Father John Misty

In its very first year, Monterey’s First City Festival is already off to a rollicking start. The fledgling festival, conceived by live-event giant Goldenvoice, was a major coup for the oft-overlooked central coast, drawing a nicely-curated range of bands that hung between indie cred and mainstream appeal, making for a nice alternative to other, bigger summer festivals for more discerning tastes.

Say hello to the first Northern California festival to give Outside Lands a run for its money. Given time, there’s no doubt First City will find itself, and could even be a major contender in the years to come. It's not that strange to think of a quaint central coast city as a festival destination. It works for other, even smaller towns that play host to huge festivals, like Sasquatch and Bonnaroo.

DAY ONE

Day one gave the festival a star-studded start, with performances from Beach House, Passion Pit, Blitzen Trapper, Washed Out and several more notable acts.

Highlights: The Black Angels, who could have been content to mellow out to their droning, psychedelic sounds, were one of the first sweaty, wild, rock ‘n’ roll acts of the day. However, it didn’t feel like First City truly started until Father John Misty took – nay, stole – the Cypress Stage in the early evening. Misty, who is kind of on top of the world right now, thrilled an adoring crowd with his passionate presentation, quippy banter and serpentine, somewhat stripper-y moves. And that’s to say nothing of his band, so tight you could bounce a quarter off of ‘em.

Hot on his heels was Delta Spirit, who served up a galvanizing set of hit after hit to a huge crowd of hungry fans. For a band with such well-crafted records, they put on a happy, heartfelt show. Someone had obviously put thought into the set list, which had that kind of perfect-mixtape flow of old favorites, newer material, and even older favorites.

Biggest Surprise: the small but mighty Manzanita Stage and all its inhabitants. Though it was afforded the least square footage for its audience, it drew larger and larger crowds as the day went on. Guards in particular lured a large number of people away from The Hold Steady’s headlining act.

Most Room for Improvement: MGMT, who rolled out the same old show they’ve been doing for years, featuring a whole lot of trippy visuals in retina-melting shades of neon to go with their brand of feathers-and-face-paint electro-pop. Now, visuals are a time-honored tradition in rock ‘n’ roll (hell, the Bay Area pioneered ‘em!), but there’s usually a compelling live show to go along with it. In MGMT’s case, the video screen was starting to upstage them a little bit.

Best Ironic T-Shirt: Skinny blonde dude wearing a Curves for Women T-shirt.

Best Riff on the ‘Find Your Friends’ Flag: This guy.

Unicorn on a Stick

DAY TWO

Day two slowly wound down, with Akron/Family, Bleached, The Dodos, Toro y Moi and Purity Ring, culminating in a transcendent show from the much-loved Modest Mouse.

Highlights:

Bleached, the very first act of the day, set the bar really, really high with a blazing performance that picked up where day one’s energy had left off. They barreled through 50 minutes of their own songs and a couple classic punk covers to supplement. By the end of their time, golfers on the course next door were lined up against the chain-link fence trying to catch a glimpse.

Dr. Dog also put out a fierce performance. Folk can be a tough thing to play to a crowd of hundreds, but they pulled it off. The band smartly stuck to the more up-tempo corners of their catalog, and injected their more staid hits with snappier pacing. A few hours later, Toro y Moi took the stage to much fervor. Toro y Moi is having a hell of a 2013, full of bigger, more established festivals like SXSW and Pitchfork, and for him to make it out to little ol’ Monterey is an appreciated gesture.

The Redwood Stage filled back up again – nearly to capacity – at the end of the night for indie icons Modest Mouse. Though they certainly weren’t the only band to get a late start, ten minutes into their scheduled set time, the audience became restless. There were chants and cheers until, twenty minutes later, Modest Mouse arrived to thunderous applause. Though they’re a little long in the tooth in band years, they didn’t feel dated at all. It felt like a whole lot of strangers suddenly reuniting with old friends.

Biggest Surprise: Capital Cities. Not a huge surprise to anyone who’s seen their videos, but for a beat-based band, where it would be so easy for them to just sit back and let the laptop do the work, Capital Cities put on a fresh, fun, and disarmingly goofy live show. Sandwiched between so many “serious” bands, their matching satin jackets, choreographed dance moves and one very hardworking horn player was a welcome respite in the day. MGMT could learn a thing or two from them.

They even taught everyone a dance:

Most Room for Improvement: Actually, there wasn’t really anyone too lacking by day two.

Best Ironic T-Shirt: wasn’t even a T-shirt. It was two dudes wandering around in full-on, head-to-toe bear costumes. Why? Because it’s a music festival, and where else are you going to take a full-body bear suit out for a spin?

Best Food Truck: Rocko’s Chocolate Tacos. Accepting that First City Festival is about to be over is a little easier when you have a chocolate-smothered ice cream taco in one hand.

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