The beatiful weather was just one of many highlights at this year’s Rock the Garden. Though it was initially predicted that it would rain and maybe even storm Saturday, the sky stayed blue and the atmosphere sunny and hot for the entirety of the afternoon.
Here’s a play-by-play of Saturday’s performances, including set lists from all five acts:
“Hello Cleveland!” Mary Lucia joked, officially kicking off Rock the Garden from stage with fellow Current host Dave Campbell. And with that, the festival was officially underway.
Howler started their set with somewhat of a grand statement, pulling out a cover of Husker Du’s “Don’t Want to Know if You Are Lonely” before launching into their own material. It was a serviceable cover, quite faithful to the original, and left me wondering if they’ll include their take on an upcoming album or EP.
The band seemed to lose a little energy shifting away from Husker Du and onto their own songs, and even single “I Told You Once” dragged a bit. But the band fell into the rhythm about halfway through their set and ended strong, with much of the audience bobbing their heads along (and a few even breaking out some sweet dance moves) for “Back of Your Neck.”
Lead singer Jordan Gatesmith was sure to throw it out a couple snarky one-liners throughout the set, at one point saying the day was feeling very “pastel, and I don’t really do pastel” (still trying to wrap my head around that one) and later asking the crowd if he thought it would be in bad taste to scalp his extra Rock the Garden tickets after the set.
Gatesmith ended the set by dropping his pale pink electric guitar on the ground with a thud, clambering over the drum set, and tackling drummer Brent Mayes to the ground.
Set list: Don’t Wanna Know if You Are Lonely (Husker Du cover) / Pythagorean Fearem / This One’s Different / Black Lagoon / I Told You Once / Wailing (Making Out) / Beach Sluts / America / Back of Your Neck
With the grass in front of the stage mostly filled in, Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs took the stage solo and began recording snippets of opening song “Do You Wanna Live?,” with the crowd emphatically shouting “Yeah!” in response. By the time her bandmates — bassist Nate Brenner and sax players Noah Bernstein and Matt Nelson — filed out on stage behind her Garbus had built up several layers of groove and had the crowd in front of their stage moving to her beat.
That innate, infectious sense of rhythm propelled Garbus and her band through their entire set, with Garbus only pausing a few times to assemble layers of drum beats and vocals before exploding into another funky groove. “Powa” took an especially long time to build and provoked the crowd to let out loud, appreciative screams, while the back-to-back performances of “Gangsta” and “Bizness” had even the more casual fans nodding and dancing in appreciation.
“It’s pretty cool to have your voice reflected off the Walker Art Center,” Garbus said, gazing out at her fans, while at another point she raved about “all the amazing institutions you have here” and name-checked the Walker, Cedar Cultural Center, First Avenue, and The Current.
Today was my sixth time seeing Garbus perform and notably it was the first time I have ever seen her make a misstep with her loop pedal; many of her backing vocals cut out suddenly about halfway through “Real Live Flesh.” But after a quick “Oops” and Garbus steered the song back on track, and it may not have even been noticeable to those further back in the crowd.
For her final song, “My Country,” Garbus remarked briefly yet poignantly that, “This song is to remind you all to vote.”
Set list: Party Can / You Yes You / Esso / Powa / Real Live Flesh / Gangsta / Bizness / My Country
Wow. That was one for the history books. Doomtree’s set marked the first time that hip-hop has been included on the Rock the Garden bill, and they did a tremendous job breaking that seal today by inciting a widespread dance party and cranking the crowd’s energy level to 11.
Doomtree cut their set in half, performing the first half swear-word-free for broadcast on 89.3 The Current and hitting radio singles like “Bolt Cutter” and “Bangarang” right out of the gate, in addition to longtime fan favorite “Low Light Low Life” and the subject of their latest music video, “Beacon.” The crew was on point and garnered lots of positive reactions from the crowd (at one point I joked that the “Doomtree is killing it” was going to start trending on Twitter, having seen it from dozens of fans), but the first half was tame compared to the ferocity of their second set.
“We’ve been biting our tongues trying not to swear,” Dessa said. “Let’s let out some of that pent-up obscenity.”
P.O.S. helped ratchet things up with “Drumroll,” which was swiftly followed up by Mike Mictlan’s “Creep,” and the crew rejoined forces for a chilling rendition of “Little Mercy” that had me wondering for a minute if guest vocalist Channy Leaneagh (Polica) would make a live appearance to sing the hook. Leaneagh’s vocals set the mood for the song and complemented Dessa’s own live vocals quite well.
