DeLuna Fest Day 1 review: Pearl Jam, Ben Folds Five, The Gaslight Anthem rock Pensacola Beach

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September

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(All weekend, Soundcheck is at the DeLuna Music Festival in Pensacola Beach, for performances by Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Zac Brown Band and more. Follow us on Twitter (@tbtsoundcheck) or Instagram (cridlin) for live coverage.)

Music fans in 2012 live in a festival culture, and we’re not just talking about biggies like Bonnaroo, South By Southwest or the Ultra Music Festival. Smaller fests are gaining genuine momentum in Tampa Bay, from the Gasparilla Music Festival to Antiwarpt to the Sunset Music Festival to October’s Guavaween.

But one thing Tampa Bay doesn’t have is a major, multi-day rock fest. Enter the DeLuna Music Festival in Pensacola Beach. The festival, partially a response to the BP oil spill, was meant to showcase the panhandle’s natural beauty and the notion that it can stand proudly as a cultural destination. It has in may ways been overshadowed by larger fests in New Orleans and Gulf Shores, Ala. – and occasional slip-ups, such as last-year’s last-minute cancellation by headliner Linkin Park, made it seem like DeLuna might not last, a la Orlando Calling.

But DeLuna brings a lot to the table, which may be why 2012 is by far its strongest year yet. Each year brings a diverse, unexpected lineup (Friday’s bill included Pearl Jam, Dwight Yoakam, Ben Folds Five and Fishbone) to a sparkling beachfront setting. But even though the names are massive, the atmosphere is laid back and friendly, the prices aren’t outrageous and if you get there early enough, free parking is actually plentiful.

This has become the best music festival on Florida’s Gulf Coast – and one of the most underrated in the Southeastern U.S. It’s the festival Tampa Bay needs – and who knows, someday, we might just get it. Someday.

Since that day is nowhere in sight, though, let us focus on four things DeLuna Fest and Pensacola Beach do extremely well.

HEADLINERS

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This was Pearl Jam’s first show in Pensacola since 1994 – a fact singer Eddie Vedder announced after learning onstage that the city is guitarist Mike McCready’s hometown. “And here I thought I knew you,” Vedder said.

As if to make up for lost time, Pearl Jam’s set, one of only a handful in North America in 2012, was loaded to the hilt with older crowd-pleasers, including two tracks from Ten Oceans and Even Flow – within the first four songs. This was a good thing, and not just for nostalgics – it’s older numbers like Alive, Even Flow, Corduroy and Do The Evolution that let McCready and Stone Gossard showcase their filthiest, meatiest riffs.

But it is Pearl Jam’s nature to make old songs (the revival-like Daughter) sound new, and new songs (The Fixer) sound like classics. And so the energy never waned all night, with fans packed deep across the sand. And you want to talk vintage? Vedder even scaled about eight feet worth of scaffolding around the stage. He wasn’t dangling from the rafters or anything, but it’s still impressive, all these years later.

Vedder didn’t dish on his dinner with President Obama Thursday in Tampa (though he did pontificate on voter registration and the importance of supporting wounded and depressed soldiers, which he followed with the anti-war anthem World Wide Suicide). The band simply played, and played, and played, including an eight-song, 45-minute encore featuring classic cuts Black, Why Go, Better Man, Alive and an electrified Rearview Mirror that served as a gauntlet for any other band looking to claim Song of the Weekend honors. The band closed with a cover of The Who’s Baba O’Riley (with Ed wearing a Who/Keith Moon shirt, no less) and a Jimified Star-Spangled Banner from McCready.

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While they were assigned to a secondary stage, the reunited Ben Folds Five may as well have been Friday’s second headliner. As fine and eclectic as Folds’ solo work has been, something magical happens when he’s paired with Robert Sledge’s distorted-to-hell bass and drummer/songwriting conspirator Darren Jessee. Nineties pop masterpieces like Selfless, Cold and Composed and Battle of Who Could Care Less regained their old distorted verve. Ben Folds songs finally, once again, sounded like Ben Folds Five songs.

Playing their first show in Florida in 13 years, BFF is still shaking off a bit of rust here and there (at one point, Folds forgot the lyrics to Uncle Walter, then, grinning with glee, picked up his piano stool and hurled it as his keys). But songs from their new comeback album The Sound of the Life of the Mind sounded fine, including the determined musical-theater stomper Erase Me and Fraggle-aided runaway-chuck-wagon Do It Anyway. And the gleeful Army was a highlight, especially when the band dropped out so the crowd could scream the horn parts – “Ba ba baaaa, ba ba baaaa…” – a cappella.

Can’t lie: It was a major disappointment that BFF skipped songs like Song For The Dumped and One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces. All the more reason for them to come back to Florida on tour.

