Nine hours under the blazing sun. Seven back-to-back indie/pop-rock acts. One working vending machine surrounded by hordes of thirsty people. There could have been no more emblematic way to herald the final days of summer 2018.
SLC’s long-running X96 Toyota Big Ass Show was a well-coordinated and conceived effort that drew in families, punks, and toddlers (responsibly wearing noise-cancelling headphones). According to emcee and X96 Program Director Todd Nuke ‘Em, this 22nd installation was put together rather “last-minute,” which makes the show all the more impressive. Unlike lots of day-long summer shows that cobble together a mishmash of acts, X96 produced lineup that was coherent, yet still complement each other in their varied takes on what “indie,” “rock,” “pop,” and “punk” can look and sound like.
Yungblud made it repeatedly known to us that they’re from London, and that they were super surprised that a Utah crowd could be so wild. They recalled a whinier, more emo Arctic Monkeys plus surprisingly good harmonies.
Subsequent bands brought a more mature sound that seemed new for most attendees. Bear Hands showed up four years after their Kilby Court appearance, and as before, was as good live as they are in the studio. Granted, not all of their songs are earworms, but those that are (see: “Agora” and “Giants”) are prime for moshing and sing-alongs.
Albert Hammond, Jr. was another familiar returning face, circa 2015 at Urban Lounge. The set started as it had last time, with the hauntingly disembodied voice of a preacher commanding us to “petition the Lord!” “Amen!” the kids behind me replied, reflexively. Hammond, Jr. and his band came out dressed in their trademark white-and-red, to match his mic, guitar, and even earpiece. It was a bit anticlimactic when the sound went out for a short minute, but they recovered with gusto, just as the singer’s alterego (and new album’s namesake) Francis Trouble would have.
It seemed lovelytheband was a well-known act, going by the many youths wearing their merch. Their biggest hit, “broken,” is a rousing song that recalls in its synth hook and vocal reverbs early Vampire Weekend. Like many of their songs, this one is a melancholy, sweet appeal to a love who is as damaged as its protagonist, that transferred rather well onstage.
Then came the three standout acts of the night, in ascending order of hype. Frontman Daniel Armbruster of Joywave was an eccentric, slithering presence that continuously beckoned to us with furrowed brow and gnarled fingers (see photo documentation above and here). He was notably sensual during “It’s a Trip!” True to an innovative and multi-instrumental ensemble, the Rochester, NY guys were anything but monotonous in their setlist. And hell yes to “Parade” (Those horns!), and “Tongues,” two of their catchiest and lyrical tracks.
Having bumped into some friends at the show, I was informed that Bishop Briggs was an artist who was going to take over the charts before long, and I think they were right. The young singer-songwriter was without pretense and had a phenomenal, powerhouse voice that remarkably held up. She beamed as her fans sang along to her songs; hopped and sprinted around like an adult who was a kid at heart. Frankly, it was hard not to smile back.
Final act AWOLNATION proved to those only familiar with *that one song* that they were a legit rock band that has a wide catalog worth checking out. But come on, “Sail” was still the highlight. Like some tortured messiah figure, a scruffy Aaron Bruno hung his head and grasped at the mic like it was his lifeblood. “You wanna party one more time?” he screamed once we thought the song had reached its last measure. We assented, and they played on.
To view more photos of the show, go here.
See all of Salt Lake magazine’s music coverage here.