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Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

on July 24, 2012, 10:38am
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 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

America’s East Coast hasn’t had the greatest luck with multi-day music festivals. Remember Vineland? All Points West? Sure, upstate New York plays hosts to plenty of jam-band and electronica festivals, and NYC has CMJ and Governors Ball-type events, but none of those are really in the same league as, say, Coachella or Bonnaroo. Companies that try to build the next “destination festival” northeast of the Virginias always seem to struggle, so for Red Frog Events to call Firefly Music Festival “the East Coast’s premiere music experience” even before its Delaware gates opened for the inaugural outing showed either a ton of confidence, or severe hubris.

Things looked uncertain one week out; forecasts called for thunderstorms through the first two days, and one of the fest’s highest-billed acts, Passion Pit, canceled their appearance. But Mother Nature kept her potential tantrum to some mild pouting, and Yeasayer stepped up as a worthy substitute for PP. Friday’s rain may have kept attendance down, but crowd control was always well-managed, with attendees snaking through gates like at amusement park rides seeming to prevent the jammed funnel effect that often plagues entrances to ‘Chella or ‘Roo. No more than two acts were ever playing at once, and the stages’ close proximity to each other kept walking down while an alternating schedule and the setting’s natural barrier of trees prevented sound bleeding. Port-a-johns a plenty meant little waiting there, however minimal food options (the best was actually found in the camping area – hello gastroPod!) and water filling stations did lead to some impatient sighing.

firefly fest 6 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

Lack of dietary options wasn’t the only hiccup the festival experienced. Though the staff and volunteers were incredibly courteous, they started out pretty clueless. “We may have the volunteer shirts on,” one young lady told me when I asked where the nearest water station was, “but we have no idea.” Many vendors weren’t given any money for change until well after gates had opened. Security didn’t know what to do with VIPs or media, and it often changed depending on who you asked. By day two, the wristband RFDI chip scanners came out, and things began to run more smoothly, but inconsistencies and policy changes persisted through Sunday. And then there was sound. Everyone from J. Roddy Walston to Jack White experienced some sort of sound issue. Whether it was a mic turned off, a terribly uneven mix, or instruments being entirely muted, no one was safe from some sort of audio inadequacy.

Then again, Red Frog is young. Firefly is young. Every baby bumps his head now and then. What makes you strong is how you carry yourself with all your bruises, and Firefly did a fine job. The crowd mixed happily, relaxing in the Hammock Hangout or shooting skee-ball in the Arcade. Bands, many of which attested to never having played in Delaware before, seemed to enjoy their time in the First State, as well. Wayne Coyne could be seen taking a ride on one of the on-site hot air balloons, while Michael Franti & Spearhead, Grouplove, Young the Giant, and others squared off in a pickup soccer match backstage. Save for some first-year jitters, the inaugural edition of Firefly was a highly promising one. Here’s hoping it can keep its fire burning bright enough to return next year for another round.

-Ben Kaye
Assistant News Editor

Photography by Ben Kaye.

Friday, July 20th

heartless bastards 7 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

Heartless Bastards – The Lawn – 3:00 p.m.

Despite technically being the second act of the day, Heartless Bastards were the welcome band for many attendees. The Lawn stage was located directly across from the main entrance, and the quartet’s country-lined blues rock brought over a good crowd as the damp day commenced. Though not much on stage presence, the Austin, TX unit found a solid groove in “Got to Have Rock and Roll” and a hard stomping breakdown in “Parted Ways” (which - ahem - they performed for our Off The Avenue series). One apparently ardent fan continuously called for “Arrow That Killed The Beast” off their recent Arrow, and let out an appreciative holler when they finally played it, with drummer Dave Colvin changing a cymbal for just that song. The fan didn’t remain satisfied for long, because when singer Erika Wennerstrom announced they’d be playing older material, he bellowed for “Sway” off 2009’s The Mountain. The band laughed before diving into “Hold Your Head High” and continuing their breezy, simple set to start the day. -Ben Kaye

the wallflowers Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

The Wallflowers – Firefly Stage – 4:00 p.m.

