NAPA — The Killers turned the heat up in Napa on the second day of BottleRock Napa Valley Saturday. The Las Vegas band may not have been responsible for the noticeable increase in sunshine, but it brought the glitz and glamor to its headlining set.
Lead singer Brandon Flowers emerged on stage in a slick, pinstripe, three-piece suite, kicking off The Killers’ set with early smash “Mr. Brightside.” The band made a bold choice, playing that song and “Somebody Told Me” within the first 10 minutes of the set, but it didn’t matter, as the massive crowd that had gathered on the lawn ate up every moment.
“What should I call you? Napa? Northern California? Bay Area? San Francisco? Flowers joked before throwing in an Evel Knievel quote for good measure. The Killers kept their breakneck pace for much of their show, mixing danceable pop rock with their roots-based mid-career tunes. Flowers was the consummate frontman, working both sides of the stage like a rock and roll Sinatra. His stage presence was suave and confident as he sashayed around on hits like “Human” and “Read My Mind.”
“The Warriors are still alive,” Flowers informed the crowd—as the band took the stage just after the Oakland team finished off its improbable comeback against the Houston Rockets—“and so are The Killers.”
Needless to say, that got an extremely warm reception. Hundreds of fans had lined up along TVs and watched the game at the Napa Valley Expo.
The Killers honored the late Tom Petty with a cover of “American Girl” and a “Free Fallin’” snippet. The band closed out its set with the staple “All These Things That I’ve Done,” “The Calling” and the phenomenal, “When You Were Young,” sending the sold-out crowd of 40,000 home with a bang before the festival’s Sunday finale.
In the first 10 minutes of his set, D-O-Double-G covered DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win,” invited Warren G onstage to duet with his guest on “This DJ” and brought in five barely clad pole dancers to, uhh, perform as someone in a dog costume threw dollar bills at them. Again: This was all in the first 10 minutes, and the West Coast’s rap king was just getting started. There was also a cover of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” (we think), as he rapped, “I don’t know what you heard about me.” Everyone heard Snoop; everyone who didn’t catch The Killers heard it loud and clear. Snoop was everywhere on Saturday, including walking around the pitch, taking photos with fans and catching some early sets. Snoop Dogg is a man of the people!
The 1975-loving Utah quartet, which has played together for a decade even though all four women are 22 or younger, is about to make a lot of noise, so those who arrived early Saturday were in for a real treat as the band opened with “Volcanic Love” off their recently released debut album, and proceeded to unwind an intricate, atmospherical set of mid-tempo R&B compositions and a few pop bangers, such as the highly praised single “Lovin’ Is Bible.” The members were also having a ton of fun on stage—dancing, jumping, sharing knowing looks—and were able to rile up the crowd without asking anyone to put their hands in the air.
The Night Game
Martin Johnson was in a band called Boys Like Girls, and it was good. He then wrote for and produced other artists, and with that, he was, again, good. But then he disappeared for a bit, unsure that making music still excited him like it did when he was a kid. He went through some dark times, and came back out on top as The Night Game. And, hey! He’s still good! As The Night Game, Johnson was anthemic and enigmatic all at once. Performing with a three-member band, he played his best-known song, “Once In A Lifetime,” early in the set. On another cut, he delivered his lines by talk-singing, a la Paul Simon or Bruce Springsteen. In fact, the stature he had on stage resembled that of the boss.
We caught Bleachers right after The Night Game, and the transition from Johnson to Jack Antonoff’s band was a smooth one. Bleachers focused on older hits, at least in the beginning of their crowded set at he main stage: “Shadow” and “Wild Heart.” Antonoff, dressed in white shorts, long white socks and sleeveless shirt, didn’t look like he would be leading one of the more popular bands at the festival, but he had more than enough swagger to pull off the look, even if it exposed his pasty legs. He swung his guitar around and never stopped moving, making it his mission to make as many fans feel a part of his performance as possible.
The set included “Everybody Lost Somebody,” “Hate That You Know Me,” “Rollercoaster,” “I Miss Those Days” and “I Wanna Get Better.” Jack Antonoff was born knowing how to play festivals. Maybe he goes in with the philosophy that everyone was there to see him, but it works. Even when the distance between he and the fans is wider on the big stage, he still knows how to bridge the gap.
The son of Beatle George Harrison is his own musician, with a sound that is heavy, proggy and dark. There are elements of metal in there, and math rock, and if you tried very hard you could hear a sweet melody, but that was masked in the layer upon layer of bass and bombast of Harrison and his band.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
From one famous offspring to another: The son of Willie Nelson and his incredibly talented and stylish band began their set in strong fashion, with “Die Alone,” “Fool Me Once,” “Carolina” and “Little Girl.” The band’s blend of traditional country and blues-inflected material had no seams, leading to a tight performance.
