The youngest act to play Rock The Garden to date, producer Psymun and vocalists Bobby Raps, Allan Kingdom, and Spooky Black, collectively known as Thestand4rd, showed their chops to an enthusiastic crowd of early RTG attendees – a telltale sign these kids have already rallied a devoted following. Spooky Black – visibly the most uncomfortable (in the most endearing way) onstage – proved his vocal prowess, droning soulful and slightly haunting melodies over Psymun’s driving rhythms, contrasting Bobby Raps’ driving flow and Allan Kingdom’s signature falsetto. The boys bantered easily with each other, giving just enough back to their audience to keep them engaged. Though they may be relatively new to performing (this is not to say that they haven’t made their mark on the Minnesota music scene already), their chemistry and ease with one another already shows promising potential for the future of this group of genre-blending artists.
Blazing sunshine and 80-degree heat did not deter an impeccably dressed and stylishly symmetrical Lucius from delivering their sweet melodies and sugary pop gems. With immaculately coiffed red hair and matching bright yellow dresses, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig delivered powerful harmonies with ease and grace, backed by Dan Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri dressed in crisp white suits. Providing just enough oomph to rally a dancing crowd, the group treated us to all of the hits from their Wildewoman, including “Tempest” right off the bat, and closing out with “Turn it Around” and “Genevieve.” With just enough spirit, a sprinkling of sweet banter, and excellent vocals, they showed us what a really good girl group looks like.
I had my doubts about Courtney Barnett. I can now safely say that these doubts have been effectively eliminated. Barnett was meant to be onstage, droning her witty lyrics in that compellingly drawling voice. Her ability to make the most banal statements (“Last week I turned 24/you don’t call me anymore”) seem poetic and of significance has put her at the forefront of the international music scene, and for good reason. At RTG, she proved us right. Barnett has impressive presence onstage, even with her signature deadpan performance (the delivery via those piercing blue eyes may have something to do with it). Finding an excellent balance between ebb and flow throughout her set, she knows when to be on and when to let her guitar or her backing musicians do the talking. If the reviews of Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit are any indication, this babe of the contemporary rock scene has much in store
Nebraska native Conor Oberst is a veteran to the Minneapolis music scene, and his appearance at RTG was overdue. By this point in the day, most everyone was pretty drained from the blaring sun, but it became clear that a good chunk of the attendees were here to see Oberst. I’m going to be honest, I’m not his biggest fan. I find his lyrics to be contrived (“We got a problem with no solution/But to love, love, love and to be loved”), his melodies not terribly original, and his voice slightly off-putting, though undeniably unique. I will also admit that I tend to hold white male artists to a pretty high standard. I warmed up to him when he affectionately mentioned his fondness for The Current: “They’re a station near and dear to my heart…because they actually play my music.” He closed the set with “Milk Thistle,” apologizing for playing a “quiet one – it’s a bad one for slam dancing or anything like that.” Frankly, I would have loved an entire acoustic set; this is where Oberst’s voice shone through, his musical talent crooning in harmony with the quiet summer evening.
Scottish indie pop rockers Belle & Sebastian rounded out a full day of music with their addictively sweet tunes. Several musicians supported the set, including The Laurels String Quartet – a group from Minneapolis that recorded the string sections for the bands’s latest release Girls In Peacetime Want to Dance. The first half of set focused on the pop-funk tunes from this album, while the second half brought back many older classics, including “Another Sunny Day” and “Piazza, New York Catcher.” Frontman Stuart Murdoch is the most endearingly awkward human I’ve ever seen on stage – airily bopping around, he embodies the polar opposite of chronic fatigue syndrome, an ailment he suffers from. He also gave us charming and hilarious banter: introducing “Another Sunny Day”, he noted how the song was written on the Solstice when “it never gets dark. You stay up all night and it drives you to a kind of madness, you think about sex all night. I do, at least.”
Murdoch closed out the set by inviting several audience members on stage to dance along with him – the joy was infectious and we couldn’t help but bop along with them, even if we weren’t on stage.