Back on tour for the first time since ’09, The Wallflowers used their spot opening the main stage to showcase what they have in store for their upcoming reunion album, Glad All Over. New numbers like “Hospital for Sinners” and “The Devil’s Waltz” didn’t have any Clash-assisted reggae dance vibes and adhered more to the outfit’s typical roots rock style, a good sign for those who scratched their head upon hearing recently revealed single “Reboot the Mission”. After playing another new cut, “It Won’t Be Long”, Jakob Dylan made a tongue-in-cheek observation: “Is there anything worse than when a band comes on and says ‘Here’re some new songs’? I think this may be more familiar.” As those familiar old opening notes of “One Headlight” came out, the crowd burst into cheers. The chorus may have been the first full-participation sing-a-long of the festival, and Dylan seemed pleased that the tune still hits home. A minor exodus occurred as the song ended, but those who stayed gave their voices again to closer “The Difference”, and it was clear fans are glad to have The Wallflowers back together. -Ben Kaye

ok go 6 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

OK Go – The Lawn – 5:00 p.m. 

Hey world, guess what? OK Go does more than put out crazy music videos; they also have a damn fine live show. Dapper in suits and ties, the band picked up their instruments and burst into “Do What You Want” as twin air-cannons filled the sky with confetti. And those cannons fired again and again throughout the set, giving The Flaming Lips a run for their money before they even arrived at the festival grounds. Hits from all three of OK Go’s albums – like “Get Over It”, “A Good Idea at the Time”, and “Skyscrapers” – all received plenty of audience love. Though, frontman Damian Kulash Jr. might want to take some lessons, as his commentary often came off sardonic (“I didn’t even realize there were this many people in Delaware. Do you all own corporations?”). Still, he meant well, and when he jumped into the crowd to perform an acoustic “Last Leaf”, they welcomed him with open arms – and camera lenses. -Ben Kaye

John Legend – Firefly Stage – 6:30 p.m.

John Legend‘s backing band took the stage and stood still, looking pretty angry. Perhaps they had just woken up from their cryogenic sleep after being off from touring with Legend since he opened up for Sade in 2011. Yet, somehow, after a leather jacket-clad Legend took the stage (Come on John, it’s July!), they sprung to life. Legend perched atop a stool and effortlessly pushed a cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” through his pipes —  the Firefly crowd ate it up. Granted, it’s more likely they knew the covers compared to most of Legend’s set outside “Ordinary People” and “Save Room”, but it was fine nonetheless. Legend was called up for the gig and he arrived prepared. -Michael Zonenashvili

walk the moon 5 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

Walk the Moon – The Porch – 6:45 p.m.

Though their self-titled debut received some lukewarm reception from critics, Walk the Moon is at no shortage of face-painted fans. “Anyone here have [the] record?” lead-singer Nicholas Petricca asked. At the generous applause, he responded with a smile, “I never get sick of that.” Many non-fans surely converted, as explosive numbers like opener “The Liftoff” to a cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” had everyone in the crowd moving. Even slow-jam “Iscariot” had hands in the air and the audience singing along. At one point, the band spontaneously used the Super Mario Brothers‘ theme music to lead into “Shiver Shiver”, loving it as much as the fans did. Now, their music may not be to everyone’s taste, but after seeing them a handful of times now, I can say they’ve never failed to throw one heck of a dance party, rain be damned. -Ben Kaye

Silversun Pickups – The Backyard – 8:00 p.m.

