The DC area has been sadly lacking in the music festival department since Virgin Mobile decided to end their annual free festivals and the Landmark Festival fizzled after only a single year. But on the last Sunday of July, a triple-headliner show at Merriweather Post Pavilion brought, if not the musical diversity of a full-fledged festival experience, a line-up of heavy-hitters that would normally only be seen together at a large event. Belle and Sebastian, Spoon, and Andrew Bird are all big enough names to headline their own shows individually – together, they brought a night of indie rock and pop to Columbia worthy of the top of a festival line-up.
The show was opened by local DC favorites Ex Hex. The trio played a short but energetic set including five songs from their Merge Records debut Rips (including “Don’t Wanna Lose,” “How You Got That Girl,” “Waterfall,” “You Fell Apart,” and “Everywhere”) along with two new tracks. It was the band’s first live performance in a while, but they rocked as much as ever, with the new material showing promise for more to come.
Next up was Andrew Bird, who released his most recent album Are You Serious last year. Four tracks from Bird’s nine-song set were drawn from that album (the title track, “Capsized,” “Roma Fade,” and “Valleys of the Young”), with the rest drawn from his extensive back catalog, going as far back as 2005’s The Mysterious Production of Eggs for “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left.” Bird swapped between his trademark violin, electric guitar, and a set of orchestra bells.
If any of the bands owned the evening it was Spoon, who put on a dynamic performance that showed an ensemble of musicians at their peak. While it’s only been a few months since the release of their latest, Hot Thoughts (playing only “Do I Have to Talk You Into It,” “Can I Sit Next to You,” and the title track), the group didn’t focus on it, instead playing a diverse set of tracks from throughout their two-decade career. From “Anything You Want” from 2001’s Girls Can Tell to “Do You” and “Rent I Pay” from 2014’s They Want My Soul, Britt Daniels and company played a set that satisfied both casual and hardcore fans of the band, and is liable to end up on the best shows of the year lists for many who saw it.
Finally Belle and Sebastian was up. The Scottish group hasn’t been back to the DC area for several years now, and anticipation for their return was high. Although they haven’t released any new material in the time since they were last here, they have been working on a new album, and they played one new track, “Sweet Dewelee”(Raleigh the next night got the live premiere of a second one, “We Were Beautiful”). Other than that, the set was a virtual best-of, and Belle and Sebastian are a band that has many bests at this point. Going as far back as their 1996 debut Tigermilk with “Expectations,” the band hit on much of their discography in the 16 song set, with highlights including “Seeing Other People,” “Anotherr Sunny Day,” “Funny Little Frog,” and “The Boy With the Arab Strap.”