By Matt Arena
Drawing the festival to a close, Sunday at Firefly Festival’s inaugural weekend did so in a spectacular fashion. With bands that ranged from unstoppable dancing machines to more relaxed indie acts, there’s no doubt that the final day had a little something for everybody.
Putting themselves in the self described genre of “disco dust” (more of a parody on the recent obsession of band’s having to categorize their sound), Reptar are anything but your average band. Their quickly growing reputation as one of the most energetic live acts precedes them, and having recently just seen them on tour with Grouplove, it’s a worthy title. But their Firefly set was on another level. Playing an early 1:00pm slot and with the sun on their side, a rarity over the course of the weekend, they definitely played one of the wildest sets of the day. Right out of the gate guitarist Jace Bartet came out dancing like a man possessed, as we would later learn he pulls the ferocious dancing power from his cutoff camouflage shorts. Add to that lead singer Graham Ulicny’s penchant for never staying in one place for more than five seconds, and it’s pretty easy to see how the crowd could become so enraptured with the band. Much like my first introduction to the band, many were there simply because of Reptar’s reputation and recent tour with fellow Firefly artists Grouplove. No more than 2 minutes into the set and almost the entirely of the crowd was dancing and jumping just as crazily as the band on stage. The set comprised mostly of songs off the band’s debut album, ‘Body Faucet,’ the pop-rock-Caribbean-indie genre bending mash-up of sounds came off incredibly well. It’s no wonder the band classifies themselves as “disco dust,” it’s really the only thing that makes sense after seeing a Reptar show. Tracks like ‘Sebastian’ and especially ‘Please Don’t Kill Me,’ as the frenzied island-rock drumming all but forced the crowd to move their feet. During any given Reptar song it seems as if there are a thousand different things occurring on-stage, so all you can really do is just brace yourself and allow the music to take you. Definitely living up to their ever-growing reputation as one of the most energetic live bands, the only thing on anyone’s mind after a Reptar set is this; disco dust. See them and it’ll make sense to you too.
Up immediately after Reptar was Red Bull Records pioneers, AWOLNATION. Being the main driving force behind the energy drink’s new venture into the music industry, they’ve grown pretty rapidly since the release of their debut album Megalithic Symphony a little over a year ago. Their unique blend of electronic rock, a refreshing true blend of the two styles, and their ability to put on an amazing live show has helped them establish a strong enough fan base to have headlined multiple tours already. Lead singer Aaron Bruno has made it a festival set regular to crowd surf toward the end of the set. Quite literally. As in he actually gets on a surfboard, balances himself, and surfs above the supporting arms of the crowd. His raspy, growling vocal style sounds great on record and surprisingly is even stronger on stage. Bruno’s really able to showcase this on ‘Sail,’ one of the band’s biggest and best songs. Making multiple trips into the crowd, allowing them to scream the “blame in on my A.D.D.” line (which is possibly the best scream-along line EVER) into the mic, there’s a real connection between AWOLNATION and the crowd. From the first song encouraging them to crowd surf, it’s pretty clear that they’re not the type of band you sway and nod your head to. It’s is an incredibly refreshing thing to see when so many new bands try so hard to live up to the “indie” label, afraid to show emotion on stage and consequently fail to illicit anything but a slow head bob from the crowd. Not so with AWOLNATION.
COLD WAR KIDS
When you first look at Cold War Kids, you probably don’t expect to hear a sound that’s as much soul as it is indie rock. In short, they take a lot of people by surprise. Or maybe “took” is the operative word. Having blown up since their very first album, Cold War Kids quickly became a household name on the alt-rock scene. Landing them on the main stage at Firefly for a midday set, they garnered a pretty large crowd who seemed to love every minute of the band’s hour-plus set. Though the sound mixing was a bit low, making it hard for lead singer Nathan Willett’s powerful voice to really shine, the band still performed great. Willett’s staggeringly strong vocals and the poppy drumming of Matt Aveiro are the backbone of what makes their music so good, and that definitely applies to the live show. Songs like ‘Rubidoux’ and ‘Hang Me Up To Dry’ received huge reactions for the crowd, which reached farther back than it had for anyone on that stage thus far. Though it wasn’t the type of set that drove the crowd into a jumping frenzy, they without a doubt enjoyed Cold War Kids as they left to a cheer that lingered far after they had exited the stage.
