The last Music Midtown I attended prior to this one was also the very 1st Music Midtown in 1994, and took place in the spot where the Atlanta Federal Reserve building now stands. I recall having a great time and seeing a lot of wonderful bands, but for some reason Cracker and James stand out in my mind to this day. Therefore I had rather high hopes and great anticipation for the last several months leading up to the new, more efficient one day version of music midtown. I was not disappointed, to say the least.
Last Saturday could really have not been a more perfect day to hold this event in the famed piedmont park. Upon arrival it was clear my fellow music fans were all just as excited about the return of music midtown as I was, and there was generally a positive and upbeat mood throughout the crowd. I arrived slightly later than I had intended, and had hoped to get there in time to see Atlanta’s own Constellations perform. Alas, it was just not meant to be but it really did not have any negative effect on the experience whatsoever. One thing I noticed is that they had all the bands scheduled in back to back in both one -hour and/or forty-five minute sets up until the point the black keys went on later in the evening. With military like precision each band went on right on time, and I mean down to the minute in most cases. In that spirit I will review each band’s performance chronologically:
2:45-3:30 Walk The Moon – these guys are an indie rock band based out of Cincinnati, OH. They were very young and full of energy. The twenty-something hipster crowd dancing in front of the stage seemed to be their primary fan base. The highlight of their performance was when they closed their set with “Anna Sun” which no one could possibly resist dancing to regardless of their age. I was not real familiar with their music prior to this show, but will definitely be watching them in the future.
3:30-4:30 The Joy Formidable – I had heard these guys on several occasions previously and quickly made my way to the other side of the meadow to catch their performance. The Joy Formidable is a three-piece alternative rock band from North Wales. Lead vocalist Ritzy Bryan’s bold, strong voice and dynamic range paired with rhythmic percussion and driving guitars make for some powerful tunes to say the least. The band performed with great deft in the Atlanta afternoon sun their hits “Whirring” and “Cradle” from their most recent album “The Big Roar”. At one point during their performance they humorously called out a fan for hold up a sign painted as the British flag with the statement “Keep calm and rock on”. Ritzy politely questioned the crowd as to “whether this particular fan knew the band was from Wales”, while bassist Rhydian Dafydd flat-out stated “well I don’t like it at all”….clearly referencing the fact that the Brits and the Welsh have had a bit of ongoing feud between them.
4:30-5:15 Band Of Skulls – Again I had heard some limited radio play from this band, but not really enough to form an opinion. These guys came out looking a bit like a British version of Kings of Leon, except they were all dressed in black and had a female bassist. They are considered a blues, indie, garage rock type band, but frankly in the first few songs I just heard a lot of bass drum and bass guitar that kind of made me think they wanted to be some alternate version of Primus. Then out of nowhere they played the first line of “Light of the Morning” and within thirty seconds into the song I thought Led Zeppelin had been reincarnated. Searing, bluesy, dirty and gritty is what this song is and they had me on my feet. They played several other well worth listening to tracks, but none that matched that. They closed the set with “I know what I am” and this sing reminded me strongly of The White Stripes. This particular song, being more lighthearted and upbeat, had most of the crowd on their feet and dancing. These guys are underrated and will be around a while in my opinion….they were a nice surprise.
5:15-6:15 Manchester Orchestra – These guys are originally from the Atlanta suburbs and grew up going to private Christian school all the while becoming rather disillusioned about a variety of life issues during this experience. I personally had some similar experiences growing up in Atlanta and have found that I relate to quite a bit of their lyrical content. They are relatively new to the music scene having officially just formed in 2005, but have gained critical acclaim quickly. They put on a great show and the crowd was especially enthusiastic about cheering on the hometown boys. They played several of their more popular tunes “Simple Math”, “Virgin” and “I’ve Got Friends”.
