Firefly Music Festival 2015 pics & review: Morrissey, Modest Mouse, Run the Jewels, Snoop Dogg, Zola Jesus & more
Morrissey / Modest Mouse / Run the Jewels / crowd
Back in 2012, the seemingly random location of Dover, Delaware got the new Firefly Music Festival, and it was instantly a success. This past weekend it wrapped up its fourth year, and this thing is more massive than ever. I mean for one, they got Paul McCartney to headline the Friday night (more on that here), and there may not be a bigger deal of a headliner on the planet than him. But Paul wasn't even the half of it. The grounds are huge, and they were packed all three days. To get an idea of the size, it sometimes took about 10-15 minutes to get from the Firefly Stage to the Lawn Stage -- the two that always seemed to have the biggest acts. Unfortunately this also meant it was often impossible to see a full set, the worst case for me being Morrissey straight into Modest Mouse straight into Paul on Friday. It meant I missed when Morrissey played "Meat Is Murder" with his graphic on-screen projections, and apparently sent a portion of the crowd away in disgust.
I'm not sure how many other people who missed that happen were bummed out though, because realistically, Morrissey isn't a main draw at a festival like this. The biggest and most hyped crowds I saw were for the EDM acts like White Panda and Zedd, or the current wave of festival-ready bands like Bastille and Walk the Moon. Those bands have this vaguely-alternative pop rock sound that's danceable, easy to digest, and full of a lot of whoa-ohs. It's pretty easy to see why that sort of thing does well on a major festival, but it's not too surprising that their fans don't want to hear angry songs about the meat industry.
Even if Morrissey didn't get the fists pumping though, he sounded great. When he and the band played "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before," his voice sounded as rich as it does on Strangeways, Here We Come. And his stage presence isn't wild or anything, but he still managed to seem larger than life. Whether he was playing recent tunes like "World Peace Is None of Your Business" or classics like "Suedehead," his live show lived up to the expectations I had for someone as legendary as Moz.
Throughout the weekend, there were a few other artists avoiding the festival-pop trends too. Earlier on Friday on the same stage that Moz and Macca would play was Manchester Orchestra. I haven't loved a full album of theirs since the singer/songwriter-y indie rock of 2006's I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child, but in the time since then they've basically transformed into a grunge band and they really pull it off live. In my opinion, the only thing holding back a song like "Top Notch" off last year's Cope is the production, but in a raw live setting those Headbanger's Ball-worthy jams live up to their full potential. And when M.O. do whip out the older ones like "I Can Barely Breathe" and "Where Have You Been?," they sound tighter than ever.
Modest Mouse were fantastic as always too. The only real conflict of the weekend for me was that they were up against Run the Jewels, but having seen RTJ five days earlier, I opted for the Mouse. We got a good amount of their new album, and they worked in old favorites towards the end, giving us a stretch of "Dramamine," "Doin' the Cockroach," "Float On," and "Dark Center of the Universe" all in a row.
Saturday the highlights were fewer for me, the biggest being Zola Jesus' set. She played at The Forest Stage, which is this cool small stage that's a little out of the way in comparison to the others. It gets its name as it's surrounded by a thick wooded area, which also makes it a nice way to escape the sun. Zola played to less than 100 people (the masses were gathered at the main stage for Matt & Kim), but she and her band brought a much welcome darkness to this festival. It was appropriate to have her on the shady stage. Her band (three men in all black clothing) were all business as Zola belted her powerhouse vocals, lurched around the stage, and at one point came up to the crowd and walked along the barrier. She left the stage abruptly after closing song "Vessel," and had the small but loving crowd yelling for an encore (no such luck).
Sunday had the hardest-rocking afternoon band I saw since Manchester Orchestra, Benjamin Booker. I didn't fully realize from his self-titled 2014 debut how rocking he is, or how he could be opening for Social Distortion and playing the punk/metal stage at Fun Fun Fun Fest later this year. But after seeing him live, I get it. He might smile and laugh a lot on stage, but when he and his band locked in for a feedback-y jam and then Benjamin ripped a string-bending solo, they were no joke.
The only artist I was excited to see that ended up being a disappointment was Snoop Dogg. Even though the guy's got countless songs dating back over 20 years, he spent the majority of his set essentially doing karaoke to other people's songs. Sure, it was fun when he got the huge crowd singing "I Love Rock and Roll" and "Jump Around," but it could've been anyone up there doing it. And a lot of the Snoop songs we did get were cut short. Things should go over better when he plays Doggystyle in full at Riot Fest.
Right after his set, I ended my weekend at The Killers. You might argue they're no better than the Bastille/Walk the Moon-type stuff I was talking about earlier, and sure they have some cheese in their sound. What bothers me about those bands though isn't their poppiness, it's that they all sound so anonymous. But "Mr. Brightside," "Somebody Told Me," "Smile Like You Mean It" and later hits like "When You Were Young" and "Human" are all bangers, and hearing all those songs at Firefly was a blast. Even their more recent, less banging songs pretty much sound like mid-'80s Bruce Springsteen, which was a refreshing change from the interchangeable festival-pop bands.
The Killers also did the Firefly crowd a favor by covering two songs by Kings of Leon, whose Saturday night set was cancelled due to lightning. And any classic rock fans hanging around were treated to a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising," which they pulled off surprisingly well. These guys are total rock stars and they clearly know it, but at least they do what they do really well. (Unlike Foster the People who I saw a day earlier with an open mind but just kept thinking ...what are they even doing?)
More Firefly pictures (including some from Thursday night, which I didn't attend) below. Paul McCartney wasn't allowing photos but we did get pics of him in Philly on Sunday.
Morrissey (by Dana)
Run the Jewels (by Dana)
Gary Clark Jr
Zola Jesus (by Dana)
Spoon (by Dana)
Cold War Kids