It felt bigger and it was definitely brighter than last year. So, depending upon your tolerance for immense crowds, both elements pointed to a successful Music Midtown 2014.
For about 10 hours on Saturday, 15 acts were staggered among the three stages in Piedmont Park. The biggest challenges were deciding who to see at overlapping times and schlepping up Oak Hill to the AT&T stage that welcomed Third Eye Blind, Gregg Allman and the Zac Brown Band, among others, throughout the day.
Here’s a rundown of some of the performances from the sold-out fest.
The Strypes: The young quartet from Ireland commendably handled the large Honda Stage during their early afternoon performance slot.
With a spurt of boyish energy, the guys channeled the spirit of The Hives with their latest U.S. single, “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” and admirably charged through a cover of Nick Lowe’s 1976 B-side, “Heart of the City.”
You had to feel for singer Ross Farrelly in his all-black ensemble while playing under a blistering sun. But it didn’t seem as if much would deter these impressive late-teen musicians from letting up on the gas pedal.
Third Eye Blind: You might not expect to hear covers of Ginuwine’s “Pony” and The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” from the crew that popularized ‘90s-era jangle pop.
But there was 3EB frontman Stephan Jenkins leading the band through a guitar-heavy version of the 1996 club banger and The J 5’s best song (the former fared better than the latter, mostly because Jenkins’ upper range, while still in decent shape for 3EB songs, isn’t quite supple enough to hit baby MJ heights).
With a few stacks of pink lights flashing behind them, the San Francisco band unleashed the see-sawing “Never Let You Go” to a large crowd completely thrilled to bask in some nostalgia.
In between songs, Jenkins rambled on a bit about the Equinox and celebrating the last day of summer (technically not until Monday, but OK), and he and the guys seemed happy and loose onstage.
The band isn’t officially touring – they’re working on a new album and played the true-to-form new song, “Dopamine” – so their 45-minute set felt a bit like a free-for-all.
But of course, their infectious “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Jumper” made appearances – and also gave Jenkins a rest since both were sung heartily by the audience.
B.o.B.: Fans of the Atlanta rapper, who gave a shout out to “the East Side!!!!” early in his set, had a couple of chances to see him since he later popped up during Eminem’s headlining set.
But during his late afternoon appearance on the Electric Ballroom Stage, B.o.B., decked out in an Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan jersey, thrilled his own set of fans when he edged into the crowd.
It’s easy to forget just how many artists B.o.B. has worked with in his four-year career, but reminders came quickly with the playful “Magic” (Rivers Cuomo of Weezer guested on that record) and “Nothin’ on You” (featuring Bruno Mars).
The crowd made their appreciation for the hometown hero evident in number – a huge mass of people gathered to hear him perform – and with the volume of their own fervent rap-alongs.
Not content to provide only his own tunes, B.o.B. also offered a sprightly cover of Jessie J’s “Price Tag.”
Twenty One Pilots: It’s either really brave or kind of stupid to cover a song originally performed by an artist set to take the stage less than two hours after you perform, but Twenty One Pilots took the plunge with their uptempo, electronic version of Lana del Ray’s dreamy “Summertime Sandess.”
Luckily, they did the tune justice, arguably giving injecting it with more soul than del Ray did during her own performance (see below).
Despite going on during the hottest part of the day, the duo from Columbus, Ohio kept the crowd engaged, churning through a setlist including “Migraine,” the speak-rap of “Car Radio” and “The Run and Go,” which Tyler Joseph said was his mother’s favorite song.
Needtobreathe: The trio from South Carolina is immediately identified as a Christian rock band – and they are, no doubt, serious about their faith. But the group has also successfully courted mainstream audiences with their last two albums, “The Reckoning” and “Rivers in the Wasteland,” which both hit No. 1 on the Billboard rock chart.
During their set on the AT&T stage at the top of Oak Hill – which seemed to get higher and higher with every necessary climb to reach it – the band proved to be the most underrated of the festival.
“We’ve played in some of the smallest venues in your city and some of the biggest, too,” said frontman Bear Rinehart.
Their crowd size fell in between (most people appeared to be crammed in at B.o.B. instead), but their fans are fervent and sang along with the passionate “whoa-oh-oh”’s on the U2-like “Wanted Man” and the solid rocker “Drive All Night.”
Rinehart introduced the new song, “Difference Maker” as one that “is about not getting ahead of yourself.”
The quietly building track seemed to exemplify all that Needtobreathe embodies.
Lana Del Rey: The singer formally known as Elizabeth Grant isn't known for being the most emotive performer, so maybe it shouldn't have come as a surprise that she was somewhat swallowed up by the Electric Ballroom Stage and the giant mass of people that watched her performance.
Sporting her typical ethereal retro look, complete with softly waved hair and red babydoll dress, Del Rey certainly looked the part, and sometimes sounded it.
She would have benefited from backup singers on tunes including "Blue Jeans," "West Coast" and "Ultraviolet," where her lovely but thin was voice was drowned out. The primary problem, however, was that Del Rey herself seemed bored -- she paced lazily across the stage, twice stopping to smoke a cigarette.
