It was a spectacular early summer day in Southern California as day 2 of the Arroyo Seco Weekend unfolded on June 24th. Temperatures in the low 80’s and soft breezes created a perfect environment for the giant picnic attended by 25,000 concertgoers. Many music fans arrived early to lounge about the sprawling meadow encompassing the three musical stages. Multiple selections of gourmet food and beverages kept many in good spirits, while free coffee from Don Francisco and free Bai soft drinks created the only long lines at the festival.
The music started early, and by the time The Revolution took the stage, just after 2 pm, a large crowd had gathered. One of the most popular funk bands of the 80s, Prince’s backing band came to worldwide prominence after the 1984 Purple Rain album and motion picture. The five original members recently reunited to bring the early Prince classics to a funk-loving crowd of Prince fans. While no one can fill the void of the mercurial wizard of the funk the great Prince, it was a nice dose of nostalgia to hear this phenomenal five-piece band play the classics. The Violent Femmes turned in their usual set of irreverent and raucous Indie rock. The band some quirky new music but the weird anthems that made the band famous are what the crowd was waiting for. The trio backed by a saxophone player obliged them, playing Blister In The Sun, American Music and Kiss Off. Early on the band played I Hate The TV, chasing one of the chorus lines to “I hate the president,” resonating well with a liberal California audience.
The next round of sets featured a nostalgic set by the all-girl pioneer rockers, The Bangles. It was the first time that original bassist Annette Zalinskas played with all the other original members since 1983, so the show was a genuine reunion. The group came out of the gates with a fiery version of one of their biggest hits, the cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s A Hazy Shade of Winter. The band seemed to be playing with a renewed passion, and their vocals and musicianship popped inspiring the large crowd to dance and sing along to the well-received set. From the 80’s New Wave of The Bangles on the Sycamore stage, droves of music fans migrated back to the main Oaks stage to hear the 90’s post-grunge girl rocker, Alanis Morissette. The Canadian singer placated the vast crowd with many of the songs from her hit 1995 album, “Jagged Little Pill.” The set was short but full of energy, with the charismatic singer, playing harmonica guitar and racing about the stage, taunting her band of hard rockers.
The next round of sets began with Chicano rock veterans, Los Lobos. Much like Jack White and Neil Young the day before, the band opened their Arroyo Seco set with a scoring extended guitar jam. The group, first formed in 1973 then launched into their more well-known songs drawing from the Tex Mex, R&B, zydeco, soul and other musical genres that created their own Latin-tinged rock. Their version of “La Bamba” had the crowd dancing en masse. There was another guitar driven set taking place across the meadow at the main stage, with blues guitar wizard Gary Clark Jr. leading his fantastic group of musicians into jazz-rock fusion territory.
As the sun lingered in the late afternoon summer sky, the Los Angeles synth-pop dancing duo, Capital Cities brought their latest band to the Pasadena meadow. The group was not only one of the youngest act to appear, but it was also the only act to draw from the world of EDM in the two days Arroyo Seco line up. Although most of the crowd around the Sycamore stage probably knew little about the group, except for their hit single, Safe and Sound, the dancing duo seemed to inspire the crowd with their infectious rhythms, and their talented band kept the attention of an appreciative audience. It was odd to see so many baby boomers with kids in tow, dancing to the electronic beats. A very different sound was about to unfold across the meadow at the main stage as the late summer sun grew closer to a setting.
Rock legend Robert Plant and his Sensational Space Shifters appeared onstage in the orange glow of the setting sun. The biggest crowd of the festival packed tightly around the front of the stag. It was not surprising that the 69-year-old iconic rock singer opened with a Led Zeppelin tune, much to the delight of the adulating crowd. What was surprising was how many times that the band touched on Zeppelin material through the set, and how strong Plants vocals rang out. In recent years, the famous wailing frontman of one of English rocks most famous bands has been content at being more of a blues singer, avoiding to trademark wails that defined the Zeppelin sound. But on Sunday at Arroyo Seco, Plant seemed to have recovered the mercurial singing skills of his youth, hitting haunting notes that he hasn’t sung in a very long while. Plant led the band straight into the Led Zeppelin classic, “The Lemon Song” as the opening number. The crowd surged towards the stage in a fervor not seen for any other act at the festival. Later in the set, someone threw a lemon on the stage, and the bemused pop star took a minute to juggle the memento and quipped to the crowd “After all these years, and this is my reward? A piece of citrus?” Whether it was his excellent mood or some unknown health tonic, Plant proceeded to lay down astounding vocals on Zeppelin classics as well as world music inspired tunes from his experimental music of the last decade. The band played songs from their new album, but it was the Zeppelin classics that had the crowd in a euphoric mood. I addition to The Lemon Song, Plant served up Zep classics, "Going to California," "Gallows Pole," and an eerie "Babe I’m Gonna Leave You," complete with an impressive wail reminiscent of the glory days of classic rock.
A modest crowd found their way over to the Willow tent for two American music legends that predated the Led Zeppelin era. The evening at that stage ned with back to back sets by two masters of New Orleans jazz music. First the “Soul Queen of New Orleans,” Irma Thomas took the stage with a group of R&B masters. The 77-year-old Grammy-winning blues singer wowed the crowd with her vocal skills. Next R&B hitmaker Aaron Neville played a mystical evening set, mesmerizing the audience with his Angelic singing voice. The 77-year-old New Orleans icon brought his chart-topping hits to the stage including “Chain Gang” and “Stand By Me,” a Bob Marley medley of “Three Little Birds” and “Stir It Up,” a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On The Wire,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Tell It Like It Is,” “Down By The Riverside” and “When The Saints Go Marching In.”
The San Francisco post-grunge band Third Eye Blind played a riveting set closing out the Sycamore stage in the early evening. Original lead singer and guitarist Stephen Jenkins led the current incarnation of the band through a loud and fast-paced set. Jenkins looked and sounded a bit like the third long lost brother of the Gallagher brothers from Oasis. Original drummer Brad Hargreaves played a thundering rhythm and the band followed with an intense rock vibe. Whether it was the much-heard lament by baby boomers heading to the exits with their strollers that “We have to work tomorrow” or an early escape to avoid traffic jams, it was apparent that the final set of the night would not keep the attention of much of the crowd. By the time Kings of Leon began their closing set, at least half the audience had already bailed. Although the Nashville rockers formed back in 1999, it wasn’t until 2008 and the hit song Sex on Fire that the band became a mainstream sensation. Whether it was the withering crowd or the impressive lineup of earlier acts, the final set felt a bit anticlimactic. Lead singer Caleb Followill seemed distracted as the set began and didn’t really to connect with the audience. The band also made concertgoers willing to stick it out to hear the biggest hits wait an excruciatingly long time. Use Somebody didn’t come until l halfway into the set and die-hard fans had to wait until the end to hear the mega-hit Sex on Fire. But taken as a whole, the second day of Arroyo Seco 2018 was another day of incredibly inspiring music and a beautiful first Sunday of the summer.