Low Cut Connie
The six people on stage didn’t care how they looked or what anyone thought of their performance. Frontman-pianist Adam Weiner wore a sparkly gold jacket and banged away on his standup piano like there was no tomorrow. If that was not enough for anyone, he would climb atop his stool, raise one leg on the air, and play in what was essentially a headstand position. He would swivel his hips and butt for cameramen, and climbed into the crowd to give hugs and high fives. But while he played the part of Little Richard, with tight black pants and white socks, he was also the glue that held his talented band together.
What more can be said about Billy Idol? BottleRock was the perfect setting for the ’80s rocker because ladies of a certain age went crazy for him, and Idol, well, loves the ladies. “There’s nothing like being in a band, and playing to so many people, and the girls!” He yelled, sometime between “Dancing With Myself” and “Eyes Without a Face,” which both went over swimmingly.
The London duo got a bit of a raw deal in terms of stage times. Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West were on the Midway Stage in the heat of the day, and the sun glared at them head-on. Both of those things proved to distract a bunch of fans from the duo’s moody mid-tempo songs, like “Lifetimes,” “Over It” and “Heavy.” But that notwithstanding, the performance was velvet honey.
LaFarge may be a young man in the grand scheme of things but the music he plays is straight up countrified rockabilly of old. While he had the misfortune of sharing a set time with E-40, those who danced to his songs could actually work on their footwork; rather than the grinding we’re so used to at festivals, these people were working on the Charleston and East Coast swing. When a fan yelled for the band to “turn up!” LaFarge replied the drum pads were on the way. Jokes aside, he and his band knew how to put on a terrific retro show.
Speaking of E-40, Oracle Arena was missing one of its most passionate courtside fans as he took the stage in Napa right around halftime. The legendary Bay Area rapper’s highly anticipated set took place at a well-populated Midway Stage, the crowd stretching to the far reaches of the lawn and into some of the food vendor areas. E-40 opened his set with “Bitch” and “White Girl,” and had fans bouncing, swaying and throwing their hands in the air the entire way. E-40 added in a cover of “I Got 5 On It.”
The Head & the Heart
The Head & the Heart brought their blend of indie rock and traditional folk to the main stage just as the sun began to set on the second day of the festival. The band’s warm, layered instrumentation and three-part harmonies were in top form on songs like “All We Ever Knew.” Charity Rose Thielen’s violin and ample vocals also added to the band’s throwback sound.
Austin electronic duo Missio brought its brand of big beats and haunting vocals to BottleRock’s Midway Stage. Frontman Matthew Bruce, songwriter-producer David Butler and a touring drummer played a sampling of cuts from their debut LP “Loner.” Mixing stylistic elements of electronica, hip-hop, rock and pop, Missio provided a high-energy set of songs about depression and redemption, carried by Bruce’s soulful voice.
Michael Franti, who may or may not be composed of actual sunshine, brought the good vibes Saturday. Franti has been a mainstay at BottleRock since its inception, and his breezy reggae jams brought the crowd to life as he spent nearly as much time making his way through the crowd as he did on the stage. Franti led the crowd in “Get Me To Saturday” and “Say Hey (I Love You).” At one point, he even had a veteran send a Memorial Day greeting to the crowd.
The Record Company
SoCal roots rockers The Record Company played a set of blues rock and rugged no-frills Americana during their midday set. The power trio mixed classic Rolling Stones-era rock with dirty retro blues. The band’s sound is highlighted by singer-guitarist Chris Vos’ deep bluesy growl, along with his soulful blues guitar solos. He and bandmates Alex Stiff and Marc Cazorla brought a natural alternative to some of the electronic-filled sets of the day. They closed out their set with a blistering take on the Beastie Boys “Sabatoge.”
One of the surprise sets of the day came from neo-soul singer Jacob Banks. Born in Nigeria and hailing from the U.K., Banks ruled the stage with a sultry mix of soul, funk and R&B with a fiery backline serving up a tight groove. Banks’ stage presence was calm and unassuming, but exuded a quiet confidence exemplified by his stellar voice, featuring a smokey Ray Charles-esque quality. He kept his stage banter to a minimum, throwing in a quick one-liner or two before breaking into the next song.
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter. Follow photographer Martin Lacey at Facebook.com/martinlaceyphotography and Instagram.com/martinlaceyphotography. Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald. Follow editor Chloe Catajan at Instagram.com/riannachloe and Twitter.com/riannachloe.