I’ve just finished decompressing from a long but ultimately fun weekend in Sin City for Life is Beautiful 2017.
After reportedly teetering on the edge of financial ruin, the downtown Las Vegas festival has really come into its own in its fifth year — selling out general admission passes for the first time in its history. With a lineup topped by the Gorillaz, Chance the Rapper, and Muse, it’s not a surprise the festival did as well as it did.
This was my fourth time in five years attending the festival and it’s always been one of my second-tier favorites. The vibe is pretty chill, although it definitely got a surge of youth unlike I’ve seen at previous years. There was quite a lot to like, and a few things the festival could improve on, take a look at my rundown of the best and worst of Life is Beautiful 2017.
BEST: Gorillaz pull out all the stops, bring out seven special guests
It wasn’t a coincidence that the Gorillaz had so many of their collaborators performing at Life is Beautiful 2017. From what I heard, it was part of the deal they made with the festival, and the move paid off brilliantly. Over the course of their magical closing set Sunday night, they brought out Pusha T, Vince Staples, and De La Soul, all who performed earlier that night. They were also joined by Peven Everett, Jamie Principle, and Savages lead singer Jehnny Beth.
WORST: App and booklet not very helpful
It’s a small gripe, but I was disappointed by the lack of helpful information both in the Life is Beautiful 2017 mobile app as well as the booklet provided by the festival when you walked in the gates. Usually, maps in the app are pretty interactive and intuitive, neither of which was the case with this. The map inside the booklet fit on a single page and didn’t fold out the way most do, and it made figuring out where things were pretty difficult.
That said, if you were smart, you figured out a couple shortcuts to get you from one stage to the next quicker than others. There were side streets that were basically alleys that you could cut through in order to get from one side of the festival to the other. Unfortunately, it took me until day two to figure it out. I wonder if others missed it completely.
BEST: HAIM highlight fest returnees from inaugural year
The first time I ever experienced the Fleetwood-Mac-meets-Wilson-Phillips sound of HAIM was at the inaugural Life is Beautiful in 2013, when it kicked off as a two-day event. I knew nothing about them and stumbled into their set, instantly becoming a big fan. Oldest sister Este Haim gave out her cell phone number and I texted her back and forth a bit just before they blew up following the release of their debut album (I fangirled and texted lyrics to “Don’t Save Me” and she wrote back the next lines to it). Seeing them conquer the Ambassador Stage on Sunday night with a set of old and new favorites (and a Shania Twain cover) was epic. Even more epic was the girl who climbed the barricade and jumped into the photo pit, evading security for a full minute to get video before police pulled her away.
Other returnees from the first year were Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Pretty Lights, and Capital Cities. In five years, the festival has built a solid reputation for putting acts on the bill that in the following 18 months blow up much bigger — a huge credit to the festival booker Craig Nyman.
WORST: Ambassador Stage sound and production
The Ambassador Stage boasted sets from the likes of blink-182, Wiz Khalifa, MGMT, Slightly Stoopid, HAIM, and Pusha T among others. For having some of their bigger performances, the sound and production of the stage was a little disappointing. There were no video screens, and if you stood any further back than the sound booth, the sound was less than stellar. During blink-182, I couldn’t hear the vocals over the sound of the people around me. That led me to make sure I got up close for HAIM on Sunday night, and from there I was able to experience a much better show.
BEST: Festival puts Vegas at the forefront
There’s something unique about a music festival in Las Vegas. After five years, Life is Beautiful has truly figured out how to incorporate the best of the city into their setup. Every year, the Cirque du Soleil performance amazes the crowd. This time, the Blue Man Group kicked things off before performers from many of the Cirque shows took turns taking the stage, dazzling the crowd with tricks and feats of strength and skill.
One of the coolest Las Vegas integrations came during ZHU’s set Sunday night. Prior to taking the stage, famed UFC announcer Bruce Buffer appeared on the screen, announcing ZHU like he was a professional fighter. Las Vegas in the home of UFC, so it was fun to see them have a part in the action. The festival even had a local-driven B-boy Showdown for a $1,000 cash prize. Walking around and seeing all of the local downtown restaurants and bars included in the festivities with art murals on the sides of the building and drink specials was awesome.
BEST: Toyota Music Den provides intimate sets from up-and-comers
Toyota has consistently delivered in the festival space by providing the Toyota Music Den, where some of the festival’s early-day performers play stripped-down sets in their small tent. This year, favorites of mine like Day Wave, BROODS, Middle Kids, Ella Vos, and Local Natives played 30-minute sets.
I had some issues with my wristband Sunday and missed Middle Kids’ main stage set, but thankfully got to catch them later because they played the Toyota tent. They also played up the Toyota branding, as singer Hannah Joy made mention of how all her bandmates drove Toyotas, introducing the song “Your Love” as being about Toyotas.
Five Favorite Sets
- Muse — The English rockers made Life is Beautiful their last scheduled date in North America, and they didn’t hold anything back during their performance Saturday night. Their crowd may not have massive due to conflicting with Wiz Khalifa and Kaskade, but that didn’t stop them from crushing it. For having Duran Duran haircuts, these dudes can really rock the fuck out.
- HAIM — I first discovered HAIM at this festival’s inaugural year in 2013 and am a huge fan. I haven’t enjoyed their new record as much as I hoped I would, but I figured seeing the songs performed live would change my perception, as they rock a lot harder live than on record. I wasn’t wrong — they really know how to transform their songs on stage and I rode the rail for this set.
- ZHU — There might not be a sexier brand of electronic music than what ZHU provides. People were grinding up on each other left and right as he pulled out all the stops during his Sunday night set. He even had UFC announcer Bruce Buffer on screen announce his arrival, and he drove onto the stage in a fucking sports car. What a boss.
- BROODS — It’s been amazing to monitor the growth of this sibling synthpop duo. I saw them a few years back and singer Georgia Nott wasn’t even 20 and seemed a bit measured in her approach to live shows. Since then, she’s developed a massive amount of swagger and she really wowed the crowd with her stage presence and voice. They’ve become a four-piece live band, and their sound has really filled out. Their show got the party started Saturday.
- Tycho — I was a bit worried by the time Tycho played the Fremont Stage, it would already be packed with Kaskade campers who didn’t care. The crowd was dense, but people were really feeling his awesome ambient tunes. Their live setup is pretty stellar and they rose to the occasion.
Life is Beautiful has long been my favorite second-tier music festival. It was the second festival I ever attended — I won tickets to its inaugural year and have gone every year except 2016. The festival has changed over time — it is no longer run by the same person who started it — but it has stuck closely to its ethos of bringing people together. It’s a festival where I didn’t really see any negative behavior from any of the attendees. Here’s hoping they can continue the vibe as they have now stabilized and seem poised to continue for years to come.
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