Zachary Charles dropped to both knees, microphone in hand, screaming “I'm a mess right now and I'm just freaking out!” on stage Sunday.
It’s the crux of their hit “Freaking Out” that faces depression and anxiety, something the New Jersey band realized was the mission of why they make music.
Before the show, Charles along with bandmates 26-year-old David Labuguen and 27-year-old Nate Esquite spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about how their fans connected to the idea that the artists also struggle with these issues.
“We go through this stuff, too, you don’t have to be alone going through life having your bad days,” Labuguen said.
Charles added: “(With) three best friends, you can still feel like you’re going through it alone sometimes.”
This was the first time those three best friends have ever played in Atlanta, something they now realize is silly.
“Atlanta was always this really big question mark,” said Charles, age 27.
The band played at Infinite Energy Center in Duluth a few weeks ago (opening for Panic! At the Disco), and Labuguen was struck by one thing: How many fellow Filipinos there were. “To see Asians out here is really refreshing to me.”
As for Music Midtown, they said everywhere they go in Atlanta, folks around town are excited by the concert and welcoming.
“You don’t always get that,” said Esquite, who said his only impression of Atlanta was Chick-fil-A and added he’s camped out for six store openings – once twice in one day.
Charles took a second during the performance to address their first Atlanta show.
“Atlanta I don’t know how we never came across how amazing you guys are,” he told the crowd. “That is so stupid, you guys are so beautiful.”
It’d be easy to roll your eyes at a musician who first rose to fame through a viral YouTube video.
But it’d be a mistake to sleep on Maggie Rogers, the Maryland native who seemingly came from out of nowhere in 2016 after a video of Pharrell praising her song “Alaska” blew up online.
In the intervening years, Rogers has released several songs in anticipation of her debut LP, all of which were part of her hour-long Music Midtown set on Sunday, along with a couple of new tunes and a surprise assist on the live version of “Alaska” by Atlanta rapper Lil Yachty (who pulled double duty later in the night by showing up onstage with Gucci Mane.
Rogers’ excitement over playing Atlanta was apparent from her first song, “On and Off,” and later made explicit when she told the crowd it was her first time playing in the city.
Her gorgeous vocals were on full display on the slinky, yearning “Say It” and the bouncy “Give A Little,” which displayed glimmers of the buoyancy of Haim, whom she opened for this summer.
She was visibly moved by the crowd reaction during the Annie Lennox-esque “Light On,” which she dedicated to the fans.
“Because of you, I get to do what I love more than anything else in the world,” she said.
If anything, Rogers’ first Atlanta performance created even more anticipation for her full-length album’s release (here’s to hoping that Yachty shows up, too).
09/16/2018 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Billie Eilish performs at the Cotton Club stage during the Music Midtown festival at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Sunday, September 16, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
“Toy Story 2” is two years older than Billie Eilish. Still, she drew a massive crowd to her 5:30 p.m. show on Sunday.
Much like Rainbow Kitten Surprise the day before, her audience was packed with juveniles. And as teens can be, they weren’t happy.
Butch Walker, born in nearby Rome, was playing at an adjacent stage and his set ran long, to the chagrin of Eilish's crowd.
At a point, the 16-year-old was done waiting for the 48-year-old rocker to be done. But tom toms and kick drums will always beat out a melodious electropop artist like Billie, so her first few songs were a bit drowned out.
That didn’t stop the L.A. dynamo from putting on a rousing rest of her set.
Her show had the sounds of an angsty summer: The shriek of a girl narrowly missing catastrophe while mounting the shoulders of a boy, an older man making too much noise in your ears and the only sound you really want — that of another kid who gets you.
By the way, it’s been reported that her full name is Bille Eilish Pirate Baird O'Connell. So there’s that.
Butch Walker, a native of Rome, Ga., tore through a set of rockers at his first Music Midtown appearance in 20 years. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC
The last time the singer-songwriter-guitarist-producer played Music Midtown, everyone was 20 years younger (and many in this year’s Music Midtown crowd clearly weren’t even zygotes yet) and he was with his band, Marvelous 3.
Walker, a colorful vision with his sleeve tattoos and light-colored hair that flew and flopped perfectly, nodded to his past by unleashing the band’s best-known song, “Freak of the Week,” and also joking to the crowd, “Maybe your mom played this in her car.”
For the rest of his hour-long set, the Rome native whipped out vigorous rockers, including his tributes to “The Outsiders” (“Stay Gold”) and homage to The Pretenders (“East Coast Girl”) from his most recent album, 2016’s “Stay Gold,” while also turning sultry on “Bed on Fire.”
Walker, who has penned and produced hits for artists including Taylor Swift, Pink and Avril Lavigne, is criminally underrated as a solo act. He takes the best elements of Bruce Springsteen, the best of ‘60s choruses and the best of ‘80s pop anthems and blends them together in an intoxicating, foot-stomping blend.
