BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
(This story was originally posted on Sept. 22, 2013)
It wasn’t quite Woodstock, but the persistent rain that drenched Piedmont Park — and most of Atlanta — on Saturday turned the sold-out second day of Music Midtown into a glistening mud pit.
Not that the 50,000-plus who eventually filled the space to see a lineup ranging from the fresh new sounds of Imagine Dragons and hip-hopper Kendrick Lamar to the hard rock contributions from Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age to funk-rock stalwarts the Red Hot Chili Peppers cared, even if they didn’t get the sunshine of Friday’s musical parade that included Journey and Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz.
Throughout Saturday, tens of thousands wearing ponchos and rain boots (some of the lesser icky-minded went barefoot) and toting umbrellas crammed in front of one of three stages staggered around the park. Although fans seemed content to revel in the sounds of the expansive musical lineup, some had to wait to gain access to see the bands, thanks to the gloomy cloud cover.
Most of the afternoon, lines to enter Music Midtown snaked down 10th Street, a problem Peter Conlon, president of Live Nation Atlanta, which produced the event, attributed to sluggish scanners.
The scanners, he said, are powered by satellites, so the wall of clouds prevented them from working. The solution came when he ordered entrance guards to tear tickets the old-fashioned way.
A thoroughly soaked Conlon, his phone tucked into a plastic baggie for safe-keeping, said backstage that the rain was “just an annoyance. There’s nothing dangerous about it. Everyone seems to be in a good mood.”
Indeed, by about 6 p.m., the drizzle tapered off, leaving a cool breeze and ankle-deep puddles of sticky brown sludge for attendees to hop-scotch around.
While music lovers clamored to the park for the third consecutive outing of Music Midtown — it returned in 2011 after an extended hiatus — to hear and see rock stars, at least one guy on the bill remembered what it felt like to be part of the crowd.
Daniel Platzman, drummer for hitmakers Imagine Dragons, is an Atlanta native who attended Paideia High School and remembers coming to see Incubus at Music Midtown with his school buddies.
On Saturday, Platzman’s family and those old friends were tucked among the thousands gathered to see the band.
“This is surreal,” Platzman said backstage. “We woke up in the bus this morning and looked out the window and I was like, ‘We’re five minutes from my parents’ house!’”
Here’s a recap of Imagine Dragons’ memorable set, as well as other performances throughout the day (my partner in crime, Yvonne Zusel, shared the music-listening load with me):
The Los Angeles duo of Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian are still bopping around the charts with their million-selling single, “Safe and Sound.” It’s an infectious slice of synth-pop, and the guys proved there is plenty more delightful catchiness in their young catalog.
Sounding a bit like an Americanized Pet Shop Boys, Merchant and Simonian glided through “Patience Gets Us Nowhere Fast,” with its distinct Europop vibe, and showed the crowd how to do the Capital Cities Shuffle prior to the fizzy dance pop of “Center Stage.”
Weezer gave a nostalgic crowd what they wanted by way of a big helping of old hits from “Weezer (the blue album)” and “Weezer (the green album),” including “Say It Ain’t So,” “Hash Pipe” and “My Name Is Jonas,” the first song from their 1994 debut album.
“Goin’ Surfin” took on new meaning while fans braved a pretty heavy rain to see lead singer Rivers Cuomo dish out favorites. A large chunk of the crowd, who looked as if they might not even have been born when the Blue Album came out, sang along with every word of the highly sing able “Buddy Holly,” a testament to the band’s staying power and ability to develop classics.
Cuomo, normally a little awkward in front of a big crowd, drew big laughs for an impromptu song about the golf carts of Peachtree City, where his mother lives (who knew?).
“Maybe someday we’ll play there,” Cuomo sang. The chances of that happening are about as likely as Cuomo not dressing like a hipster accountant, but we can still dream. The idea of Cuomo riding around Peachtree City in a golf cart humming “El Scorcho” is too delicious not to hope for.
The Black Lips:
Hometown boys The Black Lips had to contend with the worst downpour of the day while they delivered their jangly rockers on the Great Southeast Music Hall Stage, but they really didn’t seem to mind.
In fact, the band, playing in front of a clever sign of their name written in the style of the Atlanta Braves logo, seemed to relish the challenge.
Known for their onstage antics, the Lips kept the theatrics to a minimum but still delivered a fun, hard-rocking set that included tunes off their most recent album, 2011’s “Arabia Mountain.” The crowd bopped along to lead singer Cole Alexander’s punky snarl on “Family Tree” and “Dirty Hands” – when they weren’t avoiding getting sucked into the mud pit that Piedmont Park was fast becoming.
Alex Turner, snazzily dressed in a white dinner jacket, is the kind of frontman who seizes your attention with his combination of sass and sophistication.
Whether blowing through “Arabella” with the rest of his English mates or combing his slicked-back pompadour prior to the band’s breakthrough hit from 2005, “I Bet You Look God on the Dance Floor,” Turner was difficult to ignore.
Of course, the Monkeys’ guitar-driven alt-rock ably maintained the large crowd’s attention at the main Electric Ballroom stage, particularly “Fluorescent Adolescent.”
