The sun peeked its head out for the first time all weekend early Sunday afternoon and it was only fitting that it occurred as Wyllys and The Hustlers laid down their infectious brand of funky disco cuts for the crowd. They performed as a three-piece for this show but still carried the same disco swagger. Dressed to kill in matching all-white outfits, their light sounds got the day started on the right foot… An absolute treat early on this day was Chicago’s own IndigoSun playing on the Red Bull stage. These guys won a contest for a spot at NCMF but they played as if they were totally meant to be on the bill from the start. New songs, old songs, they all sounded gorgeous. Talk about maturation — this set was the best IndigoSun has ever played, their beautiful energy pouring off the stage like a waterfall. You couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces with a mop, and it seemed like they were playing in front of thousands of people instead of the few hundred that had woken up early enough to be at the festival. Take note of IndigoSun, they are a band on the serious rise…Paying no attention to what time it was or what the weather felt like, Com Truise did his own thing and brought a breath of fresh air to the bass-heavy lineup. His futuristic, warped, lo-fi chillwave beats carried light synth sounds while also packing one of the loudest kick dreams we’ve ever heard at a show. This guy’s wall of sound reached several stories high at some points throughout the performance and really came off fresh and original. He worked with a unique set of wave frequencies that captivated the audience and had them paying attention the whole time. He did not attempt to appease the audience whatsoever with bass-heavy rhythms instead opting for his own approach. And that is exactly what we hoped he would do… Fresh off the desk of the Out Of Left Field Department was this afternoon set from Rebirth Brass Band. These guys stood alone in the instrumental funk department, which was a shame on one hand, but great that they included them at all. This set felt like walking down Bourbon Street in the Summer: just pure New Orleans funky goodness. There could have been a lot more funk like this at NCMF, but this one set was a beautiful thing to hear… Van Ghost could have easily been one of the top 3 shows of the weekend… if only for the invigorating interruption in the entire sound and feel of North Coast Music Festival. This band is playing better than ever before. A slowly expanding repertoire has lead to a more diverse live show, while the group has become visibly more comfortable with each other on stage. Klem Hayes, with his wildly entertaining stage presence, pours the low frequency foundation upon which the rest of the band is able to build a powerful yet tender blend of rock and pop music. The lyrics are approachable and the are riffs catchy. The guitars soar like you wouldn’t believe… only to be outdone by gorgeous vocal harmonies that will send a chill running down your spine. Van Ghost has placed themselves on a launch pad, and it’s only a matter of time before they take off… Brainfeeder’s bassline golden goose Thundercat was one of the best surprises of the entire weekend, featuring sexy-smooth vocal harmonies and a two-pronged bass attack. This show was soaked in R&B, funk, and even elements of neo-soul. We walked away thoroughly impressed and wanting to seek out more music from the LA outfit. The group’s vocal harmonies were what really did it for us. Digital Tape Machine is a super power… an electronically powered vehicle with one man in particular behind the wheel. That man is Umphrey’s McGee’s Kris Myers. His drumming is the meat (and backbone) of this music. It’s sharp, driving energy produces the high-octane rhythm behind each one of the band’s genre-jumping songs. As some sort of electro-house dance mutant fueled by screaming guitars and head-spinning synth lines, DTM bends the boundaries of standard electronic dance music, and delivers an attention-grabbing sound that defies all basic notions of the genre. This is the music fan’s EDM, the instrument fan’s EDM… When we arrived at the Coast Stage for Digitalism, we were surprised to see them standing behind a mixer.The assumption was that the German electro house duo would arrive with their elaborate stage set up but alas, it was not to be. They took over the decks and got down to business quickly with some very loud beats. Their DJ set mirrored their own productions, featuring tracks like “Pogo” and “2 Hearts.” The highlight of the set came toward the end when they dropped the massive Eric Prydz remix of M83′s “Midnight City.” An electro house banger that spurred a sea of hands fist-pumping in unison, the crowd quickly became animated just as the sun began to set in the western skyline. This set mirrored Knife Party’s from earlier in the weekend in terms of energy in the crowd. It definitely had the feel of a headlining performance… The hip hop headliners continued on this night with a huge set from Big Boi in the same place as Atmosphere the previous night. And the results were almost exactly identical as well: an absolutely perfect set of old and new tracks with ridiculous energy throughout. Big Boi had a couple hype men running around, but it surprisingly didn’t distract from what Mr. Patton was up to, because he is a boss among men, a living legend and one of the best rappers to ever grace planet Earth. He pleased the crowd with a number of OutKast tracks right off the bat, omitting Andre 3000′s parts in a careful way, highlighting his parts while not disrespecting Andre’s work at