H8r @$$ reviews: Sweetlife Festival 2011
Ever since Sweetgreen announced in March that they would be hosting the Sweetlife Festival, I was curious about how the salad restaurant chain would pull it off. And despite the rainy weather and unusual security practices that marred the day a tad, a solid bill of bands kept the festival a success.
The band, which closed the festival, opened their set with the familiar track “Is This It” from their 2001 debut, and played a set filled with old hits. Their set was thankfully light on tracks from their latest album, Angles, which critics met with an average reception. Soaked in light and filled with, ahem, angles, The Strokes’ stage setup was definitely the best of the day. It lit up in primary colors, and a videos screen played Pong, Tetris, and Space Invaters—it looked straight out of The Empire Strikes Back.
And despite that they’ve been around for over a decade and recently took a hiatus, the band has retained their signature swagger. Lead singer Julian Casablancas strutted around stage and said sweet nothings to the audience, who loved every bit of it. He once asked his bandmates, “What’s the first note of this song?”
They closed the set—and the show—with “Last Nite,” and “Take It Or Leave It.” Notably missing were favorites like “12:51” and “You Only Live Once,” but with the time they were given, they maintained a good balance of the old and the new, and the audience left excited and satisfied, if a little bit deaf.
After Lupe wrapped up, the Sweetlife Festival Banner lining the back of the stage fell to reveal a light-up geometric backdrop for Girl Talk. When the Pittsburgh mashup DJ made his entrance, he was followed by an army of about a hundred people to dance onstage with him, two of which wielded special guns that spun rolls of streamers out into the audience. He began with “Oh No,” the energetic first track off his most recent album, All Day. From there, he sped through what could very well have been every song I’ve ever heard. One of his best pieces consisted of a fake-out intro to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” before seamlessly morphing into Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” A remixed version of The Beatles’ “Yesterday,” or “Every Day,” from All Day, gave everyone a rest before he blasted “Play Your Part (Pt. 1).” Balloons fell from the ceiling, confetti was everywhere, and the audience absolutely lost it.
“I feel like I just accomplished something,” my friend said to me.
Georgetown’s fall concert performer, Lupe Fiasco, had no problem getting a reaction from the audience. He was the first “rock star” in the festival’s lineup with major hit singles, and everyone was excited to see him. Although he had a band onstage, the illusion of live music was broken when backing tracks continued to play when the musicians weren’t. Despite that technological mishap, though, the performance was fantastic. Everyone was clad in camo fatigues, and Lupe donned a jacket with “Lazer Cub” emblazoned on the back while he powered through hits like “Kick, Push” and “Superstar” before encoring with “Daydreamin’.” A noticeable number of people left after his set.
Lead singer Alice Glass had her leg in a cast, which made her onstage dancing look a little like that of a dying robot. But that didn’t stop the band’s characteristic, unrelenting energy—backed by overwhelming strobe lights, Glass screamed over the already ear-numbing music, and even threw her injured self into the audience. And her tactics work, as tracks like “Untrust Us,” “Not In Love,” and “Celestica” got huge receptions from the crowd. By the end of their set, Glass was silently huddled in a fetal position. It was weird and scary. And awesome.
Decked in a giant silver hat, rapper Theophilus London rocked Merriweather. A guitarist and DJ joined him on stage, perfectly blending his funk meets electro hip-hop. Rapper NinjaSonik joined him onstage to perform “Gurls, Gurls, Money,” complete with making it rain on the audience.
Walk The Moon
Cincinnati’s Walk the Moon were surprisingly energizing. While setting up, the bassist yelled over to their guitarist on the other side of stage, “We’ve never been this far away.” The lead singer multi-tasked on keyboards and a drum. People were dancing, at least in their seats.
US Royalty were the most stylish act of the day, uniformed in star-spangled bell bottoms, feather ponchos, and chunky jewelery. Visually, their setup was no less interesting, with a bass drum reading “US Bloody Royalty, That’s Who” and an “auxiliary percussion” section complete with timpani and floor tom.
US Royalty played like an arena rock version of Fleet Foxes. They had very nice vocal harmonies, very large percussion, and every instrument dripped in reverb. The contrast between their talent and that of Modern Man was very obvious—US Royalty is well practiced in performing. Mustachioed lead singer Paul Thornley pleaded, “Let’s boogie,” multiple times. I was not going to boogie at 2 p.m. on a Sunday. I was going to get another beer.
Nobody will be surprised if you’ve never heard of Modern Man—the D.C.-based rock band released their first EP this April. Most of their songs were about being bored in their late twenties. But their straightforward sound wasn’t enough to get the half-filled pavilion very excited. At the end of their set, they threw out t-shirts as consolation prizes to the audience.
Sadly, I did not get to see the entirety of the Festival’s eclectic lineup, which was largely due to the bizarre security station. After Walk the Moon got offstage, I left my seat in the pavilion to take a walk around the concessions. Sweetgreen took every opportunity to put Sweetlife branding everywhere around the venue. Around the back of the lawn area, stands from different organic food companies, like Honest Tea, hawked free samples. As I headed back towards my seat, I noticed a crowd forming. Security had just created a barrier, and were not letting people into the Pavilion until others left. Some got pretty angry and began pushing against the barrier, and the whole thing was pretty chaotic. To add to the mess, it suddenly began to rain harder. Security brought out Josh Burdette, aka That guy, aka the frightening, heavily-pierced body guard from the 9:30 Club, to settle people down. Eventually, after about an hour, I was let back into the Pavilion. I missed Ra Ra Riot and Cold War Kids, but they sounded okay from in the line.
But little security snafu aside, all in all it was a pretty good festival, especially considering it was put on by a salad restaurant.
photos: Christo Keshishian