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Intersect’s Vegas festival launch goes down as a memorable two-night experience

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Beck performs during night 1 of the Intersect music festival in Las Vegas, Friday Dec. 6, 2019.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

Intersect 2019 Music Festival Night 1

It loomed as the epitome of Intersect 2019: Flying Lotus’ 3D Saturday set would meld music and technology, highlighting a two-day festival with that very intention, produced by Amazon Web Services, an entity entrenched in both worlds. But almost as soon as it began it went awry, the SoCal electronic producer bemoaning sound issues and leaving the stage, returning to an emptied tent after a lengthy delay and then exiting for good, calling out unspecified, “negligent-ass sh*t” on his way out.

It was a badly missed opportunity, to put an indelible stamp on the latest music fest to try its luck in Las Vegas. But it was also a reminder that this festival stuff ain’t easy, and that Electric Daisy Carnival and Life Is Beautiful didn’t earn their reputations overnight.

Intersect, an open-to-the-public progression from Amazon’s annual, employee-only Vegas concert bash, actually dealt with worse before FlyLo’s disappointing walkout. In October, one of the fest’s booked acts, house DJ Black Madonna, pulled out publicly, giving root to a multi-artist protest over Amazon’s technological connections to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Although only one additional act, rapper JPEGMAFIA, dropped out in the interim (without comment as to why), conspiracy theorists surely wondered if Flying Lotus’ Saturday-night walkout might have been related.

Still, for local fans of alternative music, Intersect went down as both a welcome addition to the scene and a significant value, particularly for those who scored sale-priced $99 two-day passes. Friday especially felt like a windfall, delivering sets by Chvrches, Weyes Blood, Kelsey Lu and Gessafelstein, along with headliners Beck and Kacey Musgraves. On Saturday, Intersect sent Spoon, Leon Bridges, Thundercat, Anderson .Paak and Foo Fighters to the stage, among others. And the event brought with it an easy-to-navigate footprint filled with tech and art installations, pushing the conventional limits of a music festival in a city that hosts close to a dozen annually.

On Monday, Intersect indicated it will return to Las Vegas in 2020. But before we look forward let’s look back, at fest that stood out from its many peers during its first official go-round in Las Vegas, December 6 and 7. –Spencer Patterson

Unknown Mortal Orchestra (and an early look at the grounds)

Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s set early Friday evening—delivered to a few hundred faithful in the massive Supernova tent—was a chilled, head-nodding affair that (checks notes) registered as a less-precious Supertramp or a more-precious Steely Dan. (Considering the generational backlash against Baby Boomers, it’s funny how many current millennial and Gen Z artists—Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, for one, and UMO’s pre-millennial frontman Ruban Nielson for another—seem to have no trouble pillaging from peak-Boomer R&B, art rock and “yacht rock.” Don’t @ me; save it for Thundercat, who dug up Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. OK, Doobers.)

Opening with a one-two punch of “From the Sun” and “Ffunny Ffrends,” UMO’s set was long on jammy codas—many of them built around multi-instrumentalist Chris Nielson, singer Ruban’s dad, who doubled on brass instruments and Moog—and short of crowd banter. No one number worked itself into a full boil; it was a nice, simmering jam session from beginning to end. By the time the band reached its penultimate number—the sublimely catchy “Honeybee”—UMO had produced something many of its 1970s forebears never did: a selfless good time.

UMO’s good vibes stood in marked contrast to Intersect’s large-scale visual art installations, which seemed to congratulate themselves on their chilly grandeur. The Experience tent contained two—Lost & Photon, an underwhelming laser show, and Nonotak, a giant LCD cube that reminded me of the old Hollywood Squares game show. Tigrelab’s “Mixed Mirrors” underwhelmed—basically, it turned your selfies into something that played like corrupted video files—and “The Monolith,” the giant video art display at the center of the festival grounds, was probably old news to anyone who’s seen the stunning video art at the Cosmopolitan. –Geoff Carter

Chvrches

The Scottish three-piece has become a Vegas festival staple, playing Life Is Beautiful twice and now Intersect. While the group never fails to turn in a strong performance, it was the sound inside the Supernova tent—crisp, clean and bold—combined with brilliant lighting that made Chvrches’ latest set here so worthwhile. Singer Lauren Mayberry’s airy vocals and the band’s shimmering arrangements have never seemed more powerful as they did on that stage.