6:15-7:00 Young The Giant – Also known as “The Jakes” this twenty something indie rock band from Irvine, CA formed in 2004. They are a fun and full of energy and they put on a great show, but I was especially entertained by their pre-show Frisbee game right before they went on. I didn’t realize at the time they were “Young the Giant” but that youthful energetic feel carried right on into their performance. The closed out their set with their very well-known hit “My Body” and the crowd loved it.
7:00-8:15 The Black Keys – As a caveat, I must first let readers know there is no way that I could actually write objectively about The Black Keys because I have been a die-hard fan from the first time I heard them a few years ago. The Black Keys of duo Dan Auerbach (guitar and lead vocals) and Patrick Carney (drummer) , yet when you hear them they sound like the could easily be a five piece band. When I heard there gritty, bluesy, soulful, southern rock like sound I was sure these guys were from the South….. but boy was I wrong. The Black Keys actually formed in 2001 in Akron, Ohio and have sold over two million records since that time. As dusk began to fall the crowd in front of the stage for their performance grew to be the largest of the day and there were clearly thousands of black key fans among them. The guys came out on stage at exactly 7pm to rousing cheers. Their stage decoration consisted of a huge tiki head stage left, a huge Akron Ohio radial tire to the right, and center stage was a massive dream catcher hanging above. Soon the airwaves in and throughout Piedmont Park were filled with the funky sonic grooves from tracks like “Next Girl”, the hugely popular “Tighten Up”, “Howlin’ For You”, “Just Got To Be”, “Your Touch” and a generally great selection of music from across their discography. The crowd was ecstatic and no one I saw could resist the urge to move the music. This was my first chance to see one of my favorite bands of all time and they were even better live than I had imagined. The guys played their hearts out and by the end of the set they both looked like it, they were clearly exhausted. Little did I know until later that I was witnessing the last Black Keys performance for 2011. I so enjoyed the show that I decided to check their tour dates and see where I could see them perform next. Now the only question is whether I should see them in Paris or London early next year as they begin the European leg of the tour?
8:15-9:15 Cage the Elephant – Needless to say I was a few minutes late to the opening of their performance since I had to witness every last second of the previous one. Hailing from Bowling Green, Kentucky and formed in 2006 Cage The Elephant has garnered widespread attention in both the US and UK. Their salty, gritty style combining genres of alternative, psychedelic, and garage rock might remind one of the grunge era to some degree while also hinting at the classics like Hendrix. They flawlessly pulled off better than recorded version of their better known tunes such as “Back Against The Wall”, “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” and “Shake Me Down”. They ended their set to roaring applause as Matt Schultz smashed, stomped on and generally trashed his Stratocaster ala Kurt Cobain or Hendrix. This band will be around for a while.
9:15-11:00 Coldplay – By this time of the night Piedmont Park was nothing but a sea of 50,000 music fans and the crowd was most definitely at its peak for the day. Coldplay took the stage to a display of fireworks to announce their entrance, while simultaneous Chris Martin and band launched full on into their hallmark tunes. Extensive lighting and laser effects were in full force and this performance was by far the most engineered and technically advanced of the day’s shows. I will be honest, I saw so much great music and raw talent throughout the day that this performance was somewhat anticlimactic for me. Don’t get me wrong Coldplay put on a fabulous performance worthy of their international fame, this was not the issue at all. The performance just seemed incongruous to me compared to what else I had already seen that day. I was kind of ready for more of the pure energy that I had heard all day and it seemed that Coldplay wanted to lull me to sleep with a highly engineered lullaby of a performance. Either that or I was just wiped out from the day of fun. I left halfway through and I kind of wish I had stayed longer to hear their tribute to R.E.M. and their version of Ray Charles “Georgia”.
Music Midtown was a rousing success from my perspective and I give kudos to both Peter Conlon and the City of Atlanta for pulling off a fun and very well run production. I hear rumors that Music Midtown will return next year and will most likely be a two-day festival. I can’t wait to see the lineup!