Downtown Las Vegas may be the less-polished sibling to the glitz and glamour of The Strip only a few kilometres away, but for one weekend a year, it transforms into a fabulous festival playground. The annual Downtown Las Vegas transformation takes over 18 city blocks, turning them into a music, art, culinary, and even comedy showcase. Originally founded in 2013, the 2022 incarnation of Life Is Beautiful music festival welcomes tourists and locals alike to a one-of-a-kind curated cultural experience for one hot weekend in September.
One of the most memorable performances of the entire weekend comes courtesy of T-Pain’s Friday night set. Although he was a last-minute replacement for Migos, one would think he was prepping for his show for months in advance, thanks to his tight, high-octane set. The rapper leans into his vast vocal talents instead of resting on his signature auto-tune heavy music, seamlessly performing multiple features along with his original tracks, including Kanye West’s ‘Good Life’ and Wiz Khalifa’s ‘Black and Yellow’. T-Pain also works in covers of The Guess Who’s ‘America Woman’, Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Know’, and the Montell Jordan jam ‘This is How We Do It’. “Thank y’all for still fucking with T-Pain in 2022,” he says towards the end of his set, adding, “I do not take this shit for granted.”
Two of the biggest draws on the festival’s first night are Cage the Elephant and Arctic Monkeys, both lighting up the giant outdoor Downtown Stage. With a burst of energy, Cage’s Matt Shultz takes the stage rocking outfits he could have found at Life Is Beautiful’s Market in the Alley bazaar, sporting a sparkling cowboy hat at one instance then a festival flower crown at the next. Key moments from the set include the band’s megahit ‘Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked’ along with ‘Cigarette Daydreams’, ‘Spiderhead’, and ‘Telescope’. At one point Shultz balances himself barefoot over the crowd, with fans more than happy to lend physical support to the voracious frontman.
Arctic Monkeys’ hour-and-a-half performance marks the Sheffield band’s first performance in the States in four years. As they launch into ‘Do I Wanna Know’ at the start of the set crowds are lured in by the hit, slowly running from other stages with the fan headcount growing as each well-know track plays. From their classic romp ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ to their newest offering, ‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’, Arctic Monkeys keep the audience captivated, enticing them to stand in front of the stage long after ‘R U Mine?’ finishes off the encore.
On Saturday, Alessia Cara is a clear standout on the Bacardi Stage, a full circle moment from her first festival set at Life is Beautiful 2015. An ocean of cellphone flashlights twinkle while the Grammy-Award-winning singer delights fans with a moving performance of ‘Scars to Your Beautiful’, a cover of Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’, and even a surprise guest spot from Vegas mainstay the Blue Man Group during her track, ‘Stay’.
A rough visual guesstimate on which act broke the record for most-attended performance over the weekend gives Gorillaz a clear win. Tied with T-Pain as our pick for the best Life Is Beautiful set, their return to the desert saw them perform in front of a tightly packed merched-up crowd. Damon Albarn has no issue showcasing his musical prowess during the set, alternating between guitar, piano, and even the band’s distinctive use of a melodica.
Albarn hops off stage to get up close and personal with fans as the band’s animated alter-egos shine brightly on the multi-story-high video screen behind him. Set highlights include Pos from De La Soul joining the band on ‘Feel Good Inc.’, asking the crowd to vow to always “feel good” before the hit track plays. Fellow festival performer JPEGMafia surprises fans by picking up the microphone for the track ‘MLS’, and Fatoumata Diawara joins the band for ‘Désolé’. The star-studded performance concludes with a celebratory horn-blowing to tout Albarn’s pleasure at the experience before they end the night with a crowd-pleasing rendition of ‘Clint Eastwood’.
Hip-hop continues to deliver on Sunday with Big Boi educating the young festival crowd. If attendees didn’t know his legendary status at the start of the set, a booming movie-trailer-voiceover intro lays out his extensive résumé so all would know to put proper respect on his myriad monikers and accomplishments. With alien-centric visuals and a litany of Southern hip hop hits, the desert-dusted crowd walks away from the set feeling ‘So Fresh, So Clean’.
Pussy Riot at the Huntridge Stage (named for the legendary, long-shuttered nearby concert hall) draws an expectedly large audience. With assistance from phallic visuals of animated burning penis candles and eggplants intermingled with single-word text like “slut” and “vasectomy” popping up on the screen, singer Nadya Tolokonnikova channels a dominatrix-meets-nun persona complete with a long cracking whip. Since the band’s activism regarding important causes is intense, poignant, and illegal in Russia, the band embraces a moment on US soil where Tolokonnikova can freely speak out against injustices without fear of being jailed again.
Jack Harlow’s performance on the final night of the festival is buzzworthy but misses the mark. Plenty of elbow room can be found during his Main Stage set and his stabs at building hype via multiple call-and-response efforts seems to require more energy than fans have left on the festival’s last day. One thing that does wake fans up, however, is Harlow launching into ‘Industry Baby’, his track with Lil Nas X, with the only downside being no surprise cameo from the “Montero” singer himself.
Calvin Harris closes out the festival from the Downtown Stage, drawing a loyal crowd. However, his set is nothing special for local EDM fans, considering he’s had nightclub residencies for years on The Strip. Fortunately for those seeking something other than overplayed club bangers, Trevor Christensen, better known as Said the Sky, concurrently plays the Fremont Stage bringing bonified beautiful vibes and sweet singalongs to the massive, covered structure. There’s also a pyro-fueled nod to Vegas band Panic At the Disco! via STS’ remix of ‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’ a the end of the set, a great way to cement Sin City’s evolution as a premier music extravaganza destination, sending the crowd home with sincere smiles.
Life is Beautiful returns to Downtown, Las Vegas 22-24 September 2023.