PHOENIX — As the relatively packed light rail rolled to a stop, I knew I was in for an adventurous evening as I was greeted by roughly 50 bridal gown clad men and women shotgunning Red Bulls on the platform as passersby confusedly took pictures for their Snapchat stories. Despite what the light rail’s human to personal-space ratio suggested, Viva PHX kicked off with a relatively mellow start. While there were certainly some larger packs of high school aged patrons eagerly hustling to get prime spots at all ages stages, specifically the 2nd Ave stage outside Crescent Ballroom, the pre-sundown streets were not quite fully alive with festival buzz.
After picking up my wristband in front of Comerica Theatre, I decided to follow the majority and head toward Crescent Ballroom to watch Rozwell Kid open the evening on the outdoor stage. While opening an unorthodox festival comprised primarily of people unfamiliar with your band can certainly provide a daunting challenge, Rozwell Kid showed absolutely no signs of nerves as they got the crowd bobbing along to their signature blend of old Weezer-style vocal patterns and bouncy pop-driven guitar lines while showcasing tracks from all three of their albums. They also seemed to have the most fun of any band as they dedicated several songs to the glowing AT&T sign they mistook for the moon as well as the users of the stage right port-a-potties. Judging by their post set mercy line, I wasn’t the only one impressed. At this point, the majority of my group was clamoring to go and lock down good spots for The Drums, so I embarked on the first of many trips between 2nd Ave and Comerica Theatre.
We arrived at Comerica to a much smaller crowd than anticipated and easily made our way down to the general admission pit area in time to catch the last few songs of The Mowglis. While they were certainly quite good and seemingly tailor-made for festival season appearances, I couldn’t help but think their music sounded as if it were the background soundtrack for The OC. Either way, they got the dance floor moving with everyone from mid 40’s moms to high school students decked out in their pre-Coachella best. Now, full disclosure, I must admit that I have never listened to The Drums so I didn’t quite have the same excitement as the majority of the crowd. I have nothing against their music, but as soon as the rest of my group made their way to the guard rail I pounced on the opportunity to run back to the 2nd Ave stage to watch The Menzingers deliver one of the absolute best sets of the night.
Kicking off their set with “Tellin’ Lies”, the lead off track from their newest album After The Party, the now packed crowd instantly chanted along with the chorus “Where we gonna go now that our Twenties are over?!”, a question that is becoming uncomfortably relatable. With little more than a pause to catch their breath, the band quickly launched into fan favorite ” Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore” and never letting up until their set came to a close. On a stage with primarily slower temp bands, The Menzingers made their punk rock pedigree very visible as they whipped the crowd into a frenzy of circle pitting and crowd surfing. As I walked back toward Comerica to rejoin my friends at The Maine while we waited for Girl Talk, I couldn’t help but notice that the breakneck dashing between stages was easily the strongest asset of Viva PHX. As opposed to single destination festivals like Coachella, the spread out confusion of various downtown Phoenix venues created a nostalgic energy and sense of adventure which could have easily been lifted from Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist (or perhaps Dazed and Confused for the older crowd.)
After a quick detour down Monroe Street for a Lucha Libre match and an average Ghost Pepper cheeseburger, I was dismayed at how quickly I grew bored watching The Maine play a largely lackluster set. While it is almost certain that many bands’ sound and style will evolve over time, it appears that The Maine’s attempts to transition their new material toward an almost Black Keys style is not yet ready to be properly manifested. Even when playing old material, attempts to update classic songs to the new format were met with a lackluster reception evidenced by the dull attempts to create a call and response vibe with the audience. As the set drug to a close, the band awkwardly called for the largely underage crowd to “break out the weed” and ended the set with a cacophony of feedback laden strumming before quickly exiting the stage.
Following The Maine, I made my way to the general admission pit floor area and worried aloud to my friends that the preceding set may have driven too many people to other stages and would result in a dismal turn out for Girl Talk. My worries were quickly dashed as Greg Gillis took to the stage and the floor immediately filled to capacity, as well as most available seats. Storming through a surprisingly Trap-heavy rendition of his signature mash-up style amidst toilet paper cannons and confetti blasters, the largely relaxed Comerica Theatre exploded with non-stop energy as everyone in attendance brought Viva PHX to a close worthy of a true festival experience. From the unhinged visuals streaming across the video wall at the back of the stage, to the 80 person deep mob of dancers strewn across the stage, Girl Talk’s set was that of a tried and true festival headliner worthy of his top billing alongside legendary acts Wyclef Jean and American Football.
With Comerica Theatre left in shambles and Monarch hitting capacity for Murs and Peanut Butter Wolf, I elected to leave downtown on the light rail amidst a group of fellow attendees comprised primarily of ASU students holding one another upright as they half heartedly spoke of trying to find afterparties, despite their sweat stained clothes suggesting that their physical abilities may not match those of their spirit. Until Pot Of Gold next weekend, their adventures had drawn to a sudden, yet fulfilling, close befitting a festival which had truly blossomed into something the Arizona music scene can truly be proud to host.
Low Points: The late start time led to a huge amount of headline quality artists overlapping. While the dashing between stages is sort of the point, I can’t help but think that starting earlier or possibly reducing the amount of stages may help to focus the fest a bit more.
Highlights: The team of Girl Scouts hustling cookies to people waiting in line to get into venues. I respect and applaud your hustle.