A little lightning and a thunderstorm aren’t going to stop Dan Deacon. That’s the first lesson that we learned at this year’s Rock the Garden, which took a rainy turn as soon as gates opened and then transitioned into the parking ramp for a sweaty, packed dance party that kept concertgoers safe as a storm blew through.
Dan Deacon is no stranger to the unconventional live show—he’s known for commanding the crowd and instructing them to form circles, compete in one-on-one dance offs, and follow along in synchronized, jazzercise-like movements. So it was no surprise that he responded to news that rain was moving in by wrapping his speakers and tech table in tarps and instructing people to follow him into the garage for an impromptu underground set.
At first, the Deacon set started like a secret. Only the audience members who were standing closest to him knew what he was up to, and most others who sought shelter in the garage lingered near the entrance to wait out the rain. But as soon as the majority of the poncho-clad crowd figured out what was up, the back part of the garage became more crowded and the space buzzed with excitement over the spontaneity of the what was about to transpire.
“Deacon is such a natural performer,” Current host Steve Seel marveled after the set, and I couldn’t agree more. He was up to his usual tricks for this parking ramp set—a circle was formed and a dance-off transpired, followed by a full-crowd freakout, all set to his fast-paced, frenetic, and downright glitchy dance music—but it all took on a new level of energy in this performance. The speakers Deacon was using to project his music were tiny and the sound was scuzzy at best, but it didn’t matter. For the first time in the day, the attendees at Rock the Garden were truly united.
For his grand finale, Deacon instructed everyone in the crowd to link arms and form a giant human tunnel, with fans running through the tunnel to exit the ramp and return to the festival. It was one of the most unique shows I’ve ever seen, and one that will surely go down in the Rock the Garden history books.
Dan Deacon set list:
Konono Rip Off No 1
MPR Photo / Nate Ryan
Welp! How to describe what came next? This just might be the artiest Rock the Garden to date, and Low decided to follow Dan Deacon’s parking garage performance by playing one 27-minute long, simmering song.
Yes. One song. 27 minutes. And the crowd didn’t know quite what to think. As folks settled into their places on the grassy (and wood-chip-covered) hill and the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, Low launched into their song “Do You Know How to Waltz?” and never let up, transitioning the song into one long, slow-burning instrumental build that lasted all the way up until the end of their set time. At one point, sinister sounds started seeping out of Alan Sparhawk’s guitar and it almost sounded like someone was laughing, slowly and evilly, but other than that it was an unmovable wall of noise.
The band barely looked up at the crowd, mostly staring at each other and at the ground and sky, and barely said a word, save for the very end of the “set.” When the music came to its sudden end, Alan Sparhawk stepped up to his mic and slowly, loudly said, “Drone. Not drones.”
Bob Mould at Rock the Garden MPR Photo / Nate Ryan
After two unpredictable sets, Bob Mould followed with a punchy, fast-paced, and commanding performance that found him tearing through the first half of his landmark album with Sugar, Copper Blue, and a handful of songs off his latest solo album, 2012′s Silver Age.
Last year, Mould celebrated the 30th anniversary of Copper Blue by playing it from start to finish at a series of shows, and the time he spent reliving that record has clearly seeped into his modern work. In fact, once he and his fiery backing band (bassist Jason Narducy of Telekinesis and drummer Jon Wurster of Superchunk) zipped through Copper Blue‘s first five songs and launched into a cut off the new record, “Star Machine,” the transition sounded downright seamless. And “The Descent” blazed live, setting the tone for the more raucous part of the set that would follow.
“Should it be louder? If it should be louder, raise your hand,” Mould said at one point, and hands eagerly shot up around the lawn. The energy ratcheted up and up as he dipped once again into the Sugar catalog with “Your Favorite Thing” and then reached back into his Husker Du catalog for the all-too-appropriate “Celebrated Summer” and “Charted Trips,” the highlight of the set.
With the sun beating down and the spirit of the crowd on the rise, Mould ended his set with a downright giddy version of Sugar’s biggest hit, “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.”
Bob Mould set list:
The Act We Act
A Good Idea
Round the City Square
Steam of Hercules
Your Favorite Thing
If I Can’t Change Your Mind
“Wow, this is a big deal,” remarked Silversun Pickups frontman Brian Aubert, marveling at the sea of people in front of him. And judging from the relentless onslaught of hits delivered during their 75-minute set, they were reveling in the opportunity to play the festival today.
Aubert reminisced about the time he and his band played the 7th St. Entry, which he said was one of the first times his band played outside Los Angeles, and joked that “the only thing that kept our heads level was the smell coming out of the bathroom.” And he paused to pay tribute to the two Minnesotan acts who played before him, calling Low “insane” and scoffing at the idea that he was playing after them and Bob Mould. “We stand here in awe of all of that.”
The rest of the time, Aubert led his band through a melancholic and magnetic performance that had the crowd bouncing under the setting sun, a testament to how upbeat their songs can be despite their penchant for minor keys. Of all of the performers at Rock the Garden, Aubert has been second only to Deacon in his ability to engage the audience, and the fans crammed into the pit in front of the stage were clearly energized by his throaty screams and simmering melodies.
Another highlight of the set was watching bassist Sarah Negahdari (also of the band Happy Hollows), who was filling in for new mother Nikki Monninger while she’s away caring for her young twins. Judging from Twitter, Negahdari earned quite a few new fans with her constant pogo-ing and infectious enthusiasm, and if Aubert hadn’t pointed it out the crowd would have never known she was a sub.
Silversun Pickups focused on many of their radio hits, and the crowd was clearly pumped to hear recognizable songs like “Panic Switch,” “Dots and Dashes” and “Lazy Eye” close out the end of the set. And in one final moment of crowd connection, Aubert jumped off the stage to shake hands with his fans in the front row, securing his nomination as Most Likeable Frontman of the Summer.
Silversun Pickups set list:
Well Thought Out Twinkles
The Royal We
Dots and Dashes
Metric brought things home with another set heavy on the hits. As dusk enveloped the Walker’s grounds and the stage lights came on, Emily Haines and her powerful backing band lit a fuse that smoldered and then detonated into a lawn-wide dance party.
Haines started out the set on a bold note, blurting out the opening line to “Artificial Nocturne” (“I’m just as f’ed up as they say”), live radio broadcast be damned, and then proceded to play a handful of cuts off the band’s latest album, Synthetica. The audience was clearly already familiar with the new material, but the set really hit its high point after the moody older cut, “Empty,” when they launched into one of their biggest hits, “Help I’m Alive.”
Metric know their way around a festival stage, having played many events of this size in the past, and the set list reflected the fact that they know how to please a crowd. ”Synthetica” and “Breathing Underwater” (which features my all-time favorite Metric lyric, “Is this my life?”) were folded between fan favorites “Sick Muse,” “Dead Disco” and the heart-rending acoustic closer, “Gimme Sympathy.”
My only complaint? They didn’t play “Stadium Love,” which I think would have sounded perfect in this setting. But if that’s the only thing I can come up with to gripe about tonight, I think we can call it a successful close to quite the memorable event.
Metric set list:
Youth Without Youth
Speed the Collapse
Dreams So Real
Help I’m Alive
Gold Guns Girls