Never doubt the power of Paul Huttner. The MPR News meteorologist is on site at the Walker Art Center for the second year in a row, and I’m fully convinced that his presence is what’s keeping us free and clear of rain clouds or thunderstorms at this year’s Rock the Garden. Huttner power, activated.
With the sun beaming down—and with an earlier gate time giving fans more time than usual to come in, spread out their blankets, and get situated on the grassy hill next to the Walker—a sizeable crowd had already filled in and kicked back in anticipation of the year’s first musical guest, thestand4rd.
Rappers, singers, and producers Allan Kingdom, Corbin, Psymun, and Bobby Raps coverged on the Rock the Garden stage for their third ever performance in Minnesota as thestand4rd, a runaway hip-hop, R&B and pop sensation that has found widespread success over the past year. The group was also the youngest to perform at Rock the Garden—Corbin, formerly known as Spooky Black, is 17 years old—but you’d have never guessed it from the way they commanded the stage and unspooled their bold beats and brazen lines.
“Shout out to my grandparents! Hi Grandma, hi Grandpa,” Bobby Raps said warmly during the band’s set, pointing to a pocket of family members who were animatedly waving and dancing along to the music.
The quartet played a few of their more established singles—including the Allan Kingdom and Corbin duet “Wavey” and the group’s dance banger “Vital Signs”—and also treated the crowd to some newer music. Though it was uncertain quite how thestand4rd’s low-key, slow-burning, and ominous songs would translate on an outdoor stage, their performance provided the perfect warm-up for the day and by the end was downright sizzling.
thestand4rd set list:
Binoculars / Stay / Wavey / Doors / Vital Signs / Blind / Decisions / Pretty / Tryna **k
It’s no secret that Minneapolis loves Lucius—we are the home to one of their largest, most adoring fanbases, and they seem to be on track to play exponentially larger venues each time they come back. The band has also made it clear that the feeling is mutual.
“We’re so happy to be back in Minneapolis,” co-frontwoman Jess Wolfe proclaimed. “We got in yesterday and went straight to Nye’s. We had some pirogies and do-si-doed. It was awesome.”
The band came out of the gates swinging with back-to-back renditions of megahits like “Nothing Ordinary,” “Tempest” and “Go Home,” the latter of which was positively chilling and built from spare vocal harmonies to a massive climax. They also treated the audience to a brand-new song—the heart-string-tugging “Dusty Trails,” which will appear on their next album—and a cover of the 1965 hit “You Were On My Mind,” which was written by Sylvia Fricker and made popular by the band We Five.
By the end of the set, it was clear that the audience was feeling Lucius’s set, and the whole crowd joined in a singalong of their joyous hit “Turn it Around.”
Lucius set list:
Nothing Ordinary / Tempest / Go Home / Don’t Just Sit There / How Loud Your Heart Gets / Dusty Trails / You Were On My Mind (Sylvia Fricker cover) / Turn it Around / Genevieve
It takes a lot of rock ‘n’ roll to make an outdoor stage at 6 p.m. feel like a club late at night, but between their all-black outfits, flying hair, and ceaseless fog machine, Courtney Barnett and her bandmates Dave Mudie and Bones Sloane turned the intensity up to 11 and delivered a searing performance.
“Don’t be shy about singing along if you know the words,” Barnett instructed. “We’re all friends here.”
Singing along with her lyrics requires a special commitment—she’s a fierce lyricist and wordsmith, and the lines tumble out of her mouth at breakneck speed—but the crowd gave it their all on familiar tunes like “Dead Fox,” “Depreston,” and her breakout hit, “Avant Gardener,” which has taken on a smokier, gruffer tone. Barnett’s voice sounded road-tested, breaking into a throaty burn when the mood called for it, and she was especially emotive during the elongated build-up of one of the set’s highlights “Kim’s Caravan.”
Courtney Barnett set list:
Elevator Operator / Lance Jr. / An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York) / Canned Tomatoes (Whole) / Small Poppies / Dead Fox / Depreston / Avant Gardener / Kim’s Caravan / Scotty Says / History Eraser / Pedestrian at Best
As the sun started to set behind the Rock the Garden stage, Conor Oberst took the stage and delivered the day’s most pensive set. Backed by the Felice Brothers, the Bright Eyes and Desparecidos frontman drew from his latest solo album, Upside Down Mountain, and took listeners on a tour of his decades-long career in songwriting.
While other acts on Saturday drew on the energy of the big crowd to amp up their live set, Conor seemed to look inward for his inspiration. Long locks of hair shielded his eyes from the crowd, and he looked downward and he unraveled the more personal narratives in songs like “Poison Oak,” holding the audience rapt.
At other times the band joined in to fill out the songs with violin and layers of guitar, and the Felice Brothers shined especially brightly on the urgent “Soul Singer in a Session Band” and “Easy/Lucky/Free.” It provided for a mellow, introspective respite, giving the audience a chance to catch their breath and catch up with their feelings before heading into Belle and Sebastian’s headlining set.
Conor Oberst set list:
Time Forgot / Hundreds of Ways / Four Winds / Southern State / Artifact / Cape Canaveral / Soul Singer in a Session Band / Butch Cassidy / Method Acting / Poison Oak / Easy/Lucky/Free / Milk Thistle
Belle and Sebastian
Stuart Murdoch is a gem. Stuart Murdoch is a delicate snowflake, a prancing marionette, a buoyant, bouncing source of endless joy. As Belle and Sebastian performed their headlining set at Saturday’s Rock the Garden, Murdoch was the finale’s clear centerpiece, and his charming stage presence kept the audience smiling and the bopping all the way to the end.
Belle and Sebastian have mastered the fine art of getting a whole lot of people to create a tender and tenuous sound, and their eight-piece band and the Minneapolis-based Laurels String Quartet created some seriously beautiful and nuanced orchestral pop.
And leading the charge was Murdoch, who paused between songs to regale the audience with stories about their day in Minneapolis (their guitarist, Stevie Davis, went swimming in Cedar Lake while Murdoch “went cornholing” in Rock the Garden’s Green Room), his thoughts on the “aloof” people up in the Skybox (which he compared to the Death Star) and the fancy apartments next door, and his love for the Laurels String Quartet and the local producer and arranger Andy Thompson, who worked on Belle and Sebastian’s latest album.
When Murdoch wasn’t busy charming the audience and massaging our hometown pride, he was frolicking around the stage and singing flawlessly, threading his silky voice like a ribbon through the band’s layers of strings, horns, synths, and guitars. For their grand finale, Murdoch hopped down into the photo pit and then tightrope-walked across the barricade, asking the audience, “Who wants to dance?” and pulling a good two dozen people up on stage to bounce to “The Boy with the Arab Strap.”
Belle and Sebastian set list:
Nobody’s Empire / I’m a Cuckoo / The Party Line / Another Sunny Day / Cat with the Cream / The Model / Perfect Couples / Piazza, New York Catcher / The Everlasting Muse / Jonathan David / The Wrong Girl / Dog on Wheels / Dirty Dream #2 / The Boy with the Arab Strap / I Didn’t See it Coming