Silversun Pickups played a thunderous show on the Backyard Stage on Friday night, but the slight drizzle and chill in the air put a damper on the audience’s spirits. Nevertheless, a few determined souls kept a beach ball airborne, and frontman Brian Aubert played along by batting it away from the stage with his foot without missing a single note on the guitar. The band plowed through “Future Foe Scenarios” from their breakthrough album, Carnavas, as well as a few tracks from their recent third full-length, Neck of the Woods. Bassist Nikki Monninger, the sole female member of the band, didn’t have much by way of stage presence, but she made up for it with impeccable fashion sense. Later in the set, Aubert picked a random audience member named James to be the subject of his between-song banter. “I like the cut of your jib, my friend,” he told James, whose inaudible answers made the one-sided conversation that much more entertaining. -Katherine Flynn

bassnectar Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

Bassnectar – The Lawn – 8:15 p.m.

I can’t imagine Delaware has many raves, warehouse parties, or even a large supply of glowsticks. So, when Bassnectar set up stage, it was like a beacon of bass to the crowd hungry for the drop. To my slight annoyance, Lorin Ashton knew that the audience was waiting in line for these ubiquitous assaults of beats, and would play off of it to no end. Instead of the one second, suspense-building pause that one hopes for just prior to the pulsing drop in one of Bassnectar’s tunes, he’d stop the song and get on the microphone and make the crowd work for their bass, but these calls to “make some noise!” were more momentum killers than party starters. At least one of the drops was preceded by an “Intergalactic” sample, and to Bassnectar’s defense, he does know how to let the beat “mmm, drop!” -Michael Zonenashvili

jack white 9 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

Jack White – Firefly Stage – 9:30 p.m.

Well before Jack White had probably even left his tour bus, the crowd waiting around the Firefly Stage was singing the “duh duh duh DUH duh” of “Seven Nation Army”. When the three giant pieces of fabric at the back of the stage turned to make the white roman numeral three now synonymous with the artist, the crowd roared. It all gave the impression that, despite the constant rain, this was an audience hotly anticipating White’s performance. But when he gave the line “Can you give me number nine?” to the audience on deep White Stripes cut “Hello Operator”, barely a voice rang out. Same goes for The Raconteurs’ “Top Yourself”, and those who joined in for “Steady as She Goes” had to be coached into it.

Maybe the rain put a damper on the mood, despite White quipping, “I know you’re standing out in the rain, but you kind like it, don’t you?” to cheers. (White himself kicked off his shoes during the second song, as the towels laid down by crew members apparently weren’t sufficient in the slippery conditions). It also could have been the terrible sound issues: if you weren’t right in front of the stage, you only heard drums or blown-out vocals. It wasn’t until the third number, “Missing Pieces”, that everything leveled out (and someone likely lost their job). Whatever it was, the crowd felt lackluster.

jack white 7 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

Of course, that’s not to say White and his band Los Buzzardos didn’t put on a hell of set. Light on cuts from Blunderbuss (only “Freedom At 21”, “Missing Pieces”, “Love Interruption”, “Trash Tongue Talker”, and “Weep Themselves to Sleep” made appearances) and heavy on Stripes material, the on-the-spot setlist came with barely a breath between numbers. Madman drummer Daru Jones commands as much attention as White himself, bashing and bending over his set with stanky ferocity. He’s a perfect sparring partner for White, who steps up to him at nearly every solo, nearly falling over his snare during “Ball and Biscuit”.

The crowd wasn’t totally asleep; they gave themselves unbeckoned to “We’re Going to Be Friends”, and closer “Seven Nation Army” finally broke them completely out of their shell. Sadly, that was the last number as the set ended about seven minutes early with no encore. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the crowd. What we got was fairly short, damp, and weakly received, but it was still Jack White, and the man hasn’t failed to deliver yet. -Ben Kaye

Saturday, July 21st

The Felice Brothers – Firefly Stage – 12:30 p.m.