The Supernova tent felt so huge, it gave off the false appearance of an underattended performance (the “room” was about half full), but the crowd seemed totally engaged, fixed on Mayberry until the final notes were played. After a high-energy set, the trio closed with a crowd pleaser, 2012’s “The Mother We Share,” and the title track from 2018 full-length Never Say Die. –Leslie Ventura

Weyes Blood

The sound in the Supernova tent was so great, transitioning to the muddy, thin mix of the Dome—which also suffered from significant sound bleed—felt disappointing. The thin walls of the structure allowed so much bass from beyond the venue, it took away from Natalie Mering’s otherwise dynamic performance. Her band seemed unfazed (or perhaps unaware) of the sound issues and delivered a musically strong set, and lighting was once again superb—a benefit of an Amazon-produced festival.

Weyes Blood closed with “Movies,” arguably the best song off this year’s Titanic Rising, and its synth-based arrangements sounded impeccable and warm inside the Dome. As the song ended, Mering hopped toward the mic, giving the crowd a humble “Thank you very much” a la Elvis Presley, and swiftly exited the stage. –LV

Kelsey Lu

Avant-garde singer and multi-instrumentalist Kelsey McJunkins, better known as Kelsey Lu, is a master at setting atmospheric tones, proven by her Intersect set inside the Dome Friday night. Lu’s embryonic set ebbed and flowed, sounding rich and pristine inside the bubble, which glowed in hot reds and dark pinks.

Like an ocean tide swallowing sand, Lu’s sweeping arrangements hypnotized and moved from minimal to grandiose, working to magnify the singer’s gigantic vocal range. Lu’s bona fide banger “Due West” got the crowd dancing before once again putting them in a trance for her best-known single, a cover of 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love.” Donning an electric guitar, the singer transitioned into a dark, moody and cryptic version of the song. Lu then walked quietly into the crowd, belting her heartfelt lyrics as a circle formed around her. –LV

Beck

Beck, pushing 50 but still among the grooviest Gen Xers making music today, put on a career-spanning show Friday night inside the Supernova tent. He started with early hit “Loser,” moved through a catalog of hits like “Que Onda Guero,” “Girl” and “Devil’s Haircut,” and threw in a couple of songs—”Uneventful Days” and “Saw Lightning”—from recently released LP Hyperspace.

The crowd-pleasing “Wow” saw him strutting across the stage like Mick Jagger, while “Debra” saw him busting out his Prince falsetto. While the audience bounced giant white balloons around the tent, Beck closed with a forceful version of “E-Pro,” then returned for an encore that included a cover of Cage the Elephant’s “Night Running” and a “Where It’s At” medley that featured bits of the Stones, Talking Heads and Chic.

It was an endlessly satisfying performance from an artist who showed he has no intention of slowing down. –Genevie Durano

Kacey Musgraves

The drone show that took place in the sky around 11 p.m. Friday night, soundtracked by Kacey Musgraves’ “Oh, What a World,” encapsulated much that was good about the inaugural Intersect festival. And Musgraves headlining the fest’s first night was also a statement of sorts. She’s a bit of a hybrid herself, a country-pop sensation who received ACM, CMA and Grammy accolades for her 2018 album Golden Hour.

Inside the Supernova tent, Musgraves began with “Slow Burn” and “Wonder Woman” before singing “Butterflies,” one of her biggest hits. “High Time,” from 2015's Pageant Material, elicited a joke about getting a contact high from the crowd. Backed by her six-piece band, “Merry Go Round,” off her debut album Same Trailer Different Park sounded even more somber live, the lyrics suffused with familiar country-music tropes. She also covered a couple tunes—”Neon Moon” by Brooks & Dunn and a lovely, downtempo take on Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).”

