LIVE REVIEW: Altimate 4th of July Block Party, Grand Park L.A.

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Phantogram ALT 98.7

It’s hard to improve upon the old Fourth of July celebration standbys: burgers, hotdogs and beer. But in an attempt to reinvigorate the celebration and to make downtown Los Angeles a more enjoyable place to gather for special events, Grand Park hosted nothing less than the ultimate block party, with live music and fireworks to boot. The two best parts about this gathering? First of all it was free; second, the city partnered with radio station ALT 98.7 to put on a killer show featuring some of alt rock’s most energetic acts out right now. Between the two stages, The Altimate Main Stage and the Soulnic Stage, 10 different artists performed in the heart of L.A. to celebrate America’s birthday.

Not being the DJ type of gal, I planted myself on the rail at the Altimate Main Stage in the stagnant 90 degree heat of downtown L.A. (the things I do in the name of music!). First on the bill was the winner of ALT 98.7’s Summer Song Contest, an L.A. based indie pop band appropriately named Freedom Fry. Singer Marie Seyrat donned a short, flowy lace dress and Janis Joplin shades, a very fitting outfit choice for the carefree California pop music that Freedom Fry creates. It’s not the type of music that hits you hard, but instead carries you along mellow wavelengths of co-ed vocal harmonies and beachy guitar vibes. With its catchy bass line, cowbell and elastic synth line,“Friends and Enemies” had just enough energy to get the whole event going. “Home,” an anthem that pays homage to life the Golden State, was another strength in their set and resonated with the locals in the crowd – if there is one thing I learned about Angelenos this weekend it is that they certainly have a lot of hometown pride. The tune hearkens to a longing for the state as a magnet for people seeking something a little closer to paradise, reminiscent of The Mamas and The Papas’ classic “California Dreamin’,” with its slow melancholic guitar strumming and subtly tragic lyrics. After only four songs, the band finished their set, leaving me in an enamored California-Proud state of mind, ready to celebrate Independence Day with more music.

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Echosmith Miro Sarkissian ALT 98.7
Echosmith. Photo by Miro Sarkissian for ALT 98.7.

With temperatures soaring, I was grateful to the mini-festival’s organizers for keeping things on schedule. Within fifteen minutes, Echosmith took the stage. They’ve had a bit of radio success in Southern Cali, though Altimate was my first introduction to their music, which apparently means that I live under a rock. Echosmith, comprised of four siblings, are a little bundle of energy best suited for tours such as Warped; in fact, they’re currently part of the roster but took a day off to play at this event. Their sound definitely appeals to a younger audience, as the crowd became a crush of young teens as soon as they took the stage. The band itself is very young, its oldest member only 21. Their alt-pop sound reminded me very much of Paramore – one of my own teenage favorites. Though less edgy than Paramore, singer Sydney Sierota is so much like Hayley Williams, vocally and performance-wise, that the comparison just has to be drawn. Her brother Noah, the band’s bassist, is the powerhouse behind the band; his energy alone is captivating but his playing really comes through in their live performance. Their sound has an 80’s dance appeal to it, made obvious by their cover of Modern English’s “Melt With You.” “Cool Kids,” their wildly popular high-school outcast anthem really got my attention. The song is fun and relatable no matter what age the listener. With their strong fan base and earnest talent, I’d say this band has some serious staying power so long as they continue to broaden their musical horizons.

Next up was the one band that felt like the odd band out. Brick + Mortar is a drum and bass duo from New Jersey bent on a political-esque agenda. I had listened to them before attending the event and liked what I heard; having bass at the forefront of their sound is a risky thing to do but combined with John Tacon’s heavy rock drumming, their sound is booming. Frontman Brandon Asraf’s vocals are very different and sound great on record, but at this event he sounded strained and was shrieking moreso than singing (he blamed “too much pizza” on his being out of shape). To give credit where credit is due, their energy was on point and they were the first band to get into the audience and instigate that crowd involvement. Throughout the performance, Brandon waved an overused cardboard sign that had “HEY!” spelled out in duct tape letters to get everyone’s attention (and maybe add a little DIY cred to their act). What made them the odd band out was their more political bent. Their lyrics center around societal flaws, and I am all for activism, but when you show up to a Fourth of July celebration, it feels slightly hypocritical to rant about America’s shortcomings and how shitty the country is politically. It’s like going to a person’s birthday party and being like “hey your life is an abomination and you kinda really suck” after you’ve eaten all their cake. Their semi-pointless digs left a bad taste in my mouth, especially as I stood there in a sea of red white and blue, and I could tell I was not alone when I kind of checked out from the rest of their performance.

