X Games music review: Lil Wayne, Louis the Child and Kygo at Buttermilk
Lil Wayne lived up to the legend. Louis the Child showed us why they’ve broken out as pop superstars. Kygo led another sunny Sunday dance party.
And the bar-swarming, Monster-guzzling, Juul-puffing, snowsports-loving young horde that took over Aspen for the long weekend mobbed the music festival venue at Buttermilk. As X Games hosted its fifth music fest on the mountain, it for the first time sold out the whole run of concerts and gave these fevered crowds a weekend of shows that matched the high-flying feats of the on-snow competitions.
WEEZY’S POWER HOUR
In little over an hour, an energized and fiercely focused Lil Wayne powered through 28 truncated songs Friday night. By the time the rap legend left the stage to a booming “Weezy!” chant from the sold-out crowd of 5,000 on the mountainside at Buttermilk, he’d covered tracks from a decade-and-a-half of his catalog and showcased much of his new “Tha Carter V.”
The New Orleans-bred rapper played with a five-man band of live drums, guitar, bass and keys with DJ T.Lewis (Wayne proudly introduced the crew several times as “my band, my one-man band and the man-behind-the band and the fam”). They added drum fills, bass grooves and flourishes of guitar wails in new arrangements behind T.Lewis’ smooth production and Wayne’s intricate rhymes. This seamless integration of the live instrumentation makes you think that, maybe, his much-derided detour into rock ‘n’ roll on “Rebirth” a decade ago were worth it to get to these kinds of exhilarating live shows.
After a chaotic stretch of years in both his personal and professional life — including a jail stint and a split from his career-long home at Cash Money Records — you might expect less. But this Lil Wayne, propelled by the release of the long-delayed, long-awaited “Tha Cater V” in the fall, was dialed in and made a case that he still may be — as T.Lewis proclaimed at the end of the show — “the best rapper alive.”
Wayne paced the stage as he spun out flawless verses, he worked “X Games” into the lyrics of “Got Money,” he led quick call-and-response bits and sing-alongs on fan favorites like “Mrs. Officer,” “Lollipop,” “A Milli” and “I’m Me.” He pulled out nuggets from features and collaborations like “No Problem” with Chance the Rapper and 2 Chainz and “The Motto” with Drake, while peppering the night with throwbacks for longtime fans including a giddy rip through “Go DJ” from the original “Tha Carter.”
As he took the stage just after 10 p.m., Lil Wayne let out a laugh and yelled “It’s f-ing cold!” But after that he didn’t complain about the sub-freezing temperature, didn’t say a thing about the thin air at altitude, didn’t break to hit an oxygen tank as local audiences have come to expect from touring musicians. Instead, he reveled in the cold and the rowdy X Games crowd. The rare moments when he paused were to repeat his mantra of “I ain’t s— without you” and to spout gratitude for the fan support of his new record.
He performed much of the new album, including rapid-fire successive takes on “Let It all Work Out,” “Dedicate,” “Let It Fly,” “Open Safe” and “Mona Lisa.” He closed the night with the ecstatic “Uproar.”
But it wasn’t all fireworks. Wayne slowed down the propulsive set for the R&B jam “What About Me” and a reverent rendition of the mournful “Don’t Cry,” his newly released collaboration with the late XXXTentacion.
BEYOND ‘BETTER NOT’
As Louis the Child played the opening notes of “Better Not” on Saturday night, the crowd (another sell-out) let out a collective roar. What seemed like 5,000 cellphone cameras immediately went up in the air, and hundreds of fans hopped on one another’s shoulders. Small squadrons of revelers broke out into dance circles all the way up the hillside.
With that kind of fevered response to this runaway 2018 hit, the Chicago-based DJ duo could have made the performance a lazy build-up to that explosive moment. They could have, but they didn’t.
Louis the Child’s Robby Hauldren and Freddy Kennett aren’t those kinds of artists. They’re aiming to do something more with their genre-hopping, feel-good spin on EDM and the uniquely personal relationship they’re building with fans and the community that’s growing around their music.
