Out of the tent, fed, coffeed-to-the-gills, and loaded for bear. Saturday’s lineup lead to a LOT of difficult decisions, but also highlighted one of the best things about living on the east coast - the constant influx of great bands in our area ensures that if you miss someone performing at Firefly, there’s a good chance they’ve either recently played in the DMV area, or will play at a venue in D.C./Baltimore/Philly within the next month or two. So Game On:
On the Road with Chunky Glasses: Firefly Music Festival
Dover, Delaware 7/20 - 7/22
Part Two: Saturday, July 21st
11:15 -11:45 a.m. Moon Taxi
Everything was off to a good start with 80-degree temperatures and Nashville’s Moon Taxi. Known as much for live jam-rich performances as for anything on their two albums, MT did a great job warming up the crowd with driving, super-catchy songs like “Hypnus.” While they were jamming the hell out a song at 11:24 in the morning, four guys in front of us were getting completely baked. Oh yeah, festival life.
11:45 - 12:30 p.m. Ra Ra Riot vs. Imagine Dragons. Verdict: Ra Ra Riot
Ra Ra Riot is one of those bands that seem to perpetually fly just under the radar of wide-spread fame, but its unclear why - their set was completely packed with thousands of early risers, and they have a solid catalog of well-written, musically interesting stuff. When the lead singer bashfully admitted, "We did not expect to see so many people out before noon," the crowd predictably responded with a big wave of adoration - well of course we'd get up early and brush our teeth for you, Ra Ra Riot - you’ve got violins and basses and are just adorable.
12:30 - 1:30 p.m. The Felice Brothers vs. Kids These Days. Verdict: Felice Bros
When the Felice Brothers took the main stage just after noon, the crowd was kind of sparse, but the lawn slowly filled as the band injected a flair of country to the Firefly lineup. These guys are insanely talented, and the instrumentation on the first song could even be described as classy but for the prevalence of trucker hats. When they sang “I put whiskey in my whiskey,” shirts flew off all over the lawn, morphing into flags as they waved in the air. Is it possible to mess up a song with those lyrics? Our group voted Hell No, Not Possible. I knew “Run, Chicken, Run” was going to be my favorite song of the day, and it was only 12:45. And have you ever seen a jamming accordion, or a guy sporting a washboard? No? Then get your butt to a Felice Bros show, and soon. They’ve come a long way from playing in the subways of New York.
Scratching our heads about how to structure the rest of the afternoon, we turned back toward the main festival grounds and HOLY SHIT IS THAT A HOT AIR BALLOON HOVERING OVER THE BACKYARD STAGE? Yep, Firefly had hot air balloons, and Wayne Coyne was hanging out of one of them on Sunday. Officially on notice, other east coast festivals.
1:30 - 2:30 p.m. Polica vs. Charles Bradley & his Extraordinaires. Verdict: Charles Bradley
Charles Bradley ain’t nothing but a good time, and Polica was in D.C. in the spring and will mercifully be returning in October, so off we went to Charles Bradley. He has rocketed to the top of “favorite new old guy artist” lists all over the country with last year’s debut No Time for Dreaming, and Delaware is no exception - the effusive, preening, emotive, evocative Bradley charmed the pants off a couple thousand lily white 20-somethings with a heaping helping of sexy at 2:00 in the afternoon. Bradley proved he is one of those rare performers whose long toil through obscurity has resulted in well-deserved fame. At one point he yelled, “Do you want to go to church? Well, do you?” You bet we do, so preach it, Charles - and come on back to D.C. soon, so we can love all over you some more.
2:30 - 3:30 p.m. Michael Franti & Spearhead vs. Cults. Verdict: Michael Franti
The perfect follow-up to the extraordinary Charles Bradley turned out to be the ultra-groovy Michael Franti. Originally heading to Cults, I was sucked into Franti’s tractor beam of funk and skipped Cults altogether (sorry, Cults - I heard you were fantastic). You don’t have to know Franti’s music to appreciate what was going down on the main stage, and the crowd absolutely radiated joy. It didn’t hurt that the lawn looked like a place where beach balls go on vacation, with 50 or so colorfully bouncing all over two square acres of grass. Franti pulled one guy flashing an “It’s My Birthday” sign out of the crowd with his girlfriend, and everyone went bananas as the couple was asked to play guitar with the band. Best birthday ever, best festival ever, for two lucky kids with a piece of cardboard and a Sharpie. A giant love-fest erupted mid-stage with “Life is Better with You,” and Franti asked everyone in the crowd to hug everyone else in the crowd. Saying, “the best part of festivals is not the bands, it’s hanging out with your homies,” Franti made a good point, but let’s be honest - the bands are a pretty good part of it as well, particularly when they evoke this much happiness.
3:30 - 4:30 p.m. Grouplove vs. The Knocks. Verdict: Grouplove
The most surprising band of the day may have been Grouplove; when a band erupts out of nowhere with one incredibly infectious song, it’s hard to tell if they can keep the attention of a festival crowd for an hour, but I seriously underestimated their power. GL delivered a delirious mix of tracks, and the band is just personified fun. A song about how they all met in Greece in 2008 had an almost zydeco feeling to it, and at the beginning of “Close Your Eyes and Count to Ten,” they told everyone to howl like a wolf - and of course we did. “Tonguetied” was a certified hoarse-voiced shout along -- I wanted to yell “Pace yourselves, children, we’ve still got 7 hours of music,” but I was too busy howling like a wolf. GL covered “I Wanna Dance with Somebody" to staunch the early exodus to Young the Giant, and then thrashed out “Colors” to close. Christian Zucconi ditched his guitar and leapt into the crowd as the band exited the stage, with Hannah Hooper shouting “Steal his wallet! Steal his wallet!” Hooper is like no one so much as Shirley Manson on mood enhancers. Not a trace of grumpy to be seen, and it was one of the perfect sets of the festival.
