First City Festival shines in Monterey

Anya Schultz/Senior Staff

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Monterey in the  ’60s was well-known for a three-day music festival. Jimi Hendrix performed, as did the Who and Janis Joplin. This Woodstock-of-the-West experience continues today in the scenic coastal town with First City Festival, a two-day music festival boasting a well-curated lineup, an old-school carnival and even a swamp meet. Check out which musicians The Daily Californian enjoyed watching last weekend at First City Festival

Future Islands

In a sea of indie rock bands playing on scattered stages, it is all too easy for a band with an early set time to get swept away in the music festival blur. Future Islands’ performance Sunday will not soon be forgotten. Between frontman Samuel Herring’s melodramatic dance moves and gorilla-like growls, everything he does is inimitable. He beats his chest, bobs his head and barks like a demon. One of his favorite dance moves looks like he is peeling off his face, then proudly holding it in the air like a trophy. As bizarre as he sounds, Herring is also completely endearing and the music — ’80s-infused synth-pop — is worth downloading. Future Islands put on the best show of the day and confirmed how much music lovers crave bands that do things differently.

— Anna Carey

The Naked and Famous

New Zealand power duo Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers formed the Naked and Famous back in 2008, and very quickly rose to the top of alternative music charts to become a staple at major music festivals. The duo’s electric energy flew off the stage in their live set. Dreamy synths echoed down to the crowd at the main stage. The pair tag-teams on who leads each song, but their voices truly shine when layered together — Xayalith’s synth-like sound melds with Powers’ softer vocals. The two clearly were having fun up there, and for good reason, because it was Xayalith’s birthday. The crowd sang a full “Happy Birthday” before the duo closed with one of their biggest hits, “All of This.”

— Anna Carey

Beck

four-time platinum artist, Beck is used to the spotlight.  And he doesn’t seem to want to depart from it any time soon. Beck, who played Saturday night’s last set, thrived on the energy from the audience. He jumped on stage, barring his guitar and teeth at the photo pit as he welcomed the crowd to Monterey with “Devil’s Haircut.” Fortunately for the audience, Beck transitioned flawlessly between older albums and newer works such as this year’s release Morning Phase. Gibberish-filled “Loser” was of course a fan favorite as was the light and ethereal single “Blue Moon.” Beck successively proved that some things do really get better with age.

— Addy Bhasin 

Cults

As the Monterey air got chillier and nighttime settled in, Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion of the Cults took the Cypress stage for one of the final sets of the day. Although they sounded good, it was difficult to stay engaged during their set. Neither Oblivion nor Follin has a powerful stage presence, and as the lead singer, Follin was disappointing. She hardly moved at her post behind the microphone beyond some awkward swaying. She seemed uninterested in what she was doing and who was in the crowd. So much about a band’s future success relies on how they present themselves on stage, and while their music has gotten them this far, the Cults certainly need to put more work into their showmanship if they want to move any further.

— Anna Carey

Phantogram

Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, the duo behind Phantogram, have history. The two have been friends since junior high school and reunited to create their electronic rock sound. Though Carter did thrill the crowd at First City Festival, Barthel stole the show. With tall black heels, short shorts and a sleek bob. Barthel and her energy radiated across the writhing audience. She jumped up and down for almost the entire set — an impressive itself — but add the fact that she produces the vocals on every song as well and you have some idea of how animated and vivacious she really is. The setlist included “Black Out Days” and “Lights,” which was featured in the “Catching Fire” soundtrack. If one thing’s for sure, it’s that Phantogram is rocketing on a glorious upward trajectory.

— Addy Bhasin 

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra doesn’t rely on pyrotechnics, impressive lighting or really any gimmicks to awe audiences. The American and New Zealand rock band — made up of leader singer and guitarist Ruban Nielson, drummer Riley Geare and bassist Jake Portrait — draws upon raw talent. At First City Festival, Unknown Mortal Orchestra — which is signed to Jagjaguwar — barely spoke, but their sonic melodies and inventive rhythms spoke for themselves. The group is quiet, subtle, mysterious — something that worked perfectly at their twilight set; they rocked out to fan favorite “How Can U Luv Me” as the sun went down.  Fortunately, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s talent is not unknown.

— Addy Bhasin 

Contact Addy Bhasin and Anna Carey at [email protected].