Made in America gets Philly rocking
In only its second year, the Budweiser Made in America festival is coming of age.
The basic structure of the fest, curated by hip-hop mahoff Jay Z, remains the same, with one member of the Jay Z-Beyoncé household closing the first day of the two-day fest (the rapper’s wife on Saturday night) and a longstanding hard-rock act closing out the second day (Nine Inch Nails on Sunday night).
Beyoncé hit the stage at 10:30 sharp, fronting an all-female band. Immediately, the powerful-voiced singer let Made in America know who was boss, strutting her stuff in a white bustier in front of a phalanx of female dancers as she used a martial beat to underscore the title of her opening song, “Run The World (Girls).”
Greeting the crowd with an “I Love you Philly,” Beyoncé carried on with an emphatic performance that was only a slightly scaled down version of the Mrs. Carter show she’s been touring with throughout 2013. She changed costumes approximately every eight minutes and leaned heavily on aggressive R&B bangers, mixed in with occasional ballads like the gender role-reversal “If I were a Boy” and a partial cover of the Whitney Houston version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love you.”
When she wore a lime-green, Tina Turner-style fringed dress and sang “I’ve got beauty, I’ve got class, I’ve got style, I've got…” in “Why Don’t You Love Me?” it was hard to argue against her.
Jay Z’s sampled voice was heard on “Crazy in Love,” but he surprised the crowd by not coming out on stage to perform with his wife
This year, the festival delivered on several other fronts on Day 1. Keening French power-pop band Phoenix delivered a terrific performance as darkness fell on the Rocky Stage in front of the Art Museum steps. The band opened their kinetic one-hour show with the spiky, super-catchy riff from “Entertainment.” After playing their breakout hit, “1901,” from the 2009 album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, singer Thomas Mars introduced the band to the Philadelphia audience: “We are Phoenix, from Paris, France! Made in America, are you with us, or what?”
Several undercard acts, including British singer Emeli Sande, Los Angeles sister act Haim, and DJ-producers Mord Fustang and Porter Robinson, and Australian glam-pop duo Empire of the Sun also played standout sets.
Made in America also generated its first political commentary via an electric set by veteran political firebrands Public Enemy, who spoke out on behalf of underfunded Philadelphia schools, against racism, and in support of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal.
The agit-rap hip-hop legends got off to a farcical start when Flavor Flav, infamous reality TV star and ace side man to Chuck D, grabbed a microphone and began doing a loud sound check — “Make some noiiiiise” — while Sande was performing nearby.
Flav, who played bass on that song, switched to drums after Chuck D brought on Philadelphia original gangsta rapper Schoolly D — who was introduced as “the Mayor of Philadelphia” — for “PSK, What Does It Mean?” They clearly knew where they were. No cheesesteak patter here.
This year’s Made in America features a fully developed slate of indie bands on the festival’s Skate Park Stage, which disappointingly has nothing to do with the new Paine’s Park skating area in Schuylkill Banks Park, adjacent to the festival grounds. Instead, the stage is smack in the middle of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, close by the local food trucks that line up near the fest entrance.
This year’s bigger crowd made it sometimes difficult to navigate from band to band on a sticky summer day, especially when a major draw like disappointingly lame rapper A$AP Rocky finished his set and a wall of people made their way across the Parkway to get a good view of Sande on the Liberty Stage. Many festival-goers complained about the crush of packed bodies in front of the main stages
Made in America makes much of the diversity of its lineup, with the combination of rappers, rockers, and DJs reflecting the wide range of taste of the music fans raised in the post-iPod era. Saturday’s crowd was multiracial, scantily dressed in red, white, and blue. It was a mix-and-match metaphorical melting pot masquerading as a summer blowout in the place where the American experiment began. Brought to you by Budweiser, of course.
To walk up and down the Ben Franklin Parkway on Saturday afternoon was to see and hear that unquiet melange in action. On the Liberty Stage near Mark di Suvero’s red abstract Iroquois sculpture, Haim — sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim — played an energetic, impassioned set that took a page out of the harmonizing ’70s singer/songwriter rock sound of bands like Fleetwood Mac. Their radio hit “Falling” went over the biggest, but their whole set was a winner.
One of the biggest improvements to the site this year was moving the electronic dance music artists from a hot tent on Von Coln Memorial Field that smelled like a men’s locker room last year to a verdant glade on the south side, closer to the festival entrance on 22d Street. Sonic bleeding from stage to stage was minimal and EDM devotees were no longer isolated from non-EDM purists.
An early festival bust was Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky, who made the serious faux pas of showing up late for his set — on the main Rocky Stage, no less. The brief set that followed was rushed and uninspired.
Walk the Moon, a perky indie band from Cincinnati, started the festivities at 1:50 p.m. — 10 minutes early — on the Rocky Stage. The foursome, fronted by Nicholas Petricca, was one of three acts scheduled to simultaneously open the Jay Z-curated fest at 2 p.m. Spanish rappers Duo Kie opened the Skate Park Stage, strangely following intro music by country superstar Kenny Chesney. (Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper was nowhere in sight.) British producer Redlight was first up on the Freedom Stage.
After bashing out “Next in Line,” Walk the Moon’s Petricca, who wore multicolored face paint and banged on a drum as well as played keyboards, made a promise to the crowd: “It’s going to be an amazing day of music. You’re going to have a good time today.”
Contact Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628, email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @delucadan. Read his blog, “In the Mix,” at www.inquirer.com/inthemix.