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Made in America Los Angeles 2014: From Worst to Best

Festival Review

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Budweiser Made in America’s inaugural Los Angeles event had disaster written all over it. A giant music festival in the heart of downtown on a holiday weekend where major streets were shut down and featuring a bill that appealed to the broadest audience possible, skepticism was at a high level leading up to it. Even with the late additions of Kanye West and Iggy Azalea, the shows did not sell out. Still, a large and refreshingly diverse crowd descended on downtown and managed to attend a festival that, from most perspectives, has to be considered a success.

Sure, there were issues. An entirely food truck-driven culinary menu saw huge lines and wound up with many just abandoning the idea of eating for 10 or so hours. The restrooms were all clumped in a single location that many had a hard time finding. And the bill, though in the end full of more surprisingly effective sets than disappointments, still did not excite the way the Philly counterpart did this year. But all of those combined couldn’t nearly sway the overwhelmingly positive vibes and the comfortably organized concert.

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Featuring just two main stages that were virtually side-by-side, attendees didn’t have to miss a minute of the primary entertainment if they chose not to (a third EDM stage was located many blocks away and hard to reach, but the biggest dance acts got main stage placement), which makes justifying the experience easy when you know you will see the majority of the acts billed. Also a win was syncing up the festival with its Philadelphia counterpart. Body-sized monitors with cameras were placed on the grounds to corresponding units in Philly, allowing attendees at both fests a chance to wave at each other (or flash each other, which wasn’t completely uncommon). The screens on the side of each stage would show either what was happening on the other stage or what was happening in Philly in rare moments of inactivity.

And somehow, downtown didn’t turn into a madhouse. The majority of those who attended seemed to heed warnings and took public transportation; water was given out at the rail in mass, leading to a remarkably few witnessed people being pulled out of the pit in dehydration spells. When Jay Z and Beyoncé made their rounds around sunset on Sunday, they were greeted to cheers and applause, like royalty, signifying approval from at least those close enough to the photo pits to see the happy couple. The general consensus was that of looking forward to next year, when maybe they book a little stronger and improve upon an already solid foundation for LA’s new mainstream music festival. Here’s hoping they make that happen.

–Philip Cosores
Contributing Editor

Worst Synchronized Dancing, Worst Horns

Capital Cities

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You’ve probably heard Capital Cities’ hit song “Safe and Sound”. With its horns and disco-esque synth beat, it’s been all over Top 40 Radio, but it’s the only one that seems to have made any sort of splash, and it makes sense; the duo, accompanied by a trumpet player, all wearing cheesy matching jackets with “Capital Cities” emblazoned on the back, performed one of the most uninspired sets of the day. They had the audience do what’s called the “Capital Cities Shuffle” along with them because I guess synchronized dancing is still cool in their book, and while you’d think that a cover of “Stayin’ Alive” would make sense for the band, it was lackluster in every sense of the word. As part of a lineup that was stacked from beginning to end, for the time slot they had (a prime spot in the middle of the day), you would think they’d have tried harder to impress, but that wasn’t the case, making it our least favorite set of the weekend. –Tarynn Law

Best Cover Band

Sublime with Rome

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Rome is probably a cool dude, and he without question has uncanny vocal parallels to the late Sublime frontman Bradley Nowell. But, with one member of the original Sublime in the group, it’s hard to really justify associating this with the long-past-relevant ’90s band. But making matters worse is when Rome changes the lyrics of the songs to remove Nowell’s presence (“Doin’ Time” changes “Bradley’s on the microphone” to “Sublime is on the microphone,” which is both creepy and inaccurate), illuminating the very issue at the center of the project. If you can’t sing a songwriter’s original lyrics without highlighting the fact that your band probably shouldn’t exist, your band probably shouldn’t exist. –Philip Cosores

Least Worth the Walk

Will Sparks

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The EDM stage (or James Dean stage) was an uphill, multi-block walk from the main two stages, making it only for the dance music-devoted. So, checking out Will Sparks was more tiring than enjoyable, though the people who had already recovered from the trek surely had a better time. –Philip Cosores