He’s an electrifying performer, a gritty guitarist and a robust singer, exemplified on “Closest Thing to You I’m Gonna Find” and the eternally awesome “Synthesizers,” which featured a snippet of the song’s spirit animal, Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come on, Eileen.”
One of many highlights came during “The Weight of Her,” when Walker noted, “I’m tired…but I live to do this!” before tearing into the signature guitar solo of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.”
Despite his steady success in the studio, Walker has never shunned his Georgia roots and returns home fairly regularly for live shows. Lucky us.
09/16/2018 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Janelle Monae performs at the SalesForce stage during the Music Midtown festival at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Sunday, September 16, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
It's barely been a month since Janelle Monae performed a pair of highly invigorating, inventive shows at The Tabernacle, but just because she was in town recently doesn't mean she left her A-game at home.
Far from it – Monae churned through an hour’s worth of songs from her three albums, most from her acclaimed 2018 release “Dirty Computer.” The set saw her take on everything from female empowerment on the syncopated confection “Pynk” (which also featured Monae and her dancers wearing outfits that very vividly evoked a below-the-belt female body part) and “Django Jane” to sexuality on the joyous “Make Me Feel”.
The songs she chose for her Music Midtown performance allowed Monae to show off both her rap skills (on “Django” and “I Like That”) and her powerful vocals, particularly on the show-stopping “Electric Lady,” which also showcased some stellar work from her trumpet and trombone players.
Speaking of which, it would be a mistake not to mention the support Monae got during the performance from both her excellent backing band (which at one point featured two keytars) and her dancers, who added so much spunk to every number, particularly the aforementioned “Pynk”.
As is often the case with Monae’s performances, the ghost of Prince was never far from the proceedings. There were nods to him everywhere, particularly on the sly, dirty “I Got the Juice” and the guitar on “Prime Time”, though there were also shoutouts to Michael Jackson and James Brown by way of Monae’s moonwalking and her moves during closer “Tightrope.”
But more than anything, Monae’s set was a celebration of being true to yourself –she alluded to recent revelations about her sexuality before telling the audience that “no matter who you love or how you love, you’re welcome here, right now,” and later shouted out things she liked about specific crowd members from their afro puffs to their sunglasses during “I Like That.”
It speaks to Monae’s effusiveness and generosity as an artist that while the fans at Music Midtown were celebrating her, she was celebrating them right back.
Bazzi makes the songs that make the young girls cry. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC
The 21-year-old Michigan singer who goes by his last name (first name, Andrew), attracted an exceedingly young crowd to his set, which marked his first performance in the U.S. in the past two months (he’s been in Europe, he said).
In his knit cap and red silk shirt emblazoned with “Blind for Love” on the back, Bazzi had fans swooning with songs such as “Why” and “Star.” When he needed to take a moment to tie his shoe, he instructed the crowd to sing the national anthem, which they did with great fervor.
Bazzi infused his songs with much feeling and sensitivity, but it was unfortunate that he veered noticeably off-key during several tracks, including “Alone” and “Beautiful.” Not that the kids seemed to mind, especially by the time he got to his set-closing smash, “Mine,” a sway-along ballad that turned the overheated bodies into an arm-waving mass.
Foster the People performs at the Roxy stage during the Music Midtown festival at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Sunday, September 16, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Credit: Alyssa Pointer
Credit: Alyssa Pointer
Foster the People
If you’re familiar with any song by the Los Angeles-base band Foster the People, it’s almost certainly “Pumped Up Kicks,” an undeniably catchy tune that was omnipresent when it was released in 2011. It was the song that got stuck in your head and put the group on the musical map.
But while the band – fronted by founder Mark Foster – played their biggest hit during their Music Midtown set, much to the crowd’s obvious delight, they also delivered plenty of other (dare we say even stronger?) tunes to satiate both longtime fans and newbies who might be looking to dive into the Foster the People catalog.
Foster, an understated but charismatic frontman, put the full range of his vocals on display on songs such as “A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon,” which showed off both falsetto and baritone. The pounding “Lotus Eater,” on which he snarled through lyrics like “Sorry I was late, I didn’t wanna come,” eventually segued into a version of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” The jangly “Don’t Stop” and the dare-you-not-to-move-your-feet “Houdini” turned into mini dance parties, easily proving that Foster the People is much more than just its kicks.
09/16/2018 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Gucci Mane performs at the SalesForce stage during the Music Midtown festival at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Sunday, September 16, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
The first 20 minutes of the Atlanta rapper’s set featured his DJ playing songs and commanding the crowd to put their “hands up” in a signal of yes-we-are-now-ready-for-Gucci-ness.
So by the time Gucci Mane strolled out and dove into “Both” and “I Get the Bag,” the large audience assembled at the headliner Salesforce Stage was antsy and ready to bounce.
“Where my real Gucci fans at?” he asked, receiving a roar in response. Gucci has re-ignited his career in the past couple of years with his new commitments and dedication to changing his lifestyle. One of those changes was on display when he shrugged off his bomber jacket to display a noticeably gym-ready form and wandered around the stage topless with a slow swagger.
