrant sound you can’t ignore, a mix of pop, psychedelic funk and soul and a frontman who was dancing like a master and bouncing all over the place. He had authentic Michal Jackson moves and was going for real action, pivoting on a foot, moonwalking or climbing at the top of the amps at the next second. He was flying all over the place with an agile spirit and received a big ‘wow’ from the crowd. Their uplifting set was certainly one of the best live acts, if not the best one, of the festival.
Late afternoon, I decided to opt for the Sycamore stage as I couldn’t even get close to the Oaks stage, but it wasn’t a bad choice at all, as the 7-piece band from New Orleans, the Revivalists, had interesting melodies with powerful saxo or pedal steel lines, while their frontman/singer was a star, spreading his charisma over the crowd with a heartfelt sound, and several jumps in the pit. The title of their new album ‘Men Amongst Mountains’ may be revealing everything you need to know about their high-energy bluesy songs with sprawling grooves.
Being front row for Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real was a nice treat, I literally witnessed a love fest as the front row girls were really into his badass blues-country with pedal steel and powerful hooks. Willie’s kid can really write a catchy song, and with his long blonde hair, photogenic physique and bold attitude – he jumped really high quite a few times during his set – he looked like a force of nature, invincible and powerful, building tension inside a song as if he was writing the gospel of country rock. When he slowed down for a few songs, like during one called ‘Forget about Georgia’ (and by this, he means a girl), he definitively sounded like his father… and let’s never forget that he and his band are backing Neil Young on tour, I can’t believe the credentials of this young man…
As I couldn’t even get close to Fitz and the Tantrums, and I also lacked motivation to do it, as there were too many blankets and lying bodies to stride over, I watched Andrew Bird doing his beautiful thing. He recorded loops of violin to flesh his poetic melodies filled with climatic and moody detours and sparked by his pretty whistle. It was a light and whimsical set, so far away from Weezer’s joky performance. I attempted once again to reach the Oaks stage, and couldn’t do much better than before, but Rivers Cuomo showed up on stage dressed like Axl Rose, for some obscure reasons that only Rivers knows. Let’s just say that I wasn’t really into it, I was struggling to see something, I was wondering about the real Axl Rose and after ‘Hash Pipe’. ‘My Name is Jonas’, ‘Pork and Beans’, ‘King of the World’, and an Outkast cover – because at this point, why not ?– I was out of here, trying to get a good spot for the Shins.
And I did good, very good… As everyone seemed to have rushed to see Weezer’s set, I could have such a nice spot to see Mr. James Mercer play a ravishing set on a flower-enhanced stage. Sure The Shins played their hits as it is always the case at festivals, ‘Caring is Creepy’, ‘Australia’, ‘Phantom Limb’, ‘Simple Song’… but they also brought Los Lobos on stage to do an incredibly subtle rendition of ‘The Fear’,… plus James Mercer sang the beginning of Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’ during ‘Sleeping Lessons’, and it sounded so right, a sort of power chords correspondence which was fitting so well in the festival’s lineup. Poor Rivers Cuomo and his Axl Rose carnival… this didn’t make any sense to me.
Mumford and Sons on the Oaks stage were the headliners of Sunday night and the last performers at Arroyo Seco, and if the crowd at this point was spreading way beyond the limit of the sound, I managed to get closer than I would have thought. I was (and still am) curious about the UK band’s immense success, because I simply can’t get into their semi-The-National grave tone always followed by a super predictable bombast with or without banjo,… but far less banjo than I expected. But this sea of people was an adoring crowd, and in a semi-communion mode, everyone raising hands, everyone raising lightened phones, everyone singing along, I was trying to make sense of all this. Not everything has to make sense though, and Arroyo Seco ended in an acoustic version of ‘Cold Arms’ and a 2nd encore with more bombast and cheering from the crowd.
Not too bad for a first edition of Arroyo Seco, now I would like to see less chairs and more crowd surfing next year, but it’s not going to happen.
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