GLEN ELLEN, Calif. — Alt-rock was on the menu for Sunday’s fourth and final day of the second annual Sonoma Harvest Music Festival. Bands brought riffs, urgency, energy and a little bit of introspection for the last day’s musical offering. The afternoon closed out with an intensely emotional performance from Death Cab for Cutie, which wasn’t without a little bit of controversy.
The band took the stage with frontman Ben Gibbard behind the keyboard for an extended atmospheric rock jam leading into the opening melody of “I Will Possess Your Heart.” Death Cab kept up the energy with “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” and “Long Division.”
“As mentioned in the open, we’re a band from Seattle,” Gibbard announced before the band kicked into the opening notes of Gold Rush. “This song is about that city turning into San Francisco.”
Death Cab for Cutie continued with “Crooked Teeth” and “No Sunlight,” though there was quite the abundance of sun throughout the hot day in the Sonoma Valley. A turning point occurred in the waning moments of “No Sunlight,” as Gibbard collided with guitarist Dave Depper and fell down hard.
Gibbard seemed to bang his leg on the way down and was clearly in a bit of pain. Feeling some frustration, he threw his guitar and took a moment to regain his composure toward the back of the stage. After a quick breather, Gibbard walked back to the piano for “What Sarah Said,” but not before grabbing the stool and throwing it to the side of the stage.
Gibbard was clearly frustrated for the rest of the performance, choosing not to engage with the audience between songs other than to thank fans for being there and paying attention to Death Cab’s performance. While the mishap made for a tenser dynamic between the band members—and between band and audience—the performance did not suffer for it.
Gibbard focused whatever frustration he may have been feeling into his performance and delivered a focused and stellar conclusion to the band’s set, beginning with the emotional acoustic “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.”
Death Cab is touring in support of its latest EP, The Blue, and included new track “Kids In ’99.” The bluesy shuffle provided an interesting departure from the other songs, with the song’s riffs shining through.
The band continued through the trio of “Northern Lights” and “Cath…” before closing out with standards “Soul Meets Body” and “Transatlanticism.” Fans seemed to take all of the ups and downs in stride, showing appreciation for an overall impressive performance with a healthy dose of applause.
SoCal alt-rockers Silversun Pickups brought the daily dose of sonic experimentation to Sonoma Harvest. Singer-guitarist Brian Aubert brought an expansive array of guitar effects, fuzz tones and trippy distortions that lifted the band’s hourlong set. Bassist Nikki Monninger provided low end support and mixed in backing vocals to round out keyboardist Joe Lester’s atmospherics and Chris Guaniao’s fast-paced drumming.
“Hello, my friend/ It’s nice to see you again,” Aubert sang in the opening lyrics of “Neon Wound,” as if giving the audience a collective welcome to the show.
The band rolled through “It Doesn’t Matter Why” and “Common Reactor,” before diving into the explosive and bouncy “Panic Switch.” Aubert and Monninger played off each other to create an explosive vocal interplay. Aubert went extra trippy on the exploratory “Freakazoid,” playing a choppy guitar rhythm on top of a driving beat.
“Did everyone remember sunscreen?” he asked, wagging his finger at the sun-drenched crowd.
The band continued rolling through “The Royal We,” “Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)” and “Dots and Dashes (Enough is Enough)” before concluding with “Nightlight” and the crowd-pleasing “Lazy Eye.”
One of the mid-afternoon highlights belonged to Long Beach rockers Cold War Kids. The band’s piano-driven soul rock was buoyed by frontman Nathan Willett’s smooth vocals. The band showcased some the new material its been working on in the past months. Opening with the infectious “Love is Mystical,” the band mixed in an eclectic array of influences over a canvas of rock and roll.
Hits like “Hang Me Out to Dry” and “So Tied Up” were well-received by the crowd. Guitarist David Quon traded in riffs to explore the upper register of his instrument, mixing in atmospheric tones over Willett’s bluesy vocals.
The band’s new material was a natural extension of its sound on songs like “Complainer,” “Calm Your Nerves” and “Dirt In My Eye.” Willett has an unassuming talent. As a multi-instrumentalist, he’d strap on a guitar for a handful of songs and then sit down behind the keyboard for a handful others, attacking it with the same vigor.
Toward the end of the set the band threw in a curve ball, covering a snippet of George Michael’s “Freedom.” Willett joked that he knew the cover would play well with some of the older demographic.
“I know you older folks here are going to like this one,” he said.
Cold War Kids shifted the arrangement just enough to make it sound like one of theirs. They closed out with “Something is Not Right With Me.”
“This is the nicest place we’ve ever been,” said Josh Ostrander, better known as Mondo Cozmo. “We aren’t generally invited to nice places like this.”
Mondo Cozmo’s style or rock is influenced by punk, Americana and folk in equal measures. Opening with “Chemical Dream” and “Come With Me,” the band worked through its set at torrid pace fueled by drummer Andrew Tollman’s driving beats. Ostrander channeled Springsteen and Petty with his red, white and blue guitar.
“Here comes the Tom Petty part,” he said during an extended acoustic bridge of his breakout song, “Shine.” It brought about a massive singalong.
The band mixed in some new material as well, playing recent single “Black Caddillac.” Following a rousing cover of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” Mondo Cozmo brought his set to a close with “Automatic.”
Bay Area power pop band Hot Flash Heat Wave opened the Sonoma Harvest Festival’s last day with an upbeat sound that was three parts the Cure to 1 part the Smiths. The band’s melodic and guitar-driven songs awoke early arrivals relaxing on the lawn. The band hails from Davis, so they Northern California gig felt very much like home for the band.