It’s 8 p.m. on Feb. 22, and students are crowding into the SRC North building after lining up for hours for a chance to get into Winter Soulstice (one of several yearly concerts held by UCR’s Associated Students Program Board). While the event was slated to begin at 7 p.m., students find themselves waiting an entire hour longer. With an extremely impressive lineup (consisting of Bruno Major, Omar Apollo and Alina Baraz), however, and the prior investment of several hours of waiting, this is not a problem.
As the lights go out, Bruno Major steps on stage quietly, accompanied only by his charm and distinctly red jeans. Opening with a broken down performance of “Wouldn’t Mean a Thing,” he has the crowd swooning from the start. After the first song ends he announces he’ll be playing his entire album; the ecstatic audience literally shrieks with excitement. Switching between electric guitar, acoustic guitar and keyboard himself, it’s an impressive show, but simultaneously intimate. Complete with song writing anecdotes and quips from Major, it’s more akin to a casual hangout than any kind of performance, the only difference being that all the attention in the room is focused on Major. He begins playing “Easily” and the crowd is truly immersed. “He’s so dreamy,” I hear from beside me. I laugh off the initial comment but can’t help agreeing. Major, with his soothing vocals, strings the crowd along for the duration of his entire album without missing a beat.
Enter Omar Apollo. Onstage with a leather jacket and blue jeans and accompanied by a band, he’s the embodiment of an All-American rockstar. Dancing and tearing the mic from its stand right away, he’s a far cry from Major’s quiet, boy next door persona. The performance is driven by guitar riffs and drums rather than acoustic strings, but it captures the crowd just the same. After his initial introduction, he explains that he’s lost his voice following a show from the night before, but this doesn’t stop him at all. The much appreciated speed and edge added to a majority of the tracks (particularly Apollo’s renditions of “Ignorin” and “Hijo De Su Madre”), make this set a particularly unique one. The songs playing are fresh, dynamic takes on their album counterparts, and are far more suited to Apollo’s high-octane, on-stage energy.
It’s now past 10 p.m., the lights have gone out for the final time that night as Alina Baraz is announced on stage. The music blasts and Baraz slowly struts her way on stage. Her performance is an interesting middle ground between Apollo’s energy and Major’s charm, making for a seductive, trance-like experience. With bright lights, smokey visuals and a far more electronic sound than the previous two, it’s a solid energy to end the night on. Baraz’s aura is enticing enough to keep the crowd awake, but still encourages a vibey and relaxed feeling. It’s also important to note that despite being the last (and therefore latest) performer, Baraz receives the largest crowd enthusiasm by far. “Fantasy” is the pinnacle of the entire performance, as the crowd stands near silent from start to finish, reduced to a sea of heads and glowing cell phone screens by Baraz’s smooth harmonizing. She closes out with one more song and the main lights flash on as the crowd now trudges out of the venue.
The night was a long one, but it was well worth the sore legs and popped eardrums. UCR concerts tend to get a bad rap among the student body for a number of reasons, and while I won’t say that Winter Soulstice was completely exempt of those complaints, it was endearing and memorable enough of an experience that the small complications didn’t matter. Not much else can be said about that night but if it was any indicator, UCR concerts are only getting better.