Photos by: Hillery Terenzi, Review by: Stephanie Roman
How has Music Midtown changed over the last two decades? Are re-tweets from a band the new autographs? Do 52,000 people need more toilets than beer stands? One thing’s for sure: from year to year, what makes this Atlanta’s must-see festival is an amazing lineup.
O’ Brother kicked off the day with a guitar-heavy and vocally aggressive performance. Some tracks may have been a bit too experimental to appeal to the early afternoon crowd, but the band’s fan base is growing. Originally from Atlanta, they have gained international attention and will be playing the Soundwave music festival in Australia next year.
The next band to take the stage hailed from South Africa. Civil Twilight is a pop rock trio made up of two brothers, Steven and Andrew McKellar, and their longtime friend, Richard Wouters. The band’s soaring vocals and layered guitars filled the large stage and welcomed the first droves of music fans to Piedmont Park. After a quick stop in Atlanta, Civil Twilight rejoined their fall tour with MuteMath.
LP was up next, a powerful singer who also writes for top pop stars like Rihanna. Her own performance was instantly memorable with unique vocals and a more rocked-out version of her single, “Into the Wild.” She really charmed the audience and seemed equally happy to be in Atlanta, later tweeting: “Guys u are all amazing…thanks Atlanta!!!”
Another phenomenal female vocalist followed when Shirley Manson of Garbage came striding onto the Electric Ballroom Stage. The band launched into “I Think I’m Paranoid” and later “Queer” with Manson looking coolest of the cool behind her oversized shades. Garbage played Music Midtown back in 2002, and both the band and the festival were out to prove that they’re back and better than ever. After a playful jibe from Manson to audience members for paying more attention to mobile devices than the show (“We’re all multi-tasking!”), Garbage kicked out “Automatic Systematic Habit.” Though the band rose to fame in the 90′s, their dark electronic sound still sounds futuristic and got the crowd dancing.
One of Music Midtown’s (literal) feathers in their cap this year turned out to be the late addition of post-punk’s Prince Charming, Adam Ant. An iconic leader of the New Romantic music and fashion movement in Britain, Adam Ant is back on tour with a new band of dandies–The Good, The Bad, and The Lovely Posse. Adam’s vocals have been well-honed once again and he brought forth the hits with more attitude and polish than many of the younger acts in the lineup. Before Jack Sparrow there was Adam Ant, and he carried off enough punk pirate garb in the 80-degree heat to make Vivienne Westwood proud. The band’s unique double-drum rhythms and driving guitars soon had the field packed with curious and appreciative fans. Even the 11 and 12 year old boys next to me exclaimed, “these guys ROCK!” But don’t be entirely fooled by the fun, Adam Ant played some of the roughest punk clubs in London and he still maintains a bit of challenge in his eyes and the occasional sneer. Songs like “Kings of the Wild Frontier,” “Antmusic,” and “Stand and Deliver” had fans singing along and excited to hear the news that a new album will be released next year.
Ludacris kept the party going and humbly admitted how happy he was to be playing a festival in Atlanta, his hometown. The audience responded by waving and swaying along as Luda smoothly transitioned between his hits and a few samples from other artists. About halfway through his set, Ludacris announced that Music Midtown had officially sold out and that he was now singing to 52,000 people! On that note, I looked outside the gates to see even more Ludacris fans lining the sidewalks and dancing in the streets surrounding the park. As the crowd shuffled from beer tents to food trucks, I smiled to hear “Move B****” at such an appropriate moment.
Next, Neon Trees gave us a dose of upbeat alternative rock. Singer Tyler Glenn mentioned the year he was born in the first song, “1983,” but you had to listen closely to his quick, clipped speech. Was he an auctioneer in a past life? The band’s drum kit said “Fame is Dead,” but they don’t seem afraid to try and seek it out. Glenn even jumped into the pit to rub sweaty elbows with fans. Energy remained high on songs like “Everybody Talks” and “Animal” as the crowd seemed to gain their second wind, happily pogoing on the lawn.
It was a shame that Florence + The Machine seemed to experience the first technical difficulties of the day. Florence Welch’s voice is a precious instrument indeed, and she seemed a bit shaken when the band got off to a false start. After a few opening numbers, she seemed to relax and looked especially stunning in a pink and black floral Gucci gown. As she offered “Cosmic Love” and “Rabbit Heart” into the setting sun, a quiet reverence settled over the audience. Welch truly connects with the notes that she sings and uses the length of the entire stage to pose and express herself. Some of the most beautiful photographs of the day likely included her striking performance.
Girl Talk is DJ Gregg Michael Gillis mixing and mashing up hits from yesteryear and today. He had a crowd of kids dancing on stage and an impressive light show that made for an impromptu rave in the park. Vendors sold glowing trinkets and plenty of fans brought LED toys and neon hula hoops. The colorful show included something for everyone: Metallica mixed with Rihanna. Eminem with Adele. Tag Team with Teenage Wasteland. I’d call that one “The Who–There It Is!”
At 9PM all 52,000 concert-goers gathered for the festival’s headliners, Pearl Jam. Although the two-hour set was exceptional, fans sitting on different sides of the field mentioned spotty sound problems. The band first launched into “Why Go Home?” and later, “Better Man” had the whole crowd singing with vocalist Eddie Vedder. Next, we heard a PSA from Vedder asking us to vote in the Presidential election followed with “Know Your Rights” by The Clash. Pearl Jam even dedicated a song to their former producer Brendan O’ Brien, who was in attendance on Saturday. “Nothingman” and “Black” were the most heartfelt offerings of the night, which ended with “Alive,” and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Drummer Matt Cameron, who also played with Soundgarden, kept the band’s pulse pounding throughout the show. Guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, along with bass player Jeff Ament have performed with Vedder for 20 years now and it’s obvious that they share a strong bond and respect in addition to incredible talent.
Thanks to a solid lineup, beautiful weather and hard-working support staff, Music Midtown 2012 seemed to have all the success of the festival’s glory days. But the times, they are a-changing. In years past, most fans would have their eyes glued to the performances on stage. But at any given moment this past weekend, 1 out of every 2 fans would be sending a text, tweet, or uploading photos or videos of the show. From one perspective, this could mean a more communal music experience (which is what a festival’s all about). Yet our mobile devices can also take us out of the “moment” when the crowd connects with the band, when the singer looks out to lock eyes with a devoted fan, or when a father wants to share the music of his youth with his son. Would anyone attend Music Midtown as a Wireless-less Fest? With only your memories or a t-shirt to prove you were there?
Slacker Radio showcased a slick artist’s lounge where rising stars like LP and Neon Trees stopped by for interviews. While 92.9 DAVE FM, a long-time supporter of bands like Garbage and Pearl Jam, had a quiet tent still standing just a week before the alternative rock station is scheduled to go off the air. Music fans in Atlanta have seen many changes over the years, but it looks like Music Midtown is here to stay–with both respect for its nostalgic roots and a platform for young artists to come.
Photos in order: O’ Brother, Civil Twilight, LP, Garbage, Ludacris, Neon Trees, Florence + The Machine, Girl Talk, and Pearl Jam.
photos will be added once approval is granted.