Most Unfortunate Stage Placement

Classixx

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Classixx were placed on the James Dean stage when they possibly would have been better off on one of the main stages, if only because they are much better as a band than as a DJ set. Hard to say if the DJ set was how they were booked, but not only did it reduce the fans that saw them, but it didn’t allow them to showcase why they are much talked about (and rightfully so) in the LA music scene. –Philip Cosores

Worst MC That Is Otherwise Very Talented

Hit-Boy

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Hit-Boy has produced the songs “Niggas in Paris”, “Clique”, “1Train”, “Backseat Freestyle”, “Goldie”, “Trophies”, and “XO”, and if it says anything about his beat-making talents, those songs are all instantly recognizable without the artist listed next to them. As a rapper, Hit-Boy is servicable thus far in his career, fine at 1:30 in the afternoon, but nowhere near as talented in that arena as he is in the studio. –Philip Cosores

Most Dull

John Mayer

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John Mayer is anything but dull in interviews or, likely, in real life. Let’s get real, though: I don’t know anyone under 40 who listens to John Mayer, or at least anyone that admits to it. And if they do, they aren’t the type to go to music festivals, that’s for sure. So, while it was kind of fun for a couple songs to be like, “Holy shit, John Mayer has a sleeve,” an hour later Steve Aoki fans were chanting, “Fuck John Mayer,” and it wasn’t undeserved. –Philip Cosores

Most Overrated

Afrojack

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Nick van de Wall, aka Afrojack, was one of two EDM headliners at the fest and paled in comparison to the other. With a recently released debut album that stalled at No. 32 on the Billboard charts in its opening week, the remix wizard may not have what it takes to deliver on the stages he has been given the opportunity to perform on over the past year or two. His MiA set wasn’t particularly memorable, and he did Imagine Dragons no favors in maintaining the audience’s interest. –Philip Cosores

Best Harmonica Solo

ZZ Ward

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After the crowd had finished turning up to Hit-Boy’s set, singer-songwriter ZZ Ward brought a little bit of blues to the largely hip-hop, EDM, and indie-centered festival. Rocking a colorful outfit, she brought a set just as bright to the stage, with her infectious single “Put the Gun Down” really kicking off the day. A woman of many talents, not only does she play acoustic guitar and keys, but she’s got some serious harmonica skills that would make anyone envious. With only one album out, already she’s paving the way for a bright future. –Tarynn Law

Best Token Pop Singer

Rita Ora

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One of two pop starlets performing that day – the other being her collaborator Iggy Azalea – London’s Rita Ora has already taken the UK by storm, and now she’s attempting to top the US charts as well. Although she was given a pretty early slot in the day, she had an ever-growing crowd that wanted to see just what she was all about. Taking the stage alongside live drums and backup dancers, Ora did what she could to keep those newcomers entranced. While she may still have some work to do before claiming that No. 1 spot, she’s certainly on her way, and time will tell if she’ll be the next big thing stateside. –Tarynn Law

Best Music en Espanol

Juanes

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For those of you who have never been to Los Angeles, the Spanish-speaking population isn’t just a small contingent; it is a dominant aspect of life in much of Southern California. So, the fact that Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez, or Juanes, was the only Spanish-singing act on the bill is actually an unfair representation of the population. But, though Jay Z didn’t book any ranchera or mariachi music, Juanes was still a solid addition to the bill in that those who don’t speak Spanish could easily still get into the set solely because of his presence as a frontman. Juanes recalled to the crowd moving to Los Angeles from Colombia 15 years earlier to pursue a life as an artist, a story that proves very common and relatable to the many transplants living in the city. Nice to see one of the many whose Hollywood dreams came true, particularly one whose success is beginning to transcend the cultural divides. –Philip Cosores

