The third-annual Life is Beautiful Festival in downtown Las Vegas saved some of their best tricks for last.
Kendrick Lamar topped off a weekend that included many memorable performances. Perhaps it was perfectly fitting that Kendrick — perhaps the hottest thing in rap today — would close out a festival that is clearly on the up and up in its third year. Kendrick’s live band was fantastic and the rapper brought his A-game.
Keeping it simple in a white tee shirt and hat, Kendrick ripped through a set that featured many classics off his good kid, m.A.A.d. city album that put him at the forefront of the genre. A surprise appearance by fellow Top Dog Entertainment member, Jay Rock accompanied the track, then Kendrick went through “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Backseat Freestyle.”
Balls fell from the sky, prompting Kendrick to crack some blue ball-related pun jokes. You could tell Kendrick was having a blast up there on stage, enjoying another moment as a festival-closer (he did the same at Sasquatch earlier this year).
Kendrick mostly kept his set relegated to old classics, but he did break off “King Kunta” and “i” off his Album of the Year caliber To Pimp a Butterfly before later closing the night with his single “Alright.” Kendrick sent those who stayed until 1 a.m. home happy, that’s for sure. But his performance would be far from the only thing memorable from Sunday’s slate.
Rising pop stars Ryn Weaver and Halsey delivered memorable performances earlier on the final day of the weekend. Having seen Weaver perform at a couple festivals earlier this year, the Life is Beautiful crowd was a little lighter than at the other festivals — perhaps the Vegas nightlife had gotten to some of the attendees and they were rolling through the gates later than at those other festivals? Still, Weaver was her energetic self, blowing people away with her catchy pop tunes and great singing voice. “OctaHate” capped off the set in top fashion.
Halsey is one of those acts that a year from now will be selling out large-scale venues with ease. Hell, she sold out the Fonda Theatre in two straight nights in minutes. Her performance Sunday proved why she’s so buzzy — her alternative pop stylings are a breath of fresh air in a scene where so many people sound the same. She’s got the teenaged demographic on lock, as evidenced by the amount of parents in the crowd. Her debut album Badlands that just came out last month is rife with possible radio hits, my favorite being “Roman Holiday,” which she crushed during her set. One girl held up a sign saying “Halsey be my first kiss” and towards the end of the set, the 20-year-old singer made good on the sign and gave the girl a kiss. That was a first for me.
Sunday featured a surprise set from The Killers during frontman Brandon Flowers’ allotted set time. I had heard rumblings of the possibility via social media, but it was a sight to behold. After playing about 25 minutes of his solo stuff, the stage went quiet. Then The Killers’ logo appeared on screen and the band jumped right into “Mr. Brightside”, sending everyone into a frenzy.
The hometown Vegas boys delivered six songs total, highlighted by “Runaways” and “When You Were Young,” and it was the kind of surprise that you are more likely to see at a Coachella or Bonnaroo. It’s the kind of thing that will have those who stayed at home feeling like they missed out. One observation I made during the set — is Brandon Flowers the Bruce Springsteen of our generation or what? Don’t tell me you couldn’t picture The Boss writing that “Runaways” song.
Weezer did what Weezer does, rocking the main stage to a solid turnout. Singer Rivers Cuomo was looking particularly Amish, sporting an unkempt beard that suggested he’d rolled out of hibernation for the performance. One nice moment was when the band brought out Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino to perform “Go Away,” which appears on the most recent Weezer album with her singing on it. Old Blue Album favorite “The Sweater Song (Come Undone)” featured an impromptu “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” shout to eventual headliner Kendrick Lamar, which was pretty cool to see.
Death Cab for Cutie closed out the Ambassador Stage with a career-spanning set. They played old favorites I’d never heard live like “Why You’d Want to Live Here,” basically a song that shits all over Los Angeles. A few tracks from their latest Kintsugi like “Ghosts of Beverly Drive” were right along songs like “The New Year.” Every time that song gets played, a hipster is born. They closed off their set with the emotional roller coaster “Transatlanticism,” the title track from by far my favorite Death Cab album of all-time.
All in all, Life is Beautiful continued the momentum of being my favorite second-tier music festival in all the United States. Though I felt that last year’s festival was a better lineup for me personally, the addition of the Troubadour electronic stage — sponsored by Insomniac — is a good addition to help draw in a more diverse crowd in the future. The stage always looked busy and they had some top bookings there, like Knife Party and Madeon for instance.
They got a couple unique bookings like Stevie Wonder and Duran Duran and I feel like the organizers of the lineup for this festival are always ahead of the curve in regards to booking people who are going to blow up. Halsey, Ryn Weaver, Meg Myers, Clean Bandit were just a few of the acts that could be quite big by this same time next year.
If Life is Beautiful can ride out the speed bumps that come with putting together a yearly event of this magnitude, it wouldn’t surprise me to see it become a top-tier destination music festival. Las Vegas has so many counter options to offer that it seems like it would be difficult to get people to shell out hundreds to conquer their whole weekend. For Kendrick, the festival seemed as packed as it was all weekend despite many people having to head back home for their day jobs.
It was really easy to get close in the GA pit for most sets and my service almost always works, which doesn’t speak particularly well to the possible attendance (though it topped the previous two years with 102,000 total over the three-day weekend). That said, there are so many things right about this festival — from the awesome food to the unique Learning portion (which featured Q&A panels with the likes of Bill Nye and Rosario Dawson among others) to the art installations that were very Coachella-esque. They even had a Banksy thing going!
They say after the first two or three years, you can estimate whether a music festival is going to “make it” or not. I’m no expert, but I’ve been to a dozen music festivals in 2015, and I’m convinced Life is Beautiful could be around for quite awhile. At least I hope so.
Words: Mark E. Ortega
Photography: Tom Dellinger
Death Cab For Cutie
Run The Jewels
Walk The Moon