Concert Review: TBD Fest
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a fledgling festival in our glorious state capital, Sacramento. Started in 2014, TBD Fest was a 3-day festival that attracted a surprisingly solid lineup, including names such as Porter Robinson, Pretty Lights, and Chromeo among others. As you might be able to tell from the headliners I just listed, the festival was heavily slanted towards EDM, pop, and hip-hop acts, but there was still a decent variety of artists on display. I attended on Saturday and I'm writing about my impressions of the artists that I saw in addition to the festival in general.
The first thing I noticed upon arriving at the festival was the tiny size of the grounds. If you've ever been to Outside Lands, the main stage area in Golden Gate Park is about the size of the grounds that housed four stages. Thus, the crowds were smaller and the entire affair felt less cramped. A good thing it felt that way too, because the second thing I noticed was the heat. Sacramento was an absolutely blazing 95 degrees on Saturday, which made the dusty festival grounds feel like a desert at times. The festival provided free water, but only at one location (unless you were a VIP -__-) which had a 15 minute-long line at all times. The long water lines made the $7 beers seem fairly reasonable by comparison, but I can say that the local brewery samplings they had were quite delicious. The culture of the festival was fairly tame; the wild escapism and drug use of more established festivals was noticeably absent. The people watching opportunities were limited thusly, but overall, people were much more respectful and gracious than I have experienced at other festivals. Onto the bands!
After arriving late due to some serious traffic on 80, I managed to catch the latter half of Autograf's set. They're a tropical house duo, featuring one of the pair jamming on a xylophone, while the other DJ'd. While I give them points for their unique setup, they had low crowd interaction and energy. This must be tempered with the fact that they performed early in the day, but I still feel that they could have impressed a bit more. If I had to score my anticipation coming in, it would be about a 7. I'd give them a 5 after hearing their set. Check out their remix of Odezsa's "All We Need", right here:
After Autograf, I wandered over to another stage where I listened to the female vocalist ASTR. She reminded me too much of Rihanna, from her voice and style of music, but bereft of all of the intangibles that make Rihanna an intriguing and successful pop icon. Her dance moves looked forced and everything about her persona on stage seemed too full of effort. I'm sure she has a unique identity and personality hidden somewhere down there, but it she seems like she's trying to imitate others' successes rather than innovate on her own.
Anticipation coming in: 5
Coming out: 3
After ASTR's set, I decided to cool off a bit and wait in line for 15 minutes for some water. I decided to save the water for later and opted to grab a beer then check out Chad Valley. Contrary to what the name insinuates, Chad Valley is not a folksy Americana band - it's actually a British dream pop duo. Their frontman is a hefty gentleman with an absolutely angelic voice and I was spellbound for the first few songs. After that point, the minimal crowd interaction and energy took its toll and I noted that their material seemed to lack variety. However, the sound quality, balance, and pristine vocals lead to this act being surprisingly, the best strictly musical performance of the festival.
Anticipation coming in: 4
Coming out: 6
Check out Chad Valley's performance on KEXP to see what I'm talking about:
Feeling slightly woozy from standing in the heat, I made moves to purchase what I can only describe as a monstrosity in sandwich form. Filled with bacon, shredded pork, grilled onions, and mac n cheese (you read that right), this thing had enough calories to sustain me through the rest of the day's performances. While waiting for the sandwich, I was able to listen to part of Touch Sensitive's set, which was slightly unique due to the house producer's live bass guitar accompanying his songs. It was a nice touch and he laid down some funky grooves that the crowd seemed to enjoy. I don't think I saw enough of the performance to rate it, but I certainly enjoyed it!
After stuffing my face, I walked over to another stage to see Verite - a female singer with a powerful voice. Her melancholy pop coincided well with the setting sun in the background, but I thought the sound of her performance was not well balanced, with her voice often drowning out the instrumentation of her backing band members. Additionally, she did little to inspire the crowd to reach the same emotionally-charged level of her music. Overall, it was a solid, if uninspiring, set.