Dressed in ill-fitting clothes and cammo baseball hats, Upstate New York’s The Felice Brothers kicked off the second day of the festival with their scruffy brand of Americana. The dark clouds looming overhead did nothing to quell the uncomfortable humidity (Note to self: Never wear skinny jeans to a festival. Ever). After hearing the band’s newly incorporated electro influences live, I actually had to double-check my schedule to make sure I hadn’t wandered to the wrong stage. Older tunes like “Run Chicken Run” and “Whiskey in my Whiskey” nabbed the strongest reactions from the small-ish crowd, despite the occasional hung-over groan that was clearly audible during the latter song. The Felice Brothers more than fulfilled their role as mid-afternoon warm-up band, and were a choice way to ease into what was to be a long day. -Bryant Kitching

polica Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

Poli̤a РThe Lawn Р1:30 p.m.

Poliça’s early set commanded a small crowd, despite some of the first decent weather of the weekend. It’s true that the band’s electronica/R&B vibes were an odd fit in a festival dominated by more upbeat indie acts. On the same token, the Screaming Eagle of Soul Charles Bradley was the other option at the time slot, and his higher energy may have been a bigger draw. Whatever the case, Poliça did their best to entertain those who stopped by The Lawn. Without the Auto-Tuning that pervades Give You The Ghost, the band’s live show is far more about finding grooves between Channy Leaneagh’s otherworldly-if-not-unintelligible vocals and the band’s dueling drums and driving bass than it is about electronica. The one-two of “Darkstar” and “Violent Games” showcased this dynamic at its finest. A light rain returned halfway into their set, which may have actually been a better fit for the dark and moody atmosphere they projected on tracks like “Exit Raw”. -Ben Kaye

cults 4 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

Cults – The Porch – 2:30 p.m.

As was the case with many bands at Firefly, Cults made a special point to note that this was their first time ever playing in Delaware. Guitarist Brian Oblivion shouted, “This is America! This is Delaware” as his band took the stage amidst a steady rainfall. The setlist drew exclusively from the New York band’s 2011 debut, leaving me a little disappointed that no new songs were thrown into the mix. Singer Madeline Follin looked cute as ever in fire engine red lipstick and a blue dress that could have been ripped from Zooey Deschanel’s personal wardrobe. But sound booth problems made her somewhat difficult to hear. This proved to be problematic, especially for a band like Cults whose whole charm lies in large part with Follin’s cutesy girl-next-door vocal delivery. Yet the crowd at The Porch seemed mostly unfazed as the group launched into the irresistibly poppy “Go Outside” right as the short set came to a close. -Bryant Kitching

Grouplove – The Lawn – 3:30 p.m.

If there’s a better festival band than Los Angeles’ Grouplove, I haven’t heard ‘em. Their impossibly high energy and infectious songs were enough to get even newcomers to the band’s music dancing their asses off. They take the “Group” part of their name very seriously, trading lead vocal duties on virtually every song. Similar to Cults, however, I was a little disappointed they didn’t showcase any new material, as much as I am a fan of last year’s Never Trust a Happy Song. Still, “Spun” kicked the set into high gear after a few slower jams, and “Chloe” brought things to a fever pitch. To no surprise, the iPod-approved “Tongue Tied” was the biggest hit with the crowd, especially as it segued straight into a cover of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by the late Whitney Houston. -Bryant Kitching

young the giant 1 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

Young the Giant – Firefly Stage – 4:30 p.m.

For the first time all weekend, a bit of blue sky peaked through the overcast for Young the Giant’s main stage appearance, with actual sun (!!!) shining down during “Shake My Hand”, a cut from back when they were still called The Jakes. The sound issues bedeviling the main stage showed up again, with a hollow mix diminishing the band’s already small setup. Regardless, singer Sameer Gadhia managed to pull something out from deep down for the final chorus of opener “I Got”, throwing his head back as he gripped the mic and belted it out like a 1930‘s big band crooner. The band extended the bridge on “Cough Syrup” to flat results, a kink in an otherwise standout number. Cuts from the YTG’s new album, due in spring next year, revealed some new layers to their sound. “What You Get” had a Radiohead-cum-The Walkmen chorus (someone might want to tell them Thom Yorke already wrote the “this is what you get” chorus), while “Teachers” leaned into Arcade Fire-bred stadium rock. Closer “My Body” had every body bouncing, including members of Walk the Moon and Grouplove, who joined in for the final chorus. -Ben Kaye

Cake - The Lawn – 5:30 p.m.