Most Deserving of a Better Timeslot

Dr. Dog

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Rock and roll certainly isn’t dead, not if Dr. Dog have anything to say about it. Their unique flavor of indie rock with a psychedelic twist lit up the Dylan stage, amidst confusion from the crowd who had started to filter in for YG’s set and had no idea who they were. They have the ability to sell out venues all around the country with their fiery, but catchy, guitar lines and dual vocals, and it’s without a doubt that they earned themselves some new fans that afternoon. –Tarynn Law

Worst Crowd

Metric

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Metric performed a short-but-sweet and incredibly solid set. Consisting mainly of their Synthetica and Fantasies singles but including a serious throwback jam of “Dead Disco” from 2003’s Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, they powered through the set, only stopping briefly to restart a song as Emily Haines taught the crowd a lesson in how rock and roll isn’t (and shouldn’t be) orchestrated. While Metric has headlined festivals in the past, the crowd left a lot to be desired. Whether it was the heat, fatigue, or just general apathy to a set that no one should have been apathetic towards, they were largely immobile and even moreso unfamiliar with the band’s work. It was pretty disappointing, but here’s to hoping that their stellar performance garnered them some new fans for their next jaunt around the states. –Tarynn Law

Best Set That You Are Likely to Forget

Cypress Hill

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Cypress Hill aren’t a group that gets talked about much these days, even in SoCal, especially since they ceased their annual Cypress Hill Smokeout. It’s easy to forget how popular they once were. They were on the freakin’ Simpsons, after all. Their set was about as impactful as their records are, pleasant enough while it was happening, but also easy to forget once it was over. Still, for afternoon entertainment, you could do a lot worse. –Philip Cosores

Best EDM Dance Party

Steve Aoki

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With the EDM industry worth an insane $6.2 billion dollars, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that DJ superstar Steve Aoki would close out the Dylan stage on Sunday night. Walking up to the stage before his set, I had heard various things through the grapevine about how ridiculous his shows were, and by the time it was over with, I had all of those confirmed. He threw not one, not two, but five-plus cakes out into the crowd and covered them with bottles of champagne that he then polished off himself (surely a sticky mess when combined with the heat of the evening, not that the crowd seemed to care). It was enough of a party to have a person standing next to me in the overflow from Kanye West’s crowd say, “Man, I should be over there – it looks like they’re having one hell of a time,” and that they most certainly were. Bonnie McKee and Machine Gun Kelly joined him for a few tracks as Beyoncé, Jay Z, and the mayor of LA himself, Eric Garcetti, watched off to the side, no doubt getting their groove on. –Tarynn Law

Best Non-EDM Dance Party

Iggy Azalea

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It was almost impossible to make it out of Iggy Azalea’s crowd. As one of the last acts on the Marilyn stage, the chart-topping (and controversial) performer knew how to throw a party. She performed a slew of songs from her album The New Classic, including “Black Widow” alongside Rita Ora, and from moment one through the last note of “Fancy” (sans Charli XCX, sadly), the hyped-up audience didn’t stop moving. Almost everyone was dancing and having the time of their lives to her attitude-filled tunes, and those who weren’t stuck out like a sore thumb. –Tarynn Law

Best Crowd Participation

Mutemath

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Right after Rita Ora were keytar-toting band Mutemath, whose presence was a bit odd, but certainly appreciated. It was odd in the sense that the band are three years removed from their last full length, Odd Soul, and two years off from their last EP, which featured the moderately popular single “Blood Pressure”. However, that all changed when they brushed off their new song, “Monument”, delivering everything a fan could ask for and more. Mutemath continued their trademark high-energy performance and didn’t disappoint. Not only did vocalist/keytar player Paul Meany ride a massive, bejeweled air mattress, supported by the small-but-mighty crowd, but drummer Darren King also handed his drums to audience members and played as they held them. It was truly a sight to behold and one that drew in new fans for their next visit into town. –Tarynn Law