It’s been an amazing year for the Las Vegas-based quartet, starting with the ubiquitous hand-clapper “It’s Time” and continuing this summer with the buzzy, plodding rock smash, “Radioactive.”
Based on the thousands packed against the secondary Great Southeast Music Hall Stage, Imagine Dragons was one of the biggest curiosity bands of Saturday’s lineup.
Singer Dan Reynolds didn’t disappoint, as he jogged in place, leapt on platforms at the edge of the stage and passionately unleashed his vocals on instantly appealing songs “Amsterdam” and “Tiptoe,” from their breakthrough “Night Visions” album.
Reynolds usually had a drum stick in hand, too, and pounded on the array of percussion set up around the stage, which gave the band’s songs an interesting texture. Guitarist Wayne Sermon provided tasteful licks on his gold guitar – notably on the chiming “Hear Me” – while bassist Ben McKee and drummer Daniel Platzman (as mentioned earlier, an Atlanta native) anchored “Tiptoe” and helped with the syncopated glee that is the heart of “It’s Time.”
This is a band that seems poised to be playing for giant crowds for years to come.
Tegan and Sara:
Canadian twin sisters Tegan and Sara took to the Roxy Stage right as the rain was letting up, and the crowd was more than happy for the duo to provide the soundtrack for them to dry off. The sisters registered surprise that a lot of fans had made the trek to the set, considering they were playing opposite “It Band” Imagine Dragons.
But while Tegan and Sara – who have been recording since 1999 – might not have a hit album on par with Dragons’ 2012 release “Night Visions,” their following is loyal and true.
Fans sang along unabashedly to the yearning “Back in Your Head” and singles “Closer” and “I Was a Fool” off this year’s release “Heartthrob.” Everyone seemed to be in a really good mood, and while the subsiding of the rain probably helped, it’s hard to think that the sisters’ tight harmonies and infectious melodies didn’t have something to do with it, too.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs:
The crowd waiting for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was pumped at least an hour before the band took the stage, launching into impromptu singalongs to Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend” and bouncing giant beach balls to each other. By the time lead singer Karen O appeared, every bit the rock star in her graphic print pantsuit and glittery makeup, everyone was in party mode.
“Heads Will Roll,” off the band’s third album, 2009’s “It’s Blitz,” solidified the good-time vibe. Even the rare quiet moment, like the love song “Maps,” which O dedicated to several people including “all you lovers,” turned into raucous singalongs.
The band had the good fortune to be playing right after the weather finally turned lovely and during an amazing sunset that turned the sky all sorts of awesome and provided a dramatic backdrop for O’s several small costume changes and her joyful singing.
It’s appropriate that the escalating hip-hop star is going on tour with Kanye West this fall (including a Dec. 1 show at Philips Arena) because the two share an affinity for blurring the boundaries of rap and rock and present a cheeky brazenness in their lyrics.
It was apparent pretty quickly that Lamar was too big of an act for the third Music Midtown stage – the Roxy, a new add this year on Oak Hill that could have benefited from a video screen given the size crowd that stretched back from the stage.
Shrouded in pink and red lights, Lamar asked the amped-up audience, “You m-f-ers ready to party tonight?” before rolling into the humorously salacious “P & P.”
Backed by a live band, Lamar engaged the crowd with typical contests about which side screamed the loudest and rapid-fire rapping on songs such as “B**** Don’t Kill My Vibe.” But it was the languid, head nodder “Money Trees” that exemplified how Lamar is already on track to surpass some of his idols.
Red Hot Chili Peppers:
Judging from the tweet patrol, half of the ginormous crowd who made it through the rain to rock with the Chili Peppers thought the band’s set suffered from terrible sound, while the other half thought it was the cleanest of the weekend.
I can only speak for myself, and from where I stood to the far, far side of the stage, the guys sounded as muscular as they looked.
With the rumble of drums, the band kicked off their set with a groove-oriented jam before singer Anthony Kiedis, clad in black tails and partially ripped shirt and pants, clasped the mic to delve into the herky-jerky funk of “Can’t Stop.”
The video screens flanking the main stage displayed the band in artsy black and white and shaded hues – and even in that form, bassist Flea was usually the visual centerpiece.
He plucked out the rubbery bass line of “Dani California” and, along with Kiedis, drummer Chad Smith and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, bulldozed through “The Other Side” and “Look Around.”
The band’s deep catalog provided the partially inebriated crowd – depending upon where you stood – to sing along in exaggerated fashion to “Snow (Hey Oh)” and “Under the Bridge,” which began with Klinghoffer kneeling on the stage to pick out the delicate opening notes.
The heart of the Chili Peppers has always been its fantastic grooves, and the band provided plenty of those, too, from “She’s Only 18” to their tremendous, cowbell-infused cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”
With so many fan favorites to present – “Californication” and “By the Way” made the cut – the Chili Peppers could probably still be on stage now, banging out hits. But the full-blast rock exhibit they unleashed marked another successful Music Midtown capper.