Vegoose :: 10.27 & 10.28 :: Sam Boyd Stadium :: Las Vegas, NV
Editor’s Note: A large part of JamBase and this writer’s experience at Vegoose was conducting video interviews. We’d like to share these with you right here. This was a time consuming endeavor and therefore forced us to miss several acts we would have liked to cover. We hope you enjoy the videos as a nice addition to our more standard coverage.
We’re all music fans. That’s why you’re reading, why I’m writing and why I was in Las Vegas for the third annual Vegoose festival. We’ve all got our favorite bands, maybe they were playing at the Goose, maybe they weren’t. But the beauty of a festival is catching the bands you don’t know well, the ones you probably wouldn’t buy a ticket for and spend your night with. After Vegoose, many of us came away with some new favorites.There was a remarkable amount of diversity, truly offering something for everyone over the two days of absolutely perfect Fall desert weather. For fans of the jam there was Umphrey’s McGee, moe. (check out the moe. Vegoose interview here), STS9 (Sound Tribe Sector 9), ALO (check out the ALO Vegoose interview here), and Michael Franti & Spearhead. For the big time rock shows and bombastic headliners we got Rage Against The Machine, Muse, Queens of the Stone Age, Iggy and the Stooges, The Shins and Mastodon. For hip-hop heavyweights we were lucky enough to witness Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, Ghostface Killah,M.I.A., Lupe Fiasco, Pharoah Monch and Atmosphere. If you wanted something a little different there was world music from Thievery Corporation and Federico Aubele, spastic gypsy punk from Gogol Bordello, steel guitar good times from Robert Randolph (check out the Robert Randolph Vegoose interview here) and ground-breaking rock from Ghostland Observatory, UNKLE, Blonde Redhead andBattles. And then there was Daft Punk – good gawd.
But more than just offering one of the most well rounded lineups of the year, what Vegoose gave us was a much-needed grown up festival. Unlike just about every other fest on the market (save for a few like New Orleans’ JazzFest and Voodoo), Vegoose is free of sweaty tents and muddy fields. The idiot factor is almost nil. The wasted youth and annoying kids who took too much too fast don’t exist. You don’t have to suffer through those who only want to see one band and make a point of letting you know when said band is not on stage. Instead of all that, over the last weekend of October, 40,000 fans of all types converged in Las Vegas for a party like no other. And when Vegoose closed down for the evening (midnight on Saturday and around 11 p.m. on Sunday) it was off to the Las Vegas Strip, where we could play like big kids.
The late night options were overwhelming. There were the more traditional shows with Umph, moe., Shins, Franti, Thievery, STS9, Z-Trip, MSTRKRT, etc, but if you were so inclined and wanted to do grown up things, there were burlesque shows (check out The Forty Deuce), Cirque du Soleil, raging parties in rock star suites, gambling and things we just can’t talk about in print. Vegas is all that and a bag of, well, a bag of whatever floats your boat. There ain’t nothin’ like Las Vegas and having the pleasure of a major festival during the day and The Strip at night makes for an experience you just can’t find anywhere else.
Enough with the extracurricular activities, this was a music festival and there was more music on Vegoose’s three stages than any one person could ever hope to hear. It bears mention that this is a very professional event with loud, clean sound, huge stages, raging lights and all the lil extras like quality food, Vegas impersonators and wild costumes you’d hope for in a Halloween event.
