3:45 p.m. Dawes (Downtown)
After about an hour of wandering the grounds, understanding the layout and beginning my journey through the Alchemy Tent, I kicked off my Life is Beautiful weekend at the Downtown stage with Dawes. It’s early in the festival day and the crowd is still funneling in when they begin. The Downtown Stage is beyond massive, and the LA quartet can barely make a footprint on it, but Dawes is not the type of band that needs a production to make their set worth seeing. From everything I had heard from Dawes before the show, I was expecting an acoustic, singer-songwriter, laid-back feel, so I was delighted when they turned out to be much more of a bluesy-jam band. The best words to describe Dawes would be pure-of-sound. Their clean and open rhythms on songs like “When My Time Comes” and “Most People” really allow lead singer Taylor Goldsmith’s voice to shine, and he performs even better than anything they’ve recorded. Great start to the weekend.
4:30 p.m. Portugal. The Man (Jam in the Van)
Tucked in a back corner of the Life is Beautiful festival, past Atomic Liquors on Fremont Street, butting up against the fence is an unassuming RV easy to overlook. Unfortunately, you would miss Jam in the Van. The JITV crew have gutted an old RV, Breaking Bad-style, but instead of producing sweet, sweet meth, they’ve created a solar-powered mobile music recording studio and performance space. I arrived at 4:30 p.m. as Portugal. The Man is mic’d for an acoustic set and working out how to alter the chorus harmony to “Modern Jesus.” With speakers and seating out front, you can enjoy the bands and watch them perform on a big screen TV. The sound is fantastic, but the intimacy is the highlight. After their set, which also included “Atomic Man,” PTM came out to join us for a beer and admitted that they were down one member for their performance, keyboardist Kyle O’Quinn who they lost to the casino floor.
5:55 p.m. Capital Cities (Ambassador)
Once the festival is over and the dust settles, I think I’ll remember Capital Cities as one of my unexpected favorites from the Life is Beautiful weekend. The LA-based duo features a combination of programmed tracks alongside live drums, rhythm and some rocking trumpet solos to create a danceable funk-disco-new-wave sound. Always fun, rarely serious jams like “Kangaroo Court” and “Safe and Sound” had us screaming “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” and doing the Capital City shuffle non-stop during their 50-minute set. This unique electronica was encompassed perfectly by their cover-mashup of The BeeGees’ “Saturday Night Fever” and Weezer’s “Sweater Song”. But the real highlight of Capital Cities was actually after their performance, once the crowd cleared out enough to make some moving space and the band stayed on stage to host a dance party to a remix of “Safe and Sound” for those of us that stuck around.
8:45 p.m. Childish Gambino (Ambassador)
Donald Glover has been going through a lot lately, having recently quit Community, published intimate confessions on hotel stationery via Instagram and quarreled with Lupe Fiasco. His Childish Gambino performances have always come with a strong sense of catharsis, and maybe Saturday night’s even more so. He is near manic when he spits insightful, unfiltered lyrics about sex, life, fame and balancing his on-screen persona with the real life Donald Glover. Backed by a full band live, Glover performed gangsta-nerd tracks like “Heartbeat” and “Firefly,” while previewing some new songs off his upcoming album Because The Internet for the crowd. The new tunes have more of an R&B vibe to them than “Culdesac” or “Camp,” but they still feature Glover’s signature raw-emotional lyrics.
9:40 p.m. Portugal. The Man (Huntridge)
I closed my Saturday night at Life is Beautiful with Portugal. The Man at the Huntridge Stage. Though it was my second time seeing them that day and at least their third performance, Portugal still looked and sounded fresh as ever. Their recorded music, while great, will never be able to compete with their live show. The live show mixes extended ambient jams with powerful rock and danceable pop tunes. Start to finish it feels more like a complete performance than a collection of songs. In fact, they barely stop between songs, seamlessly weaving tracks together and mixing covers like Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s “Day Man” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” with insane drum solos, even ending the set with a reprise of opening track “Purple, Yellow, Red and Blue.” Their set included multiple tracks from 2013’s Evil Friends and some Portuguese mainstays like “People Say” and “So American.” They are definitely my highlight of the festival so far, maybe even the year.