Dessa shined again on the next song, “The Seamstress,” and from there on out all hell broke loose: Sims bragged that his song “might be the best song recorded in the history of music” and launched himself off stage and into the crowd for “Burn It Down,” while P.O.S. and Mike Mictlan egged on the crowd and got thousands of people bouncing with their arms in the air for the irresistible “Get Down,” a track off P.O.S.’s forthcoming solo record We Don’t Even Live Here.
“That is an aerobic song. You just burned 412 calories,” Dessa cracked as the crew paused to catch their breath.
By the time all five emcees edged toward the front of the stage for their finale and riled up the crowd one last time, it was clear that they have been saving up quite a bit of energy for their hometown fan base since they performed at First Ave last December. Talk about a Blowout.
Set list: Bolt Cutter / Bangarang / Low Light Low Life / Grime (Cecil Otter) / Beacon / Slow Burn / Traveling Dunk Tank / The Wren / (break to go off air) / No Way / Drumroll (P.O.S.) / Creep (Mike Mictlan) / Little Mercy / The Seamstress / Burn it Down (Sims) / Get Down (P.O.S.) / Team the Best Team
Trampled by Turtles
“We are very honored to be on this bill,” Trampled by Turtles frontman Dave Simonett gushed midway through their set. “The Current knows how to throw one hell of a party.” By the time the Turtles took the stage the crowd was starting to look almost dazed in their satisfaction, swaying to the sweet folk music on their latest album, Stars and Satellites.
The band started their set with that album’s first single, “Alone,” and hit many other Stars and Satellites tracks throughout their hour-long set, sprinkling in some of their pulse-quickening, breakneck older tunes in the process. The band has always been known for its strong live presence, but with so many high-profile shows ahead of them this summer it seems that they’ve perfected the art of mixing high-energy songs with more contemplative folk numbers to create a satisfying festival set.
Fiddle player Ryan Young really shined on the band’s slower songs like “Alone” and “Widower’s Heart,” while an instrumental barn-burner by banjo player Dave Carroll was another set highlight.
One of the more endearing moments came mid-set when Simonett announced that filmmaker Dan Huiting, who happened to be filming today’s event for MN Original, was on hand in the studio during Stars and Satellites and actually sang on one of the songs. Simonett then invited Huiting to sing along, to the delight of the transfixed audience. Huiting actually adjusted his camera to point at one of the microphones before he sang, then earned waves of encouragement and screams from the crowd as he stepped up for his part. It was a really sweet, serendipitous moment and it served to unify the crew on stage and the people in the crowd.
Trampled by Turtles ended their set with a pair of heavy-hitters: new single “Midnight on the Interstate” followed by their biggest song to date, “Wait So Long.”
Set list: Alone / Walt Whitman / It’s a War / Keys to Paradise / Widower’s Heart / Help You / Sounds Like a Movie / Victory / The Calm and the Crying Wind / Separate / White Noise / Darkness and Light / Midnight on the Interstate / Wait So Long
The Hold Steady
As the sun slowly set and downtown Minneapolis started to turn on its lights, The Hold Steady performed a nonstop set of fan favorites to an audience that seemed to press in closer and closer until the end.
With traffic zooming by on Hennepin, the Sculpture Garden lit up behind the band, and many of the landmarks in The Hold Steady’s tunes just a stone’s throw away, it was hard not to get goosebumps during songs like “Sweet Part of the City,” which starts with the line “Back when I lived on Hennepin…” and the name-checking “Southtown Girls.”
As the band performed, the crowd responded with waves of admiration, at one point throwing several rolls of toilet paper through the air (is that a thing people at festivals do now?) and crowd surfing at several different points throughout the set.
Frontman Craig Finn was generous with his praise of the city, clearly reveling in the opportunity to play for a sea of hometown fans (and quite a few family members, too).
“I came here as a fan last year, I was watching My Morning Jacket, and I said, ‘I’ve got to play here next year.’ And here we are,” Finn said, in a touching speech toward the end of the set that also found him paying tribute to late Soul Asylum bass player Karl Mueller, who passed away seven years ago this Sunday. “He was a great musician and a wonderful person. So think about that tomorrow, think about his family and friends,” Finn said.
He was also sure to end the set with his trademark sign-off: “There is SO MUCH JOY in what we do up here. I want to thank you all for being here tonight to share that joy with us. We’re the Hold Steady, we’re Minneapolis, and we love you.”
Set list: Constructive Summer / Hot Soft Lights / Hurricane J / Guys Go for Looks, Girls Go for Status / Swish / Rock Problems / Sweet Part of the City / You Can Make Him Like You / Chips Ahoy / Stuck Between Stations / Cattle / Sequestered in Memphis / Wait a While / Multitude of Casualties / Weekenders / Hoodrat / Southtown Girls / Positive Jam / Killer Parties