DeLuna Fest Day 3 review: Zac Brown Band, Florence and the Machine, Bob Mould close the weekend at 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 Part 1 and here for Part 2. Check us out on Twitter (@tbtsoundcheck) or Instagram (cridlin) for more coverage.)
The Fourth Headliner. Every festival has one. It’s the name on the poster that isn’t quite as big as the top three, but a lot of folks who paid for tickets think it probably should be.
At this year’s DeLuna Fest, the Fourth Headliner was unquestionably Florence and the Machine, a powerhouse of modern rock that is currently touring arenas around the Southeast, including Tampa’s USF Sun Dome on Tuesday. No offense to Zac Brown Band, but many fans who came for the likes of Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters and Band of Horses gathered early to stake out space for Florence Welch and her mighty Machine.
The English rockers responded with an electric hour of rock ‘n’ soul resplendent in Gothic beauty and theatricality. Had Zac Brown Band been unable to fulfill their duties as mainstage headliners on Sunday, Flo ‘n’ Co. could easily have filled in.
Florence and the Machine is, as the name implies, a perfectly composed and well-oiled instrument. Welch is front and center, and there’s no reason to look anywhere else, not with her dynamic voice and ethereal witchy-woman ways, especially when the elaborately gorgeous set constructed around her serves as the perfect frame for her striking canvas.
But lest you think Welch is all form, no function, we’d like to present Exhibit A: Rabbit Heart, during which the singer hopped down from the stage and raced through the crowd to the soundboard, the first time we’ve seen such a maneuver all weekend. Exhibit B: Every other song, during which she beamed beatifically at the crowd like a high priestess of universal love, warbling and wailing as she skipped from stage right to stage left, inciting the crowd to near-ravelike energy. And all of it while just barely breaking a sweat.
But all of it would mean little without the Machine. Driving the band’s Amazonian rhythm was drummer Chris Hayden, who walloped out the stampeding beats of No Light, No Light, Only If For A Night and Shake It Out. And though a harp may seem like gilding the lily, none of the band’s music would have the depth and delicate detail it does without it. Put it all together, and no one in the sprawling crowd could keep from bouncing when commanded. The incredible Spectrum (Say My Name) was nothing short of awe-inspiring, with even fans in the VIP section pogoing up and down.
Were Florence and the Machine better than the Foo Fighters on Saturday night? Maybe not. But it was a photo damn finish.
After fabulous performances by Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters and Florence and the Machine, Zac Brown Band had their work cut out for them. Thankfully, there may be no band better suited to play right on the beach, as the Georgia boys have made a career out of songs about dipping your toes in the water and ass in the sand.
“I feel free out here,” said Brown, before launching into the country hit Free.
The rock-centric crowd was noticeably thinner for Zac Brown Band than for Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters, which isn’t surprising – there probably isn’t a lot of crossover between fans of Spin the Black Circle and Chicken Fried. But it was their loss. Brown and his merry, musical men embraced their jammier tendencies all night. There was a medley of Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely and John Mayer’s Neon, all with a calypso-driven fiddle jam at the end. There was the ska-like Who Knows, the best Sublime song Sublime never recorded. And perhaps most surprising of all: A cover of Nirvana’s All Apologies. Talk about bringing DeLuna Fest’s grunge theme full circle.
Brown didn’t bring out any surprise guests, but he didn’t need to – his band can do just about everything on their own, as they proved during their dynamic cover of The Devil Went Down to Georgia, which never fails to blow doors off their hinges.
This is country’s ultimate party band, a group that boasts a bountiful catalog of hip-shakers and foot-stompers, plus a weeper or two just to keep you honest. For DeLuna Fest 2012, it was a smashing way to say adios and vaya con dios.
From 3:30 to 6 p.m., ‘90s rock fans were faced with a major logjam of talent. It started with Bob Mould, the revered alt-rock veteran who cameoed with Foo Fighters Saturday night. Mould was billed as performing the entirety of Copper Blue, his acclaimed 1992 alt-pop album with his post-Husker Du group Sugar. Unfortunately, the schedule only allowed for about half of it (and NOT the second half, which means fans didn’t get to hear quirky half-hit If I Can’t Change Your Mind).
On the plus side, the Copper Blue songs Mould did sing, such as Changes and Hoover Dam, were delivered with the punkish rage of a teenager. When Mould wasn’t singing, he rarely stood still, circling the stage like a puma. He even played a couple of Husker Du songs, including I Apologize. There’s still a punk somewhere beneath that sensible button-down and beard, it seems.