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
Though not touring at the moment, Firefly was still able to procure indie juggernauts Death Cab for Cutie. Opening with the full 8+ minute version of ‘I Will Possess Your Heart,’ the band showcased a set comprised of mostly deep cuts. As a fan of Death Cab for a while now, it was great to see them dig into their catalogue and play songs that might not to familiar to casual fans. Especially at a festival, where the crowds tend to be a bit causal as opposed to headlining gigs. Battling a cold, lead singer Ben Gibbard didn’t seem to be slowed down at all, spending his time between vocal, guitar, piano, and even drum duties. The material from last year’s Codes and Keys sounded great, with songs like ‘You Are a Tourist’ growing much heavier and bolder than they sound on album. One would think that Death Cab for Cutie would be a pretty reserved act, the one you sit back and watch instead of really getting into, but they’re a different band live. The bass lines of Nick Harmer were much more evident as he plays an integral part of the ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’ extended intro, which is pretty much all Harmer plugging along the instantly recognizable notes. Long-time fans of the band were treated from tracks as far back as their very first album. ‘Amputations,’ ‘A Movie Script Ending,’ and ‘Marching Bands of Manhattan’ are all rarities for the band, and ones they’ve made an effort of not forgetting. With seven total albums, it’s impressive to see them not abandon the older tracks as to not alienate casual fans, something that bands of their caliber tend to do. The major highlight of the set was ‘We Looked Like Giants.’ Not only a fantastic (and rare) song in it’s own right, they extended it with a 10 minute long interlude that sees Gibbard take up drumming duties on a special mini-kit brought out just for this song. It shows the confidence Death Cab has in the abnormal nature of their live element. Most bands would shy away from material 7 seven albums ago and wouldn’t dare play two outros that combine over 15 minutes in length. It’s what makes Death Cab for Cutie such a great live band. They craft a set that isn’t comprised of all hits, even though they did make sure to pack a few in there, and aren’t afraid to get a little weird. It’s hard to walk away from a set like this unimpressed and there’s no way anyone at Firefly could have been anything but blown away with what Death Cab for Cutie did on the main stage.
THE FLAMING LIPS
Having never seen The Flaming Lips before, they’ve got quite the reputation preceding them. Known for the effort they put into production behind their shows, and not just complicated lighting rigs and visuals (though they did have a giant circular screen behind them), but by far less common means. Starting off with a Wizard of Oz-esque mob of Dorothy’s and Scarecrow’s on each side of the stage, it was clear that they would be anything but droll. During their first song, ‘Race for the Prize,’ they were shooting confetti for what felt like the entirety of the song. Seriously. There wasn’t a moment during the first 10 minutes where confetti wasn’t falling from the sky. Not only looking incredibly cool, there’s nothing that makes a crowd yell louder than shooting out confetti. In addition to the individual hand cannons they each had on stage, two crewmembers had massive tubes firing out fog and confetti, creating a rainbow colored haze. Add to that the spectrum of colors on the giant circular lighting rig/screen behind them and it felt more like a Tim Burton movie than a festival set. Lead singer Wayne Coyne then whipped out a megaphone, one would assume it would be used for vocals on a song, but that’s boring to The Flaming Lips. A heavy blue smoke starting pouring out of the megaphone as Coyne traipsed about the stage, creating a trail of permeating blue behind him. The trippy visual element aside, they sounded great as well. When a band has been around since 1986 with over 10 albums, it’s easy to just mail it in and play without much heart. This is the exact opposite description of The Flaming Lips. If anything they try harder than most bands half their age with twice their energy, and it shows. Right before ‘Is David Bowie Dying??,’ Wayne Coyne showed off his very unique take on crowd surfing. Inflating and then stepping inside a massive, transparent ball, he was rolled onto the barrier and them went end over end as hundreds of arms rolled him throughout the crowd. It was a live spectacle unlike any other. There are bands that spend millions of dollars on elaborate stage designs with lasers and complicated visuals, but Flaming Lips out-shined all of them with a much more creative take on their production. All other bands take note, if you want to be trippy, you’re not going to do it better than The Flaming Lips.
THE BLACK KEYS
Unless you’ve been living under a soundproof rock for the past 2 years, you know who The Black Keys are. Having been around since 2001, they finally broke through to massive mainstream success, topped off by two sold out nights at New York’s Madison Square Garden. This is an impressive feat for any band, but especially one like The Black Keys who don’t first hit you as an arena rock band. It goes to show exactly how popular they’ve become. Headlining arenas and now closing out festivals, the jam-packed crowd was proof of why the band is on such high profile live slots. Opening with ‘Howlin for You,’ they set the tone early, grabbing the crowd immediately with such a big hit so early. The modern dirty blues style refined (and some could say pioneered) by The Black Keys transfers live quite well, especially so at a festival setting. One might think at first that a two man band may seem a bit over their head on such a large stage, but if anything they used it to their advantage. It helped adding two touring members to beef up their sound, but the sheer presence they have on stage is undeniable. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have chemistry that’s beyond refined, at times it just seems like they’re going along with totally improvised jams and showed off how naturally loose they are on stage. The perfect choice to end the three day festival, The Black Keys arguably had the best well received set of the entire weekend and had a trail of cheers echoing as they left the stage.
Head over to FireFlyFestival.com for info on next year’s festival!
COLD WAR KIDS
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
THE FLAMING LIPS