By the time veteran band Cake took the Lawn stage on Saturday evening, the drizzle had stopped, although some clouds still hung heavy in the sky. Plenty of dedicated fans lined the stage, but there were also equal numbers of loungers on blankets and those who filtered in and out, undoubtedly rallying for the long evening ahead. Frontman John McCrea kept between-song banter to a minimum, but was more than happy to indulge the audience with renditions of hits that ran the gamut of the band’s career, from “Rock N’ Roll Lifestyle” from the band’s earliest album, Motorcade of Generosity, to “Shadow Stabbing,” off of 2001’s Comfort Eagle, as well as 2011’s “Mustache Man (Wasted)”. It was heartening to see that even after 20 years, this perpetually under-the-radar band could still draw a crowd. -Katherine Flynn

chiddy bang 2 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

Chiddy Bang – The Backyard – 5:30 p.m.

Chiddy Bang trades in rap with indie cred, which makes them a comfortable fit for the festival scene. Both members, rapper Chiddy and drummer/producer Xaphoon Jones, both handle the crowd like veterans. On the second largest stage at the festival, Chiddy did a highly admirable job working both sides of crowd. For his part, Xaphoon dealt with most of the crowd interaction, though Chiddy spoke up to ask if anyone had a spare joint (they didn’t). Among cuts from both Breakfast (including Walk the Moon-sampling “Handclaps & Guitars”) and their Peanut Butter and Swelly mixtape, a highlight was actually a freestyle. Evidently a staple of Chiddy Bang shows, Xaphoon had the audience call out words which his partner had to incorporate into a rap. Though he copped out by saying “this dude told me to rap about Wayne’s World,” Chiddy gets major props for working in Ninja Turtles, dolphins, and the phrase “kittens howling at the moon” (I kid you not – it was a picture on someone’s shirt) without inanity. Turning “Philadelphia Phillies” into “in Philadelphia smoking a philly” and ending with “I’m staying Firefly” were nice, equally impressive touches. -Ben Kaye

modest mous 1 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

Modest Mouse – Firefly Stage – 6:30 p.m.

More than most bands at Firefly, Modest Mouse have been around the block a few times. With almost two decades worth of albums under their belt, I was a little unsure of what to expect from these indie mainstays as they took the stage Saturday evening. With drinks in hand (okay, I was expecting that), Isaac Brock, Inc. launched into a remarkably solid, dare I say near-perfect, set that was tailor-made for a festival atmosphere. Looking out onto the front row of the crowd, it was clear that the Modest Mouse diehards had come out in full force, singing along with a passion not usually seen at an afternoon festival set. The band rolled out hit after hit with the occasional older gem thrown in. “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” even inspired some mild dancing, and “Float On” also brought about a much expected, but no less appreciated, positive reaction. (Full disclosure: Watching the whole thing unfold while standing backstage next to Young the Giant and Grouplove didn’t hurt the whole experience, either.) -Bryant Kitching

Trampled By Turtles - The Porch – 6:45 p.m.

Trampled By Turtles had the tough task of going head-to-head with Modest Mouse in the festival schedule, and while the crowd in attendance at the Minnesota-based bluegrass act’s performance was relatively small, they made up for it with oversized enthusiasm. The group’s energetic performance served as the perfect early evening tonic for sore feet and festival fatigue, making it impossible not to dance. At one point Ryan Young, the fiddle player, abruptly walked offstage, only to rejoin the band one song later. If tempers run high in this group, that dynamic is clearly working. “Wait So Long”, arguably their most popular song, juiced the crowd some and rounded out the set, which had a healthy dose of both slower and faster-paced material. -Katherine Flynn

Lupe Fiasco – The Backyard – 8:00 p.m.