Playing as the sun set behind Buttermilk, Louis the Child led sing-alongs through tracks like “Fire,” “Go,” “Love is Alive,” “Shake Something” and “Slow Down Love.”
They featured remixes of tracks like Major Lazer’s “Be Together,” Ty Dollar $ign’s “Blasé” and Chance the Rapper’s “All Night.” They worked some surprisingly avant-garde drops into their mostly poppy sound, surprising this crowd with asymmetrical and noisy insertions.
But the show was more than the sum of its parts.
Before Louis the Child took the stage, a cellphone number flashed on the story-high video screen with an invitation to text the band. They walked on to a montage of home movies of Hauldren and Kennett as children. Near the end of the performance, during a remix of their Elohim collaboration “Love,” they had this hard-partying, young X Games crowd chanting “L-O-V-E!” and “T-R-U-S-T!”
Yeah, Louis the Child is aiming to create something intimate and sincere in the often impersonal and cold electronic music milieu. Theirs is an open-hearted, post-emo vision of EDM, harnessing the built-in tensions and releases of the form in new ways. While many DJs simply yell at crowds to wave their hands, raise their middle fingers and jump, Louis the Child is urging them toward something like transcendence. For example, midway through the X Games set, Kennett invited the crowd to clear their heads: “Everybody put your hands in the air, just let go of everything — whatever’s on your mind.” As the crowd’s hands went up, the duo played a drawn-out ambient vocal sample, with a steady beat soon rising behind it into a clap-along passage, which Hauldren and Kennett then upended with a big, rattling bass drop that sent the crowd into a unified hop.
In an interview before the show, Kennett described the Louis the Child mission as “trying to connect people, create happy moments, make it not about me and Robby but about what kinds of connections we can make with other people and how we can help them realize what is making them happy and what is making them sad.”
See them live and you see what he means. With that kind of connection to fans, it’s no wonder they’re the first band ever to sell out an afternoon show at X Games.
KYGO’S SUNNY SUNDAY
Kygo returned Sunday to the same X Games time slot he memorably filled in 2016. The Norwegian DJ brought the same mostly sunny skies and mercifully warm temperatures and again he threw a laid-back mountainside dance party attuned to the spirit of the closing hours of Aspen’s big weekend. But this time a crowd at least twice as big came out for the show.
Nobody in this sell-out audience would complain if ESPN signed Kygo for a residency to play a Sunday afternoon set here every X Games.
Sunshine broke through the previously overcast sky just before a jubilant Kygo took the stage and opened his buoyant 90-minute set with “Born to be Yours.”
He performed from a console on a story-high platform that placed him in the middle of a massive video screen, situating the 27-year-old EDM superstar in the middle of his production’s animated visuals and concert footage (and allowing everybody on the hillside to see him).
His rapturously received set included his hits like “First Time” and “Sunrise” and live remixes of crowd-pleasers like Zedd’s “The Middle,” Tiësto’s “Jackie Chan” and Avicii’s “Without You.” He broke out his steel drum-infused spin on Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and a disco mash-up of Chic’s “La Freak” — these irresistible takes on old jukebox hits tend to near the edge of cheesiness but never quite tip over it. He closed out the set by running through mixes of his new single “Happy Now,” followed by “Stole the Show,” “It Ain’t Me” and then brought out vocalist Justin Jesso to provide live vocals on “Firestone.”
He worked with a basic quiver of ingredients on the set: mostly samples of piano lines and steel drums, with high-register vocal parts, some house synths, some high-BPM pump-ups and some soulful breakdowns. It’s a winning formula.
Kygo performed with a beaming smile on his face throughout, counting down to drops and punctuating them with dramatic smoke machine and flamethrower effects. After spending the past four days skiing in Aspen with his entourage, he was in a soaring mood that matched this crowd’s.
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