Young Veterans Hit Their Stride On Day 2 Of iHeartRadio Music Fest In Vegas
September 20, 2014 at 9:28 PM (PT)
If last night's 2014 iHEARTRADIO MUSIC FESTIVAL at the MGM GRAND in LAS VEGAS was about superstars like USHER, TAYLOR SWIFT, ALICIA KEYS, COLDPLAY, MOTLEY CRUE and CHRIS BROWN establishing their bona fides, tonight it was relative newcomers like IGGY AZALEA, LORDE, ED SHEERAN, ONE DIRECTION and MEGHAN TRAINOR given the chance to state their case as pop music game-changers.
Befitting their status as veterans (and their upcoming SYCO/COLUMBIA album, "Four"), ONE DIRECTION got the nod to get the festivities started for day two, opening with a rocking "Midnight Memories" that belied their rep as a boy band. Given their age, they are more appropriately a young man's band, and NIALL HORAN on guitar and vocals, insisting, "Same old shit but a different day," along with the irrepressible shaggy-haired heartthrob HARRY STYLES and a game LIAM PAYNE, his arm in a sling, give the group plenty of charisma. It doesn't hurt that every song is an anthem, from the five huddled around a single mic for the acoustic ballad, "Little Things," to the autobiographical "Story of My Life," in which each member gets to tell his part of the story. "What Makes You Beautiful" is the kind of song the little (and not-so-little) girls understand (and sing along to), while "Best Song Ever" lives up to its title. One question, though. Is ZAYN MALIK the band's answer to TITO JACKSON? Just asking.
Red-haired, aw-shucks OPIE lookalike ED SHEERAN, on the other hand, manages to strike up some intensity with just an acoustic guitar, as well as a spirited rap/folk narrative mash-up like "Don't," which got everyone clapping and chanting along, "Hey-yo." "Thinking Out Loud" is a bluesy paean to adolescent romance ("Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love?") that brings to mind a young VAN MORRISON. Then came the first surprise of the night, with SHEERAN starting "Same Love," then bringing MACKLEMORE to the stage to join him, turning the song into a soulful gospel hymn. He closed with the sing-song optimism of "The A Team" ("Tried to swim and stay afloat") and the looped hip-hop, whooped JACKO falsetto and dance-hall toasting of "Sing," which, naturally, the audience does on command. Amazing what one man and a guitar is still capable of.
JOHNNY GALECKI of "The Big Bang Theory" fame gave a knowing fan's introduction to WEEZER, who cranked out their new single, "Back to the Shack," with lines like "Turn up the radio/Turn off those stupid singing shows" and "I forgot that disco sucks." If you expected WEEZER's neurotic RIVERS CUOMO, he of the checked man-tailored shirts, to have an iHEART meltdown like GREEN DAY's BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG memorably did a few years ago, you were disappointed. Instead all that vitriol was channeled into sardonic ditties like "Beverly Hills" ("Preppy girls never looked at me/Why should they?/I ain't nobody"), "Say It Ain't So" ("Your drug is a heartreaker... My love is a life-taker"), the NIRVANA-esque "Island In The Sun" (from the 2001 self-titled "Green Album") and arguably their biggest crossover hit, "Buddy Holly," As to the seeming unlikeliness of the band's appearance at such a mainstream affair, CUOMO insisted from the stage he was proud "representing alternative rock at the iHEARTRADIO fest." before ending with a completely unironic four-man drum solo to a standing ovation. So there.
In the words of CHRIS PRATT, who introduced him, ERIC CHURCH is a modern-day outlaw, and it turns out the guy has as much to do with country as, say, MOTLEY CRUE, opening with the rock-hard "The Outsiders," with screaming guitars that would do JUDAS PRIEST proud. He followed with "Creepin'," a southern delta blues that oozed real menace; a banjo-picking "Give Me Back My Hometown," whose lyrics echo his fascination with SPRINGSTEEN; and the remarkable "Homeboy," his touching meditation on adolescence and parenthood which finds three separate meanings for the word within the lyrics. Amd if there was any doubt about where he was coming from, CHURCH closes with a party-hearty "Smoke A Little Smoke." So this is where rock 'n' roll culture has gone.That's just the way he rolls.