Lupe Fiasco brought the hits, the moves, and a full band to the Backyard stage on Saturday night, kicking off his set with “Words I Never Said” from 2011’s Lasers. The crowd was sizeable and very jazzed, following his lead by throwing up a sea of waving arms at one point. While much of his sound was organic, groovy, and full-bodied, he also used Auto-Tune and some pre-recorded hooks to round out songs that are fairly digitized in their recorded forms. “Kick Push” and “Beautiful Lasers” went over well with the audience, and Fiasco finished the set with one of his latest hits, “The Show Goes On”, coincidentally based on a sample from Modest Mouse’s “Float On”. Since the latter had already performed earlier that day on a nearby stage, the fact that they didn’t show up to collaborate was a missed opportunity. -Katherine Flynn

Yeasayer – The Lawn – 8:00 p.m.

Yeasayer was the last minute sub-in for Passion Pit. Luckily, the 15 people who were excited for this, me included, showed up to the stage to see them, and were treated to a hell of a Yeasayer performance. Sadly, it seemed that many people were either at the stage unaware that the far more dance-party friendly Passion Pit had cancelled only a few days before. When Yeasayer took the stage, it only took those lost souls a moment to realize they had been had, and walked away. But, this allowed for the Yeasayer fans at the festival to see what might be the most “intimate” preview of Fragrant World we’ll get from a Yeasayer tour.

New songs like “Henrietta” sounded fantastic, with the band playing the never-ending outro in a way that begged for infinity, building to a washed out climax. Favorites like “One” and “Tightrope” were completely reworked, in some ways more minimalist (Yeasayer now has a single drummer, not even on a full/standard drum kit) while a bit more beat-driven and danceable. While they didn’t talk much or introduce which new songs were which, the new tracks ranged from dubstep-esque bass lines to straight-up disco jams, and we should all be excited. -Michael Zonenashvili

the killers 10 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

The Killers - Firefly Stage – 9:30 p.m.

“Delaware. Who would have thought,” lead singer Brandon Flowers asked, flashing an irresistible smile to the high-strung, eager crowd. There was something altogether perfect about The Killers‘ hour-and-a-half long headlining set on the Firefly stage, with the rock-and-roll spectacle made complete by confetti, trippy visuals, and a fireworks show. It’s easy to forget how many hits these guys have under their belts, but they reminded the crowd by starting off with “Somebody Told Me”, the first song to put them on the proverbial map all those years ago. From there, it was only natural to segue into “Smile Like You Mean It” and a slew of other pieces of bombastic pop perfection from Hot Fuss, Sam’s Town, and Day and Age, all rendered with near-perfect showmanship from Flowers.

At times the set list veered off into newer material, including “Runaways”, the lead single from the group’s forthcoming album, Battle Born. Flowers has been criticized in recent years for striving too hard to be Springsteen-esque, but he and his band mates transitioned seamlessly from older glam-pop songs to their new Americana-inspired sound, giving their whole catalog equal standing. “We got one more left in us. You got one more left in you?” Flowers asked during the encore, to enthusiastic shouts from the crowd. “All These Things That I’ve Done”, with its glorious, nonsensical refrain of “I got soul but I’m not a soldier,” seemed to reverberate even after the band left the stage. -Katherine Flynn

Sunday, July 22nd

j roddy walston and the business 6 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

J. Roddy Walston and The Business – The Backyard – 12:00 p.m.

“You guys came to party early. I like that,” stated J. Roddy Walston as he sat down to his well-played upright piano. The crowd was a good size for a Sunday morning set, which I initially attributed to the fact that it was the first completely dry day. Once I saw the crowd react to “I’m Going Out”, I realized they just knew something I hadn’t learned yet. With southern-fried barroom rock and a smirking punk edge, these Baltimore by way of Tennessee stompers were far and away my favorite discovery of the weekend. Every song, from the infectious “Don’t Break the Needle” to the rollicking “I Don’t Want to Hear It”, saw the band tearing the Backyard stage to the ground and J. Roddy himself figuratively, and often literally, beating his piano. Unfamiliar as I was at first, I was howling along with the crowd by the end. Even though they wrapped up ten minutes early (the sound guy could be seen shaking his head and flashing ten fingers backstage), no one left feeling they’d been gypped out of a full show. -Ben Kaye

head and the heart 2 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

The Head and the Heart - Firefly Stage – 1:05 p.m.