Anticipation coming in: 5
Coming out: 5
Listen to Verite's song, "Strange Enough" for a good example of her work:
I rushed off in the middle of Verite's last song in order to catch the first act that I hotly anticipated during the festival: Joywave. Joywave is a slippery project to pin down onto one genre, blending and jumping equally between alternative rock, electronica, and dance music. I saw them about a year ago and the difference a year of touring makes for a band can be absolutely astounding. Frontman Daniel Ambruster launched off the performance with frenetic energy and immediately got the crowd going. His confidence on stage was infectious as he continued to interact and hype the crowd, a major difference from the performance I observed last year. Unfortunately, his vocals were a bit too soft at times, but the sheer energy of the crowd and instrumentals masked this imperfection well. The set was also paced excellently, with high energy songs kicking it off, a few softer ballads in the middle, and a bombastic finish. Fabulous.
Anticipation coming in: 7
Coming out: 9
"TONGUES", their flagship song, is an obsession of mine and you need to listen to it if you haven't already. Great music video too!
At this point, I bunkered down at one stage to get close for an act I have waited for years to see live: RATATAT. Their blend of alt rock and electronica sets them apart from any other artists and I was frothing at the mouth to see the duo shred their guitars in a live setting. In an age where DJ's often simply press play during live performances, seeing an electronic act perform with live instrumentation is an absolute joy. RATATAT also deserves props for the best lightshow of the festival (Note: I didn't get to see Porter Robinson or Pretty Lights, so I can't comment on their light shows), with weird visuals to compliment the trippy vibes of their music. The crowd was very engaged in the performance, even if audience interaction by the duo was minimal. At least we had shred-tacular guitar fills between songs! If I had to nitpick and be negative, I personally would have liked to hear some more LP4 songs on their setlist, but that's just me.
Anticipation coming in: 9
Coming out: 9
Check out my favorite song of their set, "Nightclub Amnesia":
Finally, Chance the Rapper closed out the day for me. I wasn't expected it for such a minor festival, but Chance pulled out all the stops and brought his whole band, The Social Experiment, along for the ride. Did I mention how huge a fan I am of live instrumentation? Unfortunately, this performance demonstrated the risks involved with live instrumentation. The sound balance was off for the first few songs, with heavy bass from the keyboard absolutely drowning out everything else. They fixed that issue after a little while, but Chance's vocals were often inaudible while he was singing instead of shouting his raps into the microphone.
Despite these sound issues, this was the performance I enjoyed the most. I think this stemmed from the intangibles that Chance brought to his performance. I've seen very few acts with as much charisma and stage presence like Chance; he really dominates the stage and makes you buy into his world - a world of good times and good vibes. Positivity was the underlying emotion that characterized the concert, with the friendliest front row crowd I have ever had the pleasure of moshing with. Everybody was hype, everybody was respectful, and it was beautiful to see humans enjoying themselves and acting in harmony.
Chano's setlist was absolutely perfect, in pacing and in content, with covers of Baby Blue (Action Bronson) and Heaven Only Knows (Towkio) creating little surprises to enjoy. My personal favorite was his cover of the Arthur theme song, which gave me Hey Jude-esque deja vu and goosebumps during its repeated chorus of "Everyday it could be wonderful...". I think the song and performance captured Chance's X factor perfectly, an extraordinary overload of positive emotions that must be experienced to fully understand.
Anticipation coming in: 9
Coming out: 8
Fun Factor: 11
Listen to "Wonderful Everyday" performed live:
In closing, I most certainly had a good time, which is the important thing! I dug the smaller venue, intimate crowds, and musical acts overall. As a festival, I think it has a long way to go to develop some personality, however. I don't think I would go without a musical lineup as strong as this one and I didn't feel like the location or general vibe of the festival positively enhanced my experience. Still, it was tightly run, except for the water situation, with decent sound quality on the stages and minimum hassle getting in or out. A positive experience in the end.