On a forty acre lot in the heart of Columbia, Maryland, sits the Merriweather Post Pavilion. With a twenty-thousand person capacity, the venue hosted the Virgin Mobile FreeFest, a combination of local acts, top radio bands, and, most notably, the Blink-182 reunion tour. Spread across three stages (placed in spaced out corners of the the fenced-in plot of land), artists across a wide spectrum of genres performed for twelve hours.
Toronto’s Holy Fuck opened the Dance Tent with their blend improvised electronica. For about an hour, frontmen Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh provided a strange blend of synthesizers, keyboards, and unconventional effects (was that a film synchronizer?) over the rhythmic blasts of drummer Matt Schutlz and bassist of Matt McQuaid. Without the use of pre-programmed loops, the quartet separates themselves from their peers with a live take on the electronica genre. Somehow, the band sounded cluttered yet strangely coherent during their performance, making for an extremely fun way to kick off the festival.
Local rapper Wale was given a spot on the West Stage at 2PM. Known throughout Washington, DC, for his two singles (“Nike Boots” and the Lady Gaga collaboration, “Chillin”) the twenty-one year old college dropout performed well in front of a fairly large crowd. Connecting with the local audience, Wale announced he would “Shawn Suisam the next roll of toilet paper thrown on stage”–a remark that drew applause from Washington Redskins fans. Wale’s debut, Back to the Feature, is set for a release in October, but the highly recommended The Mixtape About Nothing should serve as a quality introduction to the rapper for those interested in clever lyrics and a tight flow.
Taking Back Sunday played the main stage around 3PM. The band sounded weak, and frontman Adam Lazzara sounded inexplicably unintelligent between songs, relating the band’s songs to various pop-culture elements–fun fact: “Carpathia” was inspired by the blockbuster film Titanic. The band left much to be desired in terms of song selection, focusing heavily on the subpar Louder Now and New Again efforts. Taking Back Sunday was hardly interesting and even less exciting.
In complete contrast, The Hold Steady were exhilarant. Lead by storytelling wonder Craig Finn, the Minnesota five-piece played an excellent set for more than sixty minutes, digging through their four-album discography with ease. Beginning with the racing “Constructive Summer”, the band quickly captured the packed crowd, but it wasn’t until the band’s biggest singles (“Chips Ahoy”, “Sequestered in Memphis”) went back-to-back midway through the set that the assorted audience finally felt whole.
Two of the band’s more recent standout tracks (“Hot Soft Light”, “Ask Her For Some Adderall”) were unfortunately omitted, but older songs like “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” were undoubtedly crowd-pleasing. “Magazines”, a song about the cliche girl with “daddy issues”, was decidedly not cliche, and is easily one of the band’s most powerful live cuts. And in front of a festival audience holding nine-dollar beers, “Party Pit” and its big “I’m gonna walk around and drink” chorus was all too appropriate. “Separate Vacations”, a new brand new song from the band’s next album, was also played for one of the first times live.
The sun began to set as The Hold Steady finished their set, relieving some of the day’s intense heat. With a crisp performance and excellent song selection, The Holy Steady were clearly the strongest act during the first half of the festival.
On a day filled with excellent acts across all genres, perhaps none were more important than Long Island’s Public Enemy. Taking the stage at 5:30, the hip-hop pioneers cut through their hits from the last three decades. Songs from the politically charged–yet twenty year old–It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back hardly sound dated. The group’s strongest moments came from frontman Chuck D, a socially conscious rapper with an uncanny ability to combine tales of oppression with messages of hope. Backed by a tight production team and live band, Public Enemy performed extremely well.
And then, of course, there’s Flavor Flav. Now fifty years old, the quirky rapper spent a large portion of the band’s set talking about his recent television shows and celebrity status; what began as sincere gratefulness for his success quickly wore off the fourth or fifth time Flavor Flav stopped to talk about his life. Thankfully, Chuck D kept his partner in check, moving the set along despite Flavor Flav’s interruptions. In front of the largest West Stage audience all day, Public Enemy was fierce and genuine, furthering their reputation as one of hip-hop’s best groups.
To have any chance seeing Weezer under the overcrowded main stage pavilion, I got in a wrapping line to enter the seated area–which did allow me to catch some of The Bravery, who sounded alright during the few songs I heard. To build anticipation for Weezer, a team of helicopter parachute jumpers landed on the pavilion’s roof minutes before the band took the stage. Greeted on the rooftop by Virgin founder Richard Branson, the jumpers put on a show for the camera as Branson sprayed champagne into the crowd.
Beginning with Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, Weezer exploded out of the gates and didn’t let up for sixty minutes. The band’s performance was quite similar to their show in Holmdel, New Jersey, and I’d encourage you to read our review of that event for a more in-depth review of Weezer’s set. Rivers Cuomo sounded great, and the rest of the band clicked to give the packed pavilion a tremendous show and possibly the best performance of the entire day. Though the fifteen-song set was strictly singles, one third of the cuts came from their best album, 1994’s Weezer:
War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover)
Undone (Sweater Song)
If You’re Wondering If I Want You To (I Want You To)
Say it Aint’ So
My Name is Jonas
Island in the Sun
The Good Life
Pork and Beans
Should I Stay or Should I Go? (The Clash cover)
Blink-182 took the mainstage around 9:30PM. The band’s setlist was very similar to their date just a few days earlier (please our review of that event for a more in-depth review), but with “Adam’s Song” and “Violence” dropped in favor of “Going Away to College” and “Obvious”. The trio was thankful for the chance to play the festival and grateful for the giant crowd in attendance. Guitarist Tom DeLonge and bassist Mark Hoppus gave a lengthy pitch encouraging the crowd to donate to homeless charities, since the concert itself was free.
Not to suggest that it was all serious, though; the Mark, Tom, and Travis show was as juvenile as ever, with songs like “Blow Job” and remarks about “going down on Oprah” the rule, not the exception. Adolescent romps like “Reckless Abandon” and 1997’s “Josie (Everything’s Gonna Be Fine)” were fast and fun. The full setlist:
The Rock Show
What’s My Age Again?
I Miss You
Stay Together for the Kids
Don’t Leave Me
Going Away to College
All the Small Things
Josie (Everything’s Gonna Be Fine)
Anthem Pt. 2
Though often imitated, few bands have matched the California trio’s penchant for crafting powerhouse punk-pop riffs over intense drum beats. The band performed well, even if DeLonge often missed lines in his own songs. For Blink-182, it’s not about precise execution or musical theory; it’s about three reunited friends sharing stages across the country and entertaining thousands of fans.
To catch Weezer and Blink-182, I unfortunately missed out on sets from The National (excellent Brooklyn indie-rock), Girl Talk (also known as Gregg Gillis, in a “mash-up” genre by himself), and Franz Ferdinand (surprisingly strong Scottish indie-rock). The entire evening was excellent, and most certainly worth a trip New York City to Maryland. The free festival unquestionably served up something for everyone, and, at its price tag, who could complain?
Photos courtesy of the incredible Brandon Wu
inTuneMusic is very interested in any submissions/corrections from this event including photographs, setlists, and audio/video. Please contact us, you will receive complete credit for any submission.