LIVE REVIEW: POPPED! Music Festival 2011
Before it even officially began, POPPED! Music Festival managed to do something that few other festivals could claim: adapt. When rain threatened the two-day event, quick-thinking organizers managed to move the show from FDR Park to the inside location of Liacouras Center at Temple University. In a year when festival cancellations have achieved Vegas odds, it marked a significant success for the POPPED! clan. The move, however, did not come without its consequences. It cut the stages from three to one, demolished the comedy lineup all together and the much anticipated Food Bazar was relegated to hot dogs and soda from the Temple’s food court.
Despite the cost, the festival was at least able to continue as well as garnish some unexpected upsides as well. There was a strange twilight zone feel when walking through the underground maze of the Liacouras Center. Perhaps a more appropriate cinematic comparison would describe the scene as something from a John Hughes film. Artists moseyed about the collegiate halls, musing at basketball trophies or running down empty corridors. Rebel Daniel Blumberg of Yuck walked through the sterile hallways smoking a cigarette. Joker Daniel Zott of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. donned an old basketball net as a fashion accessory.
The catering room became a not-so-typical mess hall tableau, where groups chose to interact rather than stay separate. Well, that’s not including The Hold Steady‘s Craig Finn who sat alone in the back reading a book. And what would adolescence nostalgia be without its drama? Indeed there was much of it as many acts cancelled at the last minute, namely Nikki Jean, Black Landlord, ?uestlove, Anamanaguchi and The Joy Formidable (who were sworn to have been seen sound checking, but perhaps it was just another school yard myth).
So just as all films come to an end, the Popped Festival has indeed come and gone. Now we look back at all the moments, the good, the bad and the stuff that should have gone straight to VHS (er, cassette?).
While Dead Confederate had the noblest of intentions with their set composed only of songs off Neil Young’s ‘Tonight’s the Night,” it wasn’t necessarily a notion that resonated with the audience. When someone yelled “FREEBIRD!” from the audience it was pretty clear this wasn’t going to be anything like The Last Waltz, albeit the Georgia boys did have talent, just not the right venue.
Miniature Tigers suffered a similar fate to Dead Confederate. It wasn’t necessarily that their set wasn’t good, in fact the their dreamy-psych pop seemed prime for the college-aged crowd, but there just weren’t enough people and the lack was only magnified in the large arena.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. brought the first bit of true energy to the Friday morning line-up. Accompanied by glow in the dark jackets, light up letter boxes, and bubble machines, DEJJ certainly made for an aesthetically appealing foray into their garage-pop sound. It didn’t hurt that they threw in their staple cover of “God Only Knows,” but the welcome rendition also reminded that their set was unfortunately a victim of festival logistics and cut off way too soon.
Yuck definitely had a sense of humor about the location change. Remarking on the perks of playing an arena, Daniel Blumberg noted that he sort of felt like U2. “Yeah, U2, they’re a band. You should check out U2 on Myspace.com/u2england or something.” The tongue in cheek remarks and the rebellious antics have come to be synonymous with the band, where one need only look to their moniker for proof. Unfortunately, they too seemed to be slightly dulled, and while everything sounded great, they really only hit their energetic stride with the song “Operation,” their last of the night. As seen throughout most of POPPED! with other artists, Yuck’s set seemed to be a preview of their abilities, but it left a taste that definitely warranted coming back for more.
Recently a conversation arose with a friend about the legitimacy of the phrase, “I don’t understand…” Mostly this sentence structure, especially when it relates to matters of art and taste, is actually improperly substituted for expressing personal dislike of something. Rarely when utilizing the three word compound does it truly stand for a lack of comprehension. For example, it is not that it cannot be understood as to why people like Panda Bear. Hardly, in fact. Nor is it hard to understand why he, along with his Animal Collective compatriots, is championed for ushering a specific crossover between electronic and experimental music into mainstream acceptance. With all that being said, just because you understand something, doesn’t mean you agree nor does it mean you can stand it as it drones on 15 minutes over its intended set time.
Cage The Elephant
There are certain things that constitute the notion of the “little joys in life.” While Jay Leno is a serious no-no in these parts, a recent late night appearance this past August marked a notable exception to the Late Night ban. Cage the Elephant stood, their straggly hair and slacker slouch paired against the bright television backdrop. But it wasn’t simply the Jesse Eisenberg and Mike “The Situation” from Jersey Shore. Oh, to be a fly on that dressing room wall. Would Matthew Schutlz dive head first into Leno’s chin? Would he pummel The Situation to the ground? The possibilities seemed endless and each one, the more ridiculous, the more joyous. Of course, not much happened that night, but the promise that something could is what makes Cage the Elephant an act heralded for their live performances. No doubt, the audience at POPPED! Fest got the memo as it seemed that throughout the first day of the fest CTE seemed to be the name constantly thrown about. When they finally did take the stage, lead singer Matthew Schutlz did not disappoint. He darted around with such frenetic and scattered pace that the audience seemed to experience whiplash. Of course, he didn’t maintain his distance for long, throwing himself over the photo pit and into the crowd. Twice. Within the first four songs. Sometimes in life you really just want to enjoy the little things: like near kicks to the face from a screaming, shaggy haired maniac with a mic.
