Check Out All Of The Bands Blurred Culture Caught On Day 1 Of This Ain’t No Picnic! Thoughts+Photos Of LCD Soundsystem, Jorja Smith, Le Tigre, Ethel Cain and More!
LOS ANGELES, CA- With over 70 acts performing over the course of two days, it’ll always be a task to pick between acts and get that which will fill your soul. We hope you enjoy what we were able to see/hear love the weekend.
Hana Vu stood in the middle of the Greens Stage in a bucket hat, cargo pants, t-shirt, guitar, and voice that was too big for her body. With an indie-singer-songwriter sound that reminded me of a garage band that was destined to make it big, I could understand why some have referred to her as DIY indie. Hana and her band’s laid-back, ego-less style was charming and her music was phenomenal: calm, timely, timeless, and yet entirely of the age that we are living in. How exactly did she pull that off?
As one of the first, if not the first, acts of the This Ain’t No Picnic festival she was charged with energizing the audience in preparation for the next two days. The crowd was split between those willing to stand in the sun at the front of the stage and those sitting in the back under the shade of two sycamore trees—picnic style. I was in the back and as I bobbed my head up and down to the relaxed fit of Hana’s music I felt nostalgic for my teenage years when my friends and I would drive around town listening to music and pretending we lived anywhere else than rural Kentucky.
This was the first time I’ve been able to catch Lillie West’s LaLa LaLa in concert. I caught wind of LaLa LaLa a few years ago when their song “Fuck With Your Friends”, of their debut album Sleepyhead, somehow popped onto my musical radar. With their tonally dark, and lo-fi, approach to the alt-rock/grunge sound, it was pretty much just what I needed at that point in my life. While that album left an impression, LaLa LaLa must have fallen off my radar as I was quite unaware that they had released their third studio album in 2021.
Prior to catching LaLa LaLa’s performance, I gave that album, I Want The Door To Open, a listen and was thoroughly impressed with how much her sound has evolved since 2016. She’s still got those lilting vocals, but it’s backed up by some very clever musical arrangements and production. There are also a lot of different flavors/facets of her exposed throughout the 12-track album. Yes, there’s still the brooding haze throughout, both lyrically and musically, but there are also hints of optimism lurking under each note.
That optimism was palpable during her set. Perhaps the bright afternoon sun shining down on the stage gave the performance that little extra energy and made fans in the audience lose themselves in dance rather than ponder her “Bliss Now!” lyrics “I bought myself a knife, To cut it all away”. That totally worked for me.
Arooj Aftab mourns the death of her younger brother on the Greens stage. Though I can’t understand the words she sings, the sorrow of her music needs no translation. As explained by Aftab herself, “On [her new album] Vulture Prince, Aftab makes the art form her own, trading the traditional percussion-heavy instrumentation for heavenly string arrangements (harp, violin, upright bass); she even ventures into reggae territory on “Last Night,” a slinky rendition of a Rumi poem. She translates another poem, this time by Mirza Ghalib, on “Diya Hai,” the last song she performed for her brother Maher, and a haunting expression of all-encompassing grief.”
Her music recalls her dark electronic roots and marries them with elements of Spanish guitar, orchestral harp, and singing fiddles that allow the extreme talent of her band to shine through. The kind of music emanating from the stage is what you might hear as your mind wanders through your past, your worries, or your hopes for the future. It is the music of time as it layers itself between our ears to build this thing we call life.
I’m on Epitaph Records alerts list, and I remember when I got a press release about The Garden’s sophomore album haha. From “All Smiles Over Here” to “Gift”, that 17-track album was an addictive listen and quenched my post-punk revival thirst. I knew that The Garden consisted of twin brothers Wyatt and Fletcher Shears, but I neglected to unearth the fact that each of the brothers had their own solo project until a few months ago. Enjoy is the side project of Wyatt Fletcher, and I found that his solo sound with Enjoy leans more on the new-wave tilt. I liked it as much as I liked his work with The Garden.
Clearly, Wyatt’s fans were in attendance. You could spot them quite easily as they wore the trademark white facepaint with black outlines that Wyatt and his brother are known to don as the Garden. Even in the sweltering midday heat, Wyatt’s fans were lined up at the front of the barricade. That’s dedication.