all. It was really comforting to see his treatment of the OutKast songs, which dug as far back to their debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmusik. Basically every song he performed totally crushed, including the material from his latest solo album Sir Luscious Left Foot and especially the crowd favorites “Shutterbugg” and “General Patton.” One of the best parts of NCMF is their emphasis on bigtime hip hop acts and Big Boi topped off the weekend in the best possible way… British DJ/producer Maya Jane Coles is a media darling; she’s young, cute, and carries the maturity of a someone who is twenty years older than she is. Carrying the house music torch almost single-handedly, she took the audience on a sonic journey that ranged from soulful 90′s house cuts to more abrasive tech house beats. She had a last-minute set change, swapping with Stratus for a later slot time. With the sun down and night enveloping the sky, it only enhanced her set that much more. As usual, her mixing was smooth, focused, and carried the pulse of the audience. The hour-long set came with extra anticipation after hearing the same old boring drops from so many other artists. If you were unfamiliar with Maya before this set, you definitely walked away impressed. Unless house just isn’t your thing… To close out this fantastic weekend you had a couple of choices. You could go the the Red Bull stage to watch Steve Angello smoke cigarettes and wave his arms in the air, or you could join the ridiculously massive crowd of people at everyone’s favorite producer Pretty Lights. It was a pretty easy choice. PL kicked off his set with some classic material from Filling Up The City Skies and got everyone raging immediately. The thing about Pretty Lights these days, however, is that his music just seems to blend all together after a half hour or so. Pretty soon nothing stood out and boredom started creeping in. Ever since he got rid of his drummer (first Cory Eberhard, then Adam Deitch) it just seems like his music has lost punch in the live setting. Now it’s all about Derek, all the time, and it’s not a good thing. Seeing PL now just makes you think back to the good old days of 2008-09 when his sets were absolutely electric and fresh and new. Now it seems as if his shows are in some EDM holding pattern, trying to force his sound into this wave of played-out electro-step. It’s disappointing to say the least, especially since his headlining set at NCMF 2010 was ridiculously good. Oh well, times change and EDM certainly isn’t immune to that.
The Umphrey’s McGee that showed up at The Congress Theatre on Sunday night had a much different tone than the Umphrey’s McGee that showed up at North Coast Music Festival the night before. From the opening notes of “The Floor,” I could tell these guys were about to make up for everything that the previous night’s show had lacked. It’s incredible when a band gets to that level. When they can walk in and deliver one particular type of experience, and then show up the next night to deliver something entirely different… their ability to morph into various forms of the same basic element in remarkable. This ability is due in part to an extensive catalogue of songs, but equally as much to pure musical dexterity. On this night, Umphrey’s McGee let their guitars out of the cage, as if to say, “this is for everyone who couldn’t quite get their rocks off to last night’s show.” Albeit extremely hot and poorly ventilated, the Congress sounded crisp, surprisingly crisp. But if anyone is going to bring out the best sound from Congress Theater, it’s Chris Mitchell and the UM crew. Jefferson Waful’s light show was on another level, per usual, but seemed even bigger and better in this massive room. I love how the second set comes along and you are all of the sudden witnessing various lighting elements that were completely absent from the first set. It allows the music to take on an entirely different tone. The latter portion of the second set was exactly what I had been yearning for. A glorious “Hajimemashite,” a huge “In The Kitchen,” and an expansively potent “Hurt Bird Bath” before the show-ending “Snucka” sent me into a fit of rage. I left the Congress grinning ear to ear. The gaps had been filled and the rocks had gotten off.
The Sunday night after party at Transit Nightclub featured a star-studded lineup of international DJ’s as well as some local favorites. Dirtybird bosses Justin Martin and Claude VonStroke were paired up with Maya Jane Coles to create a serious house and bass music soiree. We arrived in the middle of Martin’s set to find a massive club with multiple rooms and plenty of space to dance. While the main area was occupied by this trio of DJ’s all night, The Blue Room featured some of the best local talents from Chicago such as Justin Long, Sassmouth, Special E.D. John Johr, and Phil Stone. Getting into the club was breeze and security was very friendly. It passed our likability test with plenty of space to dance, good drink prices, and a decent crowd in attendance. While Coles and VonStroke really brought the jams, it was Martin who won us over in the end with a varied mix of catchy house beats, UK Garage, and his signature bass sound. Overall, the night was a success and featured a slew of great track selection from several people. It also showcased what North Coast was lacking, a variety of EDM and lack of house and non-brostep. It was a shame that we had to wait to all weekend for this style EDM to surface but hey, better late than never right?
Stay tuned for part two where we highlight our Top 10 Sets of North Coast Music Fest!