Reviews by Sean Daly, Jay Cridlin and Ray Roa
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The Big Guava music throwdown is three days of outdoor music madness May 2-4 at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. Who to see? Our critics divvy up the goods and give you the weekend’s must-go shows.
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Sean Daly, Times pop music critic
Such is the mighty power of the ATLiens in Outkast — Andre 3000 and Big Boi, a complex partnership that sacrifices best-buddyship for creative competition — that Friday at Big Guava would be the must-go date even if the hip-hop duo were the only act on the bill. (Ray and Jay over there will disagree, but they secretly know I’m right.) From big boomin’ beats (B.O.B.) to hyperkinetic hooks (2003’s ubiquitous Hey Ya!) to startlingly honest social commentary (Ms. Jackson), the Stankonian residents are among the most brash, bashing, confounding pop-music-makers around. Adding to their aura is their fickle relationship, which up until this current reunion, had devolved into eight years of solo albums and rumors. As a result, this is not just the show of the festival but one of Tampa Bay’s buzziest shows of the year.
Ray Roa, Times correspondent
Vampire Weekend last sank their fangs into the bay area with a Jannus Live show in 2010, and while a plethora of boat shoes-wearing, oxford-clad, prep-rock imitators have emerged since the band debuted in ’06, there still isn’t anyone who can do it quite like Vampy Weeks. Yes, guitarist Ezra Koenig and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij have been called “cultural imperialists” for the novel way they borrow African and West Indian rhythms to craft uber-intellectual hyphy-pop, but what kind of stick-in-the-mud wants to keep these Columbia-educated lads from cursing while debating punctuation (Oxford Comma) or employing Auto-Tune in an examination of linguistics (California English)? The festival’s three days are riddled with bands hoping to make a lasting impact on pop music. Save for legacy acts (all hail Outkast, Cake and Violent Femmes), none are as relevant, effortlessly clever or enduring as Vampire Weekend.
Jay Cridlin, Times staff writer
Okay, fine: I’ll admit that Foster the People is the weakest of Big Guava’s three daily headliners. Their sonically overwhelming new album Supermodel kind of tanked, especially considering the dizzying heights reached on debut album Torches. (We’re all sick of Pumped Up Kicks at this point, but to our ears, Helena Beat and Houdini haven’t aged a day.) Big Guava’s real strength on Sunday lies in its second-tier acts, many of whom could pack some of Tampa Bay’s biggest clubs and theaters all by their lonesome. After a day watching these guys, you may even be willing to give ol’ Mark Foster the benefit of the doubt. He could still become this generation’s Phil Collins! We swear!
Friday 8 p.m., Nectar
There was a time — circa 1996’s The Distance — when I wanted to take this Sacramento alt-pop band’s (Cake) signature trumpet and wrap it around droll frontman John McCrea’s neck. But, man, later hit Short Skirt/Long Jacket was so gosh-darn groovy all was forgiven.
Friday 6 p.m., Nectar
The Columbus, Ohio, duo of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun of Twenty One Pilots are like a less-steroidal Linkin Park: quasi-rapped lyrics, anthemic grandeur, general malaise. Catchy hit Car Radio starts like a shrink session, ends like a rave.
Friday 8 p.m., Orchard
A former member of indie crew Kids These Days, and noted pals with fellow Big Guava act Chance the Rapper, one-time dope hustler Vic Mensa has a sly indie aesthetic and a head-shop flow.
Friday 7 p.m., Big Guava
This boy-girl noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells out of Brooklyn takes a totally catchy Gwen Stefani framework (see Bitter Rivals) — and then, well, pummels Gwen Stefani and sets the place on fire. Prepare for crowd moshing/making out.
Friday 4 p.m., Grove
A.k.a. Aussie singer-songwriter Jessica Anne Newham, Betty Who is reminiscent of Swedish dance-pop eccentric Robyn … if Robyn had stolen Marty McFly’s ride and time-traveled in from 1985.
