LIB recap: A Sunday diary of Twenty One Pilots, Jurassic 5, Sabriel & Smith Westerns

Jurassic 5 at the Life Is Beautiful Festival in downtown Las Vegas, Oct. 26-27, 2013.
Photo: Fred Morledge
Chris Bitonti

3:40 p.m. Twenty One Pilots (Ambassador)

I started my Life is Beautiful Sunday off at the Ambassador Stage to see Fueled by Ramen power-pop duo Twenty One Pilots. While the Columbus, Ohio, natives only filled the second-largest stage area about halfway, they did draw one of the youngest crowds at the festival. Donning skeletal-gimp outfits, Twenty One Pilots took the stage with a rush of energy and crashed into a set of eclectic tunes that fused bubblegum-pop with rap, electronic dance music and even some ukulele. Twenty One Pilot’s influences are all over the map but always fun. The musical dyad blended pre-recorded tracks with live drumming, and frontman Tyler Joseph spends more time singing than with any other instrument. The band’s catchy harmonies, undeniable stage-presence and audience interaction were enjoyable but not worth sticking around if it meant missing out on securing a prime spot for Jurassic 5, so I ducked out early.

4:35 p.m. Jurassic 5 (Downtown)

Though J5 was the only hip-hop group to make it to the main stage at Life Is Beautiful, the South Central crew made quite an impact, opening its first Vegas show in seven years with a medley of “Back 4,” “I Am Somebody” and “Jayou.” Jurassic 5’s trademark style—house-party group vocals over old-school beats and scratching—seems so distant from today’s hip hop, but while most of the tracks are at least a decade old, they still sound fresh. The main stage area was packed, though Zaakir joked that many of the attendees were just waiting for Vampire Weekend to take the stage. One of the set’s high points came when J5’s vocalists left the stage to DJs Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark, who engaged an old-fashioned scratch battle. Both had some wild toys: a turntable fashioned to look like a guitar, a beat-pad made of old records and a giant turntable that required all four of their hands to operate. J5’s set ran 15 minutes over, setting the rest of the shows on that stage behind for the remainder of the day, but it was worth it to hear “Quality Control,” “Concrete Schoolyard” and “What’s Golden.”

6:35 p.m. Sabriel (Homegrown)

The highlight of the Homegrown Stage for me this weekend came from local songbird Sabriel (pronounced Shaw-bree-el). Backed by Coco Jenkins, Renaldo Elliott and Rook Genre of Vegas hip-hop outfit Rhyme N Rhythm, along with horn players from The Remedies and One Pin Short, Sabriel captivated us with smooth soul jams, converting the hotel courtyard into a smoky jazz club for her 30-minute set. Emulating Erykah Badu from every musical angle, the Las Vegas Academy grad even performed a respectable cover of Badu’s “Tyrone.” She’s an exciting talent to see developing in Las Vegas, and I look forward to catching a longer performance.

9:05 p.m. Smith Westerns (Red Bull)

I closed Life Is Beautiful weekend out, sore-footed and satisfied, watching these indie rockers squeeze themselves onto the Red Bull Sound Select Stage for an under-the-radar performance Sunday night. Though their name suggests cowboy/Americana/folk, the Chicago quartet’s influences are more likely to be found in ’60s fuzz. The band’s melodies are light and infectious, but the guys are also unabashedly awkward onstage. Their shoegazing doesn’t detract from the music, though, and the young band appears to have a great future ahead of it.

  • The Las Vegas debut of the Ohio-bred indie band was filled with dynamic arrangements, entertaining anecdotes—and, surprisingly, lots of attendees.

  • At this point, the only constant from album to album is the band’s dedication to ambition.

  • Bassist Nate Brenner partners with leader Merrill Garbus for an approachable and dancey record.

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