The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, Sean Lennon’s musical project with significant other Charlotte Kemp Muhl, opened up day two of Rock The Garden – the field filled up quickly long before their set started, an impressive feat given the eight hours ahead for concertgoers. It’s easy to see the influence the ubiquitous Lennon Sr. has had on his son musically (anyone else think “Poor Paul Getty” bears a striking resemblance to “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite“?), and it might not help that physically, Sean looks like a carbon copy of his father infused with elements of his mother, Yoko Ono. But, there is no doubt that Lennon the younger has broken new ground and forged a successful music career for himself, staying true to this influence while managing to make it his own. This is perhaps in part due to multi-instrumentalist Muhl and Lennon’s collaborative process. GOASTT has taken the current obsession with light psychedelic rock (think Tame Impala and Flaming Lips) to new levels, with dense and intricate lyrics, and just enough mystique. The set on Sunday was cut off early – met with a booing chorus – and ended with an impressive standing ovation, even from those seated comfortably on blankets.
It’s no doubt that J.D. McPherson has quickly become modern day America’s roots sweetheart – hearkening back to classic 50s rhythm and blues, McPherson and his band fully embrace and embody the appropriation, slicked hair and all (though the hair didn’t last too long in the sweaty heat). They pull at our heartstrings, and on Sunday they showed us what they know how to do and what we love about them; a boogying good time. McPherson is sweet and likeable, with just enough dorkiness to complement his rockabilly performance. His is a simplistic view of classic American roots, but it’s easy to understand how McPherson gets 8,000+ people dancing and clapping along on a blazing Sunday afternoon with that rambling rock n’ roll voice.
Seun Kuti and the Egypt 80 brought some much-needed color to an otherwise monochromatic lineup; it’s about time Rock The Garden feature an artist from the African continent. Like Lennon, Seun Kuti has inherited the legacy of an incredibly influential father, in this case Fela Kuti, founder of Afrobeat and iconic figure in the international music scene, and, like Lennon, Kuti has made a name for himself in his own right.
After an extensive and dedicated introduction of each performer in the band, Egypt 80 introduced the first song with the words “when we came into this world, we were naked, and when we leave, we are naked,” setting the tone for the intensively significant lyrics that are central in most of Kuti’s songs. The entire set was a party, only made more potent by the political and profound words in Kuti’s lyrics; at one moment he empowered us all by introducing a song with the words “I want to inspire all kinds of women…women are supposed to change the world, too.” Full band and drums invited everyone to move in passionate release along with Kuti, though it was apparent that the Minnesotans in the crowd were not entirely sure what to do with themselves. They tried, at least, and the whole hour of Kuti’s set was an uproarious celebration of life, rhythm, and beauty, set against a backdrop of the fading Minneapolis sunset.
To say that this reunion was highly anticipated is a gross understatement. A Babes in Toyland reunion seemed too good to be true (and the trio themselves denied the possibility for a long time), so when the announcement was made that they would be back on stage together for Rock The Garden this year, Sunday’s lineup quickly became a hot ticket for veteran Minneapolis music lovers. I, as a mere 22-year old and non Babes in Toyland superfan (though an avid admirer), felt out of place because I wasn’t totally transcendently overtaken by excitement – I did not have the fortune of growing up during prime Riot Grrrl years. But damn, these women are fierce. It was like they were made to be onstage together, and like they didn’t actually take an 18-year break from performing. Lori Barbero is one of the meanest drummers I’ve ever witnessed, totally in her element atop that drum kit; Kat Bjelland a wolf ferociously howling and shredding her guitar; and bassist Maureen Herman an understated (in comparison to her bandmates) powerhouse. The Minnesotans in the mosh pit lost it, to say the least, and Chris Riemenschneider literally stole my words when he instagrammed a photo of Barbero and Bjelland with the caption “Palpable excitement.”
The closing act for a full Rock The Garden weekend made a thunderous entrance – literally. There were simulated rain sounds, fog machines galore, and thunder – to an engrossed and loving field of fans. This particular act may have been a gamble given that they haven’t performed in a while, but it quickly became apparent that this was no issue. The boisterous orchestration, stellar light show, and theatrics made it a perfect closing set for an outdoor concert; just big enough to make sure we were all engrossed and entertained, but not so big that it was overdone. It became clear that this was the act many people had showed up for. Most songs had pretty much everyone around me singing along passionately, and I even saw several skipping/dancing to the beat down the hillside pathway. Modest Mouse treated us to their hits right off the bat – “The World At Large” and “Lampshades on Fire” – and closed out the evening with an encore befitting of the day – “The Good Times Are Killing Me.