THE BIG GUNS
Daft Punk: One More Time
Are you fucking kidding me with Daft Punk? Coming off their summer tour and heading into Vegoose I was beyond skeptical. I just couldn’t see how two French dudes in a Pyramid with some laptops and synths could live up the hype. What Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo do is beyond categorization. Like they used to say about the Grateful Dead, “they aren’t the best at what they do, they’re the only ones who do what they do.” Anytime you see true visionaries, true originals, all you can do is bow down and give praise. I went from naysayer to bandwagon in one song. I knew 20 minutes into their set it was the best show I would see all year. The optimal word here is “show.” It was a true, overwhelming audio-visual experience like nothing I’ve ever even considered, not to mention more lights than I’ve ever seen in one place. It’s not even fair to compare other acts to Daft Punk. By the way, I don’t even really dig dance music, but this is far more than just dance music. It’s cerebral, fun as hell, has a message (television rules the nation) and is the greatest light show ever. Dropping full-on anthems like “Around The World,” “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and “One More Time,” the production value and what they are able to do with light and sound is hard to wrap your head around. At every moment it looks how it sounds. The Pyramid doesn’t even seem possible. It’s solid then hollow. There are images flashing through it, then on it. It’s moving yet stationary, and Tron is there, too. However, there was one recurring thought that kept flashing through my head, “If you think about it, it will evaporate.” If you tried to dissect it, if you started trying to figure out what they were doing in the Pyramid, if you focused on the fact that it was really just a crazy ass light show with amazing sound, the magic disappeared. You can’t think about it, you just have to feel it. This is one of those cases where words don’t do it justice. This little video doesn’t even really drive it home, but it does give a taste of what it feels like to be Daft Punked. Apparently this was the French Duo’s last North American Pyramid show and all I know is I’m glad I didn’t miss it. I’ve seen a lot of psychedelic shit in my day but I’ve never seen anything like Daft Punk. Robots are real, don’t forget it.
Rage Against The Machine: Your Anger Is a Gift
Does age make you meaner or softer? After more than seven years of hibernation, RATM has returned just as powerful and angry as ever, though perhaps not as tight or sonically overwhelming as their mid-’90s peak. As we enter an election year, their message is critical. Kicking off their fest-closing Sunday night slot with “Testify” and “Bulls On Parade” the crowd exploded on cue. Watching Zach de la Rochaspin his words over the beastly beats, there was a touch of nostalgia but this was no trip down memory lane, with a few unfamiliar jams and segues sounding just as good as gut-thumping sing-along staples like “Bombtrack” and “Bullet in the Head.” Tom Morello continues to be one of the most versatile, ground-breaking guitarists of our generation. He was the first to pioneer the “DJ-style” kill-switch technique, and ten years later it sounds as fresh as ever. The intensity of Rage is nothing to fuck with, and there were mosh pits all over the place. I even saw one young lady almost daring the fellas as she danced around the pit. She went down like a sack of potatoes. Not pretty, but this is mean music for angry times, and she really should have shown better sense. The testosterone-fueled rap-rock bile that spills from RATM is certainly not for everyone, but the force of the music and pummeling rhythms are difficult to deny. And the union of de la Rocha and Morello is flat-out inspirational. Closing down the impressive, short set with a double encore of “Freedom/Township Rebellion” > “Killing In the Name Of” was a firm exclamation point that served as a fierce reminder of why Rage Against The Machine was one of the biggest bands of the ’90s. Hopefully they can carry on into 2008 when we just may need these songs more than ever.
Muse: Three Is Enough
Muse began their ginormous rock show with a nod to Daft Punk by leading with the same Close Encounters theme the French Duo used. This wasn’t the only thing the powerhouse Brits shared with another band as drummer Dominic Howard sported a (could it have been the same?) skintight Spider Man suit similar to the one rocked by Mastodon drummer Bränn Dailor. Regardless of attire, Muse blew it out at Vegoose. Listening to the tight, powerful changes, it’s no surprise these three have been playing together under different names since they were 13. Performing as Muse since 1997, there are few bands capable of pulling off a live show this passionate and technically proficient. Perhaps most impressive was their ability to create such a massive sound with only three men. The pounding rhythms and tension-release mechanisms were balanced with more delicate songs featuring guitarist-vocalist Matthew Bellamy on grand piano. While the balls-out rocking and insanely sharp drumming is what makes this band special, Bellamy is a damn fine vocalist who often overshadows his voice by propelling the band into incredibly heavy territory with his guitar. This is an explosive act that pulls from Radiohead and Rush but never sounds derivative. Easily one of the best sets at Vegoose this year.