With his DJ mixing beats behind him, Gucci rolled through “Back on Road,” “I Think I Love Her” and “I Don’t Love Her,” grinning at the crowd’s fervent response.
Fans received an extra dose of Atlanta when upstart Lil Yachty joined Gucci on stage (he also cameoed during Maggie Rogers’ set), sending the crowd into an escalated frenzy.
Amelia Meath, of the band Sylvan Esso, performs Sunday at Music Midtown. The two-day event also featured headliners Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons. RYON HORNE/RHORNE@AJC.COM
The husband-wife duo of singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn came out swinging Sunday and never let up during their hour-long performance. Meath is a revelation live, her endlessly interesting voice pairing perfectly with Sanborn’s beats on tunes such as the syncopated “Kick Jump Twist” and the pulsating “Dress.”
Meath’s charming give-no-cares attitude is especially welcome on the sing-song “Hey Mami” and the spare, lovely “Die Young.”
09/16/2018 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Khalid performs at the Great Southeast Music Hall stage during the Music Midtown festival at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Sunday, September 16, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
The smooth voice of this 20-year-old El Paso singer filled the air as folks awaited Kendrick Lamar’s headline set.
Khalid started with some of the most Music Midtown lyrics ever – “So let's do all the stupid (stuff) that young kids do” – in his song "8TEEN."
With a “Wassup, Atlanta?” he exuded coolness.
He saved his insanely popular and dreamy hit “Location” to close out his show.
The song quickly went platinum, and he’s sure to pump out more of that caliber.
09/16/2018 Atlanta â Atlanta native Daniel Platzman, drummer for Imagine Dragons, performs in front of thousands as the band closes Music Midtown 2018. The two-day event also featured headliner, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Kendrick Lamar. RYON HORNE/RHORNE@AJC.COM
It was a special night for the band, not only because the last time they played the festival five years ago it was on a much smaller stage, but also because it was a homecoming for drummer Daniel Platzman, whose family still lives in Atlanta.
The quartet of Platzman, singer Dan Reynolds, guitarist Wayne Sermon and bassist Ben McKee is based in Las Vegas, and over the years they’ve learned how to inject their show with razzle-dazzle that never distracts from the music.
Orchestral swells prefaced their arrival onstage, and when it occurred, the foursome rose from the back, all playing Lucite drums.
Reynolds has evolved into a captivating frontman and he immediately skittered down the catwalk jutting from the stage for “Radioactive,” then dashed to the piano to amplify the song’s melody.
Arena-ready lights, plumes of smoke and searing guitar work from Sermon peppered their set, while Platzman, who sported a No. 2 Joe Johnson Atlanta Hawks jersey, powered the band’s massive sound from behind his kit.
“This is a safe space,” Reynolds said early in their performance. “No judgment, no politics, no religion, no stress, no work, no school.” With that, he draped a rainbow flag over his shoulder and the band slammed into the still-visceral “It’s Time.”
Fiery and forceful on “Whatever it Takes,” with rapid-fire lyrics married to a propulsive beat, and a touch bluesy on “Yesterday,” Reynolds and the band sounded taut and polished.
They rolled out current hit, “Natural,” with understated drama – the song’s early Motown feel exploding into another stadium rocker primed for sporting events (live, Platzman provided a marching beat and snare drum rolls to emulate the more electronic vibe on record).
Since it was a special night, they also unveiled a cover not often played – Blur’s “Song 2,” which, given its simple, singalong chorus and serrated guitar, amped the crowd even higher.
Wearing a green “Not For Sale” shirt, Kendrick Lamar proved Sunday night he has never been that.
He headlined opposite Imagine Dragons to close out a weekend of varied and amazing artists. But, just guessing here, all of them would like to be Kendrick Lamar.
Kung Fu Kenny had an intro and running video series that showed him fighting others using a “Turtle Style” kung fu. He was “Black Turtle.”
As the show went on, a graphic ran behind him that read “Pulitzer Kenny” in reference to his Pulitzer Prize for his album “DAMN.”
With pyrotechnics and graphics of things such as jellyfish and a slow-motion brawl, his show didn’t disappoint visually.
But that’s to be expected. They’ve had plenty of time to perfect this; Lamar said this is the last stop on their year-and-a-half on the road with the DAMN. tour.
He didn’t stray away from putting energy into his older material on “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” and was rewarded by the crowd in kind.
Before playing “LOYALTY,” he told the crowd: “We been rocking since the Tabernacle.”
Indeed, he’s played Atlanta before, but this outdoor show was special. Maybe best evidenced by him asking everyone to pull out their phones for his ethereal song “LOVE.”
A dark field of sweaty, tired people magically became a sea of faces by all working together after a long weekend of stellar performances also enjoyed together. Take a bow, Kung Fu Kenny.