BY MELISSA RUGGIERI and RODNEY HO/AJC Music Scene
(This story was originally posted at 1:50 a.m. Sept. 18, 2017.)
Early Sunday afternoon at Piedmont Park, Peter Conlon was sporting a smile.
"Of all the weekend events (in Atlanta), we beat 'em all," he said.
Conlon, the president of Live Nation Atlanta, which produces the annual two-day Music Midtown festival at the park, had reason to be happy. The Saturday crowd at the festival topped 78,000 - beating the record attendance previously held in 2014, the year Eminem headlined.
The star this year? Bruno Mars, the undeniable draw of Music Midtown's genre-spanning lineup.
"I knew it would be an incredible show - that's why I booked him," Conlon said of Mars' electrifying, fireworks-filled performance that closed Saturday's event.
The mob of music fans wasn't quite as difficult to navigate on Sunday, which again featured hot (albeit, dry) weather and a lineup including Mumford & Sons, Future, HAIM and Bastille, suggesting some who purchased the two-day pass were primarily interested in Mars.
Here's a recap at some of Sunday's highlights.
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Mumford & Sons
Mumford and Sons is the leader of the folk-rock sound of the 2010s, soon followed by the likes of the Lumineers ( featured at last year’s Music Midtown ), Of Monsters and Men and the Head and the Heart, to name a few.
In recent years, the band’s sound has become more rugged – courtesy of electronic guitars and synthesizers - but on Sunday night, the harmonies remained tight and their anthemic choruses enveloped the air at Piedmont Park like a warm hug. Marcus Mumford’s distinctive vocals still carry an underlying melancholy tone that would make the band’s songs perfect fodder for John Cusack’s hopeless romantic character Lloyd Dobler to play on his boombox in the film “Say Anything.”
In a minor surprise, the band brought HAIM on stage for “Awake My Soul,” though the ladies didn’t add much to the equation except awe-struck admiration. (HAIM had performed on the same stage a couple hours earlier - see below for review.)
The decidedly slow- to mid-tempo pacing of the set only picked up at the 70-minute point when they threw in a few quicker-paced tunes including “The Cave” and "Ditmas.”
And given they were headliners, they added pyro and shot out massive amounts of confetti as “The Cave” concluded, probably to the dismay of the staff assigned to clean up Music Midtown.
- Rodney Ho
By 8:40 p.m., the chants of “We want Future! We want Future!” spread through the mass of people gathered at the secondary headlining stage, as impatient fans clamored for the Atlanta rap star.
A few minutes later – so about 15 minutes late – Future bopped on stage, pulled up his hoodie and briskly rolled through “Rent Money” and “Super Trapper.”
With a four-piece band and a DJ behind him, Future’s clip-clop raps were injected with fresh muscularity, and he was clearly jazzed by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, which he implored to be the loudest at the festival.
A sea of bouncing hands and blue light sticks accompanied “Bugatti” and a snippet of “Move That Dope,” while fans also gleefully rapped along with “S***” and “Thought It Was a Drought.”
Future has invested plenty into his live show, making sure to present a visual feast with lasers and puffs of pyro. He’s clearly moved into megastar territory in his genre and has learned that the bigger the paychecks, the bigger the expectations.
Given the plethora of major rappers in town, fans might have expected an extended guest list; but they seemed more than satisfied with the appearance of Young Thug for a rendition of “Pick Up the Phone,” proving that Future’s loyalty runs deep.
- Melissa Ruggieri
Young the Giant
If there is an act that encapsulates the humdrum nature of many rock bands this decade, it’s Young the Giant. Their songs possess a pedestrian, mirthless quality that doesn’t resonate particularly well at a festival. While there was a huge crowd for their show, many reacted only to the handful of hits, including “Cough Syrup” and “It’s About Time.” The more subtle, less melodic tunes disappeared into the air without much effect.
Lead singer Sameer Gadhia, whose orange-tinted outfit was more interesting than his vocal delivery, brought the requisite intensity and earnestness to the role but not much else.
On the bright side, Gadhia gets points for consideration. After spying a person fainting in the audience from heat, he stopped the concert and waited until security helped them get treatment. And he threw several bottles of water on stage to folks in the crowd.
By the band’s count, this was the fifth time they played Music Midtown throughout their nearly 25-year career- and Ed Roland is still a stone cold rock star.
