MIA Day 2: 'Here we go, Chilladelphia'

Posted: September 02, 2014

Since inception in 2012, it's been nothing but smooth sailing for the Budweiser Made In America festival.

Until Sunday evening, anyway.

Things hit a snag shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday, when a severe weather system rolled through Center City, bringing heavy downpours and lightning. Shortly after the Austin, Texas, indie foursome Spoon - one of the most highly anticipated acts of the fest - began their set with "Rent I Pay," word came over the loudspeakers that attendees must evacuate the festival grounds.

Permission to reemerge was granted an hour later, and Spoon was back on the Rocky Stage. Curfew was extended to midnight, and set times adjusted for the evening's biggest stars. But the unwelcome break interrupted what had been a rock-solid afternoon of music. Pre-thunderstorm highlights came from Canadian dance music maker Grimes, Detroit rapper Danny Brown, South African rock quarter Kongos, and beachy Brooklyn/Philadelphia "nu-hula" band Vacationer.

"Here we go, Chilladelphia." So said Kenny Vasoli of Vacationer as the band kicked off Day 2 on the Liberty Stage. "We've been waiting all summer for this, Made In America." Wearing a '70s throwback Phillies baseball cap and a Dr. Dre Chronic T-shirt, the Abington native and supremely chill dude fronted a five-piece band that shimmied and shook with a mix of traditional guitar-bass-drums instrumentation, programmed beats, and perky xylophone accents.  

Over on the Skate Park Stage, Sunday began smartly, with Brooklyn indie rockers MisterWives. They played an exotic brand of rock with subtle hints of Romany and Japanois. They brought an already simmering afternoon to a rapid boil with "Imagination Infatuation," a brassy jam. Brazen reheaded singer Mandy Lee has an intriguing voice, somewhere between Karen O and Björk.

"We were expecting 10 people," she enthused to a growing crowd. "This is awesome."

 It was an all-Philly affair on the Skate Park Stage in the early afternoon, with the bouncy pop songs of Cruisr (recently signed to Vagrant records) giving way to Nothing, Dominic Palermo's dream-pop project, which debuted on Upper Darby metal label Relapse Records this year with Guilty of Everything. Delayed by sound problems at the start and plagued by more midway through, Nothing managed to build shrieking, squealing songs that layered dreamy vocals under sheets of noise while moving momentously forward toward a galvanic finish.

New York band Bleachers opened the Rocky Stage with "Wild Heart," which might have been written for the occasion. "They closed the Parkway late last night," goes the first line.

The band, the side project of Fun guitarist Jack Antonoff, delivered a rich rock sound with a lot of shake, rattle, and roll. On go-for-broke songs like "Rollercoaster," they could have passed for a Jersey Shore band on the last night of the season. All was prelude to their big wheels anthem "I Want to Get Better," on which their two-drummer array really paid off. Hate to say it, but this was more fun than Fun.

Kongos, who played on the Liberty Stage, is four brothers from Phoenix by way of their native South Africa. Their dad is John Kongos, the South African rocker who hit the U.S. charts a couple of times in the 1970s (think: "He's Gonna Step on You Again"). The family connection may explain their sound, which is tighter than shrink wrap. They play an infectious brand of whatever passes for swamp boogie in Johannesburg.

Of course they add their own alien elements. On "Kids These Days," Johnny Kongos delivered what must have been the festival's first accordion solo. And it was pretty avant garde. Oddly, the brothers seemed least enthused about playing their finale, the breakout hit "Come With Me." It's an aural landslide of a song that doesn't require much enthusiasm to produce its fierce impetus.

It's lucky the Liberty Stage wasn't in use after their performance. Kongos are an impossibkle act to follow.

The rain started to fall as Danny Brown's slot came up on the Liberty Stage Sunday afternoon. And the Detroit rapper was nowhere to be seen.

Instead, a DJ who seemed to have migrated from the EDM Freedom Stage entertained the perfectly happy, bouncing-around-in-the-drizzle crowd with a selection of skittering, kinetic beats. Perhaps Brown had gone AWOL with Awolnation, scheduled to him on the Rocky Stage?

