I’m sitting here on a lawn chair in the sand, watching the waves crash against the sand, as Jim James’ psychedelic musings drifted over from the Hangout Stage. Now that’s the way to see a concert.
Today we come to you from sunny Gulf Shores, Alabama. It is the site of the 2013 Hangout Festival headlined by the likes of Tom Petty, Stevie Wonder and Kings of Leon. We’ve covered a cornucopia of festivals in our day, but I can’t think of a better spot to host a weekend of great music than at the beach. When we originally circled this weekend on our festival calendar, I assumed we’d be battling fierce summer heat, but the temperatures have been quiet pleasant. They have been cresting out at 80 degrees, and there is always that nice cool ocean breeze to give you a reprieve when you’ve had too much.
The festival organizers have blocked off about four blocks of the beach as well as the street and businesses just north of. It is a fantastic setup, and it boggles the mind how they logistically got all these stakeholders to signoff on this ambitious undertaking. The grounds have the two main stages setup on each end of the beach, staring each other down. There are two smaller stages setup off the road tangled amongst the vendors.
They also have fun distractions to temporarily pull you away from the music. There is a megadrop which will shoot you four stories in the air before plunging you back to earth. There is a large ferris wheel that gives you the bird’s eye view of Gulf Shores in a slightly less exhilarating way.
We spent our early afternoon taking in the musical melodies of Ra Ra Riot, Jim James, Passion Pit and Ryan Bingham. We’ll talk more on this brood in our weekly wrap-up review, but today we’ll constrain ourselves to discussing the main acts – Kings of Leon, The Shins and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
At the Boom Boom Tent, we caught up with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who we last saw at SXSW in March. Although the chart toppers probably deserved a spot on one of the larger beachfront stages, it was nice to see them play for an appropriately large crowd of energized fans instead of the notoriously apathetic SXSW industry executives.
Taking the stage in a Mexican serape, which one can only assume was inspired by Florence Welch’s billowing wardrobe throughout last summer’s festival circuit, Macklemore wasted no time launching into tracks like “10,000 Hours” and “Thrift Shop” from their new album The Heist. Hangout Fest was the first stop on a tour that will keep them criss-crossing the Atlantic all summer long.
Based on their performance last night, 2013 is poised to be their year. Since their SXSW performances in March, their stage presence is more honed and nothing short of a spectacle, with Ryan Lewis taking a more prominent role in the performance, as well as saxophone players and a couple of incredible backup dancers who appear to be teaching Macklemore their “smooth moves” in between gigs. The amount of energy on stage is electric, and yes, Wanz is still “fucking awesome.”
What is truly remarkable about Macklemore is that in between all the showmanship, confetti, and catchy hooks are thoughtful, intelligent, socially relevant lyrics, that somewhat take you by surprise. Whether they are rapping about the pitfalls of the modern consumer society, marriage equality, or Malcolm Gladwell’s theories on work ethics, you can’t help by take note that there’s a little more going on here. Be sure to check out The Heist and catch Macklemore live as they perform all over the U.S. and Europe this summer.
The Portland-based Shins came to Hangout supporting their 2012 release Port of Morrow. It’s been a long road since the band first broke out with Oh, Inverted World and their contributions to the Garden State soundtrack. They’ve become indie royalty in the decade since, casting off band members and bringing new ones into the fold. Lead vocalist James Mercer has been the constant as he harvests the band’s creative edge.
They opened their set with Port of Morrow’s “The Rifle’s Spiral” as the sun dwindled on the horizon. Mercer and company sounded very tight as they drifted through their album catalog, sampling pretty equally across the 19 song set. They took the occasional pause, giving a shout out to the inventor of the bikini who they said needs to be sainted (amen brother). It was a nice segway into “Bait and Switch.”
The crowd was engaged if a bit subdued during the Shins set. All time favorites like “New Slang” definitely got them charged up, but the band’s more laid back tone has always seemed more at home in a dark club than an open air festival. Though they may have stepped out of their atmospheric comfort zone, The Shins sounded great, packed about as many songs as they could fit into their set time and did their fans proud. It’s been way too long since I’ve made their acquaintance live.
The Kings of Leon anchored Friday’s line-up. The band has largely been out of the public eye since a series of events in 2011 landed them on the wrong side of publicity. At a show in Dallas, Caleb Followill hit the stage drunk. After playing a few songs, Caleb left to get a beer only to never return. The concert was cancelled and the remainder of their U.S. took the ax as well. Let’s not even get into the bird poop fiasco.
They did manage to get off an Australian tour later that year, but the band went on hiatus soon thereafter. This only prompted loud rumors that the band was no more. At the time it seemed a sad demise for the indie group who rose to fame quickly only to be felled by alcohol and the trappings of fame. I mean Caleb did marry a Victoria Secret supermodel.
This was the Nashville band’s inaugural appearance at Alabama’s Hangout Festival. They’ve recorded their upcoming album, but we won’t see it in stores until September. They opened the evening with to the jangly chords of Come Around Sundown’s “Radioactive.” The “it’s in the water” chorus seemed very appropriate as the waves cascaded under the night’s veil.
