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Life Is Beautiful Day 1 reflections: The Weeknd, Death Cab and more

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The Weeknd performs during the first day of the Life is Beautiful music festival in downtown Las Vegas, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
Photo: Yasmina Chavez

Reflections from Friday, September 21 at Downtown’s Life Is Beautiful Music & Art Festival, which continues today and concludes on Sunday.

Poolside: The LA duo—expanded to a quintet during live performances, like the one early Friday afternoon at the Downtown (main) Stage—excels at relaxed, rhythmic grooves played with largely analog instruments. Poolside should have received the sunset slot, like the equally evocative Tycho enjoyed at LIB in 2014. Nonetheless, it ably loosened up the early arrivals crowding closely to the stage in the hopes of dodging the sun’s punishing rays, but not so closely that it couldn’t shuffle and bob to the band’s island-breeze house, performed by two vocalists (also on guitar and bass duties), a keyboardist/saxophonist, a drummer (aided by two laptops for loops and effects) and a percussionist largely playing the congas. Poolside is

Life is Beautiful 2018: Day One

its own musical niche, which both fills a needed one while also limiting them artistically—more blessing than curse when it comes to music festival stages.

Two notable covers punctuated the set: Its expected, longtime revered go at Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” and its newer take on David Byrne and Brian Eno’s underexposed 2008 gem “Strange Overtones.” Poolside’s aesthetic doesn’t scream depth, but its taste in music clearly does. –Mike Prevatt

Natasha Leggero: She waltzed onstage carrying a Gucci bag for effect, then proceeded to straddle two giant doberman dog statues, the stage’s only set dressing. Stand-up comic/television star Natasha Leggero performed an entertaining 15-minute set for a capacity crowd at the first of her two performances on Friday.

Leggero joked about topics that might not have matched the festival vibe—motherhood, marriage, sexual assault—but her panache delighted all. Leggero’s set ended with an unexpected, yet somehow still hilarious, #metoo moment, in which a joke about horniness led to her asking the women in the audience to raise their hands if they’d ever seen a male masturbate in public. All seemed surprised by the number of hands raised.

When the set was over, Leggero hoisted her Gucci bag and waltzed off, leaving festivalgoers to return to the sun with a few more laughs—and insight—under their belts. –C. Moon Reed

Chvrches: The Glasgow trio released its latest full length, Love Is Dead, earlier this year, and it reached No. 1 on two Billboard charts—Top Alternative Albums and Top Rock Albums. It’s no surprise then that by 8 p.m., the Scottish indie-pop outfit had one of the biggest crowds of the evening, filling the blacktop at the Downtown Stage.

Unfortunately, the mix wasn’t as clear as one would’ve hoped, with the instrumentation overblown for most of the set. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, however, as vocalist Lauren Mayberry and the rest of the band took fans through their three-album discography filled with starry, shimmering pop cuts, including 2013 breakout “The Mother We Share,” “Gun” and “We Sink.”

Chvrches closed with recent track “Never Say Die,” as Mayberry sang the brooding words laying on the ground. Another of my favorite aspects of the set didn’t even have to do with the music. If anyone knows where to find Mayberry’s “Patriarchy is a bitch” tee, let me know. –Leslie Ventura

Miss Behave Game Show: Running throughout the weekend at Place on 7th, three times a day (4, 6 and 8 p.m.), the LIB variant of the Strip production Miss Behave Game Show is scarcely a few overturned cars and flaming trash cans short of a riot. At Bally’s, the show is a raucous comedy that often sees host Miss Behave and co-host Tiffany drawing staid vacationers out of their red-hat comfort zones; at LIB, the show is a dancing-in-the-aisles party whose energy is still building up even as the show ends. To give away what you’ll see and do is unfair—virtually every moment, every mini-game, every spontaneous sing-along in the show is a real surprise and an unalloyed delight—but it’s safe to say that if you love pub trivia, playing Rock Band, watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race, gold lamé, tighty-whitey underpants and yelling your head off just for the animal fun of it, Miss Behave is a do-not-miss. Plus, the air conditioning in Place on 7th is nice and cold and there’s a full bar to lubricate your singing voice. ­–Geoff Carter

Sylvan Esso: I saw the North Carolina duo open for Ratatat at the Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool in 2015, and boy have they come a long way. With mastermind instrumentalist Nicholas Sanborn hunkered down behind his synth setup, singer Amelia Randall Meath was charged with commanding the crowd’s attention—and she did it with ease, putting fans in a trance-like state with her raspy-rich vocals.

