Sean Scanlon, vocalist of Smallpools (photo courtesy Firefly Music Festival)
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!
Phoenix headlined the festival (Photo courtesy Sweetlife Festival)
The Sweetlife Festival very much fulfilled the promise implied by its name Saturday, May 11, delivering la dolce vita in a well organized celebration of music and food at the Merriweather Post Pavilion.
I’m not traditionally the biggest fan of going to concerts at the DC-area outdoor pavilions — much less festivals after the chaos that accompanies the Virgin FreeFest annually at Merriweather. But Sweetlife made excellent use of the place, offering a mainstage, a “treehouse stage,” and a dance floor in the small 9:30 Clubhouse (officially, the 9:32 Club) on the grounds — all of which dissolved into an energetic performance by headliner Phoenix at the end of the night.
Food vendors, trucks and restaurants set themselves up in neat rows in various portions of the grounds and concertgoers queued up to patronize them around the clock. My companion and I parked and shuffled into the pavilion without difficulty and make our way toward lunch, pausing to check out Solange Knowles, performing an early set on the main stage. To our surprise, she struck up a cover of “I Could Fall in Love” by late Tejano singer Selena. While we didn’t really hang around to check her out, her soulful voice was crowdpleasing and the main stage attracted a sizable gathering for the time.
The bigger and better Marina and the Diamonds swept through the 9:30 Club Tuesday night, demanding and pretty much receiving all of the attention she could handle.
But first, Brooklyn-based MS MR opened for Marina at the ridiculously sold-out show. I can remember few times the 9:30 Club seemed more packed. After doing some research on the opener on the Internet before the show and finding precious little, I confess I was pleasantly surprised with their show. MS MR got a very busy room rocking in preparation for Marina’s performance.
MS MR, whose member names still remain unknown to me, appeared as a quartet with female vocalist, two gents on keyboards and another on drums. For quite a few songs in their eight-song set, one of the keyboardists switches out to a guitar. Some of the band’s favorites, according to a YouTube playlist, include New Order, The Long Blondes, Sufjan Stevens, and Glass Candy — none of which comes as a surprise. However, MS MR themselves are a much more rockin’ affair with their blonde lead singer wiggling and swaying at the microphone, dressed and dancing like a jazz club chanteuse ready to heat things up. Immediately after their set, the fill music included The Supremes and Shania Twain, and I gotta say MS MR definitely takes a big piece of the sound of both and melds them into their own unique synth-driven experience.
What can I say? This show has been sold out for quite some time. But you should definitely see if any of your friends has a spare ticket!
Welsh-born Marina Diamandis is an awesome and attractive presence in the burgeoning new wave scene. She has all of the sophistication and self-awareness of a post-modern Madonna with a healthy infusion of attitude from off-kilter new wave women like Lene Lovich and Toni Basil. The final product is undeniably hot and sounds more exciting to my ears than almost anything else being released right now. Marina’s second album, Electra Heart, dropped last month, bringing with it a fuller sound and an even more intense interest in glam ballads than her simpler albeit totally fun debut.
Ms Mr, visiting from Brooklyn, bring with them a newly released dreampop song “Hurricane” — an initial listen to which pleasantly places them alongside contemporaries like The Hundred in the Hands. The unnamed female vocalist (Ms) and unnamed male synthesizer player (Mr) have preferred to remain mysterious to the press so far, but their talents will be on display Tuesday night as Marina’s opening act.
If you had them, tickets to this all ages show would have cost you $22 plus fees. If you don’t have them, check with those aforementioned friends for extra tickets, search Craigslist, or go stand in front of the 9:30 Club begging for them. You won’t regret it. Doors at 7pm; Marina at 9:30pm.