Nope, that wasn't it. In good time, Brown bounded out in green and black hair, a beanpole of a live presence, bouncing about the stage like a joking jack as he delivered hyperspeed Donald Duck-voiced raps like "Smoking and Drinking" and "25 Bucks" with great enthusiasm.

The DJ, it turned out, was Skywlkr, Brown's regular touring accompanist, perhaps the best example at Made In America of how genres have blended, with hip-hop artists soaking up, like sonic sponges, the sounds all around them - or, in the case with Made in America, on the stage right across the street.

Compton rapper YG got the nastiest intro of the weekend, as his hype man, Slim 400, hailed him with a hail of n- and f-words. That semantic linking just increased during YG's chaotic, abbreviated performance.

On songs like "I Just Wanna Party" and "Don't Tell 'Em," his West Coast style was notably belligerent, both in content and delivery. Swilling from a bottle of strong spirits, he spent two solid minutes demanding that the ladies in the audience bare their chests. YG left the stage 10 minutes before his time was up. Either he did a sloppy job of planning or he had other things to do.

While the MIA crowd seemed evenly split among genders, up on stage, it was a bro fest. So much so that Claire Boucher, the Canadian indie electro mixmaster who performs as Grimes, was the only female-fronted act to perform on either of the main stages all weekend long at MIA Philly.

Grimes let her music explain what makes her so singular. Bouncing around the Liberty Stage in platform ski boots, the blue-haired DJ and singer was accompanied by two dancers, but was otherwise a one-woman show, looping her own voice and manipulating beats in real time on rubbery dance tracks like "Be A Body" and "Genesis."

"One thing I know about Philly," she said, "is you guys do whatever you want." She took the time to single out audience members who made extraordinary efforts to get superior sightlines to see her show. "I know it's probably illegal," she said, "but thanks to everybody who climbed a tree."

After an elaborate sound check, and even though stage time was at a premium, Man Overboard came on more than 10 minutes late for its scheduled 5:15 p.m. start at the Skate Park Stage. Ah, well - punks' prerogative. The band from South Jersey then scratched and scampered through a playlist that included "White Lies" and "S.A.D." Yes, they sometimes fell out of phase and out of tune, and Zac Eisenstein and Nik Bruzzese, who handled the snotty vocals, haven't mastered the concept of harmony. But with their ragged but right performance, the pop punksters were one of the only bands all day who seemed perfectly situated on the Skate Park Stage.

After the rains let up, Spoon took up where it had left off. Its set had opened around 6 p.m. with "Rent I Pay" from their superb new album They Want My Soul. But then the rains came and Day 2 of Made in America went into suspension mode.

An hour and a half later, the Britt Daniel-led, masterfully minimalist indie rock band was back, reaching back to reopen with "Small Stakes" from 2002's Kill The Moonlight. More rain came, enough to test the mettle of even the hardiest partiers. The band seemed to appreciate deeply the dedication of the fans, and may or may not have added "The Way I Get By" to the set list to give Daniel the opportunity to sing the line "we go out in stormy weather." In any case, Spoon's sharp, angular rock songs sounded great, and the crowd got very wet.

Pharrell Williams (and his famously funny hat) hit the stage at 9 o'clock. He opened with "Lose Yourself To Dance," one of his vocal contributions to Daft Punk's 2013 album Random AccessMemories. His set got the still-frisky crowd's groove on with taut, rubbery, pop-funk tunes, including his current hit "Come and Get It Bae" and catalog cut "Flirtin'."

Pharrell may have become a household name only in the past year, thanks to successes with Daft Punk, Robin Thicke, Gwen Stefani, Snoop Dogg, and the ubiquitous "Happy," but his hitmaking career spans two decades, and he pulled from his oeuvre a well-paced show that drew from his rock band NERD as well as an array of hits he's sung on and produced with partner Chad Hugo in the Neptunes.

"The best musicians in the word come from Philadelphia," he said. "From Philadelphia international Records all the way up to the Roots to everyone in the band up here tonight, they all have Philly ties."





For more coverage of Made in America 2014: http://data.inquirer.com/thetalk

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