Rock the Garden Day 1, 6/21/14

Rock The Garden Day 1
with De La Soul, Matt & Kim, Best Coast, Jeremy Messersmith, and Lizzo
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Saturday, June 22, 2014

Rock the Garden's first two-day event kicked off on a sunny Saturday afternoon next to the Sculpture Garden. It was an incredibly apt setting for the gorgeous summer solstice day. An eclectic range of music played to a nearly 10,000-person crowd, who stayed lively throughout the long array of performances.

See also:
Rock the Garden 2014: The Faces of Day One

From Lizzo's aggressive opener "Lizzy Borden" to the frenetic tempos of closer "Faded," she proved her festival mettle yet again by bringing incredible stage energy that carried across the field. With Lazerbeak pounding out beats and Sophia Eris doing back-ups, Lizzo amplified her rapping, singing, and dancing talents to the scale of the event and turned in yet another powerful performance. Among the livest of the lineup, she started the show off rolling.
Jeremy Messersmith brought a different kind of energy but kept the sound huge, with a 10-piece backing band that showed climactic heights and cinematic lushness to his intimate acoustic pop. Pulling heavily from this year's Heart Murmurs, slower ballads were given a harmonic boost from horn and string sections, while uptempo songs exploded forward with huge bursts of orchestral power where necessary. Oddly enough, the prime example of Messersmith's skill with full-bodied arrangements was not his own song, but Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball," finding symphonic beauty and emphatic catharsis in the melodramatic Top 40 torch song. This year's single "Ghost" played huge with the audience.
The self-proclaimed "token California band" Best Coast soundtracked the warm weather with their breezy, pleasant garage rock. There's a streak of sameness to all their tracks -- call it a "Summer Mood," perhaps -- that served well in this particular setting, an idyllic day about as close as Minnesota comes to the sheen of Los Angeles that pervades the band's surf-pop. "We hope we rocked your garden," said Bethany Cosentino after a straight-ahead set that felt exactly like summer.
Arriving to the stage to the booming sounds of Pharoahe Monch's "Simon Says," Matt & Kim came out hopping around, beaming with positive energy and manic expressiveness. After finding their way to their instruments, the couple jumped right into a cover of DJ Kool's "Let Me Clear My Throat," beginning a trend of rap covers and EDM drops spliced in between their own hook-fueled power-pop. As Kim pounded the hell out of her snare drum with a constant toothy smile, Matt hit anthemic strides on piano and vocals and the crowd joined in wholeheartedly. Once she started twerking on her kick drum and eventually while standing on the crowd's hands, the audience's excitement level had grown chaotic.

One of several favors the duo asked of the audience was to see if they could crowdsurf an audience member from the front to the soundboard, and an intrepid quad of fans did them one better by carrying a fist-pounding patron all the way up the hill. With stage antics like shooting confetti, handing out balloons for the audience to blow up, and continual drops of "Turn Down For What?" they knew how to bring their already high-voltage show to epic proportions. 
Closer De La Soul brought along their own band as well, the famed Rhythm Roots All-Stars, who've played behind greats like Rakim, Ghostface Killah, and Brother Ali. The band knew exactly how to deliver the sampladelic funk the longstanding rap trio are known for, swinging between interpretations of the 27-year old group's classics to James Brown and Al Green grooves.

A continuing criticism I have of live-band hip-hop is the mixing never comes off quite right, and indeed the vocals weren't quite as loud or present as they should've been, but the MCs pushed through and delivered strong performances. Even DJ Maseo, who stepped from behind the boards to punch out classic verses from Run DMC and Rakim, continuing the variety-show feel of the festival. When he belted the blood-curdling scream that introduced the most-recognized song of the evening, the Gorillaz' "Feel Good Inc." the crowd's burst of excitement spread and continued through to the end of the night. It was a well-rounded day of music that left people satisfied and prepared for Sunday.

Random Notebook Dump: I wonder how the people who worked to make this show "zero-waste" felt about Matt & Kim tossing hundreds of balloons into the audience.

The Crowd: All-ages, dressed for the hot weather.

Overheard In the Crowd: "Oh, R. Kelly..." a conflicted response to Matt & Kim's cover of "Ignition Remix".

Personal Bias: The last show I covered was Northern Spark, where the weather was the polar opposite of Saturday.


Verbal Clap
Eye Know
Much More
Stakes is High
Pass the Peas
I Am I Be
All Good
Me, Myself & I
Feel Good Inc.
Ring Ring Ring

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