Everyone knows the big bands headlining this week’s Life Is Beautiful, so telling you to go see the Killers, Kings of Leon or the Alabama Shakes would be too easy. What we want is to give you a list of acts that you might not be aware of, but should mark down on you Life Is Beautiful to-do list. We already have.
Locally, it’s not that A Crowd of Small Adventures, Rusty Maples, Dusty Sunshine, Kid Meets Cougar and Same Sex Marry aren’t good bands. They’re great. But we know that already. Festival attendees wanting to hear Vegas bands with the stamp of approval from the local hipster cognoscenti should watch each of these performances start to finish without interruption. These bands can summon an audience at will and are sure to be in the upper ranks of Vegas-based acts with the most buzz at the festival. In fact, I’d be surprised if playing LIB did not pave the way to a recording contract for at least one of these bands in the near future. Both KMC and Crowd are sort of ringers at this festival in that they haven’t been playing many shows lately. Yet there’s such a concentration of talent and appeal in these bands it would be a shame not to have them present. (Notably absent from writer Esparza’s local faves at Life Is Beautiful are Black Camaro and Coastwest Unrest.)
1 p.m., Ambassador Stage
Unlike many dance-pop groups, this Australian sextet relies less on synthesizers and more on live instrumentation. They blend angular guitar lines, bass, drums and keyboards with the sweet harmonies of singers Phoebe Baker and Lou James. The Melbourne-based ensemble released their debut, A Is For Alpine, down under last year, but it only hit stateside in May. Bright songs like “Villages” and “Hands” are danceable singalongs. Another is the single “Gasoline,” wherein Baker and James begin their twin vocal, “There’s gasoline in your heart/there’s fire in mine.” Expect the band to be ablaze when they kick-off the fest Saturday.
8:45 p.m., Ambassador Stage
The nom de rap of Donald Glover, Childish Gambino released a series of underground hip-hop albums and mixtapes before making bigger waves with 2011’s Camp. Glover, best known for his acting role on NBC’s Community, turned heads with that album’s easy flow, polished production and serious swagger. He recently dropped “Centipede,” the first song from his forthcoming follow-up, Because the Internet. A consistently unique lyricist, Glover may be the first MC to employ double entendre to reference an insurance spokeswoman: “Let’s keep it spontaneous, I don’t need that rehearsal/More flow, man, than Progressive commercials.”
10:30 p.m., Ambassador Stage
Pretty Lights is the one-man project of producer/musician Derek Vincent Smith. The Colorado native blends densely layered samples upon drum breaks to create propulsive club beats for live audiences. His latest album, A Color Map of the Sun, is his first to depart from this formula of sampling only existing material. For it, he collaborated with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the musicians behind the HBO series Tremé and others to create original, vintage-sounding music to rework into new compositions. Look for him to perform his 2010 remix of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon classic “Time” onstage Saturday, a highlight of his euphoric Coachella set this spring.
3:40 p.m., Huntridge Stage
Haim (it rhymes with “time”) is the singing and songwriting sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim plus drummer Dash Hutton. On Sunday, they’ll be playing catchy alt-pop songs from Days Are Gone, the debut album they released last month. Their influences range three decades, from Fleetwood Mac’s ‘70s heyday to ‘80s synth-driven pop to ‘90s R&B a la Destiny’s Child. They’ve opened shows for acts as diverse as punks No Age to popster Ke$ha, but their debut album’s traction overseas has led to sold-out headlining shows and a slot on the main stage of the U.K.’s massive Glastonbury Festival last year. HAIM’s latest single, “The Wire,” is their finest moment and makes you feel slightly bad about the guys the sisters didn’t feel bad about breaking up with.
5:05 p.m., Ambassador Stage
“Stevie Wonder listening to Os Mutantes on vinyl (circa 1973).” That’s a liner note from The Electric Lady, the excellent album Janelle Monáe released last month, and the funky and strange musical gumbo it suggests is apt. Lady is the fourth and fifth installments of a sci-fi concept piece Monáe began on her 2007 debut EP and continued on her 2010 breakout album The ArchAndroid. The story involves time-travel, cloning and Monáe’s droid alter ego Cindi Mayweather, a liberator trading in hip-hop, rock, soul and cabaret. The latest parts of the song-cycle smoke with funky collaborations, including Prince, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, Miguel and Solange. But don’t be worried if guest stars don’t materialize at her Sunday performance; songs where she goes it alone, like “Dance Apocalyptic,” “Ghetto Woman,” and “Can’t Live Without Your Love,” are highlights.
9:05 p.m., Red Bull Sound Select Stage
Chicago’s Smith Westerns were still teenagers in 2009 when they released their self-titled debut album, a raw and scuzzy collection of Nuggets-inspired garage rock and ‘70s glam-rock. Perhaps no other band playing the festival this weekend has undergone such a dramatic shift in sound as this quartet did between their first and subsequent albums. 2011’s Dye It Blonde and this year’s Soft Will jettisoned the lo-fi, bedroom sound of the debut and showcased a maturing band that benefited greatly from cleaner production. Power-pop loaded with swagger is the name of their game now, and melodically rich gems like “Varsity” and “Weekend” will be the likely singalongs during their set.