Friday 4:30 p.m., Orchard
Singer Stina Wappling leads this electro-popping Swedish trio NONONO, which is responsible for whistly hit Pumpin’ Blood (alternate title: that song from the Galaxy Samsung IV TV ad).
Friday 7 p.m., Grove
Party-boy rapper Jake Miller looks and struts like Bieber and yet would much rather be compared to Eminem. Jury’s out on this one, but he sure is hunky.
Friday 5:15 p.m., Grove
This disco-thrashy good-time band, Smallpools boasts the cool handle of “indie pop” — which means that Maroon 5 would be considered “indie pop,” too. No, this is pure fratty rock.
Friday 6:15 p.m., Orchard
The Unlikely Candidates, a busky roots-rock crew is straight out of Texas, and yet when you hear single Follow My Feet, you’ll absolutely swear they’re Mumford & Sons’ London neighbors.
Saturday 3:30 p.m., Big Guava
Haim sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana (and non-sibling Dash Hutton) seem to have skipped that “next big thing” phase by signing with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation management group and playing Coachella. Their ’80s-influenced brand of Fleetwood Mac-loving, Motown-kissed rock ’n’ roll has resonated with music fans across all demographics.
Saturday 6 p.m., Big Guava
These identical twins from the Great White North were just in town playing a free show outside 93.3 FLZ’s Jingle Ball, but it’ll be worth it to see Tegan and Sara again. What originated as angsty, electro-tinged folk quickly refined itself and caught on with The Con before morphing into radio-ready, synth-laden pop on 2013 hit single Closer.
Saturday 1 p.m., Grove
This Detroit sextet, Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas, have the undesirable task of opening a side stage while festivalgoers trickle in hung over from the night before. That shouldn’t be problematic, since Ms. Hernandez packs the perfect voice to lead the band’s boozy, horn-drenched, brand of dingy carny-rock.
Saturday 3:45 p.m., Grove
There’s a mini Brit-rock invasion happening at Big Guava, and this Southampton, England trio Band Of Skulls, lead the fuzzed-out, blues-rock charge. Guitarist Russel Marsden and bassist Emma Richardson make magic on cuts like Death By Diamonds And Pearls, where the pair bring a love of Jack White and the Black Keys back into the garage so they can tear off guitar solos like no one is watching.
Saturday 1:30 p.m., Orchard
Ironically (and sadly), there isn’t a lot of Florida flavor on the Big Guava lineup. Luckily, Miami’s Jacuzzi Boys have enough spice and saltwater-soaked sounds to go around, with their psyched-out, spastic surf rock.
Saturday 7:30 p.m., Nectar
Tribute acts are lame, but Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience gets half a pass, since there’s a possibility this will be the first time the younger crowd will get to experience the music of Led Zeppelin live. Bonham is the son of late Led Zep drummer John Bonham.
Saturday 12:30 p.m., Orchard
The Los Angeles duo Hunter Hunted has packed a lot of action into just a year and a half, appearing on soundtracks for a handful of shows and performing on the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Expect to be sold pretty quickly, as songs like Keep Together and End Of The World have the kind of choruses you’ll be singing in your head all day.
Saturday 2:45 p.m., Orchard
One of Saturday’s buzziest bands is Bear Hands . Their 2010 LP of beat-loving indie electro landed them headlining gigs in advance of their new album, Distraction, which was greeted with big cheers at Coachella last month.
Saturday 4:30 p.m., Orchard
The sun will still be high in the sky when Kitten takes the stage, and that’s a shame, because the band’s dark take on electro-pop deserves to be played loudly as temperatures drop with the setting sun. Chloe Chaidez’s charismatic stage presence is a result of a childhood obsession with Riot grrl acts like Siouxsie and the Banshees, which gets reimagined when she sprawls on the ground for cuts like G# and Cut It Out.
Sunday 5:30 p.m., Big Guava
You know those shiny happy people R.E.M. sang about? They had kids, and those kids grew up to be Grouplove, a free-spirited indie rock group whose sunny, shimmery pop hits (Colours, Tongue Tied, Ways to Go) will inspire the mainstage crowd to twirl with abandon.