With the solid supporting cast of Will Turpin on bass (and sporting a customized Atlanta United shirt), Johnny Rabb on drums, Jesse Triplett on lead guitar and brother Dean Roland on rhythm guitar, Ed Roland whirled around the stage in his white outfit, belting “Heavy” – complemented by Triplett’s meaty riffs – bending backward at his mic stand and flashing peace signs at the crowd.
Collective Soul’s eternal singalong, “Shine,” began as a ballad with Ed on keyboards until that signature serrated guitar lick blasted in.
“Thanks for inviting us to your party,” Roland said from the stage to appreciative whoops from the multi-generational audience.
While emphasis remained on classics including the heavenly “The World I Know,” Collective Soul also used their stage time to perform “AYTA (Are You the Answer)” from 2015’s underrated “See What You Started By Continuing” album, and introduce “Right As Rain,” an acoustic-guitar-based rocker from their upcoming album, “Blood.”
In a musical landscape that seemingly can’t focus for more than 30 seconds, it’s a joy to hear a band that not only still packs a wallop with older material, but continues to move forward.
One of the most polished, melodic bands of the past few years is California’s trio of sisters, Este, Danielle and Alana Haim.
Their sunshiny songs are a combination of Colbie Caillat with bite and Fleetwood Mac meshed with their youthful exuberance.
The band opened their set with “Want You Back,” the sumptuous first single from their recently released sophomore album, “Something to Tell You.”
Backed by a keyboardist and drummer, the trio – Este on bass, Danielle (in a cool Phil Collins T-shirt) on guitar and lead vocals and Alana on guitar and keyboards – were sassy and funny in between presenting their rich harmonies on “Little of Your Love” and “Ready for You,” which featured Este on lead vocals.
As fans know, the group always picks a certain cover song to play each tour, and this round goes to Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” which was performed faithfully, if a touch stripped down with shards of electric guitar. The trio took a joking dig at Mumford & Sons during the song – even funnier later in the night when they turned up on stage with the band – and closed their set with a return to their 2013 debut, “Days Are Gone” with “Falling,” and the new song, “Right Now.”
If there’s a pop-rock band today that knows how to pump up great hooks, it’s British rockers Bastille.
Those hooks were on full display as day turned to night at Music Midtown. From the brassy “Send Them Off” to guitar-heavy “Warmth” to its impossibly catchy breakthrough hit “Pompeii,” lead singer Dan Smith kept the crowd engaged and energized. Bastille even honored Atlanta by covering TLC’s “No Scrubs” with reverence.
Smith’s between-song patter was minimalistic, making a single passing reference to a certain American president as a way to introduce one politically charged tune.
“This is dedicated to someone who gets way too much attention,” he said before jumping into “The Currents.”
I can't believe the scary points you make
Still living in the currents you create
Still sinking in the pool of your mistakes
Won't you stop firing up the crazies?
The band gets bonus points for taking full advantage of its 60 minutes. They got on stage promptly at 7:30 and left just as 8:30 rolled around, fitting an efficient 14 songs into the hour.
Judah & The Lion
Judah Akers, the hyper-kinetic lead singer of the Nashville band Judah & The Lion, has classic rock-star good looks but none of the rock-star attitude. He was clearly here to ensure the mid-afternoon crowd was jumping around and fully engaged, willing to dance around awkwardly, play a toy guitar or wade into the audience. "We never try to be cool," Akers said.
His group, which generated its first alt-rock No. 1 hit earlier this year with the catchy, propelling "Take It All Back," has embraced itself as "quirky and weird," two adjectives Akers freely used on stage.
Indeed, in this Spotify/Pandora world, their aggressive mish-mosh of rap interludes, fiddles, banjo, accordion and the usual array of guitars and drums somehow works. And the young crowd practically drowned out the band singing along to the lyrics of the Killers' 13-year-old hit "Mr. Brightside" midway through the 11-song set.
The New Jersey native calls Atlanta home, and the large crowd that packed his set at the Cotton Club stage on Oak Hill exemplified how much of a following the 24-year-old rapper is cultivating.
With a DJ perched high behind him, Russ worked the stage feverishly as he spat the blistering “What They Want” and “Too Many.”
Wearing a T-shirt that decried racism, the thoughtful rapper commanded the crowd to throw their hands up as they sang along with nearly every song.
Russ demonstrated his ability to ably shift tempos, as he strode through the ominous creep of “Waste My Time.”
It’s a good bet that the next time Russ is tagged for Music Midtown, he’ll be situated on a larger stage.