DeLuna Fest Day 2 review: Foo Fighters, Joan Jett, The Joy Formidable bring bountiful noise to Pensacola Beach
(All weekend, Soundcheck is at the DeLuna Music Festival in Pensacola Beach, for performances by Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Zac Brown Band and more. Click here for our Day 1 review. Follow us on Twitter (@tbtsoundcheck) or Instagram (cridlin) for live coverage.)
When DeLuna Fest organizers brought on Gus Brandt, the tour manager of the Foo Fighters, to book the bands for this year’s festival, he made it clear that just because they were getting him didn’t mean they were getting the Foo Fighters, too.
“The Foo Fighters were probably the last idea I had,” he told tbt* a few weeks ago. “That was the first thing I said: 'Just because I’m coming doesn’t mean the Foo Fighters are playing. I have to go through the same process that anyone else does.’ It wasn’t guaranteed.”
The gamble ended up paying off. And on Saturday night on Pensacola Beach, that payoff was spectacular.
With an epic, explosive set that included guest appearances by Joan Jett and Bob Mould, the Foo Fighters made it clear why they were Saturday night’s headliner, and why there’s a case to be made that they’re one of the great American rock bands of all time.
Singer Dave Grohl promised an epic set – at the outset, he promised five hours and every song in their catalog. And while that didn’t exactly come to pass, no matter. Even when the amps cut out during an otherwise electric Hey, Johnny Park! – a fact to which most of the band was oblivious throughout the song – the band was on fire.
“Did we f---in’ rock that s--- so hard it doesn’t work anymore?” Grohl asked after the band ended Hey, Johnny Park! Never mind all that – the Foos then embarked on a sprawling, dynamic version of Mose Allison’s Young Man Blues.
“Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? Can you f---in’ hear me now?” Dave asked afterward. Loud and clear.
Grohl was a man of perpetual motion onstage, pacing and racing and whipping his hair during every searing hit – All My Life, Rope, My Hero, I’ll Stick Around, Best of You. Drummer Taylor Hawkins is often lauded for his Muppety ways on the riser, and punk icon Pat Smear lends both lightning and levity on the axe, but it’s Grohl who commands your attention every minute of the show. He’s outspoken, outrageous and never outworked.
And at a festival like DeLuna, he takes any opportunity he can get to jam with legends. After beginning their encore with Times Like These, Grohl called up alt-rock hero Bob Mould, who played along on their collaboration Dear Rosemary and an extended jam of Tom Petty’s Breakdown (“Let’s hear it for Florida’s pride and joy, Tom Petty,” Grohl said. “You know that s---‘s right.”)
Then, promising something he’s never done before, Grohl brought out Joan Jett, who performed earlier in the evening. Turns out it’s her 54th birthday, so Grohl led the crowd in a singalong of Happy Birthday while Jett blew out candles on a cake. Then Jett grabbed the mic for a rendition of Bad Reputation.
By the end of the night, not one square inch of Grohl’s clothing was dry. He’s a maniacal man of music, and Pensacolans will speak of this show for a long, long time.
If any band stood a chance at foreshadowing the Foo Fighters’ onstage onslaught, it was The Joy Formidable.
The Welsh trio is a hurricane of noise onstage, with wild-eyed singer-guitarist Ritzy Bryan at the eye. Bryan, bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas were spaced out across the sprawling mainstage, but that mattered not, as Bryan skidded back and forth between members, scaling and kicking at Thomas’s drum kit and racing back to her stack of Weber amps for a heaping dose of feedback every now and again.
Their towering energy was palpable from the far end of the beach (Bryan noted that this was only the second beach gig the band has ever played; the first was their first ever). The Joy Formidable do not bother with two-minute throwaways. Whether it’s singles Austere and Whirring or stampeding new song Cholla, it’s all about six-minute mountains of alternative metal. Rarely has a band name firt so well – not only is the group’s sound formidable, they take immense joy in making it so.
Another group on its way to Tampa is Band of Horses. The Seattle outfit will perform at the Ritz Ybor on Oct. 14, and if that set is anything like their prime-time slot at DeLuna, expect it to be a raucous affair. Singer Ben Bridwell’s ethereal yowl may be the star of the show on singles like closer The Funeral, but early-set tracks like Knock Knock and NW Apt. showcased the group’s churning, buzzsaw guitars.
Saints of Valory call Austin home, but its members hail from Brazil, France, Canada and California – and their sweeping alt-rock sound is suitably global in scope. Led by bouncing, beaming singer-bassist Gavin Jasper, the group’s handclappy Neon Eyes was reminiscent of Imagine Dragons or early Phoenix, a big, shameless bleeder that deserves major radio airplay.
