The first day of Firefly was a bit like rock n’ roll itself in that it was all about excess. From the heat to the beats to the all night drinking feats the 60 plus thousand turnout showed their excitement and exuberance for the first day of year two with a vengeance. Of course this didn’t make for the best feeling head the next morning, and neither did the four hour wait for showers alleviate much but the strong amongst the pack pushed through unabated, braving the intense heat and massive hangovers to make a surprisingly strong draw for the 1:30 Japandroids showtime.
Perhaps them boys from British Columbia had their own after party because the set began somewhat slowly. They managed to find their groove in the course of some few tracks from their latest release Celebration Rock, and a devoted few (obviously super-humans) even managed to dance at such an early hour. Forty-five minutes is not an especially long set, but thankfully it ended when it did so the few thousand early birds could catch the bulwark of the lovely Ms. ZZ Ward‘s set.
This pretty young thing is shaping up to be an industry changer. The multi-instrumentalist and verbose songwriter did her best despite the heat and flagging audience interest to keep them kids dancing. In the end it would prove a lost cause. While her set was technically proficient and her stage presence valiant in the face of so much exhaustion there was little she could do for an audience that was largely unaware of anything other than her hit, “‘Til the Casket Drops.”
One could be forgiven for skipping the next few shows. The sun was purely unrelenting, and the humidity absolutely demanded those with an interest in self-preservation seek the cooler climes of the Heineken beer tent. Besides, energy need be conserved for the Alabama Shakes.
There is absolutely no reason why the Alabama Shakes shouldn’t be headlining the half dozen festivals they’ve played in the last two years. They always manage to get that mid-afternoon slot which is a shame because it forces them to compete for an audience against far lesser acts. If you did happen to choose Lord Huron (whoever that is) over the Shakes then you are a fool or else obviously out of the loop as far as the most exciting thing going on in music right now.
Ms. Brittany Howard sings with a conviction that just doesn’t exist anymore in modern music. To watch her face curl up in anguish as she belts out lyrics about a man that just don’t love her back makes me immediately fear I have never known love. It’s a strange thing indeed. And though I’ve been following their career for a while, and though this would be the third time I’ve seen this group in the span of a single year I still get so emotional watching the Alabama Shakes play live I want to weep. This group is the genuine article. Say what you will for angry rockers, strung out flow artists, or the ADHD antics of the EDM set, the Alabama Shakes bring it all back home with their brand of blues infused gospel pop. Styles change, genres collapse, soul is forever.
And if the Shakes didn’t bring you back down to earth, the following performance by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero‘s should have been enough to ground ya. After their first song frontman namesake Mr. Sharpe addresses the crowd with the usual, “How you doing Firefly?!” The crowd erupts as expected. He follows with, “Every single one of you is gonna die!” Silence ensues. It was marvel on my part but mostly disconcert on that of the audience. One can’t help but appreciate a man who would bring his struggles with life and death to the stage. It’s certainly in his music, Edward Sharpe is a man who appreciates the things he has in life, more than that he is aware of his impending death and perhaps we should be too. Maybe that’s why everyone was dancing so hard, and singing their throats raw.
Back at the main stage excitement brewed for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They might not have gotten top billing, but they more than any other were on the lips of the 60,000 all day two. For good reason: Many thought “Maps,” was all there was to this group back in aught three. While the site of Karen O weeping was striking, it did much to pigeon hole them as a sensitive group. Constant touring and the subsequent release of two further albums has undone that stereotype and Mosquito showed a side that was anything but sensitive. Their set was engaging and enigmatic, Karen O’s dramatic presence was still electrifying outside the intimacy of the club setting and it is my sincere hope that many of the RHCP crowd found a new appreciation for a band that might have previously been outside their comfort level.
If that 1, 2, 3 combo punch wasn’t enough to lay you low, then MGMT surely would, right? Right? No! Despite the frenzied anticipation, the stellar psychedelic light show, and the low hanging cloud of pot smoke MGMT did little better than loiter on stage. Throughout the set there was the feeling this was intended, the boys in the band were keeping it low key to come back with an energetic anything off Oracular Spectacular and blow us away. However, there was no money shot. There wasn’t enough Molly in the world to make the set anything worth speaking well about, and one can’t help but wander if MGMT is already burnt out. What a shame.
Fear not ye, for the headliner was next. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were quite the interesting choice owing to age and taste. Albeit Mr. Petty has been headlining festivals since before most of the twenty-something crowd were even born it still remained to be seen if his dated form of rock would be passable in the digital age. Suffice it to say Mr. Petty is a legend and not an act. Who knows where the glut of new and exciting groups I mentioned earlier will be in five years? Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have been killing for over twenty years and they also killed Firefly. Swatting it like the minor inconvenience a Delaware festival presents to a rock god. Mixing his better known singles and radio favorites into more recent less popular material there was little that didn’t excite an already agitated crowd, and closing out with “American Girl,” left little doubt in the minds of any of the spectators that the ticket price wasn’t worth that show alone.