Breakout songs like “Hey Mami” and “Coffee” still stand up, while newer cuts like “H.S.K.T.” (head, shoulders, knees, toes) packed a more upbeat, intense energy that worked well at the outdoor festival. Meath’s wardrobe choice—a glittery black leotard with fringe hanging from her arms—was a head-turner as well.

The duo closed with “Radio” from 2017’s What Now, showcasing Meath’s vocal strength and the duo’s captivating synth-pop power. –Leslie Ventura

Justice: The French house duo hasn’t exactly sustained the cultural relevance it enjoyed back in 2007 when it broke through during the height of Ed Banger fervor, but it has remained a festival mainstay because, well, duh. Much like The Flaming Lips, Justice naturally draws bodies to whatever stage it occupies because it whips up a visual spectacle—imagine a Michael Bay concert film—and suggests you’ll incur serious FOMO if you resist it.

During its hourlong set Friday night, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay gave a masterclass in meticulous concert production and performance, from the exacting choreography of its light show (which included two walls of LED-outlined Marshall amplifiers) to the precise mashing of its catalog. Manning and pivoting between three rolling cabinets of hardware, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay merged songs, both whole and chopped up, cramming as many nuggets into its festival set (a practice perfected by Daft Punk during its 2006-2007 live shows). Opener “Safe and Sound” (no, not that obnoxious Capital Cities song, but the leadoff track from Justice’s 2016 album Woman) overlapped with and segued into the breakthrough 2007 single “D.A.N.C.E.”; fused the deliciously funky first-album gems “Phantom” and “Genesis”; and the newer “Heavy Metal” with old fave “DVNO.”

This dynamic, coupled with the blitzkrieg of light beams and screen saver-like display flanking the two musicians, whipped up the enormous main-stage crowd appropriately—a good time, no doubt. But it also felt like a modern DJ set—a jumpy audience reacting to carefully triggered cues. If the Justice live show is to evolve, it must let certain numbers breathe and create the possibility of spontaneity. That’s a lot to ask of a 60-minute festival set dependent on theatrical illumination, but without it, the French act may reduce itself to being just that—an act. –MP

Death Cab for Cutie: The Seattle quintet had an uphill mountain to climb during its Bacardi Stage (formerly the Ambassador Stage, or more commonly known as the Stage Across From Atomic Liquors) closing set. For one, it’s the type of guitar band festivalgoers once flocked to but now seems to serve as counter-programming for 1) those not into dance, R&B and hip-hop acts and 2) bait for older, more affluent concert goers. Death Cab still drew a fair amount of 20-somethings Friday night, but it lost many of them due to its predilection for midtempo rock largely devoid of power chords, front-forward melodies and stomping rhythms. Sadly, that meant they missed the band’s growing mastery of instrumental nuance and ever-expanding palette of sounds.

Which was very hard to hear thanks to the myriad sound issues Death Cab suffered. Dave Depper’s guitar blasted through the PA at interminably loud and shrill levels, often obscuring Ben Gibbard’s vocals and everyone else’s instruments. When Gibbard’s keyboard gave out, he let his frustration be known with the most polite irritation he could muster. It was only during the third to last song, “Cath…,” that the band finally sounded as it should, which meant it could end on a high note: With its R.E.M.-esque hit “Soul Meets Body” and its reliable climaxer, “Transatlanticism.”

During the latter song, six friends formed a single-file, arms-entwined line that grew by another group of friends, all swaying to Gibbard’s mantra of “I need you so much closer.” It made that song’s performance that much more heartfelt and, if momentarily, made one forget the set’s issues. –MP

The Weeknd: Abel Makkonen Tesfaye is a fixture in Vegas already, performing regularly at clubs like Drai’s, and he made it clear on Friday night that the love is mutual. “It just gets better every time I come to Las Vegas,” Tesfaye announced.

