“I ain’t Wonder Woman,” Kacey Musgraves sang during her headlining set at this weekend’s Basilica Block Party, but anyone in attendance at the hipster-approved country star’s performance might have sworn otherwise.
In fact, this year’s edition of the Basilica of Saint Mary’s summer shindig in downtown Minneapolis was dominated by contemporary music’s female superheroes, from the rootsy Musgraves and Illinois singer-songwriter Lissie to the shimmery synthpop of Chvrches and Metric.
Musgraves’ Friday night appearance marked a Twin Cities victory lap for the singer’s Oh, What a World: Tour, following a sold-out February show at St. Paul’s Palace Theatre. Backed by a gorgeous sunset over the Minneapolis skyline, the 30-year-old leaned heavily on last year’s Grammy-winning Golden Hour, playing 12 of its 13 cuts on the Great Clips main stage. The clever tell-off “Space Cowboy” and uplifting piano ballad “Rainbow” were the highlights, while a penultimate cover of the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize??” was a fun nod to an influence on the lite psychedelia of her latest work.
Across the festival, local former chart-toppers Semisonic closed the PreferredOne side stage, perched at the steps of the Basilica, with a triumphant 90-minute showcase of their small but distinguished catalog. The trio’s first performance since a two-night stand at First Avenue in December 2017 featured unforgettable ’90s hits like “Closing Time” and “Singing in My Sleep,” a pair of party-starting covers in Prince’s “Take Me with U” and Split Enz’ “I Got You,” and three new, yet-to-be-released tunes that suggest singer/guitarist Dan Wilson, bassist John Munson, and drummer Jake Slichter haven’t lost a step in the songwriting department since their last album, 2001’s All About Chemistry. The rarely (if ever) played “Ordinary Life,” an international bonus track from that record, was a very surprising treat for diehards.
Earlier on Friday, fellow Twin Cities exports the Jayhawks brought their pristine alt-country to the Basilica stage, rolling through fan favorites like “Blue” and “Take Me with You (When You Go)” as cars zipped by above the crowd on I-94. Before that, Ruston Kelly (Musgraves’ husband) showed off his modern take on Americana with a downtrodden cover of Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag” and the hilarious original “Asshole,” while Annie Mack brought her summery brand of blues rock to the Star Tribune’s local stage.
Saturday was equally packed with local, national, and international talent. There wasn’t much room to gyrate to Chvrches’ glossy melodies at the crowded PreferredOne stage, as the Scottish trio passionately displayed the best material from 2018’s Love Is Dead, such as the political “Graves” and the defiant “Never Say Die,” plus 2010s classics like “The Mother We Share” and “Leave a Trace.” The group, composed of singer Lauren Mayberry and button-pushers Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, had plenty of reason to be enthusiastic, as Mayberry gushed about receiving a coveted star on First Avenue’s exterior earlier in the day. (Chvrches sold out the venue three times in 2013 and 2014.)
Chvrches and Metric provided quite the one-two punch of badass frontwomen. Emily Haines of the latter group bounded back and forth across the stage as she and her bandmates powered through 11 of their most energetic numbers. The Canadian four-piece, supporting their rockingest LP in nearly decade, last fall’s Art of Doubt, were particularly impressive on that record’s “Dressed to Suppress” and “Now or Never Now,” which spotlighted Haines’ gift for showmanship and guitarist James Shaw’s knack for earworm hooks. Curiously, Metric skipped their biggest hit, 2009’s “Help, I’m Alive,” but the strength of the new material made up for its omission.
There would have been rioting in the festival grounds had Hanson elected not to play their defining creation, but the main stage audience was treated to “MMMBop” near the end of the grown-up Oklahoman brothers’ evening set. Second-day headliner Jason Mraz followed them, treating his large crowd to coffeehouse hits like “I’m Yours,” “I Won’t Give Up,” and “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry).” Lissie opened up the main stage Saturday, selling her bluesy folk-rock with all the theatrics of a preacher on “Castles,” “Oh Mississippi,” and “Ojai.”
In recent years, Basilica lineups have been mired in the masses-pleasing purgatory of middle-of-the-road pop, but the 2019 edition showed that, with a dynamic, forward-looking bill, the Catholic church can throw a real party.
Proof that the Basilica Block Party was a blast this year? I woke up at 5 a.m. Sunday in the third-floor stairwell of my brother-in-law’s fifth-floor apartment, having sleepwalked there in my underwear.
Click here to see a photo slideshow of BBP '19