River's Edge Music Festival Day 1, 6/23/12

River's Edge Festival
With Tool, Sublime With Rome, Scissor Sisters, Rye Rye, Brand New, Blaqstarr, Motion City Soundtrack, Coheed and Cambria, and more
Harriet Island, St. Paul
Saturday, June 23, 2012

15 gorgeous GIFs from River's Edge Music Festival 2012
Review: River's Edge Music Festival Day 2, 6/24/12
Slideshows: Music Day 1, Music Day 2, People Day 1, People Day 2 

The initial serving of the inaugural River's Edge Festival -- a weekend of music, fried food, drinking, and socializing at an enormous piece of parkland jutting into the Mississippi River -- was a bit like Coheed and Cambria's prog-emo cover mid-set of Gotye's sensitive hit "Somebody That I Used to Know." Yes, Saturday was an immediately familiar sensation tweaked into something new entirely. And with tweaks comes risk.

As with Taste of Minnesota, and many music events that have come and gone at Harriet Island, the location itself proves enticing -- with wide-trunked trees, ample patches of grass, riverboats that belong in a museum parked nearby, St. Paul's towering skyscrapers, trains chugging by, and the majestic water. Portions of the Live Nation-engineered event matched the majesty of the surroundings, and one could see the potential for a yearly pleasure center on some of the longest days of the year.

River's Edge Music Festival Day 1, 6/23/12
Photo by Erik Hess

If any act embodied the boundary-shredding feel of this multi-genre music festival's first day, it was New York's dance-centric Scissor Sisters. "We're having a nice time," said female co-lead singer Ana Matronic, who displays bright-red hair like Mad Men's Christina Hendricks and twice the sultry energy. "Not just Minnesota nice, but nice, nice, nice, fucking nice!"

She, relentless frontman Jake Shears, who was clad in a glam-boyant, bird-patterned workout suit, and an all-consuming backing band brought a limb-shaking disco to Harriet's sister land mass, Raspberry Island. Although the arch-shaped pavilion stage was the smallest of the three live stages, it hosted some of the weekend's finest bookings.

As for cover material, Scissor Sisters did their Bee Gees-ish version of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" and the best Elton John song not by Elton John ("Take Your Mama") -- both found on their massive self-titled debut from 2004 -- and spanned their more recent catalog through the just-released Magic Hour. The synched dancing of "Let's Have a Kiki" might have been the fiercest Pride Weekend moment that didn't occur in Loring Park.

River's Edge Music Festival Day 1, 6/23/12
Photo by Reed Fischer

One-time M.I.A. protege Rye Rye was the day's closest brush at hip-hop. Also at 'berry Island, the Baltimore rapper brought a huge smile and convincing dance moves to a set that was only a little more than ten minutes long. Interpolations of Robyn's "Never Will Be Mine" and Vengaboys' "Boom Boom" got the modest-sized crowd moving. Along with an earlier performance by R&B live-band collective Blaqstarr, which was more compelling instrumentally than vocally, we got a little diversity outside of the typical "rock band" format that was in large supply on Saturday.

At best, was the headliner Tool on the gigantic Bishop Stage. Based upon the hundreds of fans strolling the grounds over the course of the day wearing shirts emblazoned with the band's name -- as opposed to anyone with a Brand New or a Sublime With Rome tee -- the draw of Maynard James Keenan was larger than pretty much anything else. In short, a Tool performance is a massive video display that dwarfs the band to the point that it's easy to forget they're there. A mohawked Keenan stayed on a riser at the back for much of the show, and paced and crouched as the apocalyptic images danced on the screens behind him.

River's Edge Music Festival Day 1, 6/23/12
Photo by Erik Hess

This was a crowd larger than what the Walker could hold for Rock the Garden, and once the lasers kicked in midway through the 75-minute set, the audience was like one enormous ball of moody groove. "Either this acid is really strong, or there was just a juggler onstage," said Keenan, in a rare bantering moment, following a showing by a dancer brandishing first a reflective screen, and later a glowing cube. In the crowd, you had similarly stimulated behavior:

By virtue of their scheduled time right before Tool, and the nostalgic nature of the material, Sublime With Rome pulled a sizable crowd to the nearby Chipotle stage. With Rome Ramirez replacing the long-departed Bradley Nowell, the band seems comfortable to run through those now-16-year-old hits like "Santeria" for the foreseeable future. It's undoubtedly festival music suited for getting a crowd moving, but too safe a bet for a lot of Twin Cities' progressive-leaning music fans.

River's Edge Music Festival Day 1, 6/23/12
Photo by Erik Hess

As for the rest of the day, it got harder to understand what the goal of bringing on a trio of emo-infused acts in Brand New, Minneapolis' own Motion City Soundtrack, and Coheed and Cambria right in a row. The MCS set had the most punch, with "A Lifeless Ordinary" and "When You're Around" getting the band at their hooky best. Singer Justin Pierre fondly recalled seeing the Flaming Lips on Harriet Island as part of Lollapalooza '94, and proclaimed "We're glad to be home." Still, book-ending them between the gonzo-emo of Coheed (and that humorous, but still unwelcome Gotye cover) material and Brand New's more abrasive alt-punk stylings made the bulk of the afternoon feel more like the ghosts of Warped Tours past than something unique that the Twin Cities will remember for years to come.

Arguably a similar concern could be logged for the inclusion of Mexican cumbia-flavored rockers Kinky as a choice for the first band to play on the same stage that would later hold Tool. In a market that boasts what was just awarded the Best World Music venue in the Cedar Cultural Center, having these guys as the most trumpeted international offering of the day (the enjoyable An Horse is from Australia, but plays very American-sounding alt rock) is about a decade late and didn't prove a big reason for Tool fans to show up early. 

In all, this turned out to be an above-average day -- beautiful, weather-wise -- with a few acts that still felt fresh and unique enough to come close to justifying a $65 bracelet and the $9 beers. If River's Edge is truly trying to compete with the Coachellas and Bonnaroos and Lollapaloozas, it's going to have lean less heavily on the good will of people just wanting to spend time in a beautiful spot outdoors, and more on a diverse lineup of bands that are hot tickets in 2012.

Critics' Notebook

Here's what the Silent Disco looked like early on:

Personal Bias: The name of the festival itself is a bit misleading. The "edgy" stuff was in short supply.

Future Prediction: It was telling that dubstep DJ Datsik's performance at Raspberry Island was largely empty during Tool, but that the Deadmau5 blaring out of the Bishop Stage speakers -- still accompanied by lasers -- kept a good portion of the crowd dancing past the event's "end."

Random Detail: There was an excellent free viewing of the Raspberry Island stage from the Wabasha Street Bridge, and plenty of locals didn't spend a dime for a day's worth of entertainment.

Random Detail 2: There was a lot of talk about the River's Edge wristbands, which were scanned (and tabulated, most likely) every time a person passed through entrances/exits, and for all folks checking out acts on the Raspberry Island stage. "It's like you're in Wal-Mart," one guy remarked.

Overheard: A devoted female Tool fan to a much taller guy who walked in front of her line of sight, "That's not a good place to be standing! I'll definitely take you out."

Tool Setlist

Hooker With a Penis        
(-) Ions        
Forty-Six and 2        

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