Cypress Hill, 4:45 p.m. on the Wolf Stage I walked straight in the clouds of smoke and the packs of dancing 20-somethings as the first strains of "Insane in the Brain" sounded from the Wolf Stage. I should probably clarify that -- by "strains," I mean I heard B-Real loudly demanding if the crowd felt crazy.
What followed was a mix between a straight-ahead rap performance and a Cheech and Chong comedy routine. The band was flawless in its performances of "Insane," "I Want to Get High" and "Doctor Greenthumb" -- the rhymes were tight, the exchanges were perfectly timed and both B-Real and Sen Dog offered energetic, well-honed performances.
But the music was accompanied by a constant amount of theater, a constant caricature of the band's unrepentant fondness for marijuana. B-Real started out the routine by lighting a comically over-sized joint during "I Want to Get High." The hi jinx continued as the song progressed -- the percussionist stepped out from behind his drum set to take a toke off of a seven-foot bong.
It was ridiculous to the point of a sketch comedy show, but it worked for the group and for the crowd. Indeed the audience ate up every weed reference, they cheered as B-Real lit his spliff and hooted as the percussionist took a bong rip.
It's exactly what you would expect from Cypress Hill. The band has kept up the profile it first created in the '90s, and the audience seemed to want nothing less.
The Steve Miller Band, 5:45 on the Kyocera Main Stage I've spent the past 15 years finely honing my status as a music snob, but it's tough to escape my roots, as radio-friendly as they may be sometimes. I grew up listening to Steve Miller -- first as a soundtrack in my father's car, and later in my early teenage years, when I was dedicated to memorizing every rock and R&B album from the '60s I could get my hands on.
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Just as Tom Petty's live performance melted my elitism during the first Mile High Music Festival two years ago, Steve Miller's set saw me standing in the masses near the front of the stage, singing along to radio favorites like "Jet Airliner," "Take the Money and Run" and "The Stake."
Miller took the stage with a quartet as a backup band. Even with the relatively straightforward sound created with a bassist, a drummer, a keyboard player and a backup singer, Miller managed to recreate the contours and sounds from his 40-plus year career. The harmonica strains on "Living in the USA" echoed the album version almost perfectly, and the synth opening to "Jet Airliner" sounded hauntingly like the incarnation from the studio recording.
Performances of well known Miller rock anthems like "Swingtown" and "Take the Money and Run" were supplemented with covers of classic R&B standards like "Crazy 'Bout a Mercury" and "Tramp" by Otis Redding. Miller, who's 66, stood up pretty well considering his years; his voice remains steady for the most part, and his soloing skills still thrive in simplistic, catchy riffs. (Miller invited Jack Johnson, the night's headliner, on-stage as well; the two sang "The Joker" together.)
The songs' currency as intergenerational classics, as songs that teenagers and baby boomers know with equal intimacy, made the set an ideal fit for the dynamic and structure of the festival. Toddlers, teens and middle-aged audience members shared the grass during the set, swapping lyrics and dancing together. I was surprised at how naturally and quickly I joined their ranks.