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III Points 2019: SZA, James Blake, John Maus, and Yaeji Kept the Vibes Going Day Two

As with most festivals, the second day of III Points brought a much larger crowd. Still, thanks to its boutique nature, the festival grounds never felt overwhelmed with people.

However, for those hoping to take part in experiences such as the Skate Space or the decommissioned Gravitron ride with a pop-up Red Bull bar inside, the wait times were long. But kudos to the attendees, who appeared to leave their frustration and anger at home.

The crowds also showed plenty of love to Saturday's performers, including SZA and James Blake, whose R&B and soulful sounds created a chilled-out atmosphere at the main stage. Inside, Yaeji packed the Main Frame stage area for an amazing Miami debut. Here's a look at the highlights from day two.

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Haute Tension. View more photos from III Points 2019 day two here.EXPAND
Photo by Karli Evans

Haute Tension. About five seconds into playing its self-titled theme song — the band's second tune of the night — Haute Tension guitarist Alexandre Merbouti fell right off the Sector 3 stage and onto his back, barely avoiding hitting his head on the ground. If he was shaken or in pain, he didn't show it, gracefully continuing to play on the ground before inelegantly hopping back onto the stage. Bassist Monica McGivern flashed a brief, knowing smile, and the show went on without a hitch. One song later, Merbouti was singing while the band’s rhythm section — Nabedi Osorio and McGivern — led a full-out musical assault, accented by blinding-white lights and militant drumming. And if you think Merbouti didn't risk it all again by standing on the corner of a speaker at the foot of the stage, you may not have seen one of Miami's most daring live bands yet. This writer lost her balance and almost fell, too, during the band’s performance of the tropical jam “What Would You Say.” No big deal. After all, great rock 'n’ roll is worth the battle scars. — Celia Almeida

Herbie Hancock. Watching Herbie Hancock is a bit like stepping back in time. The virtuoso pianist’s voyages into fusion jazz were cutting-edge in the genre’s last gasp of mainstream relevance in the '70s, and though the world may have (tragically) moved on, the 78-year-old, eternally cool Hancock remains to steer the ship. And what a ride he took listeners on, leading the band in a sampler of his finest work, mixing and matching the best parts of his massive back catalogue. Wild synth settings and Afro-futuristic vocal manipulations were the name of the game. Classics such as “Actual Proof” and the funky Head Hunters cuts “Chameleon” and “Watermelon Man” made appearances, their iconic melodies giving way to solos that displayed the mastery of each player. People once went to festivals just to watch dudes like Hancock flex on their instruments, and, sadly, the audience at III Points had a hard time appreciating that talent; the crowd talked throughout much of the set, as well as Hancock’s intro of the band, whose membership includes the likes of To Pimp a Butterfly producer Terrence Martin on the sax. And then Hancock brought out a keytar. And then he ripped an incredible solo on it. Nobody took their eyes away from that. — Doug Markowitz

Mall Grab. Often described as "lo-fi house," Mall Grab ran the gauntlet with an organ-rumbling, bass-heavy set. The Aussie native had an unfortunate time slot against James Blake, so the Isotropic tent wasn't exactly packed; however, the young crowd showed Mall Grab plenty of love. Behind the decks, he bobbed his head to every beat in a way that was refreshing — here's a DJ who isn't too concerned about looking stoically cool while he spins. In fact, his energy was infectious. So, what is exactly "lo-fi" about Mall Grab? Well, his signature sound comes from the clunkier feel of his production, with elements such as hi-hats and bass lines feeling more jarring and less glossy than standard house fare. It's earned Mall Grab his fair share of critics who deride him as a fad — but the crowd gathered at the Isotropic stage would probably disagree. — Jose D. Duran

James Blake. Mercifully, there were surprisingly few cuddling couples at James Blake’s set Saturday night despite the “overwhelming” (his word) response to his latest album, Assume Form. The show was the first of Blake’s North American tour behind the romantic new record, inspired by his relationship with The Good Place actress Jameela Jamil. If Blake’s newest album is great for people in relationships, his older songs are for singles, those of us with lives devoid of romance, still searching for purpose and acceptance from another, and despite including the first performances of songs such as “Mile High” featuring Travis Scott and “Where’s the Catch” featuring Andre 3000 (huge cheer for that pre-recorded verse), the set mostly skewed older. With a spartan setup — just Blake in keys and synths, a drummer, and a multi-instrumentalist — the band delivered arrangement that were pretty close to their studio counterparts, which only highlighted the excellence of both vanilla versions and variations. Robust yet minimal lighting complemented the songs, from EDM strobes during an awesome, extended dance breakdown of “Voyeur” to a single spotlight for the intimate piano breaks in “Limit to Your Love.” Blake is such a compelling performer, lyricist, and songwriter, penetrating straight into the souls of his listeners, that his presence onstage almost distracted completely from the inexplicably rowdy crowd at the Mind Melt stage. In all things, true beauty shines through. — Doug Markowitz

Donzii. Dance, R&B, and hip-hop have dominated this year's lineup, but the festival still knows people enjoy a good rock band. Local quintet Donzii carried the rock banner proudly with a postpunk set that was a more than suitable appetizer to John Maus' experimental pop. Standing in front of the band — clad entirely in red plaid — lead singer Jenna Balfe playfully bantered between numbers. "This next song is if you ever lost someone — maybe," Balfe said before launching into a somber track. After a few more melancholic tunes, the band shook off the postpunk blues with a more danceable, synth-heavy cut that undoubtedly won over a few new fans outside of the Miami bubble. — Jose D. Duran