Queens of the Stone Age: Kings of the Desert
Josh Homme loves the desert. He formedQOTSA in Palm Desert, California in 1997 from the ashes of Kyuss and never looked back, even when swapping out musicians. Taking the stage in the Nevada desert on a dark, black night, Homme and the Queens brought the faithful to their knees with thick, sludgy rhythms and impressive abstract heavy rock. While the Queens are serious about their music they clearly like to have fun, allowing Homme plenty of space to interact with the crowd and tell jokes, breaking down the barrier between band and fan, inviting all into his raucous world. Lots of heavier music alienates the ladies, but this is not the case with QOTSA. Busting out “Everybody Knows You Dance Like You Fuck” with pheromones dripping, Homme reminded us that Queens are always a very sexual, very dirty beast, much like rock & roll herself. However, it wasn’t all fun and games. “Burn The Witch” off the band’s stellar fourth album, Lullabies to Paralyze, worked a mean, thick groove with Homme’s guitar work blazing atop the engulfing backbeat. There are few bands that are both this mean and this loving, and these fellas excel in the live setting.
The Shins: Breathe In The Air
There’s nothing like being pleasantly surprised. I had somewhat low expectations for The Shins, figuring their well-honed indie-pop wouldn’t transfer well to a marquee evening slot. I was mistaken. Dressed to impress, the band was far louder and bigger than expected. The Shins are known for crafting catchy songs and creating solid albums, but what you don’t hear on CD is their ability to work a crowd, build tension, tweak arrangements, add weird noises, drop keyboard washes and elongate songs. “New Slang,” the “hit” from 2004’s Garden State soundtrack, was a welcome sing-along but it was the band’s soulful rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” that stole the show.
Public Enemy & Cypress Hill: Hip-Hop Ya Don’t Stop
For 20 years in the biz both Public Enemy and Cypress Hill have proven they’ve got longevity. Although putting both these bands on stage at the same time was the most questionable scheduling decision of the weekend (that and putting Mastodon in the daylight), both acts proved mighty impressive. It was difficult to bounce back-and-forth, Cypress Hill’s ganja-fueled discourse pulling hard, but it was Chuck D‘s political manifesto that won my ears. Beginning with the “It started on slave ships” sample leading into “Welcome To The Terrordome,” shit got wicked quickly. The PE beats are simple yet heavy and effective, allowing plenty of space for Chuck D’s commanding stage presence to run the show. Although Flavor Flav is a complete clown and proved embarrassing when he brought up his Flavor of Love VH1 show, the dynamic between Flav and Chuck is brilliant. You can’t beat people over the head for an entire set with Chuck D’s relentless, angry political rap, which is why Flav is in the picture. He’s the joker who diffuses that energy, balancing it, allowing Chuck D to lead. Other highlights included “Son of a Bush,” “911 Is A Joke” and “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos.” Check out the Cypress Hill Vegooseinterview here.
THE BEST OF THE REST
*Gogol Bordello: The whole thing kicked off Saturday at 12:45 with one of the best sets of the weekend by Gogol Bordello. Burning mad energy as he ran across the stage, swapping guitars, picking up percussion instruments and singing his heart out, Eugene Hütz was born for the stage (and the silver screen – he’s also an accomplished actor). After being evacuated from his home in the Ukraine in 1986 following the Chernobyl disaster, Hütz lived the life of gypsy-punk, eventually finding his way to New York in 1993. This ragtag group features a violinist, an accordionist, a percussionist, a drummer, two female vocalist-percussionists, a bassist, a guitarist and Hütz. They pull sounds from their native lands, mixing them with the bombast of rock, a touch of dub and cabaret, all running through the “Gogol Bordello New Music Intelligence.” Taking a red wine bath to kick off “Start Wearing Purple,” proclaiming “Music is our weapon” and finishing by throwing his guitar across the stage and telling the sweaty crowd, “We are your fucking friends Gogol Bordello,” this was the perfect way to start Vegoose. Check out the Gogol Bordello Vegoose interview here.
*Battles: I had intended to spend more time at Battles, but playing opposite Gogol Bordello proved to be a conflict. I did however make my way across the short, soft expanse of lush grass (another nice factor at Vegoose is the minimal distance between stages) to catch two songs of their angular, math-rock. The band utilizes an array of loops (check out the video interview here for an in-depth discussion) to create big launching pads for their post-rock explosions to jump off.
