Popped! Music Festival :: 09.23.11-09.24.11 :: Liacouras Center :: Philadelphia, PA
Full photo gallery below review!
The months of August and September 2011 will go down as the rainiest months in Philadelphia’s history. Three days before the 5th annual Popped Music Festival was slated to happen in FDR Park, Alexis Rosenzweig and the team that produced the festival got the call that they would need to move the festival inside due to predicted heavy rain and flooding. Rosenzweig said she was devastated because she had been working with the city for the better part of four years just to get permission to make Popped! happen in the park. She was in shock and had to make a really hard call, cancel the event or host it into an entirely different venue, Liacouras Center, the stadium on Temple University’s campus.
Rosenzweig had always wanted this festival to be outside in Philadelphia’s park system. From the get-go she was inspired by Lollapalooza’s urban move into Chicago and the ability of ACL and Outside Lands to incorporate what made their host cities great. This year’s Popped Festival was a chance for Philly to showcase its food and culture at a major outdoor festival.
So, what went down at the Popped Festival this year? There were some positives and some negatives. The venue had no redeeming qualities about it other than keeping us dry. And dry it kept us especially in the case of alcohol. There are better beer selections in the driest counties in Utah. As far as food goes, well if you dug soft pretzels and chicken wings then this was your paradise, for everyone else it was an 8-hour fast. Security lines up and down to the floor made movement around less than desirable, and no you couldn’t leave and get back in. However, if you snuck in a flask and picked a section of the day wisely you could have some fun. On Friday you could score cheap tickets on the sidewalk in front of the venue easily. The lineup was top notch and despite most artists only getting 30 minute sets they seemed to make the most out of it. Sure The Joy Formidable split for some urgent reason, but everyone else made the best of a crappy situation. The band Yuck hit the nail on the head as they poked fun at us for ducking and covering when the rain came to Philly instead of doing what other festivals around the world do – suck it up, strap on our mud boots, and party in the rain. Even Alexis Rosenzweig said that she would have been the first person to put her boots on and get out in the rain. Either way, the music was strong and well received.
Friday was filled with highlights from the very beginning. Dead Confederate kicked off Popped with a great cover of Neil Young’s “Tonight’s The Night.” Lead singer Hardy Morris put a perfect Southern tremble on his vocal take as they settled into the fast set. It’s a shame they didn’t get more time because they originally were supposed to play most of Young’s Tonight’s The Night album.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. demonstrated how to have fun bringing a wonderful stage show and some incredibly upbeat songs including “Simple Girl” and a tender cover of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” These guys are wonderful musicians and their Chromeo meets Brian Wilson indie-pop tunes struck the right chord with the crowd. They filled the air with bubbles and as their giant lighted Jr. Jr. signs pulsed energy. The crowd started to stir as they fought the bad vibe of the venue. Josh Epstein and Daniel Zott struck a great chord when they said how this rainy day was their favorite kind of day because they could go inside, eat snacks, and watch movies. They followed this up with an outfit change and their huge hometown pride anthem “We Almost Lost Detroit.” Most of the artists playing at Popped Music Festival had never played an arena including Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. but seeing them on the big stage, watching them fill the place with sound and change its mood, was a sight to see. If you dig the aforementioned bands then Jr. Jr. is a band to see live now; they are incredible. It was so fitting that Epstein was given one of the basketball nets that he wore around his neck the rest of Friday evening as the fitting Friday rulers of Temple’s Court.
Yes, The Joy Formidable split, but Company of Thieves lead singer Genevieve Schatz had the energy of Ritzy Bryon with the vocal chops of Florence Welch. When Schatz busted out a megaphone to sing a dirty, bluesy number it sent a scream through the crowd. The Hold Steady followed with the shortest set many had ever seen them play. The highlight came several songs in as a spirited and spiting Craig Finn uncorked a punkish “Stuck Between Stations” off Boys and Girls in America that rattled the stadium as he sang with his arms outstretched.
Elbow’s set except for “Grounds For Divorce” was lost on much of the crowd. Their set was meant to be consumed outside under the setting sun, but if you sat back in a quiet corner of the bleachers, consumed something intoxicating and closed your eyes during their set then you could imagine how cool it would have been. It was a similar scene for Panda Bear as he pumped smoke from his riser platform and mixed up a stew that sounded like Animal Collective hopped up on a bit more drum and bass. Place this act out in a cool evening on a grassy field and we would have been feeling the atmospheric elements he was laying down.
Cage the Elephant added a rowdy, much needed bit of rock back into the day. Their lead singer Matthew Shultz was a wild force to be reckoned with as he head banged, crowd surfed, and called on just about as much mayhem as the Liacourous Center had seen since 1999. The band raged through intense, fast versions of “2024″ and “Tiny Little Robots” before grooving on “Around My Head.” Fans of The Clash and Jeff The Brotherhood should add these guys to their short list as another band you should see live.
Saturday Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin aka Cults proved to be a wonderfully creative group who raged out a sonic end to their hit “Go Outside,” a shared wish that echoed around the venue. Sun Airway faced similar issues that Elbow and Panda Bear had faced the day before. Perhaps it was sleep deprivation or something else, but I watched mesmerized as Sun Airway ended their set with some catchy reverb and lofty bass that just worked together to grab my attention. The Budos Band wrangled the lazy afternoon away from us as they played a hard hitting version of “Black Venom” that they dedicated to Black Sabbath. Daniel Foder’s spirited bass playing with his unique style and wild movements stole the show. His ability to play while holding the bass pointed into the crowd didn’t deter from his pocket finding skills. His aggressiveness complemented the drum and horn sections in a wonderful ode to 70s Blaxploitation film scores.
The Budos Band’s baritone saxophone player Jared Tankel stayed onstage to funk and soul it up with Charles Bradley. Bradley had clearly mastered the art of soul. He wore his heart on the outside as he sang how loving had made his life complete to shatter some of the permanent darkness inside the stadium. Titus Andronicus’s set was filled with high-octane sea shanties. Guitarist Amy Klein should get an award for most spirited performer. Next to Cage the Elephant’s lead singer, it was a toss up to see which one had created more onstage havoc. Klein kicked, jumped, screamed and shook constantly through the set. The best moments came between her and singer Eric Harm during “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future.”
Foster the People also put on a tremendous show on Saturday filled with hits. “Helena Beat”, “Call It What You Want” and “Don’t Stop” were played fairly close to the album versions. “Pumped Up Kicks” took on some new life as they extended the end into a bit of a house dance party before pulling it all back together with the chorus of the hit song. Before it was over, Girl Talk and Pretty lights wrapped up Saturday with a fairly typical but well-needed dance party.
So, will Rosenzweig keep trying to get the Popped Festival into the park system? Definitely! The city wants it to happen and all of her hard work won’t go to waste, it will just happen next year the way it should have happened this year…barring poor weather.
JamBase | Pennsylvania
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