After top-notch performances at last night’s opener (NET NEWS 9/23) and then this afternoon’s DAYTIME STAGE extravaganza (NET NEWS 9/24), the iHEARTRADIO MUSIC FESTIVAL stormed into its final show SATURDAY night at LAS VEGAS’ T-MOBILE ARENA. This was the 12th annual iteration of the event, which first launched in 2011.
Fresh from her appearance earlier at the DAYTIME STAGE, AVRIL LAVIGNE, in a glittery black hoodie, was the opening act, leaning into a spirited, non-stop take on “Girlfriend,” “My Happy Ending,” “I’m Into You” and “Sk8ter Boi,” that had the crowd reveling in early aughts nostalgia, sandwiching in the new “Bite Me” from her recent album, the suitably titled, “Love Sux.”
MARCUS MUMFORD was up next, performing intense, rough-hewn versions of “Prior Warning,” “Dangerous Game,” “Better Off High,” “Grace” and “Better Angels,” all songs from his debut solo album, “Self-Titled,” whose soulful quality is reminiscent of THE BAND. “Is this where we begin again?” he asks, acknowledging that he’s starting all over as a solo artist.
LUKE COMBS followed, with the burly country star weighing in on a soulful set that started with the hyper-romantic “The Kind Of Love We Make,” then testified “When It Rains, It Pours,” before picking up a red solo cup for a growling “Lovin’ On You.” He finished with a poignant “Forever After All” (“You only get so much until it’s gone”) followed by the tribal drums and electric lightning guitars of “Hurricane.” The finale was his rowdy, wah-wah signature love song to a longneck ice-cold “Beer Never Broke My Heart.”
DIDDY entered to the tune of BILL CONTI’s “Going The Distance.” launching into “Victory,” his 1997 collaboration with NOTORIOUS B.I.G., coaxing the crowd out of their seats and into “making some noise” for the classic “It’s All About The Benjamins,” the boastful “Bad Boy For Life,” the PUFFY COMBS joints “Been Around The World” and “I Need A Girl (Pt.2).” followed by “Last Night,” his duet with KEYSHIA COLE. DIDDY then hypes his new single, “Gotta Move On,” which he recorded with BRYSON TILLER, who joins him on-stage to perform it. He then brought on his son for a duet before a snippet of “Mo Money Mo Problems” led into his POLICE-interpolated tribute to BIGGY, “I’ll Be Missing You,” which he also dedicated to KIM PORTER, his late longtime partner who passed from pneumonia in 2018. “Love can change the world,” he told the cheering throng, basking in the adulation on his return to the stage.
Country-pop crossover MAREN MORRIS opened with “Circles Around This Town,” followed by a winsome “I Can’t Love You Anymore” as a meet-cute duet with husband RYAN HURD. She then launched into “Bones,” thanking iHEART for making it a crossover pop hit before singing “Make You Say,” her newly released collaboration with ZEDD & BEAUZ. “Good Friends,” another track from her new album, “Humble Quest,” was next, followed by the gospel fervor of her GRAMMY-winning “My Church” in the middle of SIN CITY. Can I get a hallelujah anybody?
LL COOL J with turntable whiz DJ Z-TRIP was up next as the rap OG paid tribute to his DEF JAM legacy with a wave-your-hands-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care “Rock The Bells,” as well as a check list of classics like “Headsprung” (his collab with TIMBALAND), “Loungin'” (“Man made the money, money never made the man”), the speed-rappin’, turntable-styling “Jack The Ripper,” the boasting-and-toasting “I’m Bad” (“What’s my name?”), the groundbreaking “I Need Love,” the cheeky “Doin’ It” and “Jingling Baby.” “Don’t call it a comeback,” insists LL in the closing “Mama Said Knock You Out,” but the former JAMES TODD SMITH’s return to rapping has offered a triumphant TKO.
HALSEY, set to celebrate her birthday in five days, was up next, “I’ve tasted blood and it is sweet,” they — the preferred pronoun– sing on “Nightmare,” against the evening’s most theatrical backdrop. “I ain’t got nothing to smile about.” HALSEY’s problems are our gains, as they act out their own exorcism. Like a distaff BOWIE crossed with a “Rosemary’s Baby”-era MIA FARROW, they control the stage and welcome the audience’s gaze, a rock ‘n’ roll JOAN OF ARC who follows with the accusatory “You Should Be So Sad.” They introduced their most recent track, “So Good,” an aching goodbye sung with a whispery refrain and a palpable vulnerability, which leads into the thematically related “Bad At Love,” perhaps their most revealing song, into the TRENT REZNOR/ATTICUS ROSS-produced “I Am Not A Woman, I’m A God,” a seeming boast undercut by neurotic insecurity (“I’m not a legend/I’m a fraud”). Another classic heartbreak song, “Without Me,” concluded the brief, but potent set, for no one sings this kind of tune like they do. You’re right, HALSEY, we can’t live without you.
Ex-SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE cast member LESLIE JONES introduced MEGAN THEE STALLION (“It takes a stallion to know a stallion”), who took the stage to close out the two-night, one-day extravaganza with a typically larger-than-life performance of “NDA” and “Megan’s PIano” led into a from the new album, “Traumazine.” “Ungrateful,” into her signature “Freak Nasty.” “I’m trying my best not to curse,” she proclaimed at one point. “This message goes out to all my haters,” she added, then launched into the playful “What’s New” and “Thot Shit.” She then teased each side of the stage before leaning into the sing-song “Plan B,” followed by the brand-new “Anxiety.” and “Her.” MEGAN then put a wrap on the weekend with “WAP,” the self-empowering “Body” and the sassy “Savage,” and don’t ask how she got away with any of those, but it made for a suitable “climax” to the weekend’s festivities.
Said iHEARTMEDIA’s Chief Programming Officer TOM POLEMAN, who co-produced the FESTIVAL with President Of Entertainment Enterprises JOHN SYKES, “We’re thrilled to once again return to LAS VEGAS for a weekend full of great live music with this year’s FESTIVAL. What makes this FESTIVAL one of a kind is that we have the best artists from every genre of music that we play on our 860 iHEART stations all on one stage. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see so many legends performing together.”
THE CW will rebroadcast the shows on TV over two nights in prime time in OCTOBER.