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The stifling heat of yesterday shifted suddenly into somewhat jarring, unseasonably cold weather. No rain, but no sun either, and the slight breeze had a very polar undercurrent to it. The heavy pop-oriented flavor of the festival continued on the third day, and Christine And The Queens brought their Franco-dance pop to the masses, and the masses responded by booty-shaking that chill right out of the plaza. Unknown Mortal Orchestra couldn’t decide whether they wanted to be Stevie Wonder, a lighter shade of Phish or something in between. Ruban Nielsen flashed plenty of guitar prowess as the band veered between ’70s funk moves and AOR figures.
The next couple of acts on the Blue Stage (that’s the Jet Blue stage if you wanna know which sponsor is throwing down dollars in support) again had the firm attention of the young crowd, but for me they couldn’t drive their way out of the ruts of their sounds. Vince Staples was an energetic hip-hop performer, whose songs were immediately forgettable and interchangeable. The Front Bottoms fared a bit better, mainly due to drummer Mat Uychich winning the Todd Trainer award for most force applied to the snare head, and the emo/pop-punk hybrid had plenty of energy from de facto band leader Brian Sella but a band needs more. A new addition to the festival was a smaller stage tucked around the back of the grounds, which hosted some local comedians and bands. I didn’t get there often, but These Wild Plains rocked out with a Western-tinged flavor that certainly grabbed people’s attention.
Neo-soul singer Charles Bradley fared much better, but this being the fifth time seeing him, I was pretty familiar with his heavily James Brown -influenced set, and while there were no surprises, the delivery is 100% authentic and even with some new faces in the band, they are a key component to the sound and delivered an unwavering, solidly professional set. Maybe it was just me, but it also seemed unnecessarily loud; ironic that the Black Sabbath cover was a ballad (“Changes”) rather than an all-out blaster.
Elle King made the necessary career moves to stifle any nepotism barbs, but still 98% of the general population know she’s Rob Schneider’s daughter. That’s about the only thing I did know about her, and was bracing myself for some sub- Meghan Trainor pop-by-the-numbers, but possibly even more generic. I was mildly surprised to hear a Texas roadhouse/honky tonk sound, but man her voice is… just… not… that… good. A thin, gravelly sound that was the sonic equivalent of chewing tin foil.
And just like that the festival switched. Janelle Monaé came carted out on a hand dolly, and when she grabbed the microphone, the best show of the weekend was underway. A totally electrifying mix of funk, R&B, soul and rock, Monaé and her band ran a clinic on how to mesmerize a crowd and get a whole lot of white people dancing. She sprinkled in a few covers with“I Feel Good” from the Godfather of soul, “I Want You Back” from the Jackson 5 hitting the mark (oddly enough, the second time this song’s been covered at the festival) but it was the set closer of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” that really hit the mark. She mentioned Prince as a thoughtful and generous mentor, and this was a truly heartfelt reminder of the man’s impressive contributions.
The sister group Haim closed out the night for me, as I skipped Disclosure in order to see Heron Oblivion open for the after set that Charles Bradley played at The Sinclair, and they brought their sunny California pop-wrapped blend of rock music to the fading light of the plaza. Este Haim is the well-recognized face of the band, mainly from the avalanche of #bassface hash tags she’s inspired during their ascent, mugging and grimacing her way up and down the fretboard. They also hopped on the purple bandwagon, inviting Christine and her (dancing) queens on stage to shimmy along to “I Would Die 4 U,” as song that was released before Este, Alana or Danielle were even born. Though he’s passed on from this life, Prince will continue to resonate across future generations.
More photos can be seen here