John Maus. If any of us were given the chance to perform onstage after years of watching from the rafters, there’s a decent chance we’d act like John Maus does in concert. To put it simply, he freaks out: standing in place, belting and screaming lyrics into the mike with his deep voice, beads of sweat flying from his mop-top hair, perspiring through his shirt to the point that it shines, head banging, his body bobbing up and down, beating his fist against his head in ecstasy. Completely free of shame and unconcerned about embarrassment, he’s like a man who, silenced for years, is finally speaking up. The indie-pop artist, a leading light of the hypnagogic movement from the late 2000s, had been doing these “karaoke” performances for a while, but he put together an actual band to tour behind the new album Screen Memories. They played a few shows until one of their members, John’s brother, suddenly died from an undiagnosed heart condition. Now his profound display of human emotion takes on a new level of poignancy, but his performances would be therapeutic for Maus and the audience regardless. Watching him is like watching your soul take flight. — Doug Markowitz

SZA. Last time SZA was slated to play South Florida, she was forced to cancel her appearance at the West Palm Beach stop of Top Dawg Entertainment’s Championship Tour because of a precarious vocal injury. This time, the powerhouse singer was back for a rematch. She hadn’t been in Miami since the fall of 2017, when she played to a packed audience at the Ground just four months after the release of her debut album, Ctrl. Last night’s set was composed almost entirely of songs from that record, including Obama-approved “Broken Clocks,” as well as “Love Galore,” “Drew Barrymore,” and “The Weekend.” Like III Points itself, SZA has taken her time on hiatus to make noticeable growth as a performer. Gone were the high kicks and nervous tics from her first days on the road. In their place stood a much more grounded and secure performer.

Her one deviation from the Ctrl track list was a pleasantly surprising cover of Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me,” and having gotten a late start on a stage where sets were ending early throughout the night, SZA was warned by stagehands that she was running short on time. She asked the audience to choose between album closer “20 Something” and Black Panther soundtrack single “All the Stars” but then quickly picked the former. Because she was the closing act on that stage, it’s odd she wasn’t spared three more minutes to perform a song she’ll deliver on the Oscar telecast as a nominee with Kendrick Lamar next Sunday. When she returns to South Florida with a new set of songs, we ask that SZA reclaim her time. — Celia Almeida

Yaeji. Rising New York-based producer and singer-songwriter Kathy Yaeji Lee, known simply as Yaeji, packed the room at the indoor Main Frame stage for her first-ever set in Miami, drawing what was probably one of the hardest crowds at the fest to pin down so far. Sporting a top knot and '90s-inspired baby tee, the bespectacled 25-year-old born in Queens and raised in Korea bobbed around the stage while gripping the mike and dancing to the music like a bubbly, fledgling pop performer, only to return to the decks to seamlessly mix in the next throbbing, club-driven dance track like a seasoned underground DJ. Similar to that of Grimes, another producer who quickly garnered fans for her experimental, dance-floor-ready productions, Yaeji’s music is instantly ear-wormish and refreshingly un-self-conscious about its pop through lines and mainstream appeal. But where Grimes often comes off as aloof, moody, and inaccessible, Yaeji — through both her productions and her onstage energy — radiates the pure joy and irreverence of a dark dance party you never want to leave. A trained fine artist, Yaeji complemented her music with acid-inspired visuals that were among the most dynamic of the festival, and the sound mix was surprisingly balanced and clear, allowing her soft, dreamy vocals to cut through the thumping bass for a supersatisfying live electronic set. — Falyn Freyman

Kelsey Lu. Every once in a while, festival attendees will recognize in real time they’re witnessing something truly special from an up-and-comer. These kinds of moments are common at a fest like III Points, where organizers make an effort to book fan favorites even as they predict the future musical landscape. Singer Kelsey Lu, one of the opening acts on the Mind Melt stage last night, was the architect of one of those moments. Lu opened her set singing a cappella, with eyes closed, arms outstretched, her body backlit by red spotlights, and her teal eyebrows glowing prominently. Backed by a four-piece band including a violinist and sax player, Lu held the audience captive as she crouched down and howled to the skies throughout the set. It was clear she was a new face to most in the audience, which held its applause until the end of even her better-known songs such as “Due West” and “Shades of Blue.” She spoke of writing the latter when she was depressed and living in a small room in Hoboken, New Jersey. Lu channeled more of that angst into her final song, “Liar,” closing the set just as it had begun, with her voice taking center stage, backed by only sparse piano accompaniment. — Celia Almeida

Ty Segall and White Fence. Individually, Ty Segall and Tim Presley, performing as White Fence, are two of the most prolific carriers of the torch for West Coast rock 'n' roll, drawing on everyone from Black Flag to the Beatles to create grungy, lo-fi sounds that are wholly and distinctly California. Together, their musical styles fuse into a burning-hot, psychedelic mind-meld that carries listeners on a fast-paced journey through decades of punk, metal, grunge, garage rock, melodic surf, and even jangly country. They opened their 1 a.m. set on the Sector 3 stage with massive drums and instant shreddage and rarely stopped for a breath as they jammed on songs from their two collaborative albums. Against the backdrop of downtown Miami’s luminous skyline, Segall and Presley delivered their performance as a DJ might, weaving a story that’s a pastiche of influences and musical references. Jerking from Beach Boys-like harmonizations to howling vocals and chaotic guitar distortion, the show was at times disorienting, but entirely shameless, loud, punchy, and vital. — Falyn Freyman

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