GLEN ELLEN, Calif. — Alternative rock was the order of the day Saturday at B.R. Cohn Winery on the second weekend of the expanded Sonoma Harvest Festival. The second weekend had a decidedly younger demographic, with the 20s and 30s crowd packing the Sonoma County winery. The onstage vibe was carefree, with all of the artists embracing the sun.
Scottish electronic trio Chvrches headlined the bill with their signature upbeat, electro-infused alt-pop. The Saturday set was actually a relatively unique opportunity to see the band in a setting in which it doesn’t normally play: In the sunshine. It was a point that singer Lauren Mayberry jokingly made early in the performance about the band’s propensity to generally play at night or in darkness. Multiple times, the band took a moment to take in the surroundings.
“It’s a little different than Glasgow, isn’t it?” Mayberry joked. And later in the set: “This is very different for us, it’s like a school field trip; a field trip for goths.”
Even given the relaxed setting, the band brought its A-game, opening with “Get Out,” off its latest album, Love Is Dead. Mayberry and company played numerous newer songs, but also included material from prior releases. Chvrches’ sound has never been fuller since they’ve touring with a drummer who’s has added a new depth and energy to the music and rounded out the sound.
The band continued with “Bury It,” “We Sink” and “Graffiti.” Mayberry brought an electricity to the performance that channeled the sun. She commanded the stage in a bright yellow transparent dress. The band’s occasionally self-deprecating banter was a highlight itself. Talking about how hot it was (“Does anyone else have elbow sweat? Is it normal?”), the picturesque setting, and the travails of getting old and getting a good night’s sleep, the band was funny and engaging throughout the course of 75 minutes.
“Are we ready?” keyboardist Martin Doherty asked the band at one point, to which Mayberry responded with an emphatic “no!” because she had to wipe the sweat from her face and fix her bangs first.
Following “Miracle,” “Science/Visions” and “Tether,” Chvrches brought back a rarity in “Never Ending Circles.” Mayberry had a commanding stage presence, twirling, kicking and head-banging for nearly the entire set.
On “Recover,” Doherty, guitarist Iain Cook and the drummer (Jonny Scott) provided a rich canvas on which Mayberry could paint. The frontwoman then spoke about the band’s appreciation for Northern California, and specifically San Francisco—the first place the band played in America.
“We were so worried that no one would like us and no one would like us,” Mayberry said. “So thank you very much for coming.”
After the upbeat “Leave a Trace” and “Clearest Blue,” Chvrches finished off the afternoon’s festivities with “The Mother We Share” and newer jam “Never Say Die.”
Ohio dance rockers Walk The Moon brought a dance party to the warm afternoon. Frontman Nicholas Pettrica engaged fans before nearly every song, instructing on some combination of clapping, waving and singing. Each song during the band’s set seemed to have its own unique way in which the crowd could interact, beyond the standard concert fare. Opening with the infectious “One Foot,” the band rolled through its atmospheric synth-pop.
“Are we drinking wine out there?” bassist Kevin Ray asked early in the set. “You’re all remembering to spit right? Oops..”
Walk the Moon kept up the pace for songs like “Portugal,” “Tightrope” and “Quesadilla.” The band even mixed in some covers along the way, such as the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” and infusing some of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” into “Headphones.” Pettrica’s engagement with the audience was conversational and continued throughout the course of the band’s set. Pettrica told the Sonoma crowd of the band’s experience playing the Life is Beautiful festival just days earlier, playing alongside members of Cirque du Soleil.
The band’s sound was tailor-made for the setting, bringing upbeat and positively infectious dance rock jams to the Sonoma stage. Songs like “Eat Your Heart Out” and “Kamikaze” kept up the pace and the energy in the middle portion of the band’s hourlong set.
The band closed out with its two most well known hits in “Shut Up and Dance” and “Anna Sun,” the former featuring Pettrica asking fans to take any of the ills they’ve been experiencing in their life and “toss them up on stage so we can dance them away.”
New York’s MisterWives, playing one of their first shows following a year off, geared up for the release of their forthcoming third album with an explosively fun set. Mandy Lee, Etienne Bowler, William Hehir, Jesse Blum, Marc Campbell and Mike Murphy appeared to be in mid-tour form, which would be surprising if you didn’t know that they spend most of their time together even when not on tour. Bowler and Lee liked each other enough to get married last year!
Lee, wearing a bedazzled white jacket with gold streamers clinging on for dear life, spun, danced and jumped through poppy jems like “Machine,” “Drummer Boy,” “Only Human” and “Never Give Up on Me.”
The band delivered every note emphatically.
Between songs Lee was a formidable frontwoman, again recalling the energy of Gwen Stefani. Speaking before “Never Give Up on Me” she acknowledged having an anxiety attack earlier in the day and that she has them from time to time. “It’s just life,” she said.
Another high point came during two covers: First of the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” and then the Cranberries’ “Dreams.” MisterWives played only one new song, initial single “WhyWhyWhy,” before rollowing into a grungy take on Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” and more songs that didn’t lull for a second.
The band closed with “Our Own House,” which had a funky intro that probably called back to the band’s origin as a house party covers act. Lee reached up into her Mariah Carey range. It was glorious.
L.A.-based Australian band Atlas Genius really wanted some wine, with singer Keith Jeffery sugesting to fans early on that it was the only thing missing from the stage. The band, which included his brothers Michael and Steven Jeffery, played about 40 minutes, mixing newer material before closing with its biggest hit, “Trojans.”
Highlights included “The City We Grow,” “Can’t Be Alone Tonight” and “If So.” There was also a fun cover of Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” with a swirl of guitars replacing the synth-heavy sound of the original. At that point, Keith Jeffery reminded fans he was thirtsy.
“I hinted about wanting a glass of wine earlier but it just didn’t happen. I got this can of water,” he said, before one of the event’s producers handed him one.
The latter end of the ban’s set included “Animals” and “Molecules.”
Los Angeles quartet The Score opened the day of performances with a set of bouncy power pop int he vein of Imagine Dragons, with songs like “Born for This,” “Dreamin” and “Legend.” Frontman Eddie Anthony mentioned that the band was playing some of its songs for just the second time following the August release of EP Stay.