Best Dressed

Nipsy Hussle

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Say what you want about Nipsy Hussle, but the Compton rapper has style. Recalling his days of selling mixtapes on the street, which he’s been peddling since 2008, there was something of a “I’ve made it” vibe to his set. Though one of the less acclaimed rappers of the bill, Hussle proved he belonged with his charisma and confidence, something that has been his calling card since back when we really was a Slauson boy. –Philip Cosores

Best Use of Percussion (Sorry, Imagine Dragons)

X Ambassadors

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Although they played early on in the day at 3:00 p.m., X Ambassadors made sure you knew that there’s a reason they have huge names like Jay Z (who appears on a remix of their hit “Jungle”) and the World Cup (“Jungle” was used in an advertisement) on their side. Donning all black on a 90-degree day, vocalist Sam Harris still sprinted about the stage, even making it down to the small, but passionate crowd – not to mention playing a killer saxophone solo during “Free & Lonely”. The real highlight came during the aforementioned tune “Jungle”, featuring Jamie N Commons, during which the band brought out a number of incredibly talented buskers who they had found and recruited amidst a recent trip to London. Incorporating congos, rappers, a blues guitar player, and a handful of other musicians, it was one of the most ingenious moments of the weekend and proved that a little creativity can go a long way. –Tarynn Law

Best Continuous String of Hits

Weezer

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Quick, put your thinking caps on – if you were to see Weezer perform for 30 – 45 minutes, what do you think they would perform? If your answer was “probably only their hit songs,” you would be 150% correct, leaving some of the more dedicated Weezer fans disappointed by the lack of older tunes. Kicking things off with “Hash Pipe” into Make Believe singles “Perfect Situation” and “Beverly Hills”, it was a set built almost entirely off of their songs that had gotten the most radio airtime. That didn’t stop the enthusiastic crowd from digging the band’s new single, “Back to the Shack”, taken from their forthcoming LP, Everything Will Be Alright in the End. Leading into their hit “Island in the Sun”, bespectacled frontman Rivers Cuomo sang an impromptu tune about inviting all of the Weezer fans in the audience to a hypothetical beach party in Santa Monica, and with a set as solid as the one they performed that day, it would be a treat to attend. –Tarynn Law

Setlist:
Hash Pipe
Perfect Situation
Island in the Sun
Beverly Hills
Say It Ain’t So
Back to the Shack
(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To
Pork and Beans
Undone – The Sweater Song
Buddy Holly

Best Circle Pits (Much to Kanye’s Disdain)

Rise Against

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“How many of you were surprised to see us on the lineup?” Rise Against vocalist Tim McIlrath said to their huge crowd on Sunday night – and a good portion of them raised their hand in agreement. Sandwiched between performers like Juanes, Chance the Rapper, John Mayer, and Borgore, Rise Against were the outliers of the festival with their punk roots and rock and roll attitude, but that didn’t stop them from putting on one of the most high-energy sets of the night. The crowd reciprocated the energy tenfold as crowd surfers found their way over the barricade, the kids in the front row looked like they actually wanted to be there, and moshing went on as far as the eye could see. Kanye’s crowd could have taken a few lessons from the constant circle pits (or just “circles” as ‘Ye calls them) throughout their time slot, too. –Tarynn Law

Most Enthusiastic Audience

YG

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YG’s LA popularity has officially gone bonkers. People sprinted out of the beer gardens once his set started and hung on every word the MC delivered over DJ Mustard’s beats. YG is improving as a performer, knowing how to make his songs both technically sound and loose for audience interaction. The highlight, though, was easily the “dance YG” portion, where the rapper loosely gyrated his body in a goofy but awesome fashion. –Philip Cosores

Biggest Surprise

Imagine Dragons

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We’re almost exactly two years away from the release of the album that changed everything for Imagine Dragons, Night Visions. In those two years, their songs have been licensed to hell and back, and their singles have topped the charts countless times, earning them two distinct groups of fans: those who fervently love them and defend the band’s every move and those who (fairly outspokenly) cannot stand the band, a group that includes Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. The former of those two were the majority of the crowd that night as the band played the last date of their Night Visions album cycle, screaming along with every single word that Dan Reynolds had to sing that night. They were there with the band as they performed a cover of Blur’s “Song 2” and asked for mosh pits. Reynolds stripped off his in-ears and launched himself into the crowd.

