We can officially stop wondering if Music Midtown is back.
If you have a sold out crowd of more than 50,000 in Piedmont Park then yes, it’s an unqualified success.
Though Peter Conlon, president of Live Nation Atlanta, the promoter that produced the event, could have been doing a shout-from-the-rooftops victory lap at the end of the night, he simply noted that the “better-than-anticipated success” of this year’s event “has re-established Music Midtown as one of the country’s top festivals.”
While Friday’s lineup packed the park with sets from Joan Jett, T.I., The Avett Brothers and Foo Fighters, among others, the mass of humanity that endured Saturday’s sweaty temperatures (first day of fall? Ha!) for 10 hours of music had an even broader spectrum to sample.
Here’s a rundown in case you missed it or want to relive it. And also, let us know below what you thought of this year’s Music Midtown.
“This has been an incredible experience,” singer Tanner Merritt said to the early-comers congregated at the Great Southeast Music Hall Stage. “We’re not used to playing in broad daylight. I think we’re much scarier this way.”
Merritt is so soft-spoken and boyish-looking that his aggressive vocals throughout the band’s 30-minute set took a moment to get used to hearing.
Though the Lawrenceville-based band might not have appealed to a mainstream audience with heavy, guitar-driven songs such as “Machines Part 1 and 2,” they’re currently riding an impressive wave with their new EP, “Basement Window.”
After their set, drummer Michael Martens, bassist Anton Dang and guitarist Johnny Dang humbly noted how excited they were to play a festival that they used to pay to attend themselves and also about the band’s continued escalation.
“Things keep happening to us in the past year that are like, wow,” Anton Dang said. “Our dream was to play the Tabernacle and we did that last year, so it was a dream come true.”
The band mentioned that they’ll head to Australia for a tour next year, “Which is insane to us,” Dang remarked.
The South African outfit fronted by brothers Steven McKellar on bass and Andrew McKellar on guitar (plus Richard Wouters on drums) presented an impressive set that ranged from the insinuating groove and wonky guitar effects of “Move/Stay” to the soaring “River,” accented by Steven McKellar’s acoustic guitar.
The highlight of the group’s 30-minute set, though, was the cumbersomely titled “Every Walk That I’ve Ever Taken Has Been in Your Direction,” a song that started with a bit of drum sequencing, then surged into a bit of grandness, with Steven McKellar showcasing skills learned from the School of Bono.
While I sadly didn’t get to catch all if L.P.’s set because of a timing conflict to chat with O’Brother, I did hear enough of the fabulously unconventional Laura Pergolizzi to keep her performance fresh in my mind after nearly 12 hours of other music.
Known for her songwriting skills with work for artists such as Rihanna and Christina Aguilera, L.P. is like a current-day Linda Perry, a background talent who is quirky and interesting enough to deserve her own spotlight.
The title track of her spring release, “Into the Wild,” was alternately poppy and sweet, but it was her powerful take on Beyonce’s “Halo,” with upright bass and strings, that truly resonated.
Shirley Manson walked onstage, arms overhead, hair in a tight knot, shades on, and rammed into “Supervixen.” A few minutes later, Steve Marker’s serrated guitar sliced through the gloss of “I Think I’m Paranoid,” drummer Butch Vig slamming the skins in the background, and Garbage was off on an hourlong tear.
“It’s good to see you, Atlanta,” the ever-enigmatic Manson said, somehow still looking cool in a black ensemble despite the searing sun (and yes, it was odd seeing Manson, with her luminescent skin, performing in daylight).
Though the band has a solid new album (“Not Your Kind of People”) to promote, they packed plenty of ‘90s nostalgia into their set, including “Stupid Girl,” which featured an underlying keyboard that sounded like Donna Summer’s “I Fee l Love.”
Throughout the band’s set, Manson paced the stage like a panther, turning sultry and playful for “Queer” and semi-jokingly taking a front-row fan to task for possibly watching a football game during Garbage’s set.
“We’re all multi-tasking!” she exclaimed, leading into the new “Automatic Systematic Habit.”
Manson might give off a coolly remote vibe, but she’s actually quite a warm presence, at one point thanking fans for their loyalty as well as all of their “ridiculous tweets.”
After giving one look to Ant in his ridiculous Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean” getup it would be simple to write him off as a kook (and apparently someone without sweat glands).
And maybe he is.
But he’s a kook who sounded punchy on throwbacks “Stand and Deliver” and “Desperate but Not Serious.”
Backed by his band, dubbed “The Good, The Mad and The Lovely Posse,” a visually entertaining bunch including a pair of drummers, Ant sauntered through “Kings of the Wild Frontier” (“Every time I sing this song it’s like the first time I sang it,” he said), the title track of his 1980 album with the Ants.
Then he jumped forward to 1995 and his last semi-hit, the underappreciated midtempo love song, “Wonderful.”
But most in this crowd – at least the ones older than 25 – wanted to hear those New Wave classics and Ant obliged.
“Strip,” always a better song than the ubiquitous “Goody Two Shoes” (and that hasn’t changed in nearly three decades), glided along on its cheeky chorus, while “Antmusic” and, of course, “Goody,” flourished with additional percussion.
Ant has a new album arriving next year. Hopefully he’ll add a return to Atlanta to his itinerary.