4:30 - 5:30 p.m. Young the Giant vs. Graffiti6. Verdict: Young the Giant
There can only be a couple of words to sum up Young the Giant on the main stage at Firefly: Sardine, Berserk, and Sweat-tastic. Sardine, because it was so crowded you couldn’t rhino your way into an inch of ground space, and I was relegated to the back corner of the lawn for dawdling at Grouplove (curse you, superfun Grouplove!). YtG starting out mellow, then increased in volume and sweattasticness to close with “My Body,” resulting in a massive, berserky jump-around in front of the stage, and from an aerial view you’d be hard pressed to figure out whose limbs belonged to whom. I’m not a super fan, but they were very, very convincing, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this band goes from here.
5:30 - 6:30 p.m. Cake vs. Chiddy Bang. Verdict: Cake
Cake is, and always will be, Cake. Sardonic lead singer John McCrea at one point admonished the audience for the sea of smart phone cameras facing the band, asking everyone to put down their electronic devices to just be in the moment. “Even if you don’t post this on Facebook, it still happened” - sage advice, and frankly if I weren’t so damn tired by that point in the day, I may have stood on someone’s shoulders and applauded, but the crowd was so excited to hear the mix of songs from Cake’s 20-year history that it was impossible to resist attempts to capture the moment. Cake makes boring cool, and no amount of snide words will make us put away our cameras...
6:30 - 8:00 p.m. Modest Mouse vs. Trampled by Turtles. Verdict: Modest Mouse
If Modest Mouse has a greatest hits catalog, they played it at Firefly. Choosing a completely different setlist from their recent shows at 9:30, the band played a ton of tracks off Good News for People Who Love Bad News, arguably their most accessible album, interspersed with a few obscure gems like “The Whale Song.” Unfortunately, the set was too mellow for the timing - while technically proficient and hauntingly beautiful as always, by 7:30 on Saturday the majority of festival attendees were exhausted. Even though “Float On” made a head-bobbing believer out of the lone MM holdout in our group, the lingering effect was soporific. Fortunately, the festival organizers filled Passion Pit’s last-minute vacancy with Yeasayer, so unless you buried yourself in the beer tent after Modest Mouse there was no way around electro-shock therapy in the next time slot.
8:00 - 9:15 p.m. Yeasayer vs. Lupe Fiasco. Verdict: Lupe Fiasco
Turns out the cure for the 8 p.m. wave of exhaustion was a hearty dose of Lupe Fiasco - paired against Yeasayer, the penultimate set was exactly what a well-worn crowd needed to shake up, wake up, and fight through the wall to finish Saturday’s lineup strong. Mr. Fiasco poured buckets of sheer raw energy over the crowd, and it was impossible to tear myself away for the last half of Yeasayer - fortunately, they’re coming to D.C. in November, so I can redeem myself then. By 8:30, the evening had achieved a golden twilighty glow despite overcast skies, and the set closed with “The Show Goes On” - Fiasco stopped singing and let the crowd pick up the lyrics, and it was one of those pure festival moments that pop up unexpectedly. As Fiasco said earlier in his set -- kick, push, kick, push, and coast.
9:30 - 11:00 p.m. The Killers
Although the Killers started 30 minutes late, they opened with a bombastic “Somebody Told Me” and a steady stream of background imagery, and the irritated crowd immediately forgave all. A good festival band has that one sing along song (or four) that sends the crowd into joyful spasms, and the Killers followed their biggest one with “Smile Like You Mean It.” With a new album slated for release in September, the band mainly stuck with old favorites - by my count, they only played three songs off Battle Born, and if “Runaways” is any indicator, they’ll be better off avoiding that album when it comes out as well.
Over the years the Killers have evolved from an entertaining, eclectic rock band into a highly-choreographed machine - every second on stage, every movement, every pointy finger, was obviously planned, and every item onstage was strategically placed for better leaping-upon-ability. You could almost see the director’s notes penciled above Brandon Flowers’ head - Now’s when you raise your fist, now’s when you stand on an amp and point, now move stage left, FIREWORKS, now move stage right, CONFETTI CANNONS. In contrast to Jack White on Friday, who didn’t use a set list but just yelled the next song to his bandmates as he went along, the Killers’ set seemed planned within an inch of its life. It was beautiful to watch and the crowd ate it up, but after two straight days of bands playing their hearts out on smaller stages, the headliner seemed flat. The Killers wrung every last drop of energy out of the crowd with “Mr. Brightside,” a group-chanting, arm-waving extravaganza, but started the encore with “Flesh and Bone” from Battle Born. It’s a synth laden and mildly complex song, but it doesn't appear that the new album is going to have that one true hook, the Brightside/Somebody Told Me anthem. To be perfectly frank, so far every song released from the new album sounds like every song Meatloaf ever wrote, but that’s for another review. Wisely choosing “Jenny” and “When You Were Young” to finish off the evening, the Killers ensured no one left disappointed, but it will be interesting to see what happens when Battle Born drops. Is the listening world ready for more Meatloaf?
Next up: DAY THREE with AWOL Nation, The Head and the Heart, The Flaming Lips and MORE! Plus we wrap up the weekend and look forward to next year.