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Phantogram Miro Sarkissian ALT 98.7
Phantogram. Photo by Miro Sarkissian for ALT 98.7.

Up next was Phantogram, the act I’d driven the four hours to L.A. to see. They took the stage at about 6:00 pm, just when it started to cool down. I’d seen Phantogram back in February before I really became a fan so this was a huge treat for me, as my crush on Sarah Barthel has increased exponentially since then. They opened with “Bad Dreams” from Voices, out earlier this year, which was a bit surprising since I’d expected them to kick things off with one of their massive radio hits like “Fall In Love.” As usual, the band gave 100% of their energy to this show, though their set was a bit too short for me. I’d wanted to hear “Celebrating Nothing” from their new album but with only six songs on their brief setlist, I was at least satisfied by their choices. Sarah rocked powerhouse vocals and stylish dance moves in stilettos, and Josh Carter’s  guitar tones were so rich with this performance, his distorted singing added a whole new layer of sound to Sarah’s angelic sound. They were the only band of the night to get the classic concert encore, as we all knew it would be nothing short of blasphemy to leave the stage without playing “Mouthful of Diamonds,” from 2009’s breakout LP Eyelid Movies. I almost thought they’d get away with it but the crowd chanted for that one more song and, damn it, we got it.

At this point in the day, I was feeling the effects of being in the pit for almost four hours with one water bottle, so I decided I’d watch the remaining two acts from a bit of a distance. By the time Wild Cub started playing, the park came alive. The event was expecting to bring in 25,000 people, but it felt more like a ghost town that downtown when I’d arrived at 1pm, as the closed down streets were sprinkled only with a few early birds. By this point in the early evening, though, it finally felt like the bustling center of the city I was used to; with the fireworks show imminent, Wild Cub really fed off the buzzy, excited Angeleno energy. Maybe from the pit I couldn’t properly gauge the crowd’s enthusiasm, but from afar it was easy to see that Wild Cub’s electric performance really brought everyone to life. The Nashville-based indie pop ensemble played the perfect soundtrack for the sun setting behind the Los Angeles Times building. Frontman Keegan Dewitt alternated between slamming his guitar and pounding the drum kit for an invigorating transition into the final act before the fireworks display.

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Semi Precious Weapons
Semi Precious Weapons. Photo by Miro Sarkissian for ALT 98.7.

Semi Precious Weapons was the most colorful band of the evening. I had never heard their music and wasn’t quite sure what to expect as Justin Tranter tread on stage, his lanky figure clad in an all white jumpsuit complete with double breasted jacket. Playing something between glam rock and dance music, the band’s sound seeps into your soul and just makes you want to dance. The instrumentation was very much present between Stevy Pyne’s classic rock sound on guitar and Cole Whittle’s enthusiasm on bass, while Justin Tranter exuded a David Bowie-esque stage presence with his sense of fashion and vogue-referencing movements. Quite the ringleader, Tranter’s cheeky attitude had all of downtown in the palm of his hand by the end of the show. When he shouted “Hands up, motherfuckers!” we threw those hands up; if he tells you to jump the gate, you jump the gate. Even when he tells you to shut it, we knew what to do.

The entire event was a huge success. The lineup featured a great variety of artists – from beachy California pop, to moody electronic rock, to the glam and fabulousness of SPW, there was something for everyone. The slew of performers offered a view into the variety and vivaciousness of alternative music, which is something that ALT 98.7 prides itself in as a radio station. The event even has potential to expand as the park has not reached completion. There was something very special about being in downtown L.A. for the Fourth of July; it was a little festival that very much represented the eclectic sounds and feelings of Los Angeles, and I hope Grand Park becomes a frequent venue for music artists of all genres to gather for years to come.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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