The inaugural High & Low Festival hosted by K-ROQ was an exciting hotbed for alternative and indie music on multiple stages inside and outside along with live comedy curated by The Hard Times featuring popular and emerging talents in San Bernardino at NOS Event Center on September 9. The comedy acts will be reviewed in a separate article following this overview of the bands that performed at the High & Low Festival.
Many attendees found comfort, relief and cooled off from the heat sitting on the grass in shady areas lined large trees and some tented places around the festival grounds and inside the fan-cooled Side Stage and Comedy Room.
There were a number of vendors selling CDs, concert merchandise and more. On-site, the festival provided food, snacks, drinks, cocktails, and beer for sale and several food trucks offered even more choices.
As the sweltering and humid temperatures soared back the 90-degree mark, the diverse and eclectic lineup of music sizzled and sparked the interest of the thousands of concertgoers that attended.
Brand New, Death Cab For Cutie, Tegan & Sara, Best Coast, Andrew McMahon, Bad Suns, Coin and Kevin Devine performed on the Main Stage. Other notable acts include Pup, Citizen, Cloud Nothings, Now, Now, (Sandy) Alex G, Jessica Hernandez, Charly Bliss and Elder Brother on the Side Stage.
theartofla.com saw a number of bands do their full set lists and others we got a glimpse of. Still, we got to experience the vibe and flavor of the music. It was a rich and satisfying experience for every fan to see maybe acts they weren’t so familiar, and with the bands, they knew so well, that they enthusiastically sang along to very song lyric and danced often to the music.
On the side stage, we got to check out Elder Brother, Charly Bliss and Now, Now.
Elder Brother is the indie rock side-project from East Bay, CA and includes Kevin Geyer (The Story So Far) and Dan Rose (Daybreaker) with in-studio assistance from Matthew and Charles Vincent (The American Scene). They have a melodic, level-head sound with a lyrical focus on self-reflection. Their songs offer anthemic hooks and breezy riffs with dynamic indie guitar work. The wonderful and poignant “Who Is Going To Carry You Home” from their 2014 LP, “Heavy Head” on Pure Noise Records was touching and deep. This song was the final number their earnest, well-intentioned but sonically uneven, ultimately muddled sounding set.
Charly Bliss is a four-piece power pop band from Brooklyn, NY. The group includes Eva Hendricks (vocals and guitar), Spencer Fox (vocals, guitar), Sam Hendricks (drums), and Dan Shure (bass) Charles Bliss has opened for alt-rock bands Sleater-Kinney and Veruca Salt. In 2014, they released a three-song EP along with a three-part music video and a comic book trilogy. The band released a new single, “Glitter” in February. Their debut full-length album, Guppy, was released in April.
Dressed like a cheerleader, Eva Hendricks burst onto the stage with upbeat and peppy performance singing in what can be described as sort of high-pitched super girly voice. Their sound has been characterized as breathing new life into the poppier side of 1990s indie rock that is both wry and sincere. Watching the dynamic guitar interplay and chemistry between Hendrick and Spencer was fun to watch and definitely a highlight in an animated set.
Now, Now, formerly known as Now, Now Every Children, is an American indie rock duo formed in Blaine, Minnesota and based in Minneapolis. The band is composed of Cacie Dalager (vocals, guitar, keyboard) and Bradley Hale (drums, backing vocals). Now, Now offers up dreamlike pop with an indie bang. The sound is notable for clipped acoustic guitar progression, subtle vocal manipulation and slowly-building layers of atmospheric guitar effects. In concert, Dalager utilizes her voice with hiccups, coos, sighs, and shouts demonstrating its elasticity. There was a drive and intensity to vigorous performance that held one’s interest throughout their energetic show.
On the Main Stage, we saw Kevin Devine, Bad Suns, Andrew McMahon, Best Coast, Tegan & Sara, Death Cab For Cutie and Brand New.
Kevin Devine is a singer/songwriter and musician from Brooklyn, New York. Devine is known for introspective and political themes in his songs. In 2016, he released his ninth album Instigator. Live, Devine was the embodiment of being a troublemaker and instigator in not so subtle ways, but with that New York punky in-face attitude provoking and trying to pry a reaction out of the audience. Musically he can’t be denied: his chops are with unquestionably excellent. His songs are original, catchy, fun and smart. They are completely memorable after one listen. Devine is a natural frontman/ringleader and his backing band is really good.
Bad Suns are a rock band formed in 2012, which consists of Christo Bowman, Gavin Bennett, Miles Morris and Ray Libby. A majority of the band members are from Los Angeles. They released their debut album, Language & Perspective, in 2014. Their sound takes its inspiration from the 1970s and 1980s post-punk pioneers like The Cure and Elvis Costello. Bad Suns’ sophomore album was released in 2016, Disappear Here.
