2024 Kilby Block Party: Day Three Review

“This is very nice,” said James Murphy, frontman of LCD Soundsystem, as he looked out at the massive sea of people in the last hour of the 2024 Kilby Block Party, in what must stand as the understatement of the festival. As a first-time Kilby-goer, it was far better than a “very nice” experience; it’s one that, without getting too sentimental right off the bat, I’ll forever cherish. Kilby is a marvelously well-run operation with the strongest and most unique lineup of any major festival this year. I’ll circle back later on why its formula works so well.

But first, the music, and I saw a lot of it Sunday, starting with Utah’s own Little Moon, whose members were riding the high of winning NPR’s 2023 Tiny Desk Contest. The band’s partially gender-nonconforming psych-folk aesthetic was unlike anything else at Kilby, and unlike most acts in modern music more broadly. Watching their whimsical set was like catching an itinerant minstrel show, or perhaps the live performance of a children’s storybook soundtrack. For comparisons, I’d have to reach back to the Elephant Six sound of the late ‘90s, or perhaps to freak-folk pioneer Vashti Bunyan. If these sound like obscure touchpoints, it speaks to how wonderfully different this group is, down to its choice of instruments, including harp to rain stick.

Nothing could prepare the uninitiated for the next act on my list, New York’s Model/Actriz. In what functioned as performance art as much as rock concert, all eyes were on frontman Cole Haden, who leaned into his band’s name by sporting a bonnet, miniskirt, black nail polish, fishnets and platform shoes, and applying lipstick from a beaded clutch. He treated the stairs leading down into the audience like a catwalk, all while performing vocals that ran the gamut from a Robert Smith quaver to a hardcore scream, and spent upwards of 30 percent of the show amidst the audience, which appropriately went bananas, while guitarist Jack Wetmore played jagged shards of Gang of Four-style guitar, and bassist Aaron Shapiro and drummer Ruben Radlauer laid an intense rhythm section. It was surely the most surreal scene that I saw throughout the weekend, and while I don’t usually go for gimmicky acts, this one really worked.

Solid entertainment continued in the form of Choir Boy, another Utah-born band that performs in the synthpop style of the pre-digital 1980s. Singer Adam Klopp has a distinctive, resonant voice perfect for echoing off of arena walls; these guys should definitely be opening for the OMDs and Depeche Modes of the world. “Shatter” was particularly strong, with its saxophone parts and simulated vibraphone adding rich color and texture.

After Choir Boy, I bounced around the grounds a bit, nursing a headache since the morning brought on by too much Kilby, too much sun and not enough water, while enjoying Petey’s crowd-pleasing literate rock and the acoustic folk-rock of Kevin Kaarl, something of a YouTube phenom from Chihuahua, Mexico. I don’t speak enough Spanish to understand the lyrics, but it made for a great acoustic backdrop for a late-afternoon siesta in what little shade was afforded in the blessed VIP section. The music was pleasant and usually rather languorous, until it rocked every now and then.

Thanks to the magic of Advil, I recuperated enough to enjoy Pond’s riveting set at the Desert Stage. Despite releasing some 10 albums, and despite sharing some personnel with Tame Impala, Pond hasn’t really broken out in the U.S. That should change with gigs like this one. Lead singer Nick Albrook is clearly weaned on the classics of stadium-rock theatrics–swinging the mic stand around with glee, clutching the mic cord in his teeth, somersaulting on the ground. Exuding sex appeal–he eventually complied with some audience members’ requests to remove his shirt–he conjured David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Pete Townshend at various times, with some lyrics straight from the glam rocker’s dictionary. (“All that glitters is free.”) The music grooved with the best of them, whether sludgy or bouncy, and was supplemented by the sounds of echoes, sirens and sci-fi effects.

Finally, it was time for Guided by Voices, one of my most anticipated bands of the festival, and one I hadn’t seen live since 2004. Twenty years on, Father Time has yet to catch up with the indefatigable, now 66-year-old Robert Pollard, who still hit all the commanding rock-frontman poses and high kicks for his faithful cult of supporters, of which I am a member in good standing. Announcing they were here to play “rock ‘n’ roll for the kids,” GBV tore through some 21 numbers in an hour. A typical Guided by Voices gig features upwards of 40 tunes, so this show was but a tasty aperitif, with newer compositions like “Jack of Legs” and “Boomerang” landing just as successfully as all-time classic sing-alongs such as “I Am a Scientist” and “A Salty Salute,” Pollard commanding the action like a mad conductor.

As a side note, my GBV gigs of yore usually featured Pollard and some of the band downing an entire cooler of beer during the set, and spraying its contents on the audience. There was none of that here, with the frontman nursing one beer. That’s clearly the right way to go if GBV wants to continue touring and releasing its standard two to three albums a year; I’ll drink to that.

After some much-needed vegan nosh, I spent a rather confused 30 minutes with Ginger Root, a California trio that specializes in, per its own verbiage, “aggressive elevator soul.” Many of the songs had backstories as long as War and Peace, some associated with anime videos and feature films shot by singer-songwriter Cameron Lew that projected behind the band. At other times, a videographer captured the performance for (I think) a live stream, shooting the action in extreme close-ups. Lew kept referring to the festival as the “Kirby convention,” and I couldn’t tell if he was joking. The whole thing felt self-consciously cheezy, self-consciously ‘80s, and very online, and I liked it well enough.

As for the big headliner of the evening, my apologies, reader: I didn’t stay for all of it. Blasphemy, I know, but this was a long weekend, and I slant on the, let’s just say, older side of the Kilby demographic, and I admit to not quite “getting” LCD Soundsystem. That being said, convulsing multitudes is their thing, and they certainly accomplished it, with audiences throughout nearly the entire festival grounds dancing to what amounted to a near-greatest hits set. (Daft Punk was not playing at their house at this show.)

I appreciated the comparably laid-back performance of James Murphy, who dressed more like a stylish doctor than a rock singer. Strobe-lit and disco-balled, his band played with clockwork efficiency in what has become its successful formula: playing songs that you don’t think could possibly become dancier, until they add another instrumental element or two that work the crowd into a veritable frenzy of movement. 
And then it was over, just like that, another Kilby on the books–my first and hopefully not my last. In terms of constructing a great festival, the lineup is always key, and Kilby has cracked the code. The producers’ secret, I feel, is to save money by not going after the bands at the tippy-top of the music festival hierarchy, your Green Days and your Foo Fighters and your Red Hot Chili Peppers, that usually–boringly and predictably–wind up headlining Festivals X, Y and Z. This must free up a lot of cash to book bands one or two tiers lower in name notoriety, but which, in this writer’s opinion, make far better music. I hope Kilby continues to stay defiantly indie and weird. See you next year?

Photography by Natalie Simpson, @beehivephotovideo

Find our day one and day two reviews of Kilby Block Party here.

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John Thomason
John Thomasonhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
John Thomason is the managing editor and A&E editor of Boca magazine the sister publication of Salt Lake magazine. In this capacity, he writes for and edits the full stable of publications in the South Florida office, and contributes arts blogs twice weekly on bocamag.com.

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