The ominous clouds rolling overhead aren’t enough to keep the crowds away for the second day of this year’s Rock the Garden (find a full recap of yesterday’s event here), which will feature headliners Spoon and openers Guided by Voices, Dessa, Kurt Vile, and Valerie June.
We’re expecting a shower or two this afternoon (keep an eye on MPR News meteorologist Paul Huttner’s updates on Twitter) but so far no severe weather watches or warnings, so the weather shouldn’t be anything a light poncho and some waterproof shoes can’t handle.
I will once again be live-blogging throughout the day, so check back for complete set lists, tons of photos, and recaps of each set as it unfolds.
“This is the perfect way to start a Sunday,” the concert attendee behind me proclaimed during Valerie June’s opening set, and I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly. Although June is a relatively new voice to the Twin Cities’ ears (she made her live debut in Minneapolis last August and stopped in the Current’s studios while she was here), she had no trouble winning over the crowd with her deceptively simple set-up and disarmingly calm stage presence.
For most songs June was accompanied by her upright bassist and drummer, plus an impressive array of acoustic guitars and banjos, but each song was arranged minimally to make room for her singular, clarion voice. A hush fell over the gathering crowd almost as soon as she started playing, and the attendees remained rapt while she quietly told little stories between songs and changed between guitars.
“That’s a song that you can sing to either make the rain come or keep the rain away,” June said after “Rain Dance,” glancing up at the grey sky overhead. “We’re going to send the rain away.” And given the hold she had over the crowd in front of her, I didn’t doubt that she had the power to control the weather, too.
Valerie June set list:
Happy or Lonesome
Somebody to Love
Workin’ Woman Blues
Kurt Vile and the Violators
Something mystical was afoot when Kurt Vile and his backing band the Violators took the stage. As the band slowly built up an intricate web of guitar sounds, the clouds began to part and the sun peeked down onto the growing crowd. It was hard not to get the sense that Vile was communing with something out there on another plane.
Vile’s entire set seemed to built like a climb toward one mountainous peak, and after a period of stony noodling the band reached its crest during the incredible squalor of “Freak Train,” which demanded attention from all corners of the grassy hill. For the final song of the set Vile was left alone on stage with his acoustic guitar, and he performed an elegant rendition of “Dead Alive” that brought the crowd back down into a mellow mood.
Kurt Vile set list:
Wakin’ on a Pretty Day
In the eyes of the audience on Sunday, Dessa could do no wrong. With every hop, every gesture, every step toward the edge of the stage a ripple of screams would course through crowd. It was easily the biggest audience reaction of Rock the Garden so far, and the intensity seemed to propel Dessa and her band forward as they ran through a set of fan favorites from her solo catalog and her work with Doomtree.
Dessa worked the stage nimbly, crouching down close to the ground to sing her more dramatic melodies and skipping over to her talented back-up singer Aby Wolf to weave together their mesmerizing harmonies. It was obvious that Dessa’s band has spent a lot of time with her on the road, and the entire five-piece group fed off each other and created an intense chemistry that seemed to propel Dessa forward—so much so that at one point it was as if she had no choice but to jump off the stage (which is quite high off the ground, by the way, and produced an impressive thud) and press herself into the crowd.
Immediately following her stage leap, Dessa climbed the stairs back onto the stage and brought out a small cooler full of gelato, explaining that she used to work at Whole Foods passing out samples of the frozen treat to customers when she was starting to work with Doomtree. She proceeded to chuck the pint of gelato and two spoons out into the crowd in a move that felt simultaneously random and symbolic, as it’s clear she won’t be working that kind of day job again anytime soon.
The crowd was very familiar with Dessa’s discography (one little girl even held up a “Dixon’s Girl” sign for most of the set, and squealed with delight when the performer played it), and the defining characteristic of her set was that it wasn’t just tightly and passionately executed, but that there was a free-flowing current of mutual admiration and appreciation rushing between the audience and the stage.
Dessa recognized that unique bond during her final salute from the stage: “Minneapolis: You make Doomtree possible. Thank you.”
Dessa set list:
The Man I Knew
Call Off Your Ghost
Little Mercy (feat. Cecil Otter)
Guided By Voices
In the span of their hour-long set, Ohio indie-rock stalwarts Guided by Voices managed to cram in a whopping 25 songs—and they somehow still had time for Bob Pollard to slip in a few sarcastic remarks, including one aimed at one of Minneapolis’s most revered rock legend.
“We’ve played here about 20 times, and not one time have we seen Paul Westerberg at a show,” Pollard cracked. “Even if he were here tonight, I don’t know how I’d see him.”
Truth be told, I’d have no idea if Paul Westerberg was on that grassy hill during their set either, but I did run into plenty of giddy local musicians who were reveling in GBV’s nonstop performance, including the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris and singer-songwriter Martin Devaney. Even Spoon’s frontman Britt Daniel sidled up to the edge of the stage to take in the last few songs of GBV’s set, a testament to the influence they’ve had on countless rock bands over the decades. (“They are one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time,” Daniel would later declare from stage.)
With the tight time constraints (GBV sets typically stretch into the two-and-a-half hour range), Pollard wasted little time between songs, often introducing songs with pithy little ditties like, “Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of an album we put out called Bee Thousand; this song is called ‘Tractor Rape Chain.'” The tight turnarounds left little time for Pollard’s bandmates to catch their breaths, and the result was a sweaty, punishing set that ended up introducing GBV to a whole sea of unsuspecting new fans.
Guided by Voices set list:
Schocker in Gloomtown
Tractor Rape Chain
Wish I Was a Giant
Vote for Me Dummy
Hat of Flames
The Challenge is Much More
Buzzards and Dreadful Crows
Alex and the Omegas
Good Flying Bird
Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory
Game of Pricks
I Am a Scientist
Smothered in Hugs
Now that’s how you wrap up a two-day festival. For their largest—and one of their decidedly favorite—shows in Minneapolis, Spoon kept the energy high and the crowd bouncing on their heels throughout their 75-minute set.
“I’m not gonna say where we were last night, but it wasn’t this good,” frontman Britt Daniel gushed, later adding, “Man, the last two times I’ve played in this city it’s been phenomenal.” The love was obviously reciprocated as fans sang, swiveled, and bopped along with the band’s set, which started off with a few tracks from their forthcoming record (They Want My Soul, due out August 5) and then worked backwards into a greatest-hits assortment of summer jams.
Fans of their 2010 album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga were especially sated during Sunday night’s headlining set, especially during irresistible tracks like “Don’t Make Me a Target” and “The Underdog.” And what better way to end a festival at the Walker Art Center than to hear the band Spoon play “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” within spitting distance of the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry?
Spoon set list:
Knock Knock Knock
Rent I Pay
Don’t You Evah
Who Makes Your Money
Don’t Make Me a Target
The Ghost of You Lingers
Beast and Dragon Adored
I Turn My Camera On
Rhthm & Soul
I Summon You
Trouble Comes Running
Black Like Me
You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb