BY MELISSA RUGGIERI, HELENA OLIVIERO and YVONNE ZUSEL/AJC Music Scene
(This story was originally posted at 3:01 a.m. Sept. 17.)
There was plenty of humidity, more than a few large patches of mud, but not a drop of rain as Music Midtown 2017 rolled through the first of its two days on Saturday.
More than 70,000 music fans were expected to pack Piedmont Park for almost 10 hours of music that included notable sets from Vintage Trouble, The Strumbellas, Weezer, Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa and headliners Bruno Mars and Blink-182.
Fans arrived seemingly earlier than usual to the fest, heading to the largest of the four stages for the opening set from British synth-pop singer Dua Lipa. They streamed in steadily throughout the day, with many planning to stake out their spot for Mars’ closing set.
Meanwhile, Jessica White and her teenage daughters Jane and Claire went to Music Midtown without any cash or credit cards and still managed to enjoy food, beverages, even buy a couple Music Midtown T-shirts – all thanks to a Bank of America cashless wristband, which is making its debut at the festival.
Foster said she loved that her older daughter, if separated, could easily get bottled water or a bite to eat with her cashless wristband. A special pin for the cashless wristband added an extra layer of security.
Concertgoers could sign up for Music Midtown Cashless from Bank of America before Music Midtown and receive their cashless bands in the mail or those interested could sign up on site at special Music Midtown Cashless kiosks or the Bank of American tent. Also at the tent, Bank of America cardholders enjoyed extra perks such as access to the Bank of America Lounge with air conditioning, stations to charge smartphones, cold water and couches.
Music Midtown returns on Sunday with another full day of music starting at 12:30 p.m. Headliners are Mumford & Sons and Future, with other music coming from Collective Soul, Haim, Russ, Bastille, Young the Giant and more.
Here are recaps of some of Saturday’s performances:
“The Hooligans are in the building!” Bruno Mars pronounced at the start of his dazzling performance, the undeniable main draw of this year’s Music Midtown.
With his winning combination of old-school performer and fresh-faced talent, Mars thoroughly engaged the sea of people packed together to witness his entertaining output from the first notes of “Finesse.”
Mars’ production also included more fireworks than Atlanta has seen since the Fourth of July, both literally, and, to embrace the cliché, musically as well.
His hip-shaking soul-pop, with more than a hint of New Jack Swing, produced plenty of dance moves in the crowd as he rolled from “24 Karat Magic” to “Treasure.” He also implored fans to “put your cameras down and let’s have some fun,” another nod to his classic-entertainer mentality.
In between charming the crowd with his polished confidence, Mars engaged in coordinated dance moves with his airtight Hooligans – including a saucy brass section – unspooled plenty of tight grooves behind him.
You can easily see the glimmers of James Brown, Prince and Michael Jackson in every move he makes, and Mars possesses the musical talent to complement his unarguable showmanship. He broke out a classy guitar solo on the slow jam “Calling All My Lovelies” and numerous times showcased a voice that can hit a soulful croon or turn muddier for his snappy pop songs.
Along with the fireworks, Mars’ show featured spectacular lighting that could be seen halfway across the mammoth park.
Whether slithering through a funk-i-fied “That’s What I Like” or pleading mightily in “Grenade,” Mars made a compelling case for one of the most memorable headlining sets since Music Midtown returned.
- Melissa Ruggieri
Masters of the sprightly pop-punk-rock that smeared the airwaves in the late ’90s and early ’00s, Blink is singing a similar tune with a different voice.
Matt Skiba, formerly of Alkaline Trio, replaced Tom DeLonge on vocals and guitar on the band’s new album, “California,” its first since 2011. The other key Blink-ers — vocalist-bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker – remain, tattooed and ready to rock.
They delivered a high-energy, fast-paced performance Saturday night. Bruno Mars may have attracted a massive crowd at a nearby stage but Blink-182 drew a sea of concertgoers – some waving neon blue sticks – many enthusiastically bobbing their heads, and singing along to catchy hits including, “I Miss You,” “Bored to Death,” and “What’s My Age Again?”
They worked hard for the crowd, and told concertgoers they wanted to make sure they would “get their money’s worth.” They made a few corny jokes, (Is Pepsi OK?, and called Atlanta “Hot-lanta”), but mostly stuck to an incredibly fast, sharp performance with crisp sounds.
Blink–182, considered a key group in the development of punk, helped propel the sub-genre toward popular music in general. For those listening to the radio 15 years ago, you’ll remember this radio friendly song, even hear it play in your head (am I right?):
Say it ain’t so, I will not go
Turn the lights off, carry me home
Na, na, na, na
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na
And on perfectly warm September Saturday night,Blink-182 showed that even with major changes to the band, they are still extremely good at what they do.
- Helena Oliviero
Even casual Wiz Khalifa fans know one thing to be true about the rapper: The man loves his weed. He made it abundantly clear during his set, encouraging the crowd to scream if they smoked weed, asking them if they had any good weed and instructing them to say “smoke it” when he said “roll it”.
In between the pot love, Khalifa delivered a solid hour of hits including “Black and Yellow,” “Taylor Gang” and the blockbuster “See You Again” off the “Furious 7” soundtrack, and proved his versatility with an unexpected cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
“I’m doing big things big things, big things,” he rapped on “Mezmorized,” and over the course of the hour, he left no doubt about it.
- Yvonne Zusel
Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo has been doing his nerdy underdog schtick for more than two decades — the debut album that put them on the map came out in 1994.
The band played a handful of faithful renditions of tunes from that album — “Buddy Holly,” “Say It Ain’t So” and “The Sweater Song”, which all have held up surprisingly well. But even more surprising is how fresh and catchy Weezer’s newer songs sound, particularly “Feels Like Summer,” on which Cuomo displays an impressive falsetto.
The set contained delightfully random touches, including covers of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” and Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” Cuomo donning a sombrero at the end of “Beverly Hills” and a slideshow of completely unrelated famous women (comedian Lucille Ball, Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor and Oprah) playing in the background during “Thank God for Girls.”
It all came together in an hour that proved that while the band can do nostalgia with the best of them (though at least one song off of “Pinkerton” would have been appreciated), they’ll continue to keep themselves relevant with catchy songs and reliably silly live shows.
A few songs into their set, AJR bassist Adam Met looked out earnestly at the sprawl of people in front of the band at the Cotton Club stage and said, “The last time we were here, we played a room with 300 people.”
The brotherly trio of Adam, Jack (lead vocals) and Ryan (keyboards) Met recently released their third album, “The Click,” and spent their hour-long performance jolting the crowd into a frenzy with several of the songs from the new release.
Jack, in his T-shirt, boxer shorts and very un-Atlanta-weather hat, flailed his arms and kicked up his sneakered feet as he and the band bopped through “I’m Not Famous” and “Three-Thirty,” spicing their electro-pop with cutesy samples from the 1958 ditty “Lollipop” and the Seven Dwarf’s theme, “Heigh-Ho.”
The threesome crackled with energy as Jack continued his unabashed dance moves, Ryan unleashed his own rubber-faced moves behind his keyboard and Adam, the stateliest of the bunch, held down the groove to songs including “No Grass Today” and “Come Hang Out.”
Say this for the Swedish pop star – she knows how to get a crowd’s attention. About halfway through her main stage set, she shared an extended look at her breasts – which is not exactly new territory for the “Talking Body” star, but still a bit jarring nonetheless.
Before her peep show, Tove Lo was a slinky vision in red as she writhed suggestively to “True Disaster” and “Lady Wood.” Her glistening synth-pop was augmented by her backing band, including a pair of drummers who provided an additional percussive thrust to her songs.
Tove Lo’s candid lyrics are certainly refreshing, but considering the catchiness of so many of her songs, including set-closing hit “Habits (Stay High),” you wonder how many are listening and how many are simply swept up in her choruses.
The (mostly) Canadian band has been together nearly a decade, but it wasn’t until last year’s release of the left-of-center singalong “Spirits” that the sextet received any major mainstream notice.
Their charming set included many of their pub-friendly hand clappers (in an interview before their performance, violinist Izzy Ritchie said her favorite description of the band’s music is “funeral pop”) such as “We Don’t Know” and “End of an Era.”
Singer Simon Ward, in his Guns N’ Roses tee and cockeyed baseball cap, wrapped his warm vocals around “Sailing,” a song with haunting harmonies that built to a reliable thumper, while Ritchie received a vocal spotlight on the sassy “Rhinestone.”
When Big Sean’s fourth studio album “I Decided,” arrived in February, it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, another coup for the Detroit-reared rapper.
At his Music Midtown performance under a setting sun on Saturday, Big Sean (aka Sean Michael Leonard Anderson) exhausted himself on the big stage as he nimbly raced through “Paradise” and “Clique.”
Performing in a tiered stage covered with patches of moss, Big Sean and his five-piece band presented a set that contained all of the musical muscle and flash of a rock show.
After calling Atlanta “one of the greatest cities in the world,” Big Sean noted that he’s been coming to Atlanta his entire life and shouted out to his family members in the audience. “They remember when I was handing out my CDs,” he said with a smile.
Rolling through his set with briskness and polish, Big Sean kept the crowd bouncing as they rapped along with “Play No Games,” “Beware” and “Bounce Back” and even proved his storytelling prowess with the slow, drawn-out “I Know.”
New Zealand siblings Georgia and Caleb Nott have amassed a loyal following since releasing their first album, “Evergreen” in 2014 and collaborating with fellow countrywoman Lorde on their second album, 2016’s “Conscious.”
They proved they’re worth the buzz during their set filled with electronic pop gems from their two albums, as charismatic Georgia prowled the stage all in black and lent her powerful vocals to songs including “Conscious,” “Bridges” and the haunting “Are You Home,” an ode “to anyone whose ever been cheated on,” she said. Caleb stayed in the background, providing able support by way of guitar and synth instrumentation.
Maybe you didn’t come to Music Midtown for a pep talk, but that’s what you got if you caught Vintage Trouble’s md-day set, along with some foot-stomping good rock tunes.
Ty Taylor, lead singer of the Hollywood-based group, was equal parts inspirational speaker, preacher and cruise director throughout the hour, telling the crowd that “we are tomorrow and tomorrow is us,” and imploring them to “turn this thing around” before launching into the soaring “The Battles End,” and later encouraging everyone to party like it was already nighttime.
The band – in addition to Taylor, there’s Nalle Colt on guitar, Rick Dill on bass, Richard Danielson on drums and a guest assist from Brian London on keyboard and percussion – were dressed nattily, if not very weather-conscious, in button-down shirts and vests, with a couple in porkpie hats. But you wouldn’t know from watching them that temperatures had soared into the mid-80s – Taylor shimmied and twirled his way through the electric guitar-driven “Can’t Stop Rolling” and acted the part of minister on the gospel-tinged “Crystal Clarity” before jumping into the crowd during “Blues Hand Me Down” and crowdsurfing on the thumping “Run Like the River.”
Taylor recognized that members of the audience standing toward the front weren’t necessarily there to see his band, but staking out a good spot for Bruno Mars, who was set to take the stage five hours later. “We appreciate you partying with us anyway,” Taylor told the crowd. No doubt Vintage Trouble made an impression on even those who didn’t know about them before Music Midtown.