We couldn’t have asked for a better weather for the first day of this year’s Rock the Garden. With barely a cloud in the sky, it’s a refreshing change of pace from last year’s stormy start to the event—even if we won’t get to party down with anyone in the parking ramp this year, Dan Deacon-style.
As both the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press noted yesterday, it will be interesting to see how Saturday and Sunday unfold as the Walker and the Current attempt their first two-day Rock the Garden. A whopping 10 bands will perform by the time we wrap up tomorrow night, including the second and third hip-hop acts (Lizzo and De La Soul) in Rock the Garden’s 16-year history.
I’ll be live-blogging throughout the day with updates on the performances and other notes from the festival, starting with Lizzo’s set that kicked off the day at 3:45 p.m. And of course we’ll be back again tomorrow for more from the festival.
Lizzo and GRRRL PRTY
Having traveled to Europe and back about a half dozen times this year, Lizzo has clearly filed away any remaining flaws and chiseled her live set down to its sharpest edges. It only took one song (her opener, “Lizzie Borden”) to fill in the remaining spaces in front of the stage, and she was quick to convince the crowd to start shaking their tails in time with Lazerbeak’s buoyant beats and hypewoman Sophia Eris’s smoky backing vocals.
By now the audience has had time to become familiar with many of the songs on Lizzo’s breakout solo album, Lizzobangers, and people in the front rows were singing along and shrieking their appreciation to songs like “WERK Pt. II” and “Wat U Mean.”
“This song is for you,” she said before the latter. “For everybody who has ever helped us out, who has supported us ever since [The Chalice single] ‘Push It’ was on the Current.”
From then on out it was a parade of hits that have been in rotation on the Current since she left that trio to form a new group, GRRRL PRTY, and launch her solo career. Her fellow GRRRLs Manchita and Quinn Wilson bounded out on stage to assist Lizzo and Sophia Eris with their catchy, poppy “Wegula,” then left Lizzo alone to perform one of her most emotionally charged songs to date, “Paris.” “Batches and Cookies” was another easy hit with the crowd, as was the dizzying “Faded,” which Lizzo concluded on her knees, squeezing every last bit of energy into the songs final cadences and wails.
By the end of the set the crowd had swelled to fill every corner of the grassy hill in front of the stage, with reports that the walk-up ticket sales have been so strong that we may sell out by the end of the day.
Lizzo set list:
WERK Pt. II
Pants/Luv It/Southside medley
Wat U Mean
Wegula (with GRRRL PRTY)
Batches & Cookies
Photos by Nate Ryan and Teddy Wolff
In what felt like a capstone to his banner year, Jeremy Messersmith brought his sprawling 10-piece band (including the Laurel String Quartet) to perform renditions of his new songs in a style that can only be described as massive. Messersmith’s come a long way from his days gigging around as a solo acoustic artist, and his big wide pop sound and grown right along with all of his other artistic abilities over the past decade.
Jeremy clearly knows how to build a crowd-pleasing set list, and he kicked off the performance with the two instantly recognizable singles off his new album, Heart Murmurs, “Tourniquet” and “It’s Only Dancing.” After another quick dip into the new album with “Heidi,” he spent some time digging into his 2010 album The Reluctant Graveyard. The older songs like “Dillinger’s Eyes” fit in well with the newer material, especially with the band firing through the music’s peaks and valleys like a well-oiled machine.
After six songs of the band’s wall of pop sound, Messersmith slowed things down for a pair of acoustic songs, including the clear crowd favorite “A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard.” Afterwards, he announced that he was going to play a “No Apologies” song, referencing Mary Lucia’s daily no-holds-barred feature where she chooses a favorite song out of a grab bag. And that, my friends, is when one of the highlights of Rock the Garden 2014 transpired: A full-band cover of Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” that was both gorgeous and explosive. The first day of the festival isn’t even half over but I am certain this is one of the moments that people will be talking about all week. It was simply excellent.
The rest of the performance went by like a much-needed summer breeze on this hot day, and the crowd was clearly enamored with everything that Messersmith laid out. The Heart Murmurs deep cut “Bubblin'” was a thing of slow-burning beauty, and it was followed up by the dramatic crescendo of one of the album’s finest songs, “Hitman,” and his most widely-circulated new single, “Ghost.”
