This alt-rock power trio kicked off its set with the “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade” from the band’s debut album, 2011’s “The Big Roar.” This upbeat catchy rocker seemed like the perfect soundtrack for what guitarist/vocalist Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan described as a lovely evening, one she admitted was not a common occurrence in the band’s birthplace of Northern Wales.
For that matter, the petite blonde’s accent is so lilting, just her talking could have been musical enough. But the other songs Ritzy sang into her microphone adorned with a mass of light-bulb strings were just as appealing.
Standouts include the percussive rocker “The Last Thing on My Mind” and the introspective ballad “Liana”, both from the group’s latest release, the 2016 album “Hitch.” The short set also featured material from older albums, such as “Little Blimp” from 2013’s “Wolf’s Law.”
Drummer Matt Thomas was set up in an unusual position: on the right side of stage, so that he faced his band-mates instead of the audience while he bashed away at a drum kit that included a very large gong.
Drummer Matt Thomas
Also going against the norm was bassist Rhydian Dafydd, who seemed considerably more animated than the typical player of that instrument, occasionally running over to one or the other of his band-mates during the show.
Bassist Rhydian Dafydd
Rhydian & Ritzy
Rhydian & Matt
Despite getting noisier as it went along, this power trio’s set was surprisingly melodic overall, and definitely worth seeing.
This San Francisco band’s headlining gig was a week after the passing of funk/rock/pop/r&b superstar Prince, so it wasn’t surprising to hear “Let’s Go Crazy” being played as the group took to the stage. But what was surprising was that as the bandmembers picked up their instruments, they started singing and playing along with the recording, somehow managing to make that sound good instead of chaotic.
After the Prince opening, Train moved into its own material, kicking things off with a pair of its bigger radio hits: the mariachi-powered “50 Ways To Say Goodbye” and “If It’s Love” with its mid-tempo groove and stream-of consciousness lyrics.
The band followed those up with a pair of older hits: the easygoing “Get To Me” and the song that first put the group on the map, the 1999 single “Meet Virginia.” Lead singer Pat Monahan then announced that the group was in the studio recording songs for their upcoming album, after which the band played a new song called “The News” for the first time in public.
Monahan also remarked on how nice it was to have good weather for the show, and for good reason. For Train’s previous Sunfest appearance in 2013, the band had to deal with a soggy evening, complete with muddy grounds and a steady drizzle. But the group held the crowd’s attention then with a lot of audience participation, something which was repeated for this performance. As was the case in 2013, the song “Mermaid” was an invitation for the “little mermaids” to go onstage, and as he sang the songs “Marry Me” and “Bruises”, Monahan walked through crowd, shaking hands with the fans.
The band continued its set with more of its monster radio hits: “Calling All Angels”, “Save Me, San Francisco”, “Hey Soul Sister” and “Drive By.” The encore consisted of the piano ballad “Drops of Jupiter” and a faithful rendition of Prince’s signature anthem “Purple Rain.”
If fellow Sunfest headliner Meghan Trainor could be considered the typical pop phenomenon, this ‘80s New Wave band from Birmingham, England is the rare case of former teen idols being able to maintain their career long after the aging of their original fans past adolescence. Few witnessing the initial chart ascent of this MTV favourite could have predicted that thirty-five years later the group would still be going strong.
But going strong it is, despite the absence of original guitarist Andy Taylor. September 2015 saw the release of the band’s fourteenth studio album, Paper Gods, the title track for which kicked off its Sunfest performance.
Bassist John Taylor with guitarist Dominic Brown
Clad in a white jumpsuit, front-man Simon Le Bon roamed around the stage, belting out classic Duran hits such as “Wild Boys”, “Hungry Like The Wolf” and the theme song for the 1985 James Bond film A View to A Kill. But the new album was also represented by tracks such as “Pressure Off” and “Last Night In The City.”
Bassist (and fan favourite) John Taylor seemed to have more energy than anyone else on stage, spending his time either running around, slapping his bass, singing backup or playing alongside tour guitarist Dominic Brown.
John with Dominic Brown
But even when stationary, he still had a presence, as if he were some sort of rock-star superhero.
As a contrast, keyboardist Nick Rhodes remained true to his introspective self, spending much of the performance in his typical pose, looking down at his synthesizers.
And drummer Roger Taylor laid down the beat whilst being hidden by his cymbals.
Behind all those drums and cymbals…
… is Roger Taylor (Photo by Heather Morales)
Throughout the show, the band honoured its influences, both living and dead. One of the songs performed was the title track for the 1986 album Notorious, produced by legendary funk guitarist Nile Rodgers, who was also involved in the group’s current album. Also played was the band’s version of the rap classic “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” by Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mal.
But perhaps the cleverest tribute was to one of the group’s biggest influences, the late David Bowie. In the middle of performing one of its earliest hits “Planet Earth”, the band segued into Bowie’s first hit, the extra-terrestial rock classic “Space Oddity.”
Backing Vocalist Anna Ross & Simon
Also, at the beginning of the encore, Simon talked about how influenced they were by the late great funk/pop/rock superstar Prince, who had just passed away the previous week. Simon then dedicated the introspective ballad “Save A Prayer” to the Minnesota music legend, exhorting the crowd to hold up their cellphones to light up the night. The band then ended their career-spanning performance with one of their earliest smashes, the title track to 1982’s Rio. This up-tempo Duran classic featured saxophonist Andy Hamilton, who did the solo for the song’s recording.
Certainly a great ending to a great festival beginning.
Backing Vocalist Jessie Wagner
Backing Vocalist Anna Ross (photo by Erin McMahon)
The opening night of this year’s Sunfest could have been titled “Teen Idols, Then and Now”, with Duran Duran representing “Teen Idols Then” and this twenty-two-year-old singer-songwriter from Nantucket, MA representing “Now.” Meghan Trainor took to the stage flanked by a pair of dancers whose frenetic moves complemented her music, best described as a combination of retro-pop and hip-hop.
Trainor’s Sunfest performance marks her return to stage, having had her previous year’s tour cancelled due to vocal-chord hemorrhaging.
The first few songs of the set were taken from her major-label debut, 2015’s Title. But also making its live debut was the song “Watch Me Do”, a track from her imminent next release Thank You, due out on May 13th.
The crowd consisted mainly of younger music fans but also included Meghan’s parents.
Meghan saved some of her most popular material for last, waiting till the encore to perform the ubiquitous “All About The Bass”, and her latest hit “No”, the first single from her upcoming album.
As I said previously, this year’s Sunfest marked the first time that Empress K of Reggae Reflection and I had press passes for all five days of the festival. And while we had our share of challenges and mishaps, we won’t let any negative vibes kill our buzz, because this year’s lineup really delivered. With so many good bands and diverse artists playing sometimes simultaneously, we had to split up more than previous years to cover them all. But you the readers of our blogs and the Island Stage web magazine will be the beneficiaries, because our strategy of dividing and conquering enabled us to listen to and take pictures of about half of the fifty bands that played.
And as the local half of this press team, I was able to see a lot of my concert-going friends along the way, and they were able to see me. Here’s a picture of me in the photo pit for The Roots that was forwarded to me by my friend Alison Bourke, taken by her boyfriend Basel Hamad:
And here’s one of the pictures I took from that pit:
Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson of The Roots on Sousaphone
So sit tight for a whole lot of words and pictures about this year’s Sunfest…
A stylized view of Sunfest from the Captain Morgan Floating Bar (Photo by Alison Bourke)