From the stage production and lighting to the live band (featuring a fantastic guitar player and drummer), every aspect of The Weeknd’s set was nothing short of stellar. In an hour and a half we got hit after hit, including the funky Daft Punk collab “I Feel It Coming,” “The Morning” (with that catchy “girl put in work” chorus), older House of Balloons cut “Wicked Games” and sexy, sultry tracks “Acquainted,” and “Often” before he brought down the house with set closer “The Hills.”

Not only does Vegas love The Weeknd right back, but the affection is well-deserved. At this point in his career, the Starboy is very much at the top of his game. –Leslie Ventura

Logistics and tips: Other than a cop with a machine gun near the VIP entrance, the police presence didn’t feel overwhelming. One of the wall-sized LED signs cycled through “See something, say something,” among other festival notifications. –CMR

Water seems unusually hard to find, and lines are long at hydration stations. Bring a water bottle and fill up even if you aren’t thirsty. –LV

Anyone needing chilled respite should get to the first floor of the El Rancho parking between Ogden and Stewart, which is stocked with fans, misters, couches and a big ass Connect Four. (See also: The Western Hotel and its Crime on Canvas art exhibit.) –MP

C’mon people, wear earplugs. The music was turned to a deafening volume, yet few in Friday’s crowd sported ear protection. –CMR

Downtown Stage area seem too jammed? Walk a little farther to the right of the soundboard for a less-dense crowd. –MP

If there’s something you want to try that involves a line—such as the ferris wheel—get there early and beat the crowd. The later in the day, the longer the lines got for everything. –CMR

If you want to see a comedy show, you must plan ahead. The festival releases physical tickets at a spot outside the comedy venue two hours before each set. You need to go in person to pick up a free ticket. Then you can line up to enter the theater 30 minutes before showtime. –CMR

The festival app is great. You can create a personalized schedule and then turn on alarms so that it will notify you before the show starts. However, I noticed that my phone was running out of battery faster than usual. I think that the festival app, with its high-tech location services, was draining my battery. I deleted the app in the middle of an act so I’d have some juice left to get me through the evening. –CMR

Pretty much every brand activation spot has a selfie station, complete with professional lighting. The coolest activation is the “Wheel of Death” at the Cirque du Soleil tent, which is like an acrobatic hamster wheel. –CMR

Be open to surprises. There was a really amazing light and sound installation in a back alleyway. I couldn’t tell you where it is, and it’s not on the official map, but it’s awesome! –CMR

Already blow through your $5 promo Lyft codes? You might want to solicit a shared ride just before the festival ends. Fluke or not, Friday night saw rates ranging from $3 down to 80 cents (!) around 12:30 a.m. last night. –MP

Eastsiders, your best bet for post-festival egress is Eastern Avenue—or Maryland Parkway once you’re south of Charleston Boulevard. –MP

In general, the festival was peaceful and friendly. Even in the most crowded spots, festival goers were friendly and polite. –CMR

Not all bar lines are created equal. Because it attracts the largest crowds, the bar at the Downtown Stage has the longest lines. A short walk will lead to bars with shorter lines. –CMR

Check out the Craft Beer Garden and the Cookout, near the Huntridge Stage. –CMR

ApplePay is available at the bars. –CMR

Tastes: The Black Sheep's thai basil shrimp ceviche nachos—cool and tangy, with a generous helping of its namesake crustacean piled atop prawn crackers—is heaven's own chosen; a fresh-tasting and wonderful alternative to the mountains of deep-fried everything. –GC

Need a relatively cheap eat? Tacos & Beer its selling its primary namesakes at three for $8. You can top them yourself, and lines tend to be quicker than those at the food trucks. –MP

Overheard: “If I see a dope photo spot, I’ll take a photo.” –random dude to his friends as he walks past tons of dope photo spots and people taking photos

“We’re not even going to that festival. We’re going to the Golden Nugget.” –girl to a very surprised LIB shuttle bus driver after he picked her up began driving

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