There was a little technical hiccup to start the set, but once the sound issue got resolved Enjoy delivered a laid-back performance that embodied a truly southern California ethos. It was actually a perfect soundtrack to kick back, lay on the festival lawn, zone out and enjoy a cold one to. I quite “enjoyed” it (pardon my feeble attempt at a pun).
Genesis Owusu sings in the colors of high energy black and red. He walks onstage clad in a heavy black coat covered in red hands, surrounded by hype men in black masks and covered in chains, who eventually rip the coat off of him to reveal a tight red short suit with a black fishnet top reminiscent of 1980s Michael Jackson. Genesis gives off a flamboyant kind of sex appeal that is both feminine and masculine without androgyny. This ability to embody the gender spectrum fully comes out in his music, which somehow has the feel of an intense hardcore or hip hop show, while also sounding soft, melodic, and electronic.
At one point in the show, Genesis enters the pit to sing amongst the crowd. His music pumps the crowd up and down and at one point in the show, the mosh pit begins looking like a beating heart, or a slime fungus as it breaths in and out across the forest floor—beating, beating, beating, thumping, thumping, thumping. Genesis lowers the crowd to the ground and stands above them for a moment. Feeling like a demigod of music in the hot California sun.
Julia Jacklin stepped onto the stage in braids, a bright red prairie dress, cat-eye glasses, and ankle-high socks. Her visage was like that of the Australian ranchers from decades ago. Her body only seemed to find comfort on stage while it held a guitar. At one moment, between songs she went to the mic to say, “I have nothing to say!” and as she began singing her next song, guitarless, her body held a kind of awkward reservation. Yet that reservation was never heard in her voice, which sang free and loud across the main stage. She was utterly charming.
A singer-songwriter out of Sydney, Australia, Jacklin’s music speaks to the shy girl with the powerful voice in us all. Her songs are kind, yet intimidating. She’s reserved, yet she knows who she is. As she ended her set singing, “Pressure to Party” her voice flies out over the festival: “I know I’ve locked myself in my room, but I’ll open up the door and try to love again soon!” Ending with a powerful string of, “Ahhh Haaaaaaaa, Ahhhh Haaaaaaa! Ahhh Haaaaaaaa, Ahhhh Haaaaaaa!” that electrified the crowd as they sang along.
Yves Tumor oozes sex appeal, and it’s not just because their impeccably shaped ass was on full display throughout his show. Tumor was such a presence that I noticed the camera crews kept cutting to the lead guitarist, Chris Greatti—to no avail. The musical relationship between those two is like a rhythmic love story between two neon birds of paradise. At one point Tumor grabs Greatti’s face and gets close as they sing, “Crush velvet, I’m in heaven. I feel my best when I’m dressed in all crushed velvet.”
Tumor seems to be a human of his music. His stage presence is quiet. I found it impossible to understand what they said between sets. But when it came to singing his intense, electronic, melodic, garage grunge, magic songs, their body and voice were fully committed. It’s not just that Tumor is sexy, their music is sexy. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed the show—and the music was great too!
When I first listened to Ethel Cain’s album Preacher’s Daughter earlier this year, I was gobsmacked. It’s not often that one can form an indelible impression of a recording artist through the virgin-listen of their debut studio album… but that’s what happened to me. From the opening track, “Family Tree”, I was drawn into Ethel Cain’s seemingly tumultuous world. The pain. The violence. The longing. All couched in a rich alternative pop soundscape. I was hooked.
Clearly, Ethel’s performance at This Ain’t No Picnic was high on my list of “must-sees”. I even abandoned my writer who was more interested in seeing Courtney Barnett perform at the same time. I love Courtney Barnett’s music… I had to see for myself whether this artist could bring all of the emotion she brings to a track like “A House In Nebraska” to the stage. Ethel nailed it.
Not only was she vocally on point, but she was able to leave a sizable impression on the crowd who came through to see her perform. While she doesn’t move around the stage all too much … at least she didn’t for this mid-afternoon set… her voice soared in the open air and captured both attention and imagination. She’s effortless when she sings… almost lackadaisical… but her subtle energy behind each lyric makes the depth and meaning of what she sings stick to your soul. I was a big fan of Ethel Cain’s music prior to this performance. I’m a big fan of Ethel Cain now.