Jeremy Messersmith set list:
It’s Only Dancing
I Want to Be Your One-Night Stand
A Girl, A Boy, and a Graveyard
Wrecking Ball (Miley Cyrus cover)
You’ll Only Break His Heart
It’s always around this part of the day (when the weather is nice, that is), that it starts to sink in just how relieving and joyful an outdoor concert experience in Minneapolis can feel. We made it through another winter! And here we are with our jackets off and our sunglasses on and our hands up in the air, reveling in the feeling of being hot and sweaty for the first time in who knows how long.
Best Coast proved to be the ideal soundtrack for this revelation. I’ll admit, I haven’t always been a fan of Best Coast—I find Bethany Cosentino’s lyrics gratingly repetitive, the Minnesotan in me resents hearing lyrics like “Why would you live anywhere else?” when we’re knee-deep in snow and ice. But on a day like today? Man, those songs hit just right. And it was hard not to sing along.
“F*** me, it’s hot as sh*t out here!” Cosentino cried between songs (there are a few good reasons why today’s concert wasn’t broadcast live), and the crowd cheered loudly in response. Being hot as sh*t has rarely felt so good.
Best Coast set list:
This Lonely Morning
The Only Place
I Wanna Know
Sun Don’t Shine
Who Have I Become
Fear of My Identity
I Want To
Do You Love Me
When I’m With You
Each and Everyday
Matt and Kim
Armed with only a keyboard, a drumkit, a backing track, and a bag of deflated balloons, dance-pop duo Matt & Kim proceeded to give a master class on how to win over a festival crowd.
Even before they started tossing balloons out into the crowd or spraying them with confetti, vocalist and keyboardist Matt Johnson and drummer Kim Schifino riled up the crowd with their infectious joy and neverending smiles (seriously, is there anyone out there with a bigger, more contagious smile than Kim?). The pair approach playing a show like little kids approach birthday cake and bouncy castles: with a high-intensity, sugar-buzz energy that somehow never lets up.
Schifino has such a blast banging on her kit that she can’t help but jump up and stand on her kick drum to smash her cymbals a little harder, and she spent every second that she wasn’t keeping time gyrating on top of her drum platform and bounding out to the edge of the stage. Johnson, on the other hand, kept the momentum moving forward by blasting snippets of Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What” between songs and provoking the crowd to dance and throw their hands in the air.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Matt & Kim is that their set at Rock the Garden today wasn’t far off from the very first show I saw them play in Minneapolis, which was in front of a half-full crowd at the tiny Triple Rock Social Club. Even though they’re now veterans of the festival circuit, their DIY spirit and no-frills stage set-up have remained unchanged (and Matt’s still dropping f-bombs and sexual innuendos left and right, radio broadcast be damned). It’s just plain fun to watch two performers pour so much of themselves out on stage.
Matt and Kim set list:
Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare
Good for Great
Don’t Slow Down
Ignition (R. Kelly)
Block After Block
I’m a Goner
10 Dollars I Found
Just a Friend
De La Soul
Long Island hip-hop trio De La Soul and their live band took the stage as the sun went down and kept the crowd singing and swaying along to their hits to the very end.
“Whether you’ve been following us from the very beginning or you are just discovering De La, we want to thank you for being here,” rapper Posdnuos said between songs. He was also sure to mention the fact that they gave away their entire catalog for free earlier this year, another sign that they are eager to connect with a new generation of fans who may not have been hip to the crew when they first debuted with 3 Feet High and Rising back in 1989.
There was a definite sense of nostalgia in the air as De La Soul worked through their set, with many attendees reminiscing about junior high school dances and teenage memories on Twitter as the group brought out hits like “Saturdaze” and the classic “Me, Myself & I.”
The clear highlight of the set was “Feel Good Inc.,” the group’s collaboration with Gorillaz that earned them a Grammy back in 2006. There was something undeniably thrilling about seeing Maseo double over to deliver the famous, villainous laugh that kicks off the song, and the crowd was psyched to hear all the best parts of the song live.
De La Soul set list:
Much More/Stakes is High/Bizness
Pass the Peas
I Am I Be
Saturdaze/Me, Myself & I
Feel Good Inc.
Ring Ring Ring