By the time The Head and the Heart took the stage on Sunday afternoon, the weather had turned, and it was legitimately hot for the first time all weekend. The relatively early hour combined with the sudden heat resulted in a bevy of lawn-sitters, but there were an equal number of fans mouthing the lyrics and crowding the stage. At times, it felt as though lead singer Josiah Johnson were leading an intimate sing-a-long, especially when it came to songs like “Rivers and Roads” and “Down in the Valley”. Audience members cheered violinist-vocalist Charity Rose Thielen whenever she chimed in with her sweet, pitch-perfect voice. The cheering, combined with the band’s unique brand of folk, were the perfect soundtrack for a summer day. -Katherine Flynn

awolnation 6 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

AWOLNATION – The Lawn – 2:20 p.m.

AWOLNATION is a strange beast. Listen to their singles, and you’d say they’re an electronic rock band. See them live, and you’ll realize they’re a metal band in disguise (“Soul Wars”). And sometimes an 80’s pop ballad band (“All I Need”). And sometimes an indie dance band (“Kill Your Heros”). This crazy mix doesn’t always work on stage, like the muddled 15 minute mess of a closer “Knights of Shame”, which lost a crowd they’d worked so hard winning over. But for the most part, this was perhaps the most shamelessly absorbed crowd of the whole fest, with waves of crowd surfers constantly passed overhead. At one point, and to the noticeable horror of security, Bruno called out, “Let’s see if we can get 45 ladies up there!” And as the band thundered into the next song, dozens of ladies and even a few men were hoisted into the air. Then a boy who couldn’t have been more than 13 was lifted up, and the crowd cheered as the gleeful teen was passed – extra carefully – to the front rails. The music might be baffling at times, but you just can’t argue with a crowd like that. -Ben Kaye

mariachi el bronx 2 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

Mariachi El Bronx – The Porch – 3:40 p.m.

Mid-way through Mariachi El Bronx’s late afternoon set, vocalist Matt Caughthran explained that the band had started four years ago “on a whim as kind of a fuck off to acoustic music,” and that he couldn’t believe they were still getting up on stage in those black and white mariachi outfits. He’s probably not the only one who didn’t think this experiment would work, but in person it really does. The backbone of it all is solid song writing. “48 Roses” is a beautiful tune, and “Slave Labor” has a sentiment anyone who’s ever had a crappy job can relate to. It takes a moment to adjust to Caughthran, who so clearly should be a punk singer (ala The Bronx) even with his surprisingly charming voice, as the face of music like this. At first I thought he should take dance lessons, as he’s not the most graceful body mover. In the end, though, I realized that’s part of their rather badass kitsch, like evoking applause for an accordion solo. -Ben Kaye

cold war kids 3 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

Cold War Kids - Firefly Stage – 3:45 p.m.

Cold War Kids played a bracing set on the Firefly stage to what largely seemed like an adoring audience on Saturday evening, pre-Death Cab for Cutie. While the Black Keys diehards had already staked their claims on the area directly in front of the stage, there were some obvious CWK fans who joyfully sang along with the group’s renditions of “Hospital Beds” and “St. John”, with some hand-clapping thrown in for good measure. Lead singer Nathan Willett wasn’t much of a talker, but he was drenched in sweat by the end, possibly due to a combination of the sun’s heat and switching skillfully between keyboard and guitar. -Katherine Flynn

death cab 2 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

Death Cab for Cutie – Firefly Stage – 6:15 p.m.