The band, lead by singer Christo Bowman, gave a heartfelt, sincere, no-frills performance that was crowd-pleasing. They engaged the audience frequently, but held their own at the same time, as artists remaining independent and self-possessed. They didn’t try too hard to make a connection or overcompensate because of the size of the festival.
Andrew McMahon is a singer/songwriter. He was the vocalist, pianist and primary lyricist for the band’s Something Corporate and main songwriter for Jack’s Mannequin and performs solo both under his own name as well as his moniker, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. In 2013, he debuted his first solo work, an EP titled The Pop Underground, which was followed by his debut album Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, released in 2014. His second solo album, Zombies on Broadway, was released in 2017.
McMahon is outgoing and exuberant. The creative frontman is known for reinventing himself and can’t be pigeonholed. His show High & Low Festival was a virtual lovefest with the audience. Rumor had it that in every show in every city, he performs in, the set list is different.
Best Coast is an American rock duo formed in Los Angeles, California in 2009. The band consists of songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Bethany Cosentino and guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno. They indie pop, rock, jangle pop and lo-fi music. They have released Crazy For You (2014), The Only Place (2012), California Nights (2015) and two EPs: Fade Away (2013) and Summer Is Forever (2011).
Best Coast is known for writing amazing pop-rock songs in 2-3 minute formats. The style is light but the lyrics dig deeper: tinged with sadness. Onstage at the High & Low Festival, Bethany Cosentino excluded a raw coolness and personified a rock and roll vibe. She wore a groovy tan pantsuit and had on retro sunglasses.
The Canadian indie pop duo Tegan and Sara are identical sisters are singer/songwriters and multi-instruments. They’ve had an 18-year-career and been the critical’s darlings and are openly gay. Speaking of which, they dedicated to anyone queer in the audience, the song, Boyfriend. Tegan and Sara also sang Nineteen dedicating it to their grandmother. Their likable set featured a number of catchy synth-pop songs.
The vaudevillian, off-the-cuff playful onstage banter was worth the price of admission. Their witty conversations with audiences seem real and never rehearsed. They wanted everyone to know they are grown up but grown-up ladies. They don’t “perform,” they are just being themselves. Even where they stood onstage became the focal point for a joke. Tegan stood next to something resembling a body part shaped like a T and Sara stood next to another floatable object shaped like a body part which was shaped like an S. It being a festival, Tegan and Sara managed to work in pot smoking jokes into their comedic routine saying they were getting a contact high being from the audience.
Death Cab For Cutie is an alternative rock band from Seattle, WA. The group features Ben Gibbard, Nick Harmer, Dave Depper, Zac Rae and Jason McGerr. The band set was a fan’s dream setlist featuring all their greatest hits: I Will Follow You Into The Dark, Soul Meets Body, I Will Possess Your Heart, Cath and more. All well-crafted and radio-friendly material performed with instrumental prowess, but the songs tended to sort blend into one another. Therefore, they became monotonous and repetitious sounding. When the band took a break from performing to speak to the audience, the singer/guitarist Ben Gibbard made a joke about being a wimpy band compared to the others on the bill and thanked the High & Low Festival for the invitation to perform there. It seemed like a moment of self-doubt coming from an established band possibly seeing younger acts move up in the ranks and steal some of their thunder. Maybe this will inspire the band creativity to venture outside its box and cast out the formula.
Formed in 2000, the headliner, rockers/post-punk Brand New, featuring Jesse Lacey, Vin Accardi, Brian Lane and Garrett Tierney, dramatically descended upon the stage with an epic and spectacular stage show with brilliant, compelling and controversy visuals elements and phenomenal lights utilizing all color schemes and effects. The towering high-voltage rock sound with its signature razor-sharp guitar riffs was the main ingredient in this unforgettable show. Brand New released Science Fiction their first album in nine years in 2017.
At the High & Low Festival, fans traveled from all over the U.S. to see the band perform in what is rumored to be either hiatus from its long and successful career or ending the group permanently. Either way, if this was last show they did or were taking an extended break, Brand New would certainly be going out on the top, based on this uniquely conceptualized performance and breaking more “new” ground.
From the Main Stage to the Second Stage, all the musical acts contributed to the success of the High & Low Festival, from emerging up-and-coming talent to established veteran acts. There was something for every indie and alternative music fan. This bodes well for festivals planned going forward as possibly concertgoers will be talking about what a good time they had to their friends. Thereby, spreading the word through social media building the momentum to create more excitement and enthusiasm for the next one.
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