Firefly 2016 Sunday review & pics (blink-182, Earth Wind & Fire, Ludacris, The 1975 & more)
I began my final day of the 2016 Firefly Music Festival at Ludacris‘ early 12:30 PM set on the Lawn Stage. He was rescheduled from Friday night (he told the crowd it was because he couldn’t leave the shoot for ‘Fast & Furious 8′ on Friday) and it turned out I wasn’t the only one who was still excited enough to wake up Sunday morning and see him. The place was packed and most people knew every word, whether he was playing a huge hit like “Yeah!” or a comparatively lesser known cut like “Southern Hospitality.” He was joined on stage by his partner in crime (or, as he clarified on stage, his partner in rhyme) Lil Fate, and the two of them had a lot of fun with the crowd. “I already know this side is the livest side of the crowd,” Luda said early on, pointing at one side of the audience. “Nah I think this side is,” Fate said, encouraging the other side of the crowd to scream back in response. “Nah it’s like noon and this side’s already drunk and high,” Luda insisted. That went on for a bit, and a few songs later, the two rappers changed their mind about which side of the crowd was the livest, and it happened all over again. Funny, crowd-pleasing antics aside, Ludacris still rapped like it was 2001. I could’ve done without him doing the EDM stuff he did mid-set, but those old jams still banged and Luda is in better form than you may have guessed.
After Ludacris I headed to the Toyota Music Den, where BrooklynVegan was hanging and DJing all weekend, then caught a solid set from the rising rapper/singer D.R.A.M., and then killed some time until blink-182 came on. Call it confirmation bias, but from the size of the wild crowd and the amount of blink-182 shirts I saw all weekend, I’d say blink-182 not only fit in fine on this “indie” oriented festival (which is along the lines of similar arguments I’ve made before), they were a highlight of it for many people in attendance. They were on the main stage, sandwiched between Grouplove and Mumford & Sons, and blink would of course seem like the odd band out. Firefly is for those bands and blink should stick to Warped Tour, is what one might assume the general consensus is. But I don’t think the thousands of people yelling along and crowd surfing were thinking about that. The only other “punk” band on the festival, Flogging Molly, played a great set on Friday, but it wasn’t exactly the best-attended set I saw all weekend. Blink had people squeezed in like sardines and pushing their way closer before the band even went on, and once the crowd surfing (and a little moshing) started, it was an even crazier mass of people.
As you may know, the band is now without co-frontman Tom Delonge (who is working on exposing the truth about aliens), and Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba is in his place. Alkaline Trio are a fine band who have been doing it almost as long as blink, and Matt was of course fit for the role, but it’s safe to say Tom was missed. Matt nailed it on guitar, and most of the songs he sang lead on had the crowd yelling so loudly that you couldn’t tell who was singing anyway, but on the ones that got slightly less of a crowd reaction (“Not Now,” “Violence”), you could tell that Matt couldn’t exactly pull off Tom’s delivery. (He didn’t try and fail — he mostly sang like Matt Skiba always sings, which was probably the best way to go about it.) The sorely-missed Tom aside, blink were as great as ever. Even their new single “Bored to Death,” which suffers from overly-polished production from Goldfinger’s John Feldmann (who usually works with overly-polished bands like Good Charlotte, All Time Low and 5 Seconds of Summer), sounded pretty good in a live environment without all that studio shine. In general, the thing that makes blink-182 such a good live band is they’re just a straight-up rock band. Especially at a festival filled with bands using pre-recorded backing tracks (blink had just a few minor ones, like the piano in “Stay Together for the Kids”), hearing nothing but loud guitar, bass and drums was a breath of fresh air.
As any festival-goer knows, you’re often faced with tough choices due to schedule conflicts at festivals, and sometimes you make the wrong choice. After blink-182, The 1975 were up against Earth, Wind and Fire, and I picked the hot new band who are already playing arenas instead of the legends who I feared would be a bit washed up. I’ve been curious about The 1975 ever since hearing their sophomore album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, which elevates them from a faceless mindie band to a distinct, ambitious one. The problem with their live set, like that 17-song album, is that they pile on way too many of the slower atmospheric songs. The bangers were fun (“The Sound,” “Love Me,” “She’s American,” etc), but at a nighttime festival set when people are looking to party, those bangers can’t be separated by so many downers. It feels like The 1975’s problem is that they take themselves too seriously. (Oh the irony of playing right after a band whose hits-filled set included the lyric, “No one should take themselves too seriously.”) The pop songs are where they excel, and the other stuff veers more towards boredom than sophistication.
As I walked away from The 1975 and crossed the field, I stumbled into Earth Wind and Fire ending their set with “September” into “Let’s Groove,” and it was exactly the kind of dance party I hoped The 1975 would be. It was a massive crowd, everyone was moving and singing and cheering, and Earth Wind & Fire sounded just like the old records. They were backed by some psychedelic visuals (not Tame Impala levels but close), and they effortlessly proved that their sound just doesn’t go out of style. Shame on me for fearing they would be washed up.