Up above Whistler in British Columbia, Pemberton Music Festival triumphantly returns this year for the first time since 2008. This year, the festival features one of the best overall music and comedy lineups of the year, and we are proud to provide coverage through photos and summaries all weekend.
After a set rearrangement at the Bass Camp, Grimes took the stage with a fantastic turnout. No surprise there, though – since the Canadian producer and singer released the LP Visions on 4AD in 2012, Grimes’ popularity both in her own country and many others skyrocketed. In between then and now, she’s been a bit of a one-woman army, shifting the public conversation about pop music with one inescapable hit after another. If today’s performance is any indicator, it seems that with time Grimes is only coming more into her own with this identity. After cool opener “Symphonia IX (My Wait Is You)”, dancers joined Grimes on stage for “Circumambient” and the three pulled off some pretty awesome choreography together. All the while, Grimes is still manually triggering everything herself. In between dance moves, she returned up the steps and pushed the groove forward without ever disrupting the flow of each song’s experience. She was addictive to watch, if only for her uncanny ability to multitask, but pair that with a truly unique musical personality and you have a new kind of pop star in the making. Grimes pulled out her new single with Blood Diamonds “Go” after getting the whole dance tent off their feet on “Phone Sex”, her other collaboration with Blood Diamonds, then, “Genesis” closed things off with a familiar bang.
While Grimes shook the dance tent to the ground, LA rapper Tyler the Creator caused comparable collateral damage over on the Mt. Currie stage. The leader of the Odd Future rap group, Tyler has made sure that fans here at Pemberton this weekend get the full experience, between a super cool pop up shop, a skate park dance party on Thursday night, and this completely unforgettable set. In typical fashion, the set was one degree away from a public riot. Screaming his head off from one end of the stage to the other on cuts like Wolf’s “Jamba” or Goblin haunter “Tron Cat”, you couldn’t help but get sucked in to Tyler’s weird bipolar world of positive energy and furious anger. From the amount of sweat coming off of people in the pit at the end, I’d say everyone had a fulfilling experience.
Tyler the Creator:
Seattle grunge legends Soundgarden took the main stage next to pretty much the entirety of the current Pemberton population. The massive field got its first at capacity usage for the weekend as Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron, and Ben Shepherd prepared to throw down in incomparable fashion. As, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the band’s seminal LP Superunknown, the stage was decked out with a massive print of the cover art. This show marks the first of an upcoming string of US dates where Soundgarden will co-headline with Nine Inch Nails. Not much was skimped on here for the festival set though – Soundgarden played a full 90 minutes and then some. The band’s endless hits all found themselves into the set somewhere to the crowd’s rapturous acclaim, mostly because it was wonderful to see right here in front of our eyes that Chris Cornell’s voice is completely ageless. The guy can still howl like nobody’s business on tracks like “Beyond The Wheel” and “4th of July”. The crowd noticed too – up front a sizable mosh pit formed and on tracks like “Rusty Cage”, the burly men of Pemberton all pushed each other around in the woodchips like not much has changed from 1994. As the band departed, Thayil ended the set with almost ten straight minutes of brutally massive guitar tone, drowning out anything and everything happening on surrounding stages. Truly a massive band in every respect, Soundgarden returned to BC with a vibrant and voracious sensibility, ever the superpower if there ever was one.
Australian synth pop group Empire of the Sun became a festival necessity pretty much on inception back when they released their debut LP Walking On A Dream in 2009. The band is known for their obscenely colorful live shows, complete with elaborate costumes from another world, alien dancers, and other bizarre choreography. A second LP, Ice on the Dune, followed just last year, beefing up Empire’s live options and adding to their number of unforgettable sing-alongs. Front man Emperor Luke Steele emerged in a fantastic getup, channeling Prince of yesteryear but also something akin to Darth Vader, he ripped through guitar solo after guitar solo, wowing the crowd and bringing energy to intergalactic levels even before the lyrics started. New tracks like “DNA”, “Ice on the Dune”, and “Concert Pitch” had the crowd off their feet for the duration. Plus, new arrangements of Walking on a Dream classics like “Breakdown”, “Standing on the Shore”, and “Swordfish Hotkiss Night” made the set unpredictable and rewarding (the last of which came with an on stage swordfish fight). Luke Steele and the gang pulled off another intricate pop performance here at Pemberton that fans won’t soon forget.
While his set was delayed by a full 45 minutes, once Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar took the Mt. Currie stage, things went off. Dedicated fans waiting and waited for their chance to sing along with cuts from Kendrick’s ageless breakthrough LP good kid, m.A.A.d City, and sing along they did. You could hear crowd participation on “Backseat Freestyle” and “m.A.A.d. city” from all the way across the festival grounds. Kendrick has a really great way of balancing arresting crowd participating, and sitting back and letting his grooves speaking. On “Money Trees”, “Poetic Justice”, and “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”, Kendrick was second priority, as the groove at hand the positive (very much not killed) vibes throughout the crowd were at first focus. But Kendrick also knew when to get the crowd off their feet again. His Kendrick-centric version of A$AP Rocky’s “Fuckin Problem” is a marvelous crowd-pleaser and had the place in chaos. But the real surprise came at the end of Kendrick’s set, where fellow Black Hippie collective artist Schoolboy Q jumped on stage to do his own “Collared Greens” together with Kendrick in front of the massive crowd. The two have such different energy on stage together that it’s impossible to not be tickled when the collective synergy of the two is so tight. Kendrick definitely made up for lost time here today.
