While there was disappointment about A Tribe Called Quest’s postponement turning into a total (and mysterious) cancellation, Metallica’s spectacle of a performance more than made up for it.
A band that’s been touring off and on for more than 35 years doesn’t really have bad shows anymore, but even by its lofty standards, Metallica’s set went above and beyond. In addition to the usual light show and video accompaniment mixing live footage of the band with pre-recorded animations that tie to the song, the band added enormous jets of fire that may have singed by eyebrows a little from 25 yards away. It likely wasn’t too far off from a stadium show on their current tour, but nevertheless it was something to see.
The best example was “One,” their hit song from 1988’s …And Justice For All. It opened with a simulated battle complete with explosions and built from there to a laser light show that reached the opposite end of the Polo Grounds. It genuinely needs to be seen to be believed.
The early song selection skewed heavily toward their latest album Hardwired… To Self Destruct, which makes sense since the band is currently touring it, but as the show went on Metallica mixed in the classics. For “Seek and Destroy,” the legendary speed metal song from debut album Kill ‘Em All, they went so far as to move a second drum set to the edge of the stage to simulate the El Cerrito garage they used as a rehearsal space in their early days.
As if all that wasn’t enough, after their traditional “Enter Sandman” finale there was a full-blown fireworks show over the stage. Though they may have had their share of controversy, they still do everything they can to put on the best show possible.
Other acts we loved Saturday:
The electronic cumbia band from Colombia competed with the first hour of Metallica’s set and if you compared the two just by watching the reaction of fans, you would think the long-running Latin band were the headliners on Saturday.
The name of the band is Colombian slang for bad-ass party, and that’s what the band quickly established by pulling out its best-known U.S. track “Soy Yo” early in the set and then building up a lather quickly.
Each of the band members was dressed in neon outfits, none fancier than frontwoman Liliana Saumet’s cat suit, cloaks and military commander hat.
While the majority of the lyrics were not in English, the message was clear to everyone: move. MOVE. MoveMoveMove!
Saumet must have great stamina because she never stopped moving. For her, the entire performance was a cardio workout. But it was only a party. She used her platform to push for equality, even if she was preaching to the choir on this night.
“Everybody is the same, whether you’re from the USA, Mexico or Colombia,” she said, introducing the song “Bailar Conmigo” “Everyone can dance, yeah?”
While Friday started off in mellow fashion, Saturday began with a bang with soul pop band Lawrence at the Panhandle stage. The brother-sister combo had a six-piece backing band, including a three-member brass section that not only had the chops but the showmanship with creative interplay and some choreography.
The band started with a modest 30 or so festivalgoers at the stage but that number grew past 300 within 40 minutes. The secret was 24-year-old Clyde Lawrence’s ability to sound like a much more mature Motown singer and Gracie Lawrence’s amazing pipes. With their parents and 13-year-old brother in town to catch the gig, the duo ran through an assortment of original material and also covered Sean Paul.
The SoCal trio, playing in the Bay Area for the second time in 2017 (they’ll be back in October) had the windy shift on the Twin Peaks stage. Their hair blowing in the wind, singer Katie Gavin and guitarists Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson played up the drama as gusts of wind felled sheets of water that had collected on the roof of the stage and brought it crash down on fans below.
“When we were sound-checking, I said it is so fucking cold,” Gavin said. “But you are giving us warmth.”
After a gradual build, the set seemed to climax with the slow-burning “Everything,” off Muna’s 2017 debut album, About U. But there were even higher peaks to follow with set closers “I Know A Place,” on which Gavin sings about defying Donald Trump,” and the rapturous “Loudspeaker.”
Bandleader Josh Ostrander has got the presence of a rock star with a humble persona. He showed off both at Mondo Cozmo’s early set at the Panhandle stage. Ostrander’s musicality is somewhere between Brandon Flowers and Hamilton Leithauser. He clearly is a fan of Bruce Sprinsteen and the Killers’ anthemic rock.
He introduced “Plastic Soul” as “a song about love and time travel and falling in love with the same person in another life,” he dedicated it to his wife, somewhere in the crowd. Before playing his best-known song, “Shine,” Ostrander invited fans to approach him afterward.
“If you see us around and you wanna talk rock and roll, come up to us, yeah?” Mondo Cozmo, a rock star of and for the people.
Oh, and his band covered the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” in a near-perfect reproduction of the original.
The Los Angeles-based indie rock band performed a moody, extremely entertaining set, often bathed in smoke from fog machines.
Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa didn’t have an easy job: Entertaining Metallica fans who cared about only one thing. Still, even those festivalgoers were swaying by the end of the set. The highlights included driving track “So Good” and groovy, jazzy “The Stall.”
The sheer wall of noise created by the U.K. band was impressive. That it was made only by drummer Ben Thatcher and bassist Mike Kerr was something else. Royal Blood incited mass moshing and crowd surfing by introducing some tracks off new album “How Did We Get So Dark?” but driving their point home with better-known songs like ‘Little Monster,” “Out of the Black,” “Figure It Out” and “Come On Over.”
The Avett Brothers
Talk about a difficult job. The Avett Brothers had to follow Vance Joy, who packed the Sutro stage nearly all the way to the Ranger Dave statue near the main entrance. Many of those people cleared out, leaving the Americana band, but those who stayed were clearly fans. They sang along to nearly every bluesy folk song.
Then the Avetts whipped out a special treat by covering Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” and it was glorious. The song, played with cello, violin and a slight trace of twang, was special.
Empire of the Sun
The Australian electronic rock duo’s set was performance art as much as it was a concert, with dancers, lasers, fog machines, and possibly more fans than Metallica.
Those elaborate costumes for which the band is known, evoke both an ancient tribalism and futuristic, alien get-ups one might find in a sci-fi film, must have tremendous dry-cleaning costs.
While we were not blown away by the musicianship, the visual aspects of the performance are worthy on their own. The costumes and dancing resembled a Cirque de Soleil production or Brazil’s Olympics opening ceremony. The dancers at times wore two-foot cubic heads, capes and carried “instruments” that were maybe borrowed from Mad Max.
With soul and authenticity rare in modern music, the Tulsa native was an early-day surprise with his fantastic set. Evoking greats like Jim Croce and Harry Chapin, and vocals that growl like a young Bob Dylan with better diction, it’s hard to pin him down other than “good.” If he doesn’t get a more mainstream following it will be a crime.
Despite a rough start, the Portland sister trio knocked it out of the park. Audio mixing issues did a number on their first couple songs, but once they got everything right they were a powerhouse. Shifting from soul to an ethereal vibe, to folk, depending on who took the vocal lead, Joseph lived up to its growing hype.
Cage the Elephant
After a subpar showing opening for Metallica at AT&T Park in early 2016, the Nashville band redeemed itself in its San Francisco return. Lead singer Matt Shultz channeled Mick Jagger in both wardrobe and strut to keep the energy up while the band laid down some impressive hard rock. Add some balls of fire and colored smoke, the show kept the band’s many fans happy and probably created a few more.
Editor Roman Gokhman contributed to this report. Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter and RomiTheWriter.Tumblr.com. Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData. Follow photo editor Alessio Neri at Instagram.com/windowofcolor and Windowofcolor.com.