*Blonde Redhead: This three-piece builds a sound that seems larger than their numbers. With dissonant guitars, heavy rhythms and hushed vocals, the frequent comparisons to Sonic Youth are apt. Often turned inwards with their shoulders to the crowd, the focus remained on their connection as opposed to “putting on a show.” Of particular note were a few trippy, spacious interludes that turned on a dime and dropped into hard rhythms and sharp changes.Check out the Blonde Redhead Vegooseinterview here.
*Thievery Corporation: Tucked between the rawk of QOTSA and the madness of Iggy and the Stooges was the hypnotic tranquility of Thievery Corporation. Casting a spell of downbeat grooves with slick, highly polished Indian, Latin and African flavors, this was a mesmerizing set that defied categorization. Featuring a full band equipped with sitar, several Grade-A vocalists and, of course, Hilton and Garza on the decks, the sound quality was remarkable, creating an atmosphere more like a bamboo hut in the Orient than a large field in Vegas. Favorites like “Lebanese Blond,” the David Byrne collaboration “Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” and the twin Rasta MCs on “Focus On Sight” kept the mood festive, ethereal and slightly drugged-out. Check out the Thievery Corporation Vegoose interview here.
*Mastodon: After completing a very fulfilling interview with Sen Dog and Bobo from Cypress Hill, I wasted no time bee-lining from backstage to catch the end of the impossibly heavy Mastodon. Dressed like the satanic priests of metal, the band would have benefited from a night slot but there was nothing that could stop their power. Some can’t seem to see past the guttural vocals, but this is an incredibly talented band capable of playing at inhuman speeds. Watching (and literally feeling) bassist-vocalistTroy Sanders and incredible drummer Bränn Dailor lay down heavier-than-hell foundations for guitarist-vocalist Brent Hinds to effortlessly solo atop was beyond comprehension. This is truly a band at the top of their field. Check out the Mastodon Vegoose interview here.
*STS9: Walking from Mastodon to Sector 9 was a trip. The bizarre, yet quite enjoyable, juxtaposition of these two bands drove home the eclectic nature of Vegoose. Where else could you go from grindcore sludge metal to livetronic dance-jam? For anyone who values a unique experience, this was one for the books. Standing amidst the swaying, euphoric masses, I was once again impressed by drummer Zach Velmer‘s pulsating precision and took particular notice of guitarist Hunter Brown‘s strong leads. This band is a well-oiled machine that takes the dance-jam world to a new place.
*Infected Mushroom: Bred in Israel and based in L.A., Amit “Duvdev” Duvedevani‘s rhythmic vocals and thick accent washed against Tom Cunningham‘s trash-metal guitar and Erez Eisen‘s synth work for a unique take on psych-trance dance music. The heavy house beats had the crowd bouncing on pogo sticks while the slashing guitar forced many to jerk their necks in the classic head-banging style. Although backed by percussion and drums, this is clearly Duvdev and Cunningham’s show. While a bit repetitive, their attack was simple yet convincing.
*Umphrey’s McGee: Catching a few moments of Umphrey’s McGee’s rapid-fire changes had me wishing I showed up a bit earlier to their stage. The technical proficiency of this band is always impressive, and Vegoose was no different. Performing an abbreviated set could prove difficult for a band that generally plays for three hours, but UM prove consummate professionals, never letting an opportunity to rip through the minds of their fans pass them by. Of particular note was “Utopian Fir” > “All In Time” and the set-closing “Mulche’s Odyssey.” Check out the Umphrey’s McGee Vegoose interview here.
In the wake of the third Vegoose there is speculation about the festival’s longevity. Some have suggested that when Superfly and AC Entertainment set off on this journey they signed a three-year deal and now things will be reassessed. Can they make the numbers work? I don’t know, but for this music freak, there are few festivals as enjoyable as Vegoose. Every year we are offered a diverse lineup that is sure to bring new sounds to your head. So, if they build it, I know I will come. But, talk of ticket sales, cash flow and groundless speculation about the future aren’t for the fans. One thing I do know is that I got to see Daft Punk in that fucking Pyramid and that alone is good enough.
One More Time…
By Rod Snyder
By Casey Flanigan