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Not faring quite as well at the comeback game were Ohioans Guided By Voices. Beloved to a cultish degree by many a music writer, GBV drank and smoked their way through a hit-and-miss set, with singer Robert Pollard slurring lyrics to fuzzy alt-rock chuggers both old (1994’s I Am A Scientist) and new (the title track to comeback album Class Clown Spots UFO). “As you can see, we’re old,” Pollard said. “We still rock.” 

Apparently DeLuna Fest was robbed of a Pollard/Pearl Jam collaboration. Vedder said from the stage that he saw Pollard backstage and asked if he wanted to come out and sing a song with them, and Pollard said sure, if he wasn't too effed up, he'd come out.

The collaboration never happened.

CURRENCY

You can’t throw a major music festival without stocking the poster with young bands that music fans really want to see. For example: The Gaslight Anthem.

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The Bruce-approved Jersey boys caused a major stir throughout the festival grounds early in the day by brining Vedder onstage to roar through Pearl Jam’s State of Love and Trust (top photo) “Handsome? No,” said singer Brian Fallon. “But surprises? We are good for surprises.”

Fallon, who grinned ear to ear throughout the song, did not hide his Pearl Jam bona fides, hinting he’s a member of the group’s fan club, but declining to give out his fan number, because “you’ll find me and ask me weird questions about Bruce Springsteen.”

That’s pretty well-worn territory, as the gravel-voiced Fallon has spoken at length about his Springsteen obsession. It shows in rip-roaring songs like The ’59 Sound, 45 and Keepsake, all played early in the set.

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Canada’s City and Colour is another band on the come-up; they sold out the Ritz Ybor this summer. Singer-songwriter Dallas Green is emo-folk’s sensitive soul of the moment, a latter-day Chris Carrabba with the volume dialed down halfway.

Wearing a flowered shirt and summery straw hat, City and Colour delivered a ghostly western chorus on the noirish As Much As I Ever Could, and confessed his bleeding heart out on The Grand Optimist.But his greatest feat might have been taking the acoustic Body in a Box, a song about death, and turning it into something positively Mrazian. Maybe it was the sun, maybe it was the swaying, clapping cloud. But on this sunny afternoon, for once, the music didn’t seem all that dark.

DIVERSITY

One of the goals of DeLuna Fest booker Gus Brandt was to create a poster that didn’t look like that of every other festival in 2012. He’s succeeded by scoring impressive lineups in genres like progressive country (Zac Brown Band, Wood Brothers, Walker Hayes), old-school punk (Bad Brains, OFF!, Redd Kross), electronic music (Diplo, 12th Planet, Paper Diamond) and eclectica (Jimmy Cliff, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk).

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The big name Friday was Dwight Yoakam, one of those “country guys for guys who don’t like country.” The actor-singer has a new album, 3 Pairs, and he played tracks both new and old, including longtime favorite covers Little Sister and Act Naturally. He shuffled, he mumbled, he and his band wore every rhinestone not currently claimed by Lady Gaga. It was delightful.

Aso delightful: Minnesota newgrass outfit Trampled By Turtles, who inspired copious brodowns in the pit of the third-largest stage. The quintet picked and fiddled to a furious finish on Wait So Long. They’d make a killer Tropical Heatwave headliner one of these days.

And of course there was Fishbone, the ska-funk pioneers who kicked off the main stage with a rip-roaring set led by rubber-faced frontman Angelo Moore, who, with his orange jams, happened to be the only performer at DeLuna Fest who dressed like he was actually going to the beach. “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could go swimming right now while you’re listening to Fishbone?” Moore asked. No one would have minded if they did.

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SHOW SOME LOVE TO THE LOCALS

Bands of the panhandle and beyond are getting some nice play at DeLuna Fest – locals are already buzzing about this weekend’s reunion set from twothirtyeight.

And Friday kicked off with early sets by bands from around the region. New Orleans’ Honey Island Swamp Band combined funky grooves and extended jams with bandolin, bass and chicken-dancing blues. Pensacola’s own Pioneers! O Pioneers! opened the second-largest stage with a set of pensive, slow-burning indie rockers.

And from way down in Orlando, the Woolly Bushmen continued their northward expansion with a set at a tiny indoor stage. Fans in Tampa Bay are well aware of their Troggs-like psych-blues power; the more people who take note up here, the better chance they have at going national.

Any festival has to make sure local artists are included. DeLuna Fest picked some good ones to represent Pensacola Beach.

COMING TOMORROW: Foo Fighters, Joan Jett and Jimmy Cliff come to Florida.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Monday, September 24, 2012 2:05am]

    

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