A Husker Du/Sleater-Kinney double bill might cause indie punk fans to faint. But Bob Mould playing back-to-back with the Corin Tucker Band isn’t a bad consolation prize. The former Sleater-Kinney singer stuck to songs from this tres cool post-punk project. The psychedelic rumble of None Like You and roller-derby spunk of new single Neskowin ensured that Tucker’s longtime fans didn’t go home unhappy.
Watching from the wings during both Mould and Redd Kross (see below) were ‘90s indie-rock fvorites Superchunk, who were something of a coup for DeLuna Fest, as they’re not touring at the moment (and might rather be home counting that sweet, sweet Merge Records money). But the band said yes, perhaps as a favor to festival booker Gus Brandt, who was getting married on Sunday – Superchunk dedicated Hyper Enough to Brandt and his bride. All set, singer-guitarist Mac McCaughan and his cohorts were even more energetic than Mould on old favorites like Crossed Wires and the furious This Summer.
Finally, playing to a bigger crowd than Mould, Tucker and Superchunk combined were Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers, who everyone knows because everyone owned a radio in 1996. Dylan looked and acted like he had no particular place to go, and so the band played like it, deviating very little from a well-worn set of old favorites (6th Avenue Heartache, The Difference), new songs (Hospital For Sinners) and covers ((What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding). It was a low-energy gig, one that might have gotten lost amid all the other balls-out performances of the weekend, but at least it boosted DeLuna’s cred among the Top 40 crowd.
Elsewhere on Sunday…
In 2012, if you want a party band for your festival, you call Fitz and the Tantrums, whose time-tested approach to horn-powered soul yielded a sleeper hit in Moneygrabber. The vocal interplay between singers Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs on tracks like Don't Gotta Work It Out and Pickin' Up the Pieces -- which featured a kickass flute solo, no joke -- clearly perked up the main stage crowd after the Wallflowers.
An odd fact about Sunday at DeLuna Fest: The festival grounds were swarmed by dragonflies all afternoon. Everyone from Jakob Dylan to Superchunk commented about it from the stage, and they were so pervasive that Blackberry Smoke singer Charlie Starr had to bat them away during the trippy, noodly Sleeping Dogs, right as he was transitioning into a brief cover of the Allman Brothers’ Midnight Rider.
A gang of long-haired freaky people from Atlanta, Blackberry Smoke are swaddled in Almost Famous iconography, from their clothes to their facial hair (Starr’s mutton chops draped from his cheeks like wispy, unkempt curtains). If you have to ask whether Blackberry Smoke had a tapestry of a 12-point buck draped across their organ, well, you just don’t know Blackberry Smoke. But their music matched their style, particularly when mountain-man percussion brothers Richard (bass) and Brit (drums) Turner rumbled out the intro to the rollicking, rambunctions slobberknocker Up In Smoke. Catch ‘em at the Largo Cultural Center on Oct. 17.
It was a bit of a shock to see bassist Steven Shane McDonald going from performing with hardcore punks OFF! on Saturday to rejoining his original band, vintage power-pop-punks Redd Kross, on Sunday. But there Redd Kross were, playing a rare set of glammy rock minus the glam (right down to guitarist Robert Hecker’s vintage Wendy’s T-shirt). The crowd was sparse, but it included members of Superchunk. Stage-striding singer Jeff McDonald didn’t look much like he cared either way.
A festival stage can swallow a rapper alive, especially early in the day. But Jacksonville Beach native Astronautalis held sway over DeLuna’s second-largest stage before 1 p.m., backed solely by an iPad. Astronautalis’ brainy yet confessional style showed on Thomas Jefferson, where he came across like MGK channeling Tom Waits. But he really owned the crowd on a lengthy freestyle built around outlandish audience suggestions, including cupcakes, ravioli, a sports radio station in Dallas and the Higgs Boson Particle. Captivating stuff. When Astronautalis comes to the Orpheum on Oct. 10, opening for Flobots, don’t miss him.
Many a Pensacolan has been buzzing all weekend about Sunday’s reunion performance by local indie-rock heroes Twothirtyeight, who disbanded in 2003. “My 33-year-old self is covering my 21-year-old self,” said stoic singer Chris Staples. The group sounded anything but rusty in resurrecting songs from their old albums, such as This Town Will Eat You, a perfect slice of hazy, late-‘90s proto-emo in the vein of early Death Cab For Cutie. Staples’ voice – somewhere between Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus and Thursday’s Geoff Rickly – was perfect for the band’s prime years, and it still sounds fine today. Here’s hoping there’s more in twothirtyeight than this single festival one-off.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*