Sunday 4:45 p.m., Grove
Like Grouplove, Walk the Moon will bring a heaping dose of pump-you-up positivity, though they’ll do so with a little more propulsive, percussive edge. Just try and resist tribal power-pop earworms Anna Sun and Tightrope.
Sunday 7 p.m., Nectar
No DJ delivers the hits quite like Gregg Gillis, a.k.a. Girl Talk, the Pittsburgh collage artist who fuses Top 40 anthems, classic rock riffs, hardcore rap bangers and ’80s pop choruses into a singular, sweaty, swaggering, kitchen-sink party mixtape. Ever heard Ludacris mashed up with Black Sabbath while confetti and streamers fall from the sky? We have, and it’s AWESOME.
Sunday 4:15 p.m., Nectar
Despite his feature on Justin Bieber’s Confident (um, what?), Chance The Rapper, the Chicago 20-year-old is this year’s rapper all the cool kids can agree on. Chance’s 2013 mixtape Acid Rap is a heady melange of trippy soul samples and his own smoky, playful delivery. This should be one of Big Guava’s most interesting sets.
Sunday 4 p.m., Orchard
Two days after Big Guava, Morning Parade will drop Pure Adulterated Joy, the album that could propel them to the same heights as fellow Brit-rock newbies Bastille and The 1975. Piano-poppy first single Alienation is already rising up the U.S. charts, but it doesn’t tell half the story of the album’s arena-rock aspirations.
Sunday 7:30 p.m., Orchard
ZZ Ward brings a little country, a little rock ’n’ roll and a whole lotta attitude to the retro-soul movement that’s dominated the adult alternative charts in recent years. Her rollicking singles Til the Casket Drops and Put the Gun Down sound like what might happen if Adele suddenly developed an intense interest in Waylon Jennings.
Sunday 2 p.m., Nectar
The 20-year-old L.A. rapper, Earl Sweatshirt, was absent when his hip-hop collective, Odd Future, came to the Ritz Ybor in 2011, because, really, he was absent pretty much everywhere around that time. He re-emerged in 2013 with solo album Doris, which has received acclaim for its gritty lyrics and production.
Sunday 6:30 p.m., Grove
It’s been, what, 15 years since wry folk-punk progenitors the Violent Femmes last performed in Tampa Bay? In their fourth decade, Gordon Gano and company still have plenty of cult fans who’ve been waiting patiently to hear addictive gems like Blister in the Sun and Kiss Off live. Better catch ’em now, because who knows when (or if) they’ll be back?
Gates open at 3 p.m. Friday and 11:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. Single-day tickets are $75-$175, weekend passes are $165-$499. (Note that Thursday’s concert by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, which the festival is calling a “Big Guava kickoff concert,” is a separate-ticketed event, and is not included in weekend passes.) General parking is free. For maps, a full schedule and a list of permitted and prohibited items, see bigguavafest.com; for now, here are some details to know:
There are four stages in and around the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre. The full lineup by day (check the website for times and stages):
Friday: Outkast, Cake, Sleigh Bells, Twenty One Pilots, Jake Miller, Vic Mensa, Unlikely Candidates, Smallpools, Betty Who, NONONO
Saturday: Vampire Weekend, Tegan and Sara, Slightly Stoopid, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, Haim, Blue October, Hoodie Allen, Band of Skulls, Civil Twilight, American Authors, Terraplane Sun, Kitten, Bear Hands, Jacuzzi Boys, Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas, Hunter Hunted
Big Guava’s local flavor goes beyond its name, with more than two dozen food trucks on hand to redefine the concept of fair food. Among them: Taco Bus, Hott Mess, Rollin Zoinks, the Dude and his Food and Jerk Hut. There will also be standard festival and Amphitheatre food. Live Nation is also taking a page from its smaller Coastline Festival last fall, opening an expanded craft beer garden with offerings from Cigar City, Fat Tire, Sam Adems, Southern Tier, Shock Top and many others. Of note: Fans can bring one sealed bottle of water into the festival grounds.