The Kings of Leon may have caught the music world’s attention with their breakthrough Only By the Night, but they’ve been making acclaimed college radio hits since 2003. Sometimes I forget with the band’s new rock focus what a country tint they had in their earlier releases. Tonight was a fusion of the band’s sound in their continuing evolution.
The band didn’t get too far into the set before they thanked the crowd, and Caleb said he felt like being himself tonight. His vocal prowess has never been questioned as he gritted into tracks like “Crawl.” The band seemed to be reasserting itself. Come Around Sundown was a commercial dud following the single factory Only By the Night. The band seemed to be saying they weren’t going to be a pawn to the roller coaster of success. They let the music speak for them, and it put a exclamation point on the day.
Hangout Festival is the band’s only U.S. stop on the calendar this year. They will hop the pond for a performance at V Festival in August, and they’ve cobbled together a string of European dates leading up to the appearance. With the new album’s release in the fall, I’m sure you can count on a healthy tour to fill your Christmas stocking.
Day one of Hangout Festival went off without a hitch. Gulf Shores is a beautiful scene, and this is the perfect setup for a music festival. The only thing that may have enhanced the experience would be a way to get in and out of the festival grounds to cool yourself off in the ocean. I’m sure the logistics would make it near impossible to police and corral. We look forward to another day of sun and musical flavor in day two. Right now, we are planning to cover Tom Petty, The Black Crowes and The Roots, but you never know if another band might knock our socks off.
Check back in with us tomorrow and Monday as we continue our coverage of the Hangout Festival.
The Shins Hangout Festival Setlist
Gulf Shores, AL : May 17, 2013
1) The Rifle’s Spiral
2) Caring Is Creepy
4) Simple Song
5) Know Your Onion!
6) Bait and Switch
7) Pam Berry
8) Phantom Limb
9) Saint Simon
10) It’s Only Life
11) So Says I
12) Girl Sailor
13) Kissing the Lipless
14) No Way Down
15) Port of Morrow
16) New Slang
17) Sleeping Lessons
19) One by One All Day
Kings of Leon Hangout Festival Setlist
Gulf Shores, AL : May 17, 2013
3) Taper Jean Girl
4) My Party
5) The Immortals
7) Back Down South
8) It Don’t Matter
9) Molly’s Chambers
10) Four Kicks
11) On Call
14) The Bucket
15) California Waiting
17) Knocked Up
18) Sex on Fire
20) Use Somebody
21) Black Thumbnail
The National, fun. and the Shins all will be featured at the first ever Boston Calling Music Festival later this year.
The new festival will be held May 25-26 at City Hall Plaza in, you guessed it, Boston. The festival will feature two stages, and other notable acts performing are Of Monsters and Men, Young the Giant, Matt and Kim, the Walkmen, Andrew Bird, Dirty Projectors, Bad Rabbits, Youth Lagoon and Ra Ra Riot.
Here’s how the festival’s official website describes the event:
Boston Calling Music Festival is a two-day, two-stage festival featuring some of the biggest and best acts in live music. The event will be one big party with easy access to both stages, food, services and more. All ages are welcome and children under 10 are free.
A two-day pass for the event is $130, and single-day tickets also can be purchased for $75. VIP tickets also are available, and include a private bar, private restrooms, access to a VIP lounge, onsite hors d’oeuvres and a $30 festival merchandise credit. VIP passes are $185 for a single day and $350 for two days.
The National guitarist Aaron Dessner helped curate the lineup, and his band will likely be performing songs from an upcoming new album during their performance at the event.
The band announced just a few days ago that they will release the follow up to 2010’s High Violet this May, though a title nor the exact date has yet to be revealed. The group also released quite a few tour dates, including some festival dates in the U.S. and Europe (Bonnaroo, Hurricane Festival, Southside Festival, Bunbury), and also some headlining dates with Dirty Projectors providing support. The band will play a hometown show at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center with Youth Lagoon on May 5.
The festival will be held May 9-12 in Napa Valley, California and will focus on food, wine, comedy and beer as well as “over 40 of today’s most relevant bands,” as the event’s website puts it. Other notable acts performing at the festival include Alabama Shakes, Jane’s Addiction, the Wallflowers, Black Crowes, Primus, Bad Religion, Blues Traveler, Donavon Frankenreiter, Allen Stone, Ben Harper, Mavis Staples, Cake and Rodrigo y Gabriella.
In addition to these bands, it is reported that the festival will feature a full comedy lineup. Food and beverage options will come from more than 100 venders, 300 wineries and a local brewery.
The event will take place at the Napa Valley Expo, and will occupy the majority of the property at the site. The Expo is located “in the heart of downtown Napa,” and features “four buildings, many equipped with commercial kitchens, plus plenty of outdoor exhibit space all in the heart of Wine Country!”
