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5 standout performances from Life is Beautiful

Updated September 19, 2022 - 8:26 pm

“Energy! Energy! Energy!”

We needed it, needed it, needed it.

It’s 8:25 pm. Saturday, and British rapper Slowthai has just taken the Huntridge Stage — and left it almost as quickly.

After tossing his cigarette, he does the same with his body, hurling himself at the crowd.

Before launching into his second tune, “Cancelled,” his collaboration with countryman Skepta that just may be the first hip-hop tune that name-checks both Harry Potter and avante-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, Slowthai delivers the exclamatory command above, enjoining the audience to dig deep, to go for it.

By this time, Life is Beautiful had reached its midpoint, roughly — a day and a half down, a day and a half to go.

But if all those miles walked, bands seen and free Slurpees slurped had begun to catch up with you, Slowthai was here to turn things around with a performance that mirrored the emotions he expresses in his songs: messy, explosive, occasionally self-defeating, ultimately exhilarating.

His set was among many buzz-worthy showings during Life is Beautiful’s last two days: rapper Jack Harlow playing the campfire marshmallow during his pyro-enhanced set Sunday (“I thought I lost my eyebrows for a second,” he said of the flames bursting from the stage); Blue Man Group appearing during performances by R&B singer Alessia Cara and DJ-producer Marc Rebillet on Saturday; superstar DJ Calvin Harris becoming just the second EDM act (after Major Lazer in 2016) to headline the main stage, ending Life is Beautiful with one massive dance party.

Here are five more memorable performances from Saturday and Sunday:

Monkey business booms

“It’s Saturday,” Damon Albarn grinned. “And I’m feeling quite lit.”

Yeah, lit like a fuse.

“Stop dancing to the music of Gorillaz in a happy mood,” he sang amid the electro-funk shuffle of “19-2000” as one of the biggest crowds of the weekend did just that Saturday.

As Albarn’s words underscore, there’s a duality at the heart of the Gorillaz songbook: lyrically, their tunes often register as a series of warning sirens, glances at a crystal ball predicting a dire future, consistently filled with a sense of foreboding and the need for action on songs like “Last Living Souls,” “Kids With Guns” and “New Gold,” all of which the band played on this night.

“What are we living for?” Albarn wondered on the latter number. “Are we all losing our minds?”

And yet, their performances frequently break out into giddy dance parties, apocalyptic sock hops.

This show was no exception, Gorillaz delivering an electrifying performance, the group’s large touring lineup — eight band members plus five backing singers — combining to form a sound larger still.

The show opened on an urgent note with “M1 A1,” then ebbed and flowed between the fierce (“Momentary Bliss”), the funky (“Rhinestone Eyes”), the fiercely funky (“Cracker Island”) and the contemplative (“O Green World.”), the band joined on stage at various times by rappers JPEG Mafia, De La Soul’s Pos and The Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown as well as singer Fatoumata Diawara.

Early in the show, amid the electronic clap of “Tranz,” Albarn posed a question in song, the audience before him in near-perpetual motion.

“Do you dance like this?” he wondered. “Forever?”

Nah, just during Gorillaz’s 90 minutes of stage time.

Good Lorde

From black to pink, so Lorde went.

When the singer-songwriter last played Life is Beautiful in 2017, she dressed like the night sky above her — only darker, as if the moon had been swallowed.

Five years later, she returned clad in shades of Easter, doffing a pastel coat after her first song to reveal the toned physique of someone who eats situps for breakfast.

The goth look suited her back then: She was an angsty teen figuring out who she was.

“It feels so scary getting old,” Lorde sang on a simmering “Ribs” on Saturday, a song that she wrote when she was all of 15.

Now, Lorde’s grown up, having come of age in the spotlight’s time-shrinking glare, which directly informs her latest album, “Solar Power.”

“You blink and it’s been 10 years,” she sang on “Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen It All).” “Growing up a little at a time, then all at once.”

Taking the stage by descending a long staircase resting against what looked like the world’s largest bass drum, Lorde addressed the struggle to understand her feelings as an adult — or the occasional absence of them — on songs like “The Path” and “Mood Ring,” her once spare, largely electronic sound fleshed out with an acoustic guitar strum.

