Basilica Block Party day one, 7/12/13
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Photo by Erik Hess
Basilica Block Party Night 1
with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Matt Nathanson, Father John Misty, ZZ Ward, Mayer Hawthorne, Family of the Year, Actual Wolf, The Cactus Blossoms, Southwire
The Basilica, Minneapolis
Friday, July 12, 2013
Every year, mid-summer is marked with the arrival of the Basilica Block Party. Sometimes the acts are straight out of Cities 97's playbook with their radio-friendly songs, but sometimes they are added in for a bit of a surprise. Armed with a lovely summer evening and a refreshing breeze, Friday night's lineup certainly included artists that filled those criteria. One such draw in the second category was Father John Misty, who declared -- his voice laced with cynicism -- that the evening's entertainment was, "Brought to you by Bud Light."
With three stages overlapping in set times, the struggle was imminent in catching every set, as evidenced by merely hearing the strains of Family of the Year's poignant hit "Hero" as they were finishing up their set.
Photos by Erik Hess
The Vita.mn stage brought out local acts and gave exposure to buzzing local acts that you may have "heard of, but never listened to." Southwire opened up the festivities with their soulful pieces, interspersed with rap -- not the usual hip-hop rap you're used to, but more gospelly, gravelly rap from Ben Larson to counteract Jerree Smalls' folksy heartbreaking voice. The Cactus Blossoms channeled Hank Williams in their performance, bringing a country western nostalgic feel to their set as patrons milled about, walking from the Sun Country Stage to the Jefferson Bus Lines Stage to catch Mayer Hawthorne.
ZZ Ward and Mayer Hawthorne's sets overlapped, a bit fitting since both acts feature a throwback sound. Hawthorne, a mix of soul and pop and Ward with a touch of Adele in her voice. Both acts have learned the nature of the current artist, touring constantly and visiting the same places within a certain amount of time (Hawthorne in May of 2012 and Ward February 2013) -- Mayer will even be back in town on July 22 when he opens for OneRepublic. It will be interesting to see what he can do with his sound when it's so recycled -- more so than any other artist -- especially on his hit "The Walk" that borrows straight from "Crystal Blue Persuasions" and "The Way You Do the Things You Do."
Photos by Erik Hess
The biggest question mark in artists came in the form of Father John Misty. The singer announced to the crowd that his bus was going to be picking him up soon, so "we gotta move this along." Josh Tillman's songs -- and even his stage name -- are laced with religious overtones from his opening number "Fun Times in Babylon" to his adlibbing the lyrics "John the baptist took Jesus Christ, Down to the river on a Friday night" from "Everyman Needs a Companion" at the end of "Now I'm Learning to Love the War."
Photo by Erik Hess
It was clear the performer was torn about performing at a "church event," and if you were quick enough, you caught his middle finger salute at the Basilica as he sang "Look out, Hollywood, here I come." Perhaps he even knew how far he was taking things, saying to himself, "Shut up, me," when he prayed, "Dear God, Are you listening? It's me. Josh Tillman. If you're so powerful, why do I need a first aid kit right there? Love, Josh Tillman," leading to talking about how pretty soon pharmaceutical companies will be sponsoring these events. He shared, "Sometimes I feel like I'm playing to a crowd on Xanax -- not this crowd, though." Outside of his abrasiveness, Josh Tillman delivered again as he does in every set, bringing out the rock star and energizing up a crowd there to hear him.
If you are an avid Cities 97 listener, you know how much the station that sponsored the event loves headliner Matt Nathanson. The performer who turned 40 this year, has the youthful look of someone hitting his early 30s and the generic sound that colors adult contemporary these days. As someone who is loved in the Twin Cities, Nathanson knows which side his bread is buttered, saying to the crowd -- mostly young women with a perpetual crush on the singer -- "I said it today, and I mean it. Minneapolis is the best music town." A little flat at times -- in song and in his voice -- Matt is evidence of the closing gap between country and pop music, especially when he introduced "Run," a piece written by him and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland.
Photos by Erik Hess
Closing out the evening on the Sun Country stage -- as Grace put it, "The cool stage" -- Grace Potter and the Nocturnals brought out a Fleetwood Mac vibe to the set with the Minneapolis skyline as a backdrop. Playing into the hippie aesthetic, Potter took off her heels while onstage to perform barefoot before leading into the catchy "Devil's Train" (from The Lone Ranger soundtrack) and "One Short Night," a song about cheating. Just a few blocks away, Kenny Chesney was rocking away where Grace and co. had opened just last summer for Chesney and Tim McGraw -- look at her now.
Critic's bias: Grace Potter was better than I thought she would be, and I begrudgingly admit that ZZ Ward is also. Begrudgingly because my interview with Ward from earlier this year was one of the most lukewarm conversations I have ever had. Father John Misty continues to impress and delight.
The crowd: Suburbia and Cities 97 listeners contained in a quarter mile radius.
Overheard in the crowd: Paul Engels on Father John Misty's set, "Do you think his inner demons were struggling when he took this gig?"
Random notebook dump: Josh Tillman nonchalantly walking past the Vita.mn stage as the Cactus Blossoms were performing.
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