It’s another blazingly hot, sunny day here at the Walker, with temperatures hovering in the high 80s as things get underway. Once again, the earlier gate time gave fans plenty of time to wander in and get situated this afternoon, and the hill was already filling up by the time Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger kicked things off at 3:45 p.m.
If you missed it, be sure to check out yesterday’s recap, which includes photos and set lists from Belle and Sebastian, Conor Oberst, Courtney Barnett, Lucius, and thestand4rd.
Scenes from Rock the Garden
Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger
Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp-Muhl ought to get some kind of award for taking the stage in velvet pants and an angora sweater, respectively, on this 86-degree day. But if the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger frontpeople were even the least bit uncomfortable up there, they certainly didn’t let on. Lennon delivered an intense performance, throwing his body into his guitar as he played and enthusing that they were “f***ing psyched to be playing for all you people in Minneapolis,” while Kemp-Muhl coolly held things down on the low end and nimbly worked her bass.
Together with their backing band, GOASTT unwrapped a multi-layered, hazy set of psychedelia, merging surreal lyrics with guitar squalor and moody organ parts. “Too Deep” was an instant standout, its familiarity drawing in the crowd at the beginning of the set, while songs like “Golden Earrings” sprawled out over five-plus minutes of feedback and some righteous guitar soloing.
When Lennon announced that they’d have to cut their set a song short due to time, the crowd loudly booed their disappointment—a sure sign that GOASTT’s set was a hit. Lennon promised they’d be back in town soon.
Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger set list:
Too Deep / Xanadu / Animals / Midnight Sun / Golden Earrings / Devil You Know / Long Gone
JD McPherson knows the secret to playing outdoor festivals in the afternoon: Give the people what they want. Playing a straight-ahead set with his backing band, McPherson tore through a set of his most familiar hits (including plenty of tracks off his latest album, Let the Good Times Roll). His trademark blend of rockabilly, rhythm and blues, and Fats Domino-inspired early rock ‘n’ roll kept the audience bouncing up and down the hill.
Dressed in a “Smith Fabrication” t-shirt and with all five members of his live band sporting slicked-back greaser hairdos, McPherson channeled the blue-collar, everyman aesthetic of Springsteen. And his set list proved that he was working for his audience: he finished off his set with wam-bam back-to-back performances of “Head Over Heels,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” and one of his earliest breakout hits, “North Side Gal.”
JD McPherson set list:
Bossy / Fire Bug / It Shook Me Up / Abigail Blue / You Must Have Met Little Caroline? / Precious / Head Over Heels / Let the Good Times Roll / North Side Gal / Wolf Teeth
Seun Kuti and Egypt 80
When Seun Kuti wrapped up their 65-minute set on Sunday night, I got the very strong sense that they could have easily played for another three hours. With songs that often stretched past the 10-minute mark and over a dozen musicians eager to step up and take a solo, the band had no problem keeping the energy hot and the beat pressing forward the entire time they were on stage.
Pausing to pay respect to his father, the late Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, before playing his song “Opposite People,” and later to profess his love for “Minny” and the fact that we are soon to be legalizing medial marijuana, Kuti was an engaging and commanding bandleader, often dancing with his arms wide open to let the love flow out of him and out onto the crowd.
Perhaps the biggest evidence of Kuti’s magnetic talent was the fact that the entire backstage and side stage area was flooded with musicians from the other bands performing at Rock the Garden on Saturday, including Sean Lennon, who knelt down and observed in awe. Watching all of the musicians come together to create such intricate, enticing polyrhythms was simply mesmerizing.
Babes in Toyland
Triumphant. Empowering. Ravenous. Earthshaking. Body quaking. Bold. Blazing. Life-changing.
Those are just a few of the words that could be used to describe Babes in Toyland’s homecoming set at Rock the Garden, which was their first time performing in Minneapolis since 2001. The powerful trio—which included founding members Kat Bjelland and Lori Barbero, and their late-career, longtime touring bassist Maureen Herman—rattled the Sculpture Garden with their righteous riffs and Barbero’s punishing drumming, earning huge cheers of appreciation between every song.
Just to throw us off their trail a bit, the band got off to a somewhat shaky start, with Bjelland stopping between songs to wipe the sweat off her guitar and asking the band to restart “Swamp Pussy.” Even in their looser moments they were riveting, however, and it added an extra element of danger to their already foreboding sound. Once they locked in and found a groove with one another, they were unstoppable. Bjelland led the charge with her unparalleled screams and wild-eyed stares, Barbero powered them forward sporting a positively elated grin, and Herman hung back, swaying steadily and keeping her cool.
What really got me, though, was watching Bjelland’s son, Henry, air-guitar through every single riff and mouth along with every word, and the row of young women pressed to the barricade and screaming along like it was their last night on earth. It’s impossible for me to talk about Babes in Toyland without marveling at just how much energy they harness and how they show other people that it’s possible to create and channel that much power; the word “empowering” gets thrown around a lot with female artists, especially those who came up around the time of riot grrrl, but for Babes in Toyland they prove to young men and women that their voices matter and that their feelings deserve to be validated, no matter how scary they might be.
So forgive me for straying off course a bit and wiping a few tears from my eyes as I try to move forward after Babes’ set tonight. They tore the garden apart. It was all I could do to stand there and cheer at the top of my lungs as they put down their instruments in a daze, took a photo of their adoring hometown crowd, and happily skipped off stage.
Babes in Toyland’s set list:
Bruise Violet / Right Now / Swamp Pussy / Won’t Tell / Ripe / Spit to See the Shine / He’s My Thing / Bluebell / Drivin’ (Lori Barbero on vocals) / Spun / Ariel / Oh Yeah / Handsome and Gretel / Vomit Heart / Sweet ’69 / Dust Cake Boy
There’s something idyllic about those final moments of Rock the Garden when the sun goes down, the skyline lights up, and the entire crowd stands up and sways together to songs they know by heart. Modest Mouse provided just the nostalgia-inducing finale at this year’s festival, kicking off with the 2004 cut “World at Large” and playing a set that spanned their entire career.
Older songs like “Out of Gas,” “Dramamine,” and Modest Mouse’s mega-hit “Float On” were clear crowd favorites, but the audience seemed ready and willing to dance to whatever the band laid down. An unplanned encore of “The Good Times are Killing Me” was just icing on the cake.
Modest Mouse’s set list:
World at Large / Lampshades on Fire / Pups to Dust / Dashboard / Out of Gas / Dramamine / This Devil’s Workday / The Ground Walks / Broke / Black Cadillacs / Float On / Wicked Campaign / Fire it Up / A Different City / (encore) The Good Times are Killing Me