By the time the “you do you” anthem “Follow Your Arrow” came around, the crowd was singing along happily. It’s tough to think of an in-the-moment artist (of any genre) who could have closed the first night better. –GD

Thundercat

“I like making songs about my cat,” Thundercat told the crowd gathered inside the Infinity tent Saturday night, before launching into the third song of his set, “Tron Song.” Anyone who has heard the So Cal bass virtuoso and singer’s music knows this. It’s part of his quirky charm: whimsical tales paired with genius-level musicality, a feathery falsetto and ironic garb (tonight, it’s a yellow drop-crotch jumpsuit similar to Bruce Lee’s in The Game of Death).

Featuring an equally skillful drummer and keyboardist, each of Thundercat’s songs turned into psychedelic, funky freakouts. Tracks that only clock two minutes on albums became eight-minute epics, as the three musicians jammed out. It was entrancing, like watching wizards cast spells. Before we knew it, Thundercat’s all too brief 45-minute set was over, but it ended with some much-anticipated news: “The next album’s almost done.” –Zoneil Maharaj

Brandi Carlile

The preamble to Brandi Carlile’s Saturday-evening set was a symphonic run-through of some of her most familiar tunes. Carlile’s bandmates, Phil and Tim Hanseroth—familiar to anyone who has followed her career from the beginning—then took the stage. When Carlile herself finally appeared, the group sang a very mellow “Every Time I Hear That Song,” and it soon became clear why: Carlile had laryngitis and was being careful not to strain herself.

She apologized profusely, explaining that she picked “easy” songs to sing, and didn’t want to disappoint the crowd. Her bandmates took over for a song—the Hanseroth twins sang a haunting version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” before Carlile joined them again on “The Eye.” Alas, a powerhouse performance was not meant to be; there would be no “Joke” or “Story” on this night, as Carlile left the stage early after promising to make it up to the crowd sometime soon. –GD

Anderson .Paak

No one is having more fun at an Anderson .Paak concert than Anderson .Paak. Performing on an elevated platform alongside his band, The Free Nationals, the Oxnard, California rapper/singer/drummer put on a show that was more James Brown than Jay-Z. One moment, he was rapping while gliding across the stage and doing jerky Fortnite dances. The next, he was playing drums and singing without having missed a single beat—or dropping his signature smile.

Throughout the course of an hour, he ripped through more than a dozen songs from his last several LPs, from the banging “Milk N Honey” off 2014’s Venice to the silky soul of “Make It Better” off this year’s Ventura, along with a Free Nationals solo jam session that worked in covers of Notorious B.I.G.’s “One More Chance” and 2Pac’s “California Love.” In between songs, Paak threw in some fun banter and observations. He must have noticed the makeup of the crowd, because he did some call-and-responses to lyrics from Papa Roach’s “Last Resort” and Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” At one point, he commented, “This is like a real festival, huh?” With Anderson .Paak on a lineup, it sure as hell is. –ZM

Foo Fighters

As he’s wont to do, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl might have talked about rocking as much as he actually rocked during Saturday night’s Intersect headlining performance. That’s not to say the Foo Fighters didn’t send off the first-year festival in style. On the contrary, they put on a solid, if a bit standard, set that seemed to especially thrill the loyal fans packed near the front of the stage.

The band was at its best when ripping through material with reckless abandon, like during an opening six-song run that included ubiquitous radio anthems “All My Life” and “Learn to Fly.” Attention waned the more Grohl rambled, as during an extended monologue introducing his bandmates. That was followed by a forgettable stunt similar to one the Foo Fighters pulled in a headlining performance of Life Is Beautiful 2014, in which Grohl and drummer Taylor Hawkins switched duties for a cover of Queen’s “Under Pressure.”

Other Grohl antics went over better, especially when he granted a fan’s request to shotgun beers together onstage. Guzzling down a Coors Light seemed to refocus Grohl for a final three-song stretch capped by “Everlong,” which sounded so outstanding it was hard not to walk away wanting more. The Foo Fighters certainly could have provided a little more than 16 songs in two hours, had they cut down on their digressions. –Case Keefer

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