From the CHURCH, it was time to go, naturally to LORDE, the Kiwi teen phenom, who is obviously coming into her own, her dark songs, like "Glory and Gore," "Tennis Court" ("Let's go down to the tennis court/And talk it up, like yeah"), the inclusionary "Team" and the worldwide smash, "Royals," perhaps the most unlikely Top 40 fare in recent memory. "I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies," she sing. She's a teenager like LEBRON JAMES was once a 19-year-old in the NBA, wise beyond her years, with god-given talents.
TRAIN was next, with "Drive By," one of the underrated band's perennial Top 10 hits, and a group who've won me over through numerous appearances on HOWARD STERN, as well as serving as the house band at his 60th birthday bash. Only they could get away with using "groovy" in a song. They followed with the new single, "Angel in Blue Jeans," which sure sounds like another winner, certainly up there with the subsequent "Hey, Soul Sister" and the ELTON JOHN-ish radio anthem, "Drops of Jupiter" before closing with a soaring version of AEROSMITH's 'Dream On," like the one they did with STEVEN TYLER at STERN's party. What, no LED ZEPPELIN cover?
Then it was time for one of the iHEARTMUSIC fest's most unusual booking choices, bringing '90s gangsta rapper 50 CENT to the stage, who launched a full-on G-UNIT reunion with a very lively nonstop medley of "Watch Me," "Just A Lil' Bit," "Hold On," "This Is How We Do," "Electric Storm" and "Ayo Technology" with LLOYD BANKS, YOUNG BUCK, TONY YAYO and KIDD KIDD, who all looked like they were having a good old time together, the scowls replaced with broad grins, even if the vibe seemed kind of anachronistic. For awhile, though, it sure seemed like the crew hijacked the festivities.
MEGHAN TRAINOR then took the stage to sing "Title" before tackling her song-of-the-moment, "All About That Bass," another of those multi-genre mash-ups that cross old-time music, country harmonies, girl group yearning, street-corner doo-wop.and ties it all together with modern vernacular.
IGGY AZALEA is all effervescence and long blonde hair -- as if GWYNETH PALTROW and JENNIFER LAWRENCE suddenly metamorphosed into an AUSSIE rapper -- and she takes the stage with attitude in a gold-studded geometric pink, black, lavender and red one-piece short skirt and black boots, performing "Beat Down," her collaboration with STEVE AOKI, the bouncy "Bounce," the menacing "Black Widow," the rapid Jamaican toasting and epic narrative of "Work" and, of course, the irresistible, chart-topping hook of "Fancy." What I like best about her is she's not afraid to be silly.
PARAMORE followed, with yet another strong, flamboyant female role model and force of nature in HAYLEY WILLIAMS, the girl next door in white leather jacket, sparkly hot pants and sneakers, the band's pop-punk sound having infiltrated Top 40 radio almost by stealth. Their five-song set was peppered with chiming, BIG COUNTRY-like guitars and singalong hits like "Still Into You," "That's What You Get," a particularly propulsive "Misery Business" (enlisting an enthusiastic audience member to sing along), the touching childhood meditation and cell-phone-waving, "The Only Exception" and "Ain't It Fun." "Don't go crying to your mama/Cause you're on your own in the real world," chants WILLIAMS, after expressing amazement the band's been together 10 years as a sea of confetti falls down around them. They work hard not just for our money, but our love.
After a brief LIL' JON DJ set featuring "Turn Down For What," and saved for the finale, is probably the biggest star on the planet most people have never heard of, Scottish EDM superstar DJ CALVIN HARRIS, the man behind a massive slew of hits, both as artist and collaborator. His closing set proved his coming-out party for the uninitiated. He started with "Feel So Close," the thumping bass hooking the crowd from the start. "And there's no stopping us right now." It's the beat, stupid. From there, he segues into "I Need Your Love," his collaboration with ELLIE GOULDING, the dazzling light show a veritable mind-bending meta-disco as spaceship, literally smoke and mirrors, HARRIS manning the controls like a mad scientist wired into our central nervous system. With "Sweet Nothing," his hook-up with FLORENCE WELCH, he leads the audience into singing along, everyone swept up in the sound and visuals, followed by "Summer," his latest hit, and a great farewell to the season and the iHEARTRADIO MUSIC FESTIVAL itself. Bringing up U.K. soul singer JOHN NEWMAN to perform their song "Blame," HARRIS creates the perfect '80s new wave-cum-disco backdrop, a fitting climax to an eclectic evening of entertainment.
In the end, it seemed to make perfect sense. For a festival that was born from terrestrial radio, the ultimate performer turned out to be a disc jockey, although someone COUSIN BRUCIE would never have dreamed of.