“Ask her about feminism,” “Ask her what she thinks about the role of women in music,” “Ask her where her swag comes from,” “Ask her what she gets at Arby’s.” Such were the suggestions thrown at an anxious college student as he waited to interview the Youtube sensation that is Kreayshawn. People stopped and hovered as she sat in the corner answering questions and while she spent a good amount of time giving responses, it was most apparent that she really sparked an intense level of inquiry. And under that veil of curiosity, Kreayshawn was able to take the POPPED! Festival stage by storm. Flanked by two other performers, including her “sister” V-Nasty, Kreayshawn pulled songs from her mostly unknown repertoire that included the usual suspects: white girls, dumb girls, bitches, cheating assholes, and burning houses down like she was Left Eye. In a strange twist, during her song “Rich Whores” Kreayshawn turned the cameras on the audience, with V-Nasty taking photos from the stage. Flipping the narrative? Regardless, Kreayshawn is a curious enigma and she carried her persona right on to the stage, making sure that she’ll be one to hold the public’s attention, at least for now.
The Hold Steady
Pissed off and proad, The Hold Steady has never been the type to hold back on their anger. The world has benefited from Craig Finn’s many existential crises; his battles with Catholicism, complicated relationships with women, and the exit of bandmates. While the band may not have left all these situations unscathed, it’s a wonder if you’d really want them to. The angst, fight, and unapologetic attitude of Finn is what makes The Hold Steady a reliable act.
Elbow is a band that provokes this sense of camaraderie; you really want to root for them, a feeling which is likely attributed to this Manchester-charm, under-dog quality they exude. So you stomp your feet when the opening chords barrel out for “Grounds for Divorce.” You casually bop your head in time with Guy Garvey as he predictably points to the sky or to the apparently hovering audience with every entry into a new chorus. You start to shift uncomfortably when you realize that you aren’t sure if this is one long song or if a change has actually occurred. Eventually you give up. With that being said, it was surprising that there were many, many people in the crowd going absolutely bonkers for this band.
The Budos Band
The Budos Band put on a psychadelic-jazz jam session making them one of the few acts who truly felt comfortable in such a large venue.
Passing through the arena, a separate hallway and a set of heavy metal doors was not enough to keep Charles Bradley‘s voice from reaching what was conceivably every crevice of the Temple basement. “My god, is that his voice?” asked one stunned cameraman who had distanced himself a good 500 yards from the stage. But it wasn’t his tenor alone that carried. Bradley, who once worked as a James Brown impersonator, uses his training to evoke the same sort of grandiose performance for which Brown was known.
Company of Thieves
At home with the Katy Perry/Nicki Minaj crowd, artists who themselves owe careers to those like Grace Jones, Madonna and Pat Benetar, Patty Crash opened day two with little intention of pulling back her set despite an early time slot. Gyrating in a shredded wedding dress, complete with two back-up dancers and a DJ named Suga Shay, the performance included scripted skits, pixie sticks, and a strip down by the three ladies to very small leotards.
Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The organizers at POPPED! Festival have to be given credit for implementing some of the quickest festival set-changes ever witnessed. Of course, this also meant you could see people anxiously waiting in the wings while a band was still on and sometimes even coming on stage during the set. Thus, when change overs dragged, like they did for New York’s Pains of Being Pure at Heart, it was readily apparent. The band never seemed to recover from the delay and coupled with a shortened time-slot it felt as if PBPH never really got off the ground. Maybe Kip Berman felt this too as his send off comment was “We’re Pains of Being Pure at Heart and this is our last song. I’m going to go kill myself.” It was probably the most interesting thing about the set.
“Let’s all take a moment to notice how strangely hilarious this moment is. We won’t be back in a place like this for a long time,” quipped Brian Oblivion. He wasn’t the first artist to comment on the grand space, but given Cults meteoric rise to popularity, he might be one of the few to soon return to a venue of this size. The stadium was moderately filled, given that Cults played early in the day. Perhaps it was the timing that made Madeline Follin’s vocals seemed a bit tired at the outset. After all, she did jokingly remark, “So is it light out?” Yet a steady stream of single-worthy songs likely kept most people from noticing and by the end Follin was able to belt out the the frenzy inducing “Go Outside” and “Oh My God” to a bunch of happy followers.
Sound issues plagued Rakim as well, who stopped his set midway to wait on the sound guy to turn up the bass. While the audience tried to follow Rakim in his attempts to keep momentum, ultimately the set fell desperately below what the rapper, responsible for hits like “It’s Been a Long Time,” was capable.
Foster the People
Foster the People were billed as the third headlining act for Saturday, but the fact that they were superseded by two artists of more DJ and electronic leanings, the band’s billing position spoke a lot to their current level of success. Essentially they were to carry what for many was the last act of the festival (the transition to the acts of Girl Talk and Pretty Lights took on a noticeably different tone) and they upheld their end of the deal with much gusto. Mark Foster tugged at his shirt and darted from corner to corner of the stage, pounding out eight songs in his best falsetto voice. While they closed their set with the hit “Pumped Up Kicks,” Foster and crew never ceased to play every song like it was their greatest hit. Lots of synths, lots of lights, lots of screaming people.
Girl Talk was exactly as expected, which meant lots of dancing and yelling out the words to songs you didn’t even know you knew. The crowd filed into the arena and with that the presence of glowsticks, spinning balls, and neon-inspired regalia increased exponentially.
As discussed, festivals can produce the strangest and most remarkable moments…like James Mercer playing a concert worthy soundcheck…to an audience of one.
And with that, another festival fades into the sunset, or in this case, dimmed arena lights. POPPED! Festival had its cinematic moments, cliffhangers, and questionable choices. It was a mostly decent soundtrack that has us looking forward to the sequel. And so to end, and in the spirit of Hughes and his championing for the outcast, we leave you with the coolest kids ever.