Every few songs, he would stop and take a look out at the crowd with an awestruck grin, remarking about how lucky he was to be there. Reynolds encouraged smaller bands to take risks and put every ounce of their effort into what it was they wanted to achieve, how one day they could be standing where he and his bandmates were that night, and it could inspire even the most passionate Imagine Dragons cynic. –Tarynn Law

Best Well-Oiled Machine

Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Isaiah Rashad

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TDE has their festival routine down at this point. The difference at this point is they keep coming out with new music, keep getting more popular, and are improving as performers across the board. Isaiah Rashad is the newest addition to the festival show and possibly could pass both Jay Rock and Ab-Soul (who followed) on the depth chart. Each collaborates with the artist that comes after them, until the main events of Schoolboy Q, pumping the crowd up with a huge “Man of the Year”, and Kendrick Lamar, going for broke with charisma, tension, and hits. With all of them local, there was much love given to the crowd and from the performers to each other, making the set seem like a culmination of the last couple years of releases and hard work. With Kendrick’s new album due soon, Rashad about to blow up, and Schoolboy Q deserving of his own headlining set at this point, TDE proved to Roc Nation that they have fierce competition coming from Los Angeles. –Philip Cosores

Most Energetic

Chance the Rapper

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Chance the Rapper had a pretty great weekend. Besides getting to meet his idol, Kanye West, and trotting around the festival grounds with his new best friend Gizmo from Gremlins, Chance also delivered one of the most inspired, amped-up, and satisfying sets of the weekend. Sure, it’s the same material he’s been performing for more than a year, but Chance makes it seem fresh with his leaping, dancing, water spraying, and willingness to smile big. Props go to him for also sporting the LA Dodger cap, considering he was one of the few artists who were far from local. Regardless, he managed to blend in and wipe out the home-field advantage. – Philip Cosores

Best Guest Features

SZA

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Kanye and John Mayer didn’t team up, Imagine Dragons didn’t bring out Kendrick Lamar for their “Radioactive” collaboration, and Iggy Azalea only brought out Rita Ora. So, thankfully, Top Dawg Entertainment’s star-on-the-rise SZA took the opportunities she was given and ran with them. Fellow TDE newcomer Isaiah Rashad joined her for a stunning rendition of “Warm Winds” (fitting for the 90-degree weather of the weekend), and Ab-Soul made an appearance during Z track “Ice.Moon” that left the crowd with their jaws on the ground. Her down-to-earth personality and the “low-key, sexy lounge vibe” (her words) of the set was the highlight of the afternoon and a sure sign of huge things to come for the New Jersey via St. Louis songstress. –Tarynn Law

Best Music

Kanye West

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“I want you also to leave here and say, ‘I saw Kanye West tonight,’ Yeezy said near the end of his festival-closing set. With his family looking on, festival founder Jay Z and wife Beyoncé looking on, and thousands of fans looking on, the typical love it or hate it performance certainly accomplished that goal.

If anything was notable about Kanye’s LA performance, it was both gracious and un-ranty. Maybe it was the late start, maybe it was because it was his friend’s event, or maybe it was because it was a rare festival where fans actually were mostly rap fans, but every song earned a worthy reaction, and most of the souls present could match West word for word.

Having just seen nearly an identical set in San Francisco three weeks earlier, I wasn’t bored in the slightest. I could watch Kanye West perform the same set daily for a solid month before I would start twiddling my thumbs. There isn’t a more captivating performer out there today, if only because you’re waiting for something strange to happen (and his “I want to see circles” bit these days should bring smiles to everyone’s faces). And when nothing Kanye-ish does happen? Well, you’re just treated to some of the best songs in contemporary pop music. Not a bad deal. –Philip Cosores

Gallery

Photographer: Philip Cosores

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