Day three of the Firefly Music Festival on Saturday, June 21, focused mostly on new bands for me — finding such new bands always is the strength of well-organized festivals.
My day began with Smallpools, a quartet from Los Angeles, and their catchy pop songs on the Firefly backyard stage. Smallpools have not yet released a full-length album, but their most popular single, Dreaming (from a self-titled EP) is a very neo-psychedelic dance number that smacks of Foster the People and Passion Pit, as many others have observed. Vocalist Sean Scanlon demonstrated a good sense of humor when recounting a protest email the band once received about its name. Apparently, someone was unhappy that Smallpools would celebrate “small pools,” which are not healthy for killer whales. In response, the band named a new song “Killer Whale.”
Smallpools open for Neon Trees in a show at the 9:30 Club on July 13, but it’s already sold out sadly!
With a bit of time to kill, I wandered to the Firefly lawn stage to check out Lucius, featuring Jess Wolfe on vocals and synth and Holly Laessig on vocals and keyboards. These ladies previously collaborated with San Fermin, so I was curious to see their own band’s material. They were a bit eclectic, a bit dramatic and a bit playful (particularly with their penchant for matching wigs) — all around an engaging combination. With their debut album, Wildewoman, the Brooklyn quintet cover a lot of ground, but manage to strike me for having a bit of an alt-country vibe somehow? Otherwise, Wolfe and Laessig harmonize wonderfully in the spirit of the best of retro-girl groups, and the rest of the band plays along in lush and relaxed strides, particularly in their opening songs “Genevieve” and “Tempest.”
I don’t catch all of Lucius, however, for one of the big draws of the day is coming up back on the main stage. I’m catching MS MR, the Brooklyn-based dreampop duo, for the third time, and their set is the best performance I’ve ever seen from them. They are confident, fun, breezy, and everything comes easy to vocalist Lizzy Plapinger and keyboardist Max Hershenow. They were outrageous clothes, and crazy shoes in particular, but they play with sexy style — Plapinger’s smile was electric! They draw a large audience, who enjoy themselves so much that it was hard to complain that they scarcely played for more than 30 minutes before wrapping up their set with their first single, “Hurricane.”
In their set, they played a new single “Think of You,” about the healing power of time when getting over a bad relationship. They also performed two amazing covers — one of which I had seen previously in their rendition of LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean.” To my pleasant surprise, they also covered the Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know?” and it was pretty amazing.
After MS MR, I chose to skip Grouplove (whom I’ve still not seen live to date — *sigh*) in favor of a second viewing of the mighty Kaiser Chiefs, new wave men from Leeds, England. As I report elsewhere, the Kaiser Chiefs were in fine form, even if vocalist Ricky Wilson was sounding a bit scratchy here and there, and they played a strong set with amazing energy.
Next up where the immensely popular Imagine Dragons on the festival main stage. The band tread through some popular songs like “Fallen, “It’s Time” and “Radioactive,” among others. They also performed a song called “Battle Cry,” from the upcoming soundtrack to Transformers: Age of Extinction, which they never previously played live in the United States. The defiant song of fighting onward against the odds went over very well with the audience, but then Imagine Dragons pulled out its best move of the set.
Lead singer Dan Reynolds announced the band would attempt to cover one of their favorite songs, and they unexpectedly launched into “Tom Sawyer” by Rush. It was a complete surprise, and Imagine Dragons brought a powerful arena-rock flavor to the song, winning over everyone within earshot.
My final performer of the night was the singular Beck, who performed on the festival’s lawn stage. It is another strength of festivals that you can indulge yourself and check out an act that you may not otherwise have seen. In Beck’s case, I never cared for his first single releases, and thus never felt compelled to investigate him further.
Well, Beck was a pleasant surprise indeed. The unconventional man from Los Angeles played songs that you would expect him to play like “Loser” and “E-Pro.” He also played some surprisingly fresh and pleasant new songs, such as “Blue Moon” from his new album, Morning Phase.
Beck was a bit off-kilter but quite comfortable on stage and with his audience, particularly as he bantered dryly between or even during songs. He too broke out a pleasant surprise with his cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” which his band segued into from a performance of his 1997 single “Sissyneck.” Beck playfully suggested the song should not be covered out of respect for Jackson, but allowed the audience to goad him into it, and it made for a fascinating performance.
Beck closed his set with an extended performance of “Where It’s At,” one of his radio singles that I always warmed up to pretty easily for its sheer catchiness if nothing else.
I did not stay for Outkast, the headliner of the evening, because frankly I’m not overly fond of their material and I was tired at the end of a long day. I did, however, return for a few more bands the fourth and final day of the festival, and I’ll attempt to share some info in a brief, final post on the festival tomorrow.