The Antlers: While Saturday offered the band responsible for our favorite album from 2010, Sunday featured the Antlers whom crafted our favorite album of 2011. One could argue Beach House and the Antlers offer somewhat similar tuneage: slow, building, introspective, pensive and emotional. Yet a number of First City patrons I talked with felt the former's performance was a bit flat, the Antlers managed to include some hook and bite in their afternoon set. While they built swelling soundscapes on the Redwood Stage, they kept enough punch in the music to lure the audience in.
Dr Dog: The feel-good Philadephilians kicked off a string of danceable Sunday sets on the main stage. Akin to Blizen Trapper, but perhaps at a greater level, Dr Dog have relatively quietly been going about their business and delivering excellent live sets for nearly 15 years. The band might have not have biggest hype wave going for them, but I've yet to see a show from Dr. Dog that wasn't stellar. Sunday was no different as they weaved through their past few albums, shared some new material from their new soul-infused B-Room album and closed with Toby Leaman leaping out towards the crowd.
Devendra Banhart: The last time I saw Devendra Banhart was right before he broke his leg skateboarding and had to cancel tour dates. Fun fact aside, Mr. Banhart's set was perhaps my most anticipated of the weekend. If you've not heard his new 2013 release Mala, you should get on that Devendra featured songs from that album, which translated very well live, as well as a number of other older gems such as "Seahorse". I kept ruminating on how Devendra is able to pull both the masculine and feminine into his songs so well. An easy going, fun atmosphere permeated the main stage. Also, Devendra & Co played bandmate Rodrigo Amarante's "Manå" for a bonus on the afternoon.
Toro y Moi: Chaz Bundick's Anything in Return album is one of my favorites from this year. That appreciation grew much deeper after seeing Toro y Moi live at Noise Pop 2013 in San Francisco this year. Simply put, I was overwhelmed. Rather than any "guy behind a laptop" or "chillwave" set you might expect, Chaz & Co delivered a full-on dance party. That being said, I was quite excited for Sunday's set. The large main stage festival crowd only needed about 40 seconds into the first song, "Rose Quartz", to shift into dance mode. And I'm fairly certain Toro y Moi had the crowd dancing til they hit their last note. This easily made for one of the most entertaining sets of the weekend and Toro y Moi definitely won over a number of new fans via the fun factor.
Modest Mouse: The seminal Pacific Northwest rock band hardly needs an introduction. After churning up some of the best records (nationally or regionally) of the past 15 years, delivering some of the fiercest live shows around, creating a path for PNW musicians and much more, Modest Mouse certainly fits well at the top of a festival bill. Their spot on First City's roster was a huge draw for me, personally. Seeing them at Sasquatch 2011 proved one of the best live shows I've seen in my life. However, Sunday's set at First City didn't quite meet that level. While the sound at the Redwood Stage was solid all weekend, perhaps Modest Mouse's sheer volume and intensity was too much. The fierce, jangling guitar work of Isaac Brock was often lost in the wash of the mix. And it felt like the vocals and guitars were fighting for the same breathing room. That's unfortunate because Isaac's lyrics are some of the finest of his generation (not that the crowd didn't leap to sing along). Additionally, while Isaac sippin' on some syrup usually works well with their show, when he knocked over his microphone and missed some lyrics, it didn't feel like the finest form. Anyhow, all of that negativity aside, it was still an excellent set, from what I saw. Perhaps my own expectations were just a bit high. And as one First City festival-goer noted, the jumbled sound made for a stellar show from the parking lot. But all in all, First City's inaugural run was an amazing experience and a very solid initial run for the Golden Voice folks. Look for another great run next year.