Before his set, the Atlanta rapper, clad in his stage uniform of black tank top with USA across the front, black shorts and also headphones around his neck, professed genuine excitement not only to be playing a festival in his adopted hometown, but also that he had a full hour to perform and could pull from his eight-album catalog.
Backed by a full band, Luda asked the by-then-sold-out crowd, “Are you ready to party tonight?”
Snippets of his high-profile work with others – Usher’s “Yeah,” Enrique Iglesias’ “Tonight I’m Loving You” (the clean version) and Fergie’s “Glamorous” – were interspersed with his own material.
The agreeable crowd put their hands in the air, waved them like they just didn’t care and followed Luda’s other cheerful instructions on tracks such as “What’s Your Fantasy” and “Stand Up.”
His fluidity as a rapper can never be overstated – he’s like verbal liquid when he gets going – but what made Ludacris’ set even more enjoyable was his obvious glee at performing.
(From my editor and helper extraordinaire, Jamila Robinson)
It’s fitting that “Animal” is one of alt-rockers Neon Trees’ hits because lead singer Tyler Glenn tries to fall squarely into that role. The magnetic front man launched into the band’s set just moments after Ludacris left the opposite Electric Ballroom stage, kicking with “1983 and “Mad Love.”
“We’re one of the newer bands, so we’re happy just to be on the bill with names like Adam Ant and Pearl Jam,” Glenn told the crowd humbly. But he proceeded to show how why the group could hold its own with the other acts. Glenn knows how to use his charisma and how to control the soulful howl in his powerful voice – as if he were channeling Freddie Mercury.
This was especially evident in “How Long ’til Your Surrender” – on of the few ballads we heard all day – and “Love and Affection.” Plus, Glenn isn’t afraid to play with a crowd, from the moshing he did in the pit, to the humorous hand-jive gestures he showed on stage.
Florence and the Machine:
Florence Welch is such an imposing figure that the thought of her getting flustered seems an impossibility. But something funky happened at the beginning of the band’s set that stuck with her until the end.
“It was a scary start to the show, but you made me feel so welcome,” she told the massive throng at the end of her hour-and-15-minute show.
Leading up to that, though, the riveting Welch led the Machine through their ethereal, artsy Brit pop with her soaring voice on songs that escalated into furious crescendos.
Her heavenly backup singers added beautiful depth to “Raise it Up,” and she decided to run barefoot into the audience during the galloping “Spectrum.”
There is something uniquely regal about Welch, with her crimson hair, ruffled clothes and distinctive voice, which echoed through Piedmont Park.
“This is for all of your hangovers tomorrow,” she joked, leading into “Shake it Out,” a glass-like pop song that built into a frenzy of screaming lights.
Naturally, she ended her commanding set with “Dog Days Are Over,” which had the super-sized crowd twirling and swirling.
There isn’t much to say about mashup artist Gregg Michael Gillis.
Either you were riveted by his highly adrenalized mixes of such interesting combos as The Ramones (“Blitzkreig Bop”) and Missy Elliott (“Get UR Freak On”) with snippets of Aerosmith (“Sweet Emotion”), General Public (“Tenderness”), Beyonce (“Single Ladies”) and Beck (“Loser”) all making ADD-like appearances. Or you took the opportunity during his set to grab a snack or a beer.
Gillis makes the most out of a genre that really isn’t suited for 50,000-plus people in a park prepared to enjoy rock, pop and rap, by adding skillful and colorful multimedia and crowding the stage with dozens of fans to equate the scene to a club environment.
Frankly, Gillis’ performance would have been better-suited to next week’s CounterPoint Festival, but points to Music Midtown organizers for including dance music in this year’s diverse mix.
With the boom of Matt Cameron’s kick drum, Pearl Jam lunged into a two-hour set that rivaled Friday night’s Foo Fighters’ headlining slot in intensity and audience enjoyment.
Seconds earlier, frontman Eddie Vedder and the rest of the band trotted on stage, Vedder clutching a folder (likely) full of lyrics and a bottle of something, which he swigged from throughout the show.
Though Vedder looks perpetually angst-ridden, it’s easy to confuse those furrowed brows and angry spitting with passion, which is really what he was exhibiting.
After unfurling a tight “Animal,” Vedder grabbed an acoustic guitar, gave high praise to Florence and the Machine, told the crowd not to be afraid to express themselves during the performance, and strummed the introspective “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.”
On the high-octane numbers, such as the fast and furious “Better Man,” Vedder frequently leaped and whirled, seemingly overtaken by the music.
Guitarist Stone Gossard cranked the intro to “Even Flow” (somewhat unbelievably now 20 years old), which bubbled into a volcano of sound, before Vedder urged the audience to remember to vote – or at least register to vote – and the band dove into a growly take on The Clash’s “Know Your Rights.”
With “Supersonic” and the ageless “Jeremy” making the cut, it’s doubtful fans – many of whom parked themselves in front-of-the-stage spots hours before Pearl Jam arrived – could have been disappointed.
Even producer Brendan O’Brien, who worked on many of the band’s songs recorded in Atlanta, received a shout out from Vedder.
In fact, Music Midtown as a whole was executed surprisingly smoothly given the number of moving parts involved and likely left attendees “Rockin’ in the Free World” several hours later.