But she also made it a point to stay true to the teenager who begat it all.

“Let’s dance for our 15-year-old selves,” she urged by way of introducing “Ribs.”

After a sharp take on Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer,” Lorde took a moment to address the crowd, recalling playing Life is Beautiful for the first time — “I remember hyperventilating” — and marveling at how the song that she wrote from her darkest, loneliest place, “Liability,” has become the one that massive crowds lent their voices to the loudest.

Then she played the spare, stinging ballad, doing what she does best: turn a personal moment into a universal one.

And everyone sang along.

Riot starters

The latex nun with the pink whip meant business, clearly.

“Fix your damn brain,” Pussy Riot frontwoman Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sang sweetly over a nervous, jumpy synth line on “Toxic,” the song exploding with a noise bomb chorus, the Russian feminist art collective coming hard Sunday with an often-punishing blend of electro punk, gabber and metalcore.

It was one of the most sonically abrasive performances the fest has ever seen.

Pussy Riot’s message was as unflinching as its sound.

With a pair of dancers in ski masks busting moves, the group’s performance was both an exercise in women doing what they want with their bodies as well as a satire of societal standards of feminine beauty, of how the idealized woman is meant to look and act.

“I’m not a girl; I’m a machine,” Tolokonnikova sang on “Plastic.” “I’m the perfect packaged lady every woman wants to be.”

Tolokonnikova is certainly a woman of conviction: Remember, she spent two years in prison after Pussy Riot performed an anti-Vladimir Putin song in a Moscow cathedral in 2012.

She took aim at the Russian president once again Sunday before the group aired the Ukrainian national anthem, enjoining the crowd to put their fists in the air.

“I feel like I’m at a rally,” Tolokonnikova gushed midway through the show. “This is my favorite feeling.”

Bringing down the House

Their songs were like the dry ice fog pouring from the stage, gradually enveloping you, until you were lost in the haze.

This is Beach House’s thing: making you forget where you are.

Shrouded in shadows on a mostly dark stage, but silhouettes clutching their instruments, the band puts all the focus on its songs and the atmosphere they conjure.

It’s deliberately meditative in a way — keys chime and drone, guitars arc into swells of dissonance and melody, vocals go from soft to sonorous — for the band and audience alike.

“Exiting our bodies is a nice feeling,” singer-keyboardist Victoria Legrand told the crowd a few songs in. “You are helping.”

None of this is to suggest that the dream pop duo’s repertoire is wholly dreamy: There was a vehemence inherent in a song like “Dark Spring,” Legrand whipping her long hair behind her keyboard as drums thundered and guitarist Alex Scally created squalls of beautiful noise.

“So sick of swimming,” Legrand later sang on “New Romance. “I’m in over my head.”

And so you just let go, and drown in sound.

100 Gecs punch you in the ears

“I am horrified of hearing loss,” a woman behind us gasped.

The duo on stage in wizard garb were just two songs in, and her fears were justified.

Meet 100 Gecs (aka Laura Les and Dylan Brady), a group obviously assembled by the earplug manufacturing industry to test their products.

Their sound is a hooky cacophony indebted to Atari Teenage Riot’s frenzied, billion-beats-per-minute caterwaul, Sleigh Bells’ blend of melody and buzz-sawing guitars, T-Pain’s lust for Auto-Tune, and Nintendo’s entire catalog of 8-bit video game soundtracks.

They’ve got a song called “757,” which feels aspirational, these two taking their sonic cues from a jetliner screaming down the runway at takeoff.

Still, as they demonstrated Saturday, though they have a novel sound, 100 Gecs shouldn’t be dismissed as a novelty act: Blaring tunes like “Doritos & Fritos,” an ode to snack chips with a Primus-worthy bass line, and new song “I Got My Tooth Removed,” which veered into ska, were crazy catchy in addition to being just plain crazy.

Toward the end of their set came “mememe,” perhaps the most aurally assaultive earworm ever.

It sent the crowd away satisfied, those in attendance no doubt spending the rest of the weekend asking their friends to speak a little louder, please.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @jbracelin76 on Instagram

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