The official website for the Bottle Rock Festival states that tickets will be available February 3, but has not other information about them. The Napa Valley Register reports that the music acts will perform on three separate stages around Napa Valley, including the Uptown Theatre. The paper also states the festival will be presented by two natives of Napa Valley, Bob Vogt and Gabriel Meyers.
The festival joins other music events in the area, most centered around wine and food as well. Festival del Sole and Music celebrates classical music, and there’s also the Napa Valley Jazz Getaway. The largest festival in the area is the Robert Mondavi Summer Music Festival, which celebrated its 43rd consecutive festival last year with headliners O.A.R., Plain White T’s and Natasha Bedingfield.
The recently announced lineup for this year’s Splendour in the Grass Music Festival contains some very big names that will be heading down under later this year.
The Shins, Jack White and the Smashing Pumpkins all will appear at the Australian festival this year, along with a slew of other notable acts.
The three-day festival, presented by Village Sounds and Secret Service, will take place at Belongil Fields Byron Bay July 27-29. Other notable acts include At the Drive-In, Bloc Party, The Kooks, Azealia Banks, Explosions in the Sky, The Afghan Whigs, Lana Del Rey, Metric and Wolfmother.
The festival was held at Belongil Fields for most of the last decade, though it was temporarily held in Woodfordia, Queensland for the past two years.
In addition to the music festival, an arts festival will be held on the grounds, as well. In addition to art vendors will be special interactive art experiences set up throughout the grounds. There also will be a Kidzklub since the festival is all ages. Kids under 11 are admitted to the festival free.
This is the twelfth year of the festival, and co-producers Jessica Ducrou and Paul Piticco recently released a statement about the event.
“The show has grown over the past few years with the addition of an extra day,” said the two in the statement. “We have a bunch more bands on the lineup and new venues like The Forum, the Very Small Mall and Day Spa etc., plus we’ve got some surprises in store this year. It will definitely be the best Splendour ever staged in Byron Bay.”
Byron Bay is known as one of Australia’s premier vacation spots, and its mayor, Jan Barham, spoke recently of the festival’s return to her city.
“Splendour’s home is Bryon Bay,” she said, “and there is defined benefit that the festival delivers to the area, especially in winter, so it is a welcome return.”
The Shins were never really the most interesting indie band, but they’ve always been a very good one. Their indie cred lies somewhere between Modest Mouse and Maroon 5, while frontman James Mercer is often regarded as a musical genius. Their existence in a space somewhere on the periphery of the mainstream has seen them do fairly well over the years.
But this is not the same band that recorded Wincing the Night Away in 2007. The Shins didn’t break up; James Mercer simply fired them, and he’s decided to work with new people this time around. It doesn’t seem to matter, because James has always been the creative force in the band, and fully in charge. The only real difference it makes is that I now feel a little strange referring to the band in plural forms.
There are many collaborators on this album, to help ease my awkwardness, and they lend a great deal to the recording. The new Shins are basically a band of featured players backing Mercer, and this is pretty much a solo album, but when was that ever not the case?
Production is much tighter here than on previous Shins recordings. The 60s aesthetic stays with them, but higher production values might actually take away some of the indie charm of their sound. These songs are a little more burnished and glossy than they probably have to be, which has the potential to tip the delicate balance of the pop-vs-indie scale.
Between the last Shins album and this one, Mercer formed another band with Danger Mouse called Broken Bells, which was a near perfect blending of the two artists’ musical styles. You can hear a bit of the impact of that experience on Port of Morrow, but Mercer seems to shy away from being experimental here, whether intentional or not, and perhaps has made a conscious effort to make this album sound more like he did five years ago.
Lyrically, too, this is a bit of a step towards normalcy. This album is not nearly as abstract or cerebral as his work has been in the past, but that may not be such a bad thing. After all, once you get a few albums into a career and have a little success, you are going to lose the air of being an indie darling whether you like it or not. If ever there was a feeling that James Mercer or The Shins had something to prove, being rid of that can only be freeing, and there is something to be said for the power of direct, easily relatable lyrics.
One might wonder why Mercer decided to make another record under the name The Shins at all, if not only for the branding, though that might be a little cynical.
Let me stress that there is still a lot to this album. It isn’t overly simplified, it’s just simplified, and that isn’t the direction James Mercer appeared to be heading in with his music. There is plenty of ambience here, and there are great soundscapes not common in pop music. That 60s vibe so often associated with The Shins brings a dreamlike quality to the music, and in its richest and most intriguing moments it’s a kind of surfer noir.
Port of Morrow is actually surprisingly upbeat, and one possible explanation for its directness is that Mercer is just in a good mood. It’s hard to be pretentious–even the good kind of pretentious–when you’re a happy father of two.
This is a really strong album, and one that should come highly recommended. Mercer has put himself in the admirable position of having two bands operating simultaneously, and while Broken Bells may tend more towards the heavy stuff, The Shins have perhaps found a new, feel-good role, even more in line with the sounds and the era that inspired them to begin with.