EDWARD SHARPE AND THE MAGNETIC ZEROS
Maybe it’s not fair to start this review off with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros considering I only caught a song and a half of their set. Then again, that’s not my fault; the band went on over 20 minutes late, something patently unheard of at Newport. It was a drag waiting that long, and to have them start with dragging versions of a song from an album most people have already forgot exists (“Wake Up the Sun” off Person A) and then “Man on Fire” wasn’t a winning way to go. Sure, Alex Ebert was in the crowd dancing with everyone by the end of that second song, but the packed house was clearly already filled with fans. What I was able to see just didn’t do a thing for me.
ST. PAUL AND THE BROKEN BONES
Surely some people walked away thinking St. Paul and the Broken Bones was the best set of the day. It was a solid show of high-energy soul with a powerhouse of a vocalist. The down shot is so much of it rests on that voice. The band isn’t doing a ton of super interesting things — they’re just doing what they do very well. Every song being sold as “we’re about to get funky/sexy/take you to church” didn’t help the slight feeling of shtick. It’s hard to minimize the actual quality of musicians, but it was only a good set, and not much more.
Neko Case was so excited to perform with case/lang/viers that she messed up a verse on opener “Atomic Number”, the only true crack in what was generally an admirably tight performance. Still, there wasn’t much else to get excited about besides the fact that these three musicians were playing together. They seem to have teamed to make music, but not necessarily to do anything interesting with said music. They were best when Laura Viers took lead and most venerable when Lang stepped up. “I think someone just called us classy,” Viers said at one point. That’s a fine descriptor; it was a nice performance by respected artists, full of class, just not inspiration.
You know how the lines between R&B and hip-hop have blurred in recent years? That’s essentially what Raury is doing with rap and folk, which is something no one has really attempted like this before. In overalls and a straw hat, the 20-year-old Atlantan doesn’t have the greatest of singing voices, and his “songs for revolution and peace” can come off a bit canned (“God’s Whisper”). And despite being the first to get the Quad crowd up on their feet, he didn’t seem to hold everyone’s attention. Still, you just can’t shake the positive vibes and the fascinating things he’s attempting.
“We’re gonna be your Newport breakfast,” frontman Joshua Asante said as Amasa Hines took the stage. It was a fine meal to start the festival, as the psych-leaning blues rock went down easy in the early, breezy day. They were really at their most enjoyable when they brought out their funky, island vibes — or maybe that was just the bright blue skies inspiring the feeling. Either way, it was a pleasant, though not a standout, performance to kick off the weekend.
Violent Femmes were that oddball addition to the lineup this year from whom you just weren’t sure what to expect. They turned in an acoustic set (plus the charcoal grill drummer John Sparrow played), one that highlighted that they’re the original indie folk-punks. It didn’t always click — they slipped on the opening of “I Held Her in My Arms” (a song they admitted they’d never performed “quasi-acoustic before”), and the bass (badass as Brian Ritchie and his huge instrument were) was a bit heavy in the house mix. But openers “Blister” and “Kiss Off” were sure crowd-pleasers, though there wasn’t a ton of up to go from there. It was a cool show to see, although not one that will live on in NFF legend.
Rhythm & blues artist Son Little has a whole heap of potential. His smooth jams are just breezy enough to have sailed out comfortably from the early afternoon Harbor stage, adding a smokiness to the gloriously sunny day. He’s got the guitar chops to bring out the cheers from the packed crowd, too. Although his stage presence felt just a tad too reserved (save for some chuckle-worthy banter), it’s not hard to imagine him moving up fairly quickly with the right songs and a jolt of energy.