4:30pm The Decemberists
At first, it seemed clear that this band was in Iron and Wine's current aural pocket, as if Sam Beam had an entirely different voice. The instruments are the same. The elements, the vibe. It's sweeping folk rock and its appeal is more than understandable for those who really enjoy folk rock. There's complexity in these grandiose arrangements, broken down into movements even. The first song clocked in around fifteen minutes. The earnestness is home in this sweeping music, and yet I am not in the least swept up. This crowd seems to be milling about.
The spectators who are bopping around to whatever beat these Portlanders have cobbled together with leaves and twine or whatever - into a musical Rube Goldberg machine with a bird on it - seem to be lying to the rest of us. You don't dance to this. You can't dance to this. This is gigantic music for the most epic session of milling around. There's a beat here, but no will to move. It's not just me. They're too loud for the murmur, though Lord knows the crowd tried; such is the size of their band and the setting of this stage. They're big, but big through duress over time, through constant suggestion. Maybe that's why they've been a thing for the last fifteen years.
5:30pm Kurt Vile and the Violators
His hair shades his face, perhaps a casualty of such an awesome mane, perhaps in effort to play this twangy, expansive music in peace behind his all-organic curtains. The ease with which these songs come out belie the work in their construction— the guitar changes with specific tunings and capos added every other song of the set, the sudden decision not to add the Farfisa on "I'm An Outlaw" because it sounds "too weird" for this "hippie shit", the trade-off Jesse Trbovich makes between bass and Rhodes (with the promise of playing the saxophone that never appears), the fight with the sound guy to cut the amp on the solo closer, "All In A Daze Work", that never comes, causing Vile to cut the song short in frustration. It's not all together. The techs don't have all the guitar changes quite together yet. There's some lag here and there, but Vile powers through.
The set composed mostly of songs from his latest album, b'lieve I'm goin down…, illustrated the confidence that this crowd would follow him wherever he wanted to take them, a few glitches here and there wouldn't deter things. With a few picks from Wakin' on a Pretty Daze and Smoke Ring for My Halo, he had a catalog of work that would keep this crowd eating out of the palm of his hand, particularly with solos so long and tasty, with arrangements so lush, that it seems like time was slowing down. Even Vile joked that three bands had to have played on the far off Miller Lite stage in the distance since the Violators started. One could spend all day listening to Kurt Vile drawl, though he's still so focused on getting the drawl just right that maybe an hour could be all one gets sometimes.
There was no reason for this tent to have this level of hype. From afar, one could see it's a DJ set, so the need to get close is less pressing, but that hype, this crowd. One can't dismiss all this. 25-year-old Grant Kwiecinski has an energy that is really infective. He's playing funk and soul; he's going from Lil' Jon's "Turn Down for What" to The Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive", and then he took a saxophone solo. And it was a good saxophone solo! There's no reason for this DJ set to be this hype.
6:50pm - Alt-J
Alt-J's music has always been needly, as if it unravelled, revealing the labor in its intricate pattern work. Yet this band has blown up and everything about their performance on this stage seems built to the scale of their persona. The lighting here is hella impressive, like it's pulled from a Radiohead show, and that's not including the added visuals of landscapes, barren planets, cloud patterns, and reversed negatives. Add that to the couple of albums of what are assuredly international hits and this is cemented as the group that should be playing on the Honda Stage on Sunday at sunset. This was a really impressive set from a band who clearly knows where they are right now, have been here for a little bit, and — if they keep making good, noodly, catchy songs — for a while.
7:50pm - Hozier
One can measure this show by the girl screams. Women love this charmer. His voice is strong, his electric guitar strums easily but heavily. He has hits that this crowd have learned word for word. Every song seems to have a rising and falling action, and this crowd is rising and falling with him. This is the blockbuster act. This is why many of these folks are likely here today, because every time he announces the next song, out rings a new set of cheers, as if playing through every single song off his single self-titled album is… the… jam, if jams could be this moving and soothing. However, his version of "Blackbird" is quite interesting— stripped down in places, broken out in others. But like any good pleasure-delayer, he saved the biggest hit, the chart-topping "Take Me to Church" for last. And the crowd went wild. He knew they would (though it didn't make him appreciate the love from his last festival gig of the year any less).
8:30pm - Florence and the Machine
There's a lot of people in this damn machine, but it's pretty clear why Florence is out in front. People know and love these songs. This truly felt like the headlining Sunday night set, shimmering lights and all. This music feels utterly satisfying, like there's something for everyone to love here. The presentation is extremely impressive, and Florence Welch herself is positively dynamic— she's prancing across the stage, she's banging a tambourine, she's jumping and kicking, and dancing, and everything. It's encouraging in the realm of pop music. People love this grand music and it's damn good. It makes one feel pretty good about culture overall.