[EVENT RECAP] First City Festival
Concert promotion company Goldenvoice had one hell of a weekend, putting on a duo of festivals up and down the California coast. With the large downtown LA Arena-based FYF Fest going on down south, First City Festival stood in direct contrast; a smaller, chiller crowd; made even more relaxed being situated at the seaside Monterey Fairgrounds.
Although driving down from San Francisco on Saturday took longer than expected, we did manage to catch the end of sister duo Cocorosie’s set while waiting in the short entrance line. Traversing the length of the fairgrounds towards the end Cypress stage, Chicago-based How To Dress Well interjected his soft meaningful lyrics with light-hearted stage banter and awkward catcalls to men in the audience. Onto the adjacent Manzanita stage, we listened to The Lonely Wild, (after some well-deserved beers, of course). The 5-piece from LA put in a well-needed dose of Americana into the festival and bridged the SoCal-NorCal gap, announcing their next album will be recorded at SF studio, Tiny Telephone. After a few songs, it was straight to the main Redwood stage to see Tokyo Police Club. Putting on a textbook set, the Canadian band played both classics and new hits, “Your English Is Good” and “Hot Tonight” led by keyboardist Graham Wright’s energy.
Opting for a break in music, we meandered back towards the entrance to hit up some rides. With lines being absurdly short, we hopped on carnival classics such as High Voltage, the “swings” (coincidentally from Neverland Ranch), and even the Zipper. We chose to get back back in line for the latter multiple times, because who doesn’t want to constantly flip in a cage whilst being pelted by loose change over and over again? Skipping over the deep-fried foods with our now-queasy stomachs, it was back to the main stage to catch the beginning portion of Best Coast, who put on a solid performance.
However, the Cypress stage was beckoning us, and we rushed over to make sure we didn’t miss Tanlines’ catchy song “All Of Me”. The NY duo got the crowd grooving and moving, but after walking all day without a break, we decided to sit and recoup for a bit, sipping on some Big Wave Golden Ales, which happened to only be served next to the Cypress stage, (so we had a few). After a bit of boozing, we shook out our legs and wandered over to catch rising Norwegian artist Mr Little Jeans sing most of her debut album, Pocketknife. Although with some technical difficulties, her set proved one of the best surprises of the weekend, finishing strong with her stellar Arcade Fire cover, "The Suburbs".
With a euphoric haze, we blindly wandered back over to the main stage to see the buzz band that is Phantogram. If you’ve never seen them before, the pair from Greenwich, NY are an act to behold. Sarah Barthel’s reckless and infectious energy, accompanied by Josh Carter’s gritty guitar-work, no doubt got the crowd going as the sun slowly faded beyond the horizon. After their hour long rambunctious performance, we stealthed back to the carnival section, under the shade of darkness. With most the audience at the Cypress or Manzanita stage, we again had nearly every ride to ourselves; zero lines, all fun. This time we opted binge-riding the Orbiter, finishing off with the ferris wheel. We just wished the views from up top were a bit more scenic. Luckily we had the Saturday night headliner, Beck, to look forward to. Arguably the best set of the weekend, he shined and thrived; playing an eclectic mix of both older and newer songs. This wasn’t our first time seeing the four-time platinum artist, but was our most memorable show of his to date, assisted with some impressive visuals.
Back at it again on Sunday, we were sad to miss SF-locals Midi Matilda and Boston’s diverse Lake Street Drive, but we did get in with enough time to hear a few songs from chamber rock band, San Fermin, at the Cypress stage. This was the first time we had seen the octet and they did not disappoint. After again grabbing some Big Waves, we wandered over in order to set up in front Future Islands. Frontman Samuel Herring injected a much-needed energy into the atmosphere, especially with their breakout song-of-the-year, “Seasons”. After that, we made haste back to Cypress to see Detroit band, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., mainly to see Daniel Zott’s wild mane bouncing around on stage. We stayed for a few songs (and another beer) and humored the idea of going to see Dawes, but instead chose to take our time taking in new sights that we had skipped out on the first day.
First we hit up the Vaudeville stage, for the humorously sad Puddles Pity Party, who sang a wicked rendition of “My Heart Will Go On”. After grabbing some gyros, we visited the various vendors by Unique USA. We made more than a few friends with the San Franpsycho crew and Electric Feather Company, snagging ourselves some nifty key jewelry by Goat & Kettle as well. Just behind the main stage, we perused the selection of vinyls at a small swap meet. After spending some dough, we met up with some friends back by the carnival rides, this time riding the Star Dancer roughly 8 times consecutively. It was all fun and games until one of our friends lost their phone mid-ride, which happened to be captured on video. We sauntered over to Manzanita with somber hearts, only to catch Lo Fang’s rendition of “Pony”. Unfortunately, he ended his set 10 minutes early, but the change did allow of to see nearly the whole set of San Francisco-based group, Geographer, who excited the crowd with familiar classics and also some soon-to-be released new songs.
The rest of the evening culminated in trekking back and forth from the Redwood and Cypress stages, seeing The Naked and Famous, Cults, and The National, respectively, and a strong array of bands to close out the festival. The New Zealand-based duo of Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith (and their backing band) laid down dreamy and electric hits, with the audience singing “Happy Birthday” for Xayalith’s birthday. Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion of the Cults sounded great, but lacked the energy and stage presence that would have made their act a memorable one. This is where headliner Matt Berninger of The National shined, who finished out with his trademark jaunt through the audience, to their, and our, delight. With the second night in our hindsight, we didn’t want it to end, so why not some karaoke and over-priced drinks at the nearby Mexican bar/club Planet Gemini? Well done First City Festival. We’ll be back...
Words by Michael Truxton
Photos by Lance Skundrich