As noted earlier: Joan Jett celebrated her 54th birthday on Saturday. And so in addition to her serenade from Grohl and the Foo Fighters, the massive crowd at her own set with the Blackhearts sang her Happy Birthday, too.
Smacking her gum and casting cougarish grins to the crowd, Jett swaggered through a hefty glam-rock catalog, from early hits like the Runaways’ Cherry Bomb to solo hits Bad Reputation, Do You Want To Touch Me and Victim of Circumstance. There was, truth be told, something formulaic about the way she and her identically dressed band delivered glammy new tunes like T.M.I. and Reality Mentality. But the crowd was happy to indulge them to get to I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll and Crimson and Clover. With every pose, every bat of her eyes, Jett’s swagger carried the set.
Jett was one of a few punk legends at DeLuna Fest on Saturday. D.C.’s Bad Brains were another. And before they took the stage, it was time for OFF!, a punk supergroup led by former Black Flag/Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris.
“I guess they invited us here because they know that we were going to bring a different flavor to the party,” Morris said. Indeed. Morris glared, growled and screamed with 500-horsepower intensity on frenetic punk blasts like Feelings Are Meant To Be Hurt, Wrong and King Kong Brigade. Guitarist Dimitri Coats (of Burning Brides) and bassist Steven Shane McDonald (of Redd Kross, who perform Sunday) matched him in intensity.
The set lost its way for a bit when Morris took an extended break from the music to talk about voter registration and political topics like Mitt Romney (“The guy can barely f---in’ hold it together”), Jeb Bush (“They’re grooming him because he’s a Bush. That’s just how it is.”) and post-Katrina New Orleans (“That place could have fallen into the ocean, and they wouldn’t have given a f---”). The crowd was already growing antsy for more punk, but then technical difficulties made the delay last even longer. Maybe when OFF! plays the State Theatre on Tuesday, everything will be on point.
Morris was conflicted about performing at 5:15 p.m., at the same time that “one of the greatest reggae guys f---ing ever,” Jimmy Cliff, was performing on the main stage. They don’t just throw around the term “greatest living reggae singer” these days, but Cliff is embracing the role.
Blending reggae, soul and ‘80s-‘90s party vibes (remember I Can See Clearly Now?), Cliff led the seaside audience like a traveling minister on good-time tunes like The Harder They Come and the disco-synthy Reggae Night. And he did it all while skipping and twirling around the stage with a wild array of moves (including a randy combination limbo/pelvic thrust that few 64-year-olds should attempt). While his old protest single Vietnam – reworked for modern times as Afghanistan – was suitably firey, Rivers of Babylon proved the most stirring, as Cliff’s entire band became a percussion and vocal choir.
Elsewhere on the bill…
Author, songwriter and all-around grunge smartypants Mike Doughty was smart: He brought a stool to the sweltering main stage. The impressively mutton-chopped singer and two bandmates delivered an hour of tight prog-jam-grunge-fusion-tinged pop songs. (That enough qualifiers for you?)
As with City and Colour on Friday, on paper, you’d think Doughty’s set could have been a downer, given his hard-lived life. You’d be wrong. Fans couldn’t help but dance to the crisp, clean chords of Bustin’ Up a Starbucks, the sardonic disco groove of Vegetable and the hacky-sack chaos of Put It Down. Along with groovalicious, sweater-vested bassist Andrew “Scrap” Livingston, Doughty was a damn delight all afternoon. If Dallas Green was indie-rock’s Jason Mraz on Friday, Doughty may just be its Ben Harper.
Speaking of singer-songwriters: Humble country troubadour Walker Hayes looked and sounded more VH1 than CMT, with clever, sunny songs like Coffee, a slinky riff on a terrible pickup line (“How do you take your coffee? … So I can fix it for you in the morning when we wake up”) and minor hit Pants (“She can wear the pants, as long as I can take ‘em off”). He came across a bit like Nashville’s smarter, happier version of James Blunt, which isn’t a bad thing.
Like Fishbone the day before, alt-country veterans The Silos helped get the main stage moving with a set of twangy, rusty barroom drinkin’ songs. Somewhere in 1987’s Tennessee Fire, buried beneath the grease and the grit and the grime and the truth, there is a modern Nashville hit waiting to be released. For a 2 p.m. band, they more than held up their end of the bargain on the biggest stage at DeLuna Fest.
Wearing snug leopard prints, rising country singer Maggie Rose crammed six bandmates onto a tiny indoor stage for a set of no-nonsense, sassy swing and at least one couples-dancer, Put Yourself In My Shoes. But the best part might have been when she introduced her band – each member got to take the lead on an unconventional song of their choice. Anytime you can hear a seven-piece country band cover Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Rage Against the Machine, you count that as a win.
COMING SUNDAY: Zac Brown Band, Florence and the Machine and Bob Mould close out DeLuna Fest 2012.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*