NAPA — Muse electrified BottleRock Napa Valley during the first day of the annual festival with a blistering set chock full of the band’s biggest hits from throughout its 20-year-old catalog.
Muse defined what it means to be a modern stadium rock band, mixing complex riffs, solos and rhythms with giant singable choruses to which the BottleRock crowd sang along. The band opened with its latest release, “Thought Contagion,” before picking kicking into the full-throttle jam “Psycho.” Frontman Matt Bellamy showcased not only his formidable fretwork but his impressive vocal range as well, from the soaring chorus of “Hysteria” to the tender falsetto of “Madness.”
Muse features one the strongest rhythm sections in rock, anchored by drummer Dom Howard, and bassist Chris Wolstenholme, who drive the beat. Bellamy, decked out in a leather jacket with silver sparkling trim, combined a modern rock style with an almost Freddie Mercury-like sense of bombast.
Throughout the set, the band sprinkled in quick homages to rock legends that came before them, sneaking in riffs from Guns ‘N Roses, AC/DC and Jimi Hendrix. Midway through the set, Bellamy even shouted out one of their local heroes, bassist-turned-winemaker Les Claypool of Primus, before going into a Primus jam. The varied set mixed in two of the instrumentals from 2012’s The Second Law.
The stage, while relatively simple for Muse, provided a thrilling backdrop of strobes and spotlights, flashing frenetically along as the band ripped through its most upbeat songs.
Muse covered some new tunes like “Dig Down,” along with tracks from its latest LP, Drones, before concluding with “Starlight,” “Mercy” and the one-two punch of “Uprising” and “Knights of Cydonia.”
A light rain began to fall as the SoCal rockers took the stage, but a little moisture didn’t dampen the spirts of the crowd. Brandon Boyd and company deftly tore through a varied set of fan favorites, as well as some newer material. The band’s set was highlighted by it’s genre-bending brand of rock, including shades of funk and reggae with an emphasis on groove and percussion. Boyd’s vocals were clear and strong throughout the set, including on the bands biggest hits “Megalomaniac,” “Pardon Me” and “Drive.” The band even mixed in a cover of INXS’ “Need You Tonight” for good measure.
This Cleveland band had the honor of playing right before Earth, Wind and Fire. Luckily, they had more than enough soul and grit to match up with the elder statement’s smoothness. Simply put, Welshly Arms sound like if the Black Keys decided that their fans should shake their hips. Singer Sam Getz’ gravelly voice sat atop the band’s gospel harmonies, that at times turned Southern rock in the vein of Lynyrd Skynyrd and at times hard and deep like Led Zeppelin.
Oh! And Welshly Arms was celebrating the release of their new album on Friday, and their set consisted primarily of newer tracks, like “Indestructible” and “Sanctuary,” which rocked so hard our teeth shook. The band performs with two back-up singers, whose shimmying was hypnotic.
Earth, Wind & Fire
Prior to sundown, no band prompted stronger singalongs than the Chicago soul and funk greats. Tracks like “Got To Get You Into My Life,” “Boogie Wonderland” and “Let’s Groove” were a joy to hear performed by a band whose core has been together for 45 years. With so many layered harmonies (at times more than five members were singing), Earth, Wind & Fire at times gave off boy band vibes. That made their set all the more endearing.
The legendary Mike D of the Beastie Boys took the stage midway through the day for a special DJ set. He played a crowd-pleasing mix of both modern and vintage hip-hop songs, while working in his own sampling and mixing on the turntables and electronics along with an additional DJ. Along with these songs, he also mixed in a fair share of Beastie Boy classics, supplying his own rhymes and vocals.
The Nashville band had the youngest, most exuberant crowd of the day, and that speaks volumes to COIN’s ability to craft a pop song. Chase Lawrence and co. opened with new single “Growing Pains,” and lifted off from their with fan-favorite tracks like “Boyfriend” and “I Don’t Want to Dance,” both off 2017 LP How Will You Know If You Never Try. Lawrence, whose curly mop is the floppiest of anyone west of Matty Healy of The 1975, went into the crazed crowd toward the end, during “Hannah,” sealing the deal for many fans.
The Los Angeles duo were one of the acts to open the first day at BottleRock. Playing to, quite frankly, not a lot of people, singer-guitarist Jordan McGraw, drummer Drew Langan and a bassist summoned more than enough energy to wake the early arrivers up with indie rock and pop-punk bangers like “Favorite Flavor,” “Practice in the Mirror” and “Misbehavin.'”
“Now that we’ve played I feel like I have an excuse to be drunk all day,” McGraw declared.
The Minnesota-raised, Nashville-based singer-songwriter is on the cusp of something big. Following several years of writing hits for others like Garth Brooks, Meghan Trainor and John Legend, she released a new solo record to much fanfare, and at BottleRock, she showed the range and charisma that should see her follow a path similar to Maren Morris or Margo Price (maybe Chris Stapleton?). It was just and her reverb-laden guitar on stage, aided only by the wind and a few raindrops setting the tone.
Smith alternated between wailing and softly delivering her lines, showing she could both hold a note and deliver on emotion. In between terrific tunes, such as “Before You Called Me Baby,” she told the stories behind the songs, as a songwriter does. Smith spoke of pulling a story of heartbreak from a roommate, since she and her husband had no personal broken love to sing of, about driving from her hometown to St. Paul to play at dive bars for the first time at 17, and thanked Trainor for recording one of her songs and “buying my baby’s diapers.”
This Portland-area band, now based in L.A., played out a terrific set of ethereal rock with guitars ringing. But that sound took on nuanced changes, sounding at times like Britpop, at times like shoegaze, and when they wanted to, like grunge. Singer-guitarist-keyboardist Zach Grace balanced multiple instruments, sometimes all in one song.
Jukebox The Ghost
The Washington, D.C. piano pop trio were entertaining in a completely earnest, irony-free way. Sounding like a blend of Passion Pit and Rachmaninoff, the band blasted through a set of fan favorites like “Jumpstarted” and “Diane,” as well as new single “Everybody’s Lonely,” Jukebox The Ghost’s biggest radio hit in a long career.
The band’s sound is often compared to Queen, but the live version of the new single absolutely screamed Freddie Mercury. JTG brought their set home with a rollicking take of another fan favorite, “Somebody,” and a cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Trombone Shorty’s set at BottleRock was funky enough to get people moving but still pop enough not to confuse them with jazzy brass arrangements. Which songs he and his band played didn’t seem to be as important to many fans as the mood they created. But the bumping “One Night Only,” as well as covers of Green Day’s “Brain Stew” and “Rage Against The Machine’s “Bulls on Parade.” And the solos. The solos! Trombone Shorty isn’t the only extremely talented member of his band. Everyone had a chance to shine.
Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart brought their brand of EDM-pop to an enthusiastic crowd at the Midway stage. Their 90-minute set included plenty of production tricks, and singles “#Selfie” and “Roses” were received appreciatively by their predominantly 20-something audience.
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