As festival organizers can tell you, sometimes everything doesn’t go to plan. With all of the moving pieces involved in a fest, it’s not too uncommon that you have to replace an act, and occasionally cancel parts of the festival. (In one recent case, one festival had to evacuate 60,000+ people in the middle of the day.) So although two of Sunday’s biggest acts – Tricky and and a rare appearance from How To Destroy Angels – had canceled right before the festival, Sunday’s unexpected turns resulted in some of the day’s highlights. It will already be a logistical improvement if only a handful acts cancel for next year’s lineup (seven acts cancelled on this year’s lineup), but even if an Aussie quartet isn’t around to save the day, Mountain Oasis has such a positive, quintessentially Asheville vibe running through it that a rough weekend for 2014 seems unlikely after such a strong inaugural showing.
Jessie Ware – 6:45
Jessie Ware may not have had the most elaborate staging or bombastic performance of the weekend, but even if she didn’t have a fantastic debut and a stunning voice, she may have gotten by on personality alone. Bathed in purple light, the London songstress talked to the audience between every song, reprimanding the lighting director (“Stop cutting the lights, I can’t see anything! Much less the lovely audience.), offering schedule advice (“I’d go see T. Williams, Tourist, Mount Kimbie, and Disclosure. Duh.”), and directions on how to “sexy dance”. When they weren’t (probably intentionally) cutting her stage banter short, her three-piece band played Devotion mostly note for note, which is fine because its songs still shine over a year after release. Although she would reemerge with Disclosure a few hours later, Ware’s headlining set was more than enough to make her Asheville’s sweetheart for the weekend.
Darkside – 8:15
Darkside’s appearance at Mountain Oasis was their only planned US show of the year, as well as one of the first chances to hear Psychic, their recently released debut album, live. Compared to most of the weekend’s acts, Darkside’s was one of the more cerebral and less visceral, but no less rewarding. Dave Harrington’s guitar playing walks the line between tasteful atmosphere and well-placed dissonant noise, so his contributions felt appropriately supportive to Nicolas Jaar’s electronic compositions. Except for a brief introduction, the duo were silent during their performance, preferring to stand in near darkness and let the music – often alternating between brooding low and dynamic high tones – speak for itself. It was the one show of the weekend where rave gear wouldn’t have seemed just out of place, but downright irreverent, which is no small feat considering the band’s recent emergence as a live act.
Disclosure – 8:45
Disclosure are having a very good year. They’re critical and commercial darlings, and their live shows are selling briskly, so maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that their well-attended performance in the ExploreAsheville.com Arena was appropriately triumphant, but that’s exactly what it was. As if having great tunes and solid stage show wasn’t enough, Howard and Guy Lawrence incorporate a great deal of live instrumentation in their show, rather than just pushing buttons on CDJs or sequencers. Percussion pads, sample pads, and bass guitars fill in the spaces in their rhythm tracks, making the brothers one of the few contemporary dance acts who are as fascinating to watch as they are to listen to. Jessie Ware’s not-so-subtly hinted at guest appearance was certainly a treat, but it felt like icing on an already impressive cake. If the duo return to Mountain Oasis in years to come, it shouldn’t be a surprise if they’re headlining.
Mount Kimbie – 9:15
Although the sound in the ExploreAsheville.com Arena and Thomas Wolfe Auditorium improved across the weekend, it was still a relief to have a group as nuanced and textural as Mount Kimbie in the smaller, better sounding Orange Peel. Although this came at the expense of playing against part of Disclosure’s set (the start of the London post-dubstep duo’s show was painfully underattended), it was the best possible scenario for the group. With a third live member on additional instrumentation, tracks like “Made To Stray”, “Carbonated”, and “Home Recording” popped and fizzled in the club’s low end, forming a far more interesting bass-driven experience than any of the American dubstep artists at the festival put on. The duo’s visual backdrop – a series of photographs reflecting the sentiments of the current song – was also a clever move, showing that sometimes being subtle is more effective than being loud. In a weekend seemingly defined by volume, Mount Kimbie stood out not only for refusing to go up to 11 for loudness’ sake, but also because their music felt so much farther ahead of the game than that of many of the weekend’s acts.
Cut Copy – 10:00
After Nine Inch Nails’ stunning Saturday performance, it was hard not to be a little let down knowing that Trent Reznor wouldn’t be performing the next day as initially planned, but in all fairness, How To Destroy Angels’ moody distortion probably wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun as Cut Copy’s thrilling hour-long set. In fact, only a few of the weekend’s sets came close to reaching the peaks that the Aussies repeatedly hit on Sunday night. The group’s greatest strength – take note DJs – is that their songs make clear distinctions in their buildup and release, which means that even if the crowd is unfamiliar with their music, they still know exactly when to lose their shit, which is why when the band played tracks from their forthcoming album Free Your Mind, they went off as if they were already classics. Coupled with a few actual classics (“Hearts On Fire”, “Need You Now”, and set-closer “Lights and Music”), the band’s new acid house makeover suited them well, often segueing multiple songs into each other that turned the typically sophisticated Thomas Wolfe Auditorium into a circa-1992 dance club. Even the band, especially frontman Dan Whitford and guitarist/keyboardist Tim Hoey, seemed to be losing their minds onstage with an enthusiasm that no other band came close to matching that weekend. The group cut their set short by about 15 minutes, but it was a wise move – the energy in the auditorium couldn’t have been topped – there were more than a few dance parties going on all the way into the fire exit aisles – and as the crowd moved out into the city, the Aussie quartet stood as an undeniable highlight. Festival organizers, here is your 2014 MVP.