Moving on to Vegas acts that have either yet to fully hit their stride or have yet to reach broad exposure to local audiences but are nevertheless relevant and promising, I offer here a hodgepodge of individual entertainers and local bands performing at the inaugural run of LIB. Though I’d prefer to see local performers on the same stage, opening for the headliners, organizers of LIB are grandmasters of marketing so having these bands play on the Red Bull Sound Select or Homegrown stages may have some less obvious effect that mere laymen and professional appreciators don’t understand.
2:45 p.m., Red Bull Sound Select Stage
Powerful. Sincere. Hungry. Ekoh is young man with something to prove. But unlike many who spit lyrics to a hip hop beat, this Las Vegas rapper eschews the braggadocio of mainstream rap and leans instead, on lyrics with deeper themes of empowerment and taking responsibility for one’s own well being. His songs tell authentic stories of peers facing the pressures of the modern world with a sense of integrity even while sometimes giving in to temptation. His style is bold and unguarded, so much so that his fans branded his particular style as “heart-hop.” Yet that’s not to say Ekoh comes off like a heavy handed or corny PSA. Raw and real as it gets, in his own words from the song Heart Sleeve Fashion Statement: “I put my life into the rhyme/ and you connected to it.”
4:00 p.m., Red Bull Sound Select Stage
Believe it or not, Las Vegas has a track record for turning out rap groups who play their own instruments live rather than relying on sampling and beat-making alone. In decades past groups like The Chapter, Ink Floyd and, more recently, Rap-Out-The-Box have proven that hip hop fans are open to rap music’s jazz and reggae roots. Putting out strong and steady performances with a straightforward and slightly old school style for the past seven years is Rhyme & Rhythm. RNR’s Coco Jenkins says that while they used to play on more mixed bills with rock ‘n’ rollers and other genres, lately they have been focusing on bringing the hip hop scene together playing with other rappers like Ekoh or opening for touring rap groups on the Strip. RNR’s recorded material is fun and easy enough to listen to but the party doesn’t really get started until you hear them live.
4:20 p.m., Red Bull MXT Truck
By many accounts, Life Is Beautiful is a festival created by beautiful people, made to attract even more beautiful people. In fact, if the new downtown had a soundtrack it just might be produced by DJ Peter Shalvoy. Sexy dance tracks that outfit the second decade of the 21st century with music that is as polished and flashy as the cocksure fashions that clothe patrons of this generation’s nightlife hot spots. Shalvoy Music is the project of DJ/producer Peter Shalvoy, an East Coast transplant to Vegas with nightclub bon fides on par with the Strip’s mega-club headliners. More recently he’s been focusing on his own music with a keenly honed sense of what makes today’s retro-receptive nightlife house heads shake their rumps. Shalvoy Music is sure to please current fans and gain new followers with his brand of NuDisco, original tracks and elaborate mixes, digging deep for a desired effect much more soulful than your typical EDM club hit.
The Dirty Hooks
1:50 p.m., Red Bull Sound Select Stage
The Dirty Hooks deliberately avoid playing too often in Las Vegas. Before they ever set foot on stage they recorded their first album Electric Grit, and began working on new songs so their fans would never feel like they’ve heard everything they had to offer. The band was formed in late 2011 and began developing a hard driving, blues heavy rock sound that is unique in the current local music scene. Presently there are over 30 songs in their catalogue. And they are sticking to their guns all the way. No hint of synth pop here nor a trace of the indie folk sound that has been popular for the past five or so years locally and in hipster havens like Portland and Seattle. The Hooks seem not to care about being trendy and this just may pay off as many bands are reaching for the same low hanging fruit. They deliver a powerfully engaging live show and capture fans with grooves and hooks that are catchy, infectious and more than a little dirty.
6:35p.m., Homegrown Stage
With only one EP under her belt but enough powerful performances to have gained a solid local following, Sabriel is a vocalist that’s not easily ignored. Sweet, sultry and often seductive, this girl’s got the pipes to take you the distance. Pair that with a repertoire of original compositions and covers that showcase her range and soulfulness, Sabriel’s voice is a force to be reckoned with. She’s equally engaging weather belting out jazz standards, R&B and pop hits or even the occasional folk jam. There’s nothing not to like about Sabriel.
Joey Pero & His Band
8:10p.m., Red Bull Sound Select Stage
Though not originally from Southern Nevada, the Julliard-trained trumpeter has relocated here and has been playing out Vegas at venues on the Strip and the Smith Center. Pero already has an impressive career with performances at two presidential inaugurations and a long list of accomplishments including playing with Maynard Ferguson in the Big Bop Nouveau Band, the Boston Philharmonic and the Albany Symphony. Repeated listens to his critically acclaimed 2008 release Resonance with its dalliances into many genres including Latin and hip hop give the impression that Pero is capable of winning over fans from the Cabaret to the break dance floor. CL