Courtney Barnett’s strange lands Americana vibe was the perfect soundtrack for the cooling summer evening as she played with the backdrop of the rosey Angeles mountains behind her. She’s an Australian but sings with a SoCal flair. She dances with her guitar as she plays and I can feel myself falling in love. Barnett has a funny way of looking at the mundane every day through the eyes of an alien and says, “Well isn’t think odd if you think about it?” It is a sentiment that I sympathize with and that sentiment is what has made Barnett’s music the success that it is today.
After welcoming the crowd with her crooked Americana song, “Avant Gardener,” her music kicks into a memory of punk midway through her show as she plays “Pedestrian at Best,” singing, “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you. Tell me I’m exceptional, I promise to exploit you. Give me all your money, and I’ll make some origami. Honey, I think you’re a joke, but I don’t find you very funny.” I’d let Barnett disappoint, exploit, and sad laugh at me every day if she’d let me, just as long as she keeps making that great music.
As soon as I saw Mica Tenenbaum and Matthew Lewin of Magdalena Bay step onto the stage wearing matching “Indie Darling” (Mica) and “Boyboss” shirts, I had a good sense of expecting a good time. I was right.
Thanks to some diligent publicists, Magdalena Bay has been on my radar for a few years now… I think since 2017. They released their debut studio album, Mercurial World, in late 2021 and it’s a solid debut. The production value of the project deserves high marks, and that’s something considering that the duo produced the entire album themselves. Their songwriting is also solid, with each song achieving some level of pop perfection. It’s no wonder that their debut made a handful of “best of” 2021 lists.
Their performance was just as energetic as their music. While Matthew tends to stay relatively sedentary behind his instruments to ensure the music goes off without a hitch, Mica was a whirling dervish of unbridled energy, shaking her hips and dancing around the stage to the rhythms of the music they played. Their performance occurred as the sun was setting in the west, but I’m keen on seeing them in a club setting with cool lighting bouncing around the room to get the full dance/pop experience that their music gives. I’m glad they’re L.A. based these days (at least that’s what I understand). I’m gonna have to flag them on my show radar now.
You can’t go wrong booking an iconic band (of any genre) at a music festival, and Circle Jerks are perhaps one of the most iconic Los Angeles-based hardcore punk bands ever. Formed in 1979, these punk stalwarts have taken breaks from the group in order to pursue other ventures, but you can’t keep a good thing locked up forever, and despite several lay-offs, they always take some time in their respective lives to reform like Voltron to give long-time fans what they need.
Their debut studio album, Group Sex was released in 1980, and the band has been celebrating its 40th anniversary, bringing the party to This Ain’t No Picnic. They were supposed to tour/celebrate the anniversary in 2020, but we all know what happened in 2020. Thankfully, its postponement brought them to The Greens stage at This Ain’t No Picnic.
As soon as the band started ripping into their set, the circle pit started to kick up dust. They jammed through a majority of the Group Sex tracks (“Deny Everything”, “I Just Want Some Skank”, “Live Fast Die Young”, “Wasted”, etc.)… oddly enough, they didn’t perform the title Track. Keith Morris noted that he had the privilege of picking the songs for the setlist on this day, and he admitted that he put his favorite song on the setlist, “When The Shit Hits The Fan” (off of Golden Shower of Hits). This got the band and the crowd hyped, and I saw the circle of dust grow exponentially from a distance. Nothing like a good old punk show.
Having seen Mac DeMarco perform live on several occasions, there’s one thing through-line that always pops into my mind: “I wouldn’t mind smoking a joint with this dude and just get goofy.” There’s something so pleasantly chill and goofy about Mac and his stage presence that makes the music he performs that much more enjoyable. Opening his set with “On the Level” definitely had those joint-smoking thoughts creep back into my head.
Mac filled his set with songs from throughout his entire repertoire. There was a health dollop of songs from 2 (“The Stars Keep Callin My Name”, “Cooking Up Something Good”, “Ode To Victory”, “Freaking Out The Neighborhood”, “My Kind of Woman”) and Salad Days (“Salad Day”, “Passing Out Pieces”, “Chamber of Reflection”), with selects tracks from Another One (“Another One”) and This Old Dog (“Still Beating”, “On the Level”) and Here Come The Cowobw (“Nobody”).