Some of her lack of connection can probably be attributed to an illness that felled her earlier last week, causing her to cancel several appearances in Europe but, even with that, she was still lacking in the personality needed to deliver a stellar festival performance. She did, however, end on a high note with the haunting "Video Games," when she finally seemed to come alive.
Gregg Allman: The flaxen-haired Allman Brothers Band legend walked quietly onto the stage and bowed at the crowd before slipping behind his Hammond organ and delving immediately into “I’m No Angel.”
While Allman hasn’t looked especially healthy lately, he sounded tremendous on Saturday afternoon, the perfect amount of gruffness to his voice as he and his crackerjack band steamrolled through “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’,” an ABB classic that is as much New Orleans-styled funk as it is Southern rock.
Saxophonist Jay Collins unfurled a rich solo during “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” but the MVP of this excellent team of musicians was guitarist Scott Sharrard, who wowed with his nimble playing.
Allman sounded particularly robust and growly (in a good, Allman-esque way) during “Lead Me On.”
But it was his expectedly tender read on “Melissa,” which he performed center stage with his acoustic guitar as Sharrard added a high lonesome sound, that sent a wave of emotion through the crowd.
Of course, the vibe escalated with the sticky, ominous notes of “Midnight Rider,” which featured another muscular vocal turn from the unstoppable Allman.
Bastille: Third Eye Blind might have delivered some unexpected covers during their set (see above), but the award for most delightfully unlikely covers of the day surely goes to British rockers Bastille, who would have won with Corona's 1993 hit "Rhythm of the Night," a mashup with "Rhythm Is A Dancer" that the group released as a single in 2013. But they really upped the ante with a surprisingly soulful cover of TLC's "No Scrubs."
Their energy and cheeky sense of humor made their set pulse with life. Much of the credit goes to band founder and lead singer Dan Smith, who double-fisted the mic and a drumstick on several songs. His rich vocals buoyed hits including "Bad Blood" and "Pompeii" and gave casual fans reason to check out the rest of their tunes with the dance-y "Things We Lost in the Fire" and the island-tinged "These Streets."
It was a consistently strong set from a group that's still riding the high from their debut album -- their live performance gives high hopes for what's to come. --Yvonne Zusel
Zac Brown Band: Magic can happen when a band that makes it big comes back to play for a hometown crowd. Such was the case with Zac Brown Band, who managed to pull a large crowd to its headlining set despite the draw of the uberpopular Eminem, who performed at the same time.
The band started with a high-energy medley of covers, including a headbang-worthy version of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" and a rollicking version of Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." They moved ably between eclectic covers, including Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" and Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and their own hits, including the heartbreaking "Goodbye In Her Eyes," the good time "Keep Me In Mind" and the "Let's all take a vacation" toe-tapper "Knee Deep."
An especially effective cover came in the form of "Muse," by the Wood Brothers, who played a show at Variety Playhouse Friday night and who recorded their latest album on Brown's Southern Ground label.
In addition to their tight playing, -- particularly Jimmy De Martini on the fiddle -- a couple of members of the band took over vocal duties on some songs, including the impressively hirsute Clay Cook and John Driscoll Hopkins, who delivered on "Enter Sandman."
The group ended with a cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and their own down home "Chicken Fried," a one-two punch of well-played cover and old-time feeling original that displayed why the band has become such a compelling musical force.
Eminem: Seemingly every music lover in Atlanta swarmed Piedmont Park for Eminem’s closing set on the Electric Ballroom stage (of course there were plenty more up the hill listening to the always dependable Zac Brown Band).
But as some fans were carted out by security due to overheating or overdrinking, tens of thousands of others visibly vibrated when the lights dropped at 9 p.m. sharp and a mini movie about “Stan” and a now-missing Eminem played on the giant video screens flanking the stage.
The real Marshall Mathers appeared at the drop of the curtain, his gray hoodie pulled up and his sneakers already propelling him into a relentless bounce.
As he skittered around the stage – dressed up with a giant boom box façade in the background – and discharged a verbal assault with “Bad Guy,” “Won’t Back Down” and “3 a.m.,” a couple of things became clear: He is a phenomenal lyricist and rapper and he’s one of the few in the genre who knows how to put on a show.
Between his machine gun-style delivery and a right hand that was in constant motion, Eminem exhausted himself on stage.
He paused several times to address the frenzied crowd, first reminding them that he hasn’t visited Atlanta in nine years and later asking how many owned his first “Marshall Mathers LP.”
After the predictable roar of affirmation, he joked, “That’s a lot of mother******* people I’ve corrupted.”
In addition to his own innate showmanship, Eminem was backed by a live band and joined by Kon Artis for the majority of his performance, two supplements that added extra oomph to the presentation.
As he rolled through the steady throb of “White America” and the eerily plodding “Mosh,” Eminem hung on to his angry-guy persona. But he’s still the rare rapper who maintains massive respect from his peers while also appealing to SUV-driving moms.
With a few exceptions, Eminem didn’t delve into his radio-familiar material until midway through his set.
“The Way I Am” was anchored by a jittery high-hat and a full-on rock guitar solo and things turned pop-rap with a cameo from B.o.B. on “Airplanes Part 2.”
“Stan,” “My Name Is” and “The Real Slim Shady” appeased the casual Eminem fans, but the heart of the show likely made them into true believers.
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