Friday night’s headlining spot went to alternative rock legends Nine Inch Nails. With more than a month since the band’s last show and with no other performances to battle, thousands of people packed forward to see what audible and visual wonders Trent Reznor cooked up for this new tour leg with Soundgarden. Trent entered without warning, stage lights still up, holding a single drum machine. He walked to the edge of the stage and triggered the first sample, instantly recognizable as “Copy of A”, a brilliant single from his new record Hesitation Marks. As the layers of the track built, more band members entered from all sides each with their respective instruments until the stage was set. Reviving the fantastic play on shadows from the pre-Hesitation NIN return shows of last year, the band pounded threw the song with giant shadows of themselves as the only visual accompaniment. Starting off as simple as possible only to reach jaw dropping heights of technological wonder, Nine Inch Nails was the perfect pick to headline on the first full day of Pemberton.
The set list was a dream for fans of every era. While the Tension tour of 2013 was heavy on both new material and cuts from The Fragile, Trent picked a really well balanced selection this time around. A Hesitation-era rechristening of Pretty Hate Machine burner “Sanctified” was a welcome addition, along with two great selections from Year Zero, “Me, I’m Not”, and “The Great Destroyer”. With each era, the visuals shifted to accompany. David Fincher’s classic video was a reference point for the static on “Only”, while the electronic breakdown ending “The Great Destroyer” was a seizure-inducing blur of political propaganda imagery. But perhaps because of the co-headlining endeavor with Soundgarden in celebration of 20th anniversaries and whatnot, the best was saved for material from The Downward Spiral. A single held spotlight wandered around the stage with Trent on “Piggy”, giving the perfect visual pairing to the internal battle that song documents. “Eraser” was a truly incredible visual feat, with the song’s explosive drums doubled on screen as if coming down from a celestial body, while polarizing black and white footage showed decay and disorder as Robin Finck and Trent dueled guitars. But perhaps most arresting was the new visual for Spiral’s death disco romp “Closer”, which featured Trent up close and personal with a digital feed, translating into a daunting Wizard of Oz Trent on every screen on the chorus. Part wind tunnel from the classic video, part David Lynch visual for “Came Back Haunted”, everybody’s jaw was on the floor for this one.
In fact, the crowd was in heavy metal heaven for pretty much the entire gig. Every single member of the crowd smashing forward for “Wish” and the same amount dancing and shouting along for “The Hand That Feeds” is nothing to complain about, even if you are the one getting partially crushed at the very front. There’s just something about Trent Reznor’s balance of rage, remorse, and reconciliation that makes his music easy to relate with for a lot of very different types of people. That fact was perhaps best understood tonight with the closer – “Hurt”. A staple closer for Nine Inch Nails, it somehow still manages to have the same brutal effect every single time. The crowd noise died to almost a whisper as Trent sang the pained verse, then it rose to a roar as everyone sang along together for the chorus. A hell of a way to start a tour and a hell of a way to close the first full night of Pemberton – Nine Inch Nails did what they do best in the best possible way.
Nine Inch Nails:
“They finally let me in Canada!” That was the sentiment throughout Schoolboy Q’s Whistler stage set at Friday turned to Saturday. Q has been denied entrance on a handful of occasions since 2011, and tonight’s Pemberton performance marks his first in the country. Great timing too – only a couple months ago, Q dropped Oxymoron, the LP that’s really going to be putting him on the map going forward. Despite the late night slot, Schoolboy Q kept the party going like there was no tomorrow, with rousing renditions of “Hell of a Night”, “Prescription”, and “Break the Bank”. Kendrick Lamar jumped on stage for an encore performance of “Collared Greens”, this time just as well received as the last time. But Q wasn’t riding on anyone’s coattails here – when the Chromatics-sampling “Man of the Year” dropped towards the end of the set, the entire crowd was off its feet. Q’s first time into Canada was one to remember.
The last slot of the day was filled by… Best Coast?! “I’m sure we’re all thinking the same thing”, Bethany Cosentino laughed, “We’re not a party band. We don’t have any cool shit”. Despite the self-deprecating humor, the sizable crowd knew exactly what they were in store for, and even with a slight drizzle starting to come down, the LA surf rock band kept the sun out just a bit longer. In fact, the Pemberton setlist was one of the strongest ones Best Coast has put together. Starting and ending with new material from the fantastic mini-LP Fade Away, Best Coast filled out the rest with the best of 2012’s The Only Place and the band’s timeless debut Crazy For You. Cosentino and lead guitarist/other founding member Bobb Bruno were both just a mop of hair for the majority of their set, both flinging it back and forth in the light rocking out on guitar. The two still seem like they are having a ball together, goofing off with glam rock dueling guitar solos and killing a significant portion of a bottle of Jim Beam over the course of the 45 minute set. Bobb dedicated “When The Sun Don’t Shine” to his mom for her birthday. All in all, the weird timing was no deterrent for Best Coast or their fans. Friday night (and Saturday morning) ended with a blissfully warm mixture of love, angst, and all the weird feelings in between – even those that convince you to enter the stage to a Megadeth song.
The fun continues tomorrow! See the full set of Friday photos here and check back to the KEXP blog for more coverage of Pemberton Music Festival 2014!