BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER The fourth annual BottleRock Napa Valley Music Festival concluded with a bang Sunday night as the Red Hot Chili Peppers brought the Memorial Day weekend event to a raucous close with over 120,000 fans attending the three day event.
Touring in advance of releasing their twelfth studio album, “The Getaway” on June 17th, the Chili Peppers played a hits laden set opening with “Can’t Stop” and “Dani California” before introducing “Dark Necessities” from the soon to be released project. “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” and “Otherside” kept the crowd in a groove as the title track from the new album followed with it’s live debut.
Always two of the most frenetic performers in rock, lead singer Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea were often a blur as they raced back and forth continuously across the large stage as they showed absolutely no loss of the energy that helped get them inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.
From that point on it was a straight on assault of nothing but the bands best known songs. “Under the Bridge”, “Higher Ground”, “Californication” and “By The Way” closed the set as the band left the stage.
Returning for an extended encore highlighted by “Around the World” and “Give It Away”, the Chili Peppers surely helped re-engerize the the drained crowd, many whom had been in attendance for the entire weekend, for their journeys into the night. Look for the band to return to the Bay Area for an arena show in the coming months.
The Lumineers from Denver preceded the Peppers to the Jam Cellars Main Stage. Having just released their sophomore effort “Cleopatra”, the three piece band and 2013 Grammy Nominee for Best New Artist present a polished brand of indie folk that often finds them categorized with Mumford And Sons and features “Ho Hey” with it’s jangly guitars as their most recognizable hit.
Saturday was easiest the hottest day of the festival as temperatures neared 90°. Equally hot were the stage presence, persona and powerful vocals of Florence Welch. The lead vocalist of the English indie rock band Florence + the Machine has established herself as one of the preeminent front woman in the music world on the strength of her live performances after just three studio albums only seven years after debuting.
Welch, 29, exhibits at least as much energy on stage as the hyperkinetic Mick Jagger or the aforementioned Kiedis and Flea. Her non-stop bare footed sprints and jumps dashing across stages actually landed her on the disabled list with a broken foot last year after landing badly while leaping off the stage during another Festival headlining gig at Coachella. Always fashionable, she appeared in Napa in a sheer, often see through flowing yellow dress.
Continuing to tour in support of “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful”, their latest release, and returning to the Bay Area for a second time after initially premiering the album last spring on the way to Coachella at the Masonic in San Francisco, F+TM were one of the few headliners, along with the Chili Peppers, that were able to perform their normal full setlist as opposed to being restricted by the confines of the Festival schedule and 10pm nightly curfew.
Opening as usual with “What the Water Gave Me” from 2011’s “Lungs”, Welch and the band wasted no time launching into the dynamic track and quickly making their presence felt following it up with “Ship to Wreck” as Welch seemed to be doing her best to give everyone in front of the stage the opportunity to see her up close as quickly as possible as she sped to the furthest extremities of both ends of the stage.
While an unexpected ethereal cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” highlighted the middle of the set, their breakthrough hit “Dog Days Are Over” showcased The Machine at their most influential as Welch encouraged everyone in the crowd to remove a piece of clothing, hug their neighbor, and jump up and down continuously for the entire song. There didn’t appear to be many non-conformists in the audience for any of her requests, resulting in what must have looked like an attempt at a new Guinness Book of World Records entry for largest crowd to simultaneously pogo in place to any aircraft passing by overhead as the band briefly left the stage following the pinnacle of their performance.
Returning to a roaring and continuous ovation, the glorious ensemble finished the evening with a muscular version of the driving “What Kind of Man” before winding down with “Drumming Song”. Hopefully Florence and Company will continue to share their infectious brand of enthusiasm with us as frequently in the future has they have in the past year.
Ziggy Marley played a one hour set highlighted by covers of his father Bob’s “One Love” and “Is This Love” earlier in the afternoon on the Midway stage. The eldest son of the Rastafarian Reggae giant also just released a new self-titled effort, from which he debuted “Marijuanaman” and the highly upbeat, ska induced “Ceceil” along with older favorites such as “Love Is My Religion” and “Look Who’s Dancing”.
The opening day line-up on Friday might’ve been the deepest, and most diverse of the weekend, but it ended in a somewhat bizarre fashion. While both Stevie Wonder and Lenny Kravitz’ sets suffered from the structured Festival schedule and curfew which forced them to perform abridged sets, it was the iconic headlining Wonder’s decision to turn himself into DJ mode late in his performance that had many scratching their heads while others just headed to the exits while he was still on stage.
It started following his continued off the wall appeals to the crowd to call him “DJ Tick Tick Boom” as what first appeared to be a Prince tribute with the well received sounds of the recently departed Artist’s “Kiss” and “When Doves Cry” filling the air. It continued with “That’s the Way of the World” as a tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White and Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be” before mercifully concluding with The Eagles “Hotel California” and David Bowie’s “Fame”.
Problem was that this wasn’t Stevie or even his backing band singing. He was literally playing the original songs from his iPod while his group silently grooved to to our fallen heroes. It even devolved to the point where a couple of good old fashioned vinyl sounding scratches finally mercifully led Wonder to belatedly scrap the misguided gesture.
If he and his band were actually singing it could have went down as one of the best cover tributes of all time, but it went on for well over 10 minutes and will sadly be more remembered for the odd behavior that prevented him from digging any deeper into his incredible catalog that was already insured of being well over a half hour shorter than one of his arena shows.
Earlier covers worked out much better as Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” opened the set followed by choice cuts like “Master Blaster”, “Higher Ground” and “Sir Duke”. Later, just prior to the iPod interruption, Wonder displayed his Hall of Fame pedigree with a sequence of “Signed Sealed Delivered”, “Living for the City”, The Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, “My Cherie Amour” and The Box Tops “The Letter” ( later popularized by Joe Cocker ). Having spoke to a number of fans in the audience seeing Stevie for the first time, the night will remain a bit baffling, but the still large crowd that stuck around was rewarded with an electrifying nine-minute version of “Superstition” to end Day One.
Kravitz set also was too short considering how deep his catalog is. Highlights included “American Woman”, “Fly Away” and “Are You Gonna Go My Way”. Even one less band on the main stage earlier in the day that could easily play the smaller Midway stage, still the second largest at the venue, could easily open up at least another 90 minutes of performance time for the headliners that many came primarily to see.
Oakland’s own Michael Franti & Spearhead also played the main stage on Friday, and quite deservedly so. Franti, performing barefoot as always, has always had a positive vibe and never fails to deliver an abundance of upbeat, danceable tunes. Their latest release, “SOULROCKER”, drops this Friday.
All in all it was a splendid weekend for those involved. With crowds in excess of 40,000 people per day, there were barely any signs of altercation outside of a few brief instances where rudeness or inability to handle one’s alcohol got in the way. There was an overwhelming positive atmosphere in the air throughout the weekend.
Hopefully the whispers of Live Nation taking over the festival are inaccurate. It’s already in great hands and that move would not likely improve it. BottleRock presented one of the best Festival line-ups of the year in just it’s fourth year of existence. It seems to be on a rock solid foundation and the financial problems that plagued the initial festival in 2013 are long forgotten. Next years festival is already set to take place May 26-28, 2017 on the same Memorial Day holiday weekend.