It didn’t surprise me that Mac catered his setlist to his fans, focusing on those cuts that his fans love. When reviewing the list of songs I recognized, I kind of imagined that they could have been all been pulled from Spotify’s “popular” list on his artist page (FYI, as of 9/27/22, 7 out of the 10 on Spotify’s “popular” playlist were in his set.
Mac gave his fans a little something extra to his fans when he kinda out-of-nowhere started making out with his bassist Daryl Johns towards the start of his set. Perhaps this was a subtle message to his fans regarding the state of the band and a step away from the last person who played bass for him. Whatever it was, it was a moment of unbridled joy that had the entire crowd cheering at the top of their lungs. It’s the way you expect Mac DeMarco shows to feel, and it was perfect.
Le Tigre is caught in the middle of the world’s worst case of Deja Vu. They weren’t supposed to be relevant in 2022—by their own assertion. “We didn’t think we’d still be talking about Rudi Guliannia in 2022,” Kathleen Hanna lamented. Between a political landscape that looks like a fun-house mirror version of the early ’00s and the recent Supreme Court decision that stripped child-baring capable Americans of their right to bodily autonomy, Le Tigre’s relevance in 2022 is enough to make a woman like me cry in anger.
“You can only fight as hard as you celebrate,” Hanna reminded me, “So let’s celebrate tonight.” And that is exactly what Le Tigre did.
Another live performance that really impressed me came from Kelly Lee Owens. Live performances by solo electronic dance artists tend to leave me wanting. Oftentimes, intricate lighting designs or pyrotechnics are needed to highlight the music’s excitement of intensity. That wasn’t the case with Lee Owens.
While This Ain’t No Picnic’s stage lighting and fog machine gave Kelly an atmospheric and mysterious vibe, I was taken aback when I found myself focusing on Kelly’s physical being on stage. She seemed to exude an ethereal emotional force from her body whether she was singing, or playing chords on her tapping beats onto her drum machine, whether with aggression or with a delicate touch. I was literally mesmerized by her live performance, which made me appreciate her electronic music that much more.
Despite making waves in the UK back in 2016 with her acclaimed single “Blue Lights”, it wasn’t until I peeped her name in the credits of the Black Panther soundtrack album sometime in 2018. I was sleeping on the game. I was soon seeing her name pop up in my news feed everywhere as she was winning Brit Awards (3!) and getting Grammy nominated for Best New Artist. I was seriously sleeping on the game.
Jorja’s set started about 10 minutes late so I didn’t catch as much of her performance as I had wanted (I had to run to the opposite end of the festival grounds to photograph the Day 1 headliner), but what I did catch of Jorja’s performance demonstrated to me that she is a vocalist who full command of her voice. Her voice resonates incredibly, hitting all of the right frequencies that make you never tingle a bit. Honestly, I thought she really didn’t need her background vocalists. Maybe it was just the mix early in the set, but I thought their vocals only took away from the power of Jorja’s vocals when they tried to harmonize with her.
I wish I could have stuck around for more of her set… and trust me when I say that I tried to keep listening to her as I ran across the festival grounds. Thankfully, a fan’s video I found below gave to let me experience some of that which I missed. Thank you fan.
LCD Soundsystem capped off the first night with a glowing light show and music that turned the crowd into an ebbing and flowing ocean of humanity. The band’s tightrope walk between high-energy dance music and relaxing chill melodies seemed to hypnotize the crowd and turn it into something pan-human—otherworldly even. Looking out from the back of the venue the audience of thousands was unlike anything I had seen in a long while.
A man drummed intently to the music behind me. As I glanced back he said, “Sorry, it’s been a long day.”
“No apologies necessary,” I said. Seeing an engaged love of music in a crowd of happy faces is what life is all about. The music continued on and after playing Dance Yrself Clean, James Murphy said, “I’m sorry, we only have one song left.” The band and the audience so desperately wanted to dance and sing on, but festival rules must be abided by. And so, the excitement hit a happy fever pitch with the song, All My Friends. After a thank you the lights went dark and a tired crowd made their way back home for a few hours of rest before the start of Day 2.