Early Sunday evening, Death Cab for Cutie exhibited a classic case of How Not to Play a Festival. A little slack must be given to Ben Gibbard, who admitted that he was in fact “sick as fuck,” but that was no excuse for a set that was far too heavy on deep cuts from Codes & Keys and Narrow Stairs and extended jam sessions. Not to be a setlist stickler, but favoring two of your more lukewarm albums is no way to win over new fans. I couldn’t help but sympathize with the optimistic couple standing next to me who held up a sign requesting “A Lack of Color” in between every song.

Early on, “Grapevine Fires” right into “Portable Television” all but killed what little energy the crowd had left in their tank after a long weekend. After a version of the normally explosive Transatlanticism-era standard “We Looked Like Giants” fell hopelessly flat, “Marching Bands of Manhattan” finally brought the set to a close a whole 15 minutes early. It’s okay guys, you’ll get ‘em next time. -Bryant Kitching

the flaming lips 7 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

The Flaming Lips – The Lawn – 7:50 p.m.

The Flaming Lips may be the only band that kept me awake on the last day of Firefly Fest. Even walking into the festival that morning and seeing their stage setup already towering over other non-Lips bands was invigorating, a nice omen of lightshow, confetti, and balloons to come later on. But, beyond the typical “Come on motherfuckers!” and confetti canon antics of Wayne Coyne, The Flaming Lips brought something new to their festival setlist arsenal. While the band has clearly never been afraid of being weird, it seems they’ve reserved it for their records.

Now, after satisfying the crowd with The Soft Bulletin classic “Race For the Prize” and At War with the Mystics mainstay ”The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)”, Coyne and crew knew they could get away with showcasing their new, weirder material. “Is David Bowie Dying?” and “I’m Working at NASA on Acid” seem to have taken the place of hits like “Yoshimi…” and “She Don’t Use Jelly”, but to the true Lips fans in the audience, it was quite alright. They bounced back and forth between the favorites and the experiments, pausing only to praise the good vibes in the audience and congratulate the fledgling festival’s first year. Oh, and they covered King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”, which may have been the coolest hint to happen all weekend, no explanation needed. -Michael Zonenashvili

the black keys 2 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

The Black Keys – Firefly Stage – 9:30 p.m.

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney must have slipped the sound guys at the Firefly Stage a $20 bill before their set on Sunday night. The volume during The Black Keys headlining slot almost made The Killers from the night before sound like Nick Drake by comparison. In just a few short years, the Akron duo have grown from middle of the bill stalwarts to bona fide festival-closing headliners. Far from being daunted by the task before them, the group filled the balmy night with enough stadium-sized blues-rock to make the remaining crowd happy they chose not to beat the traffic and leave early. After all, being well rested for work on Monday morning is overrated anyway, right?

However, the unfortunate souls who did hit the road early probably still could hear tracks like “Money Maker” and “Gold on the Ceiling” from halfway up the Jersey Turnpike. The first half of the set favored newer cuts from last year’s El Camino, which incited mass amounts of pogoing up close to the stage and plenty of full-body dancing further back where the crowd was thinner. Two backing musicians assisted the guys for this portion, and although there’s still something deep down inside me that thinks there’s something off about a Black Keys song being performed by four people, the end results didn’t lie. “Little Black Submarines” gently lured in the crowd before detonating like a case of TNT, and Brothers fan-favorite “Everlasting Light” never sounded sexier.

the black keys 3 Festival Review: CoS at Firefly 2012

The real treat came when the backing musicians left the stage to leave Auerbach and Carney to their old devices. The set closed out with the gloriously heavy “I Got Mine” off 2008’s Attack & Release. The thundering riffs sounded like they had just crawled up out of a Delaware swamp as the band’s iconic gigantic light-up logo flashed repeatedly from behind the stage. My ears still haven’t stopped ringing, but I already can’t wait for next year. -Bryant Kitching

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Photographer: Ben Kaye

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