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Bombay Bicycle Club. Photo Credits: Valentina Collas

Firefly Festival

(21 Jul 2012: Dover Racetrack — Dover, DE)

The second day of Firefly saw a surge in attendance, and though the rain clouds remained there was a palpable lifting of spirits amongst the stony eyed campers and festival followers. A cool breeze shifted fine mist from low hanging, heavy clouds giving the fair-grounds the appearance of a vaulted ceiling. A crepuscular light without source only served to enhance the other worldly scene at hand, as the hung-over students strung out from long drives and late night after-parties rubbed their eyes and prepared for the onslaught.


Along with the reasonably priced festival beer Ra Ra Riot was a fine choice to ease the pain of the night before and into the day. Their set was too brief, and perhaps their slot too early as the draw was minimal and somewhat subdued for such a raucous baroque performance. Then again, Policia with their 1:30 slot fared little better.


It wasn’t until Michael Franti took the main stage with his band Spearhead that the festival began to resemble the celebratory atmosphere of the night before. It might have been the unrelentingly positive vibrations issuing forth that drew the masses, or it might be the fact that since the legendary James Brown’s passing Michael Franti has become the hardest working man in show business. More often in the audience than on the stage, Mr. Franti interspersed his uplifting and often romantic tunes with personal anecdotes and everyman wisdom. And though only a fraction of the crowd knew enough of the band’s music to sing along, it seemed to increasingly multiply as the set continued. Contrasting the recent tragedy in Colorado against the power and simple joy of loving and being loved, Mr. Franti delighted his freshly won fans, drawing them in as if the performance held the intimacy of a house concert, to the lengths of even pulling festival goers onto stage to sing along and revel before the multitude. Without bias or favor, it is easy to report Micheal Franti and Spearhead’s performance as best to date for the Firefly line up.


Up next and also playing the main stage was Young the Giant who seemed to squander the excitement if not audience the previous act had summed up. They were technically proficient, sounding near studio quality, however their stage presence left much to be desired. As well it seemed they shied away from their better known tunes, only really coming to life for the finale and favorite, “My Body”.


Across the way, on a stage known as the ‘the lawn’ all filler no killer, Cake did what they do best, played easy, catchy radio-friendly tunes to fill up the air. As was expected, between songs prima donna front man John McCrea generally insulted the crowd and took much too long to talk about himself in pointless meandering stories. And though not much of interest has happened with the group since “Fashion Nugget”, I’m ashamed to admit I stayed for the whole set in addition to being mildly entertained by it. There is no sweet in this life without bitter.


And if Cake be bitter, what could be sweeter than Trampled by Turtles? Relentlessly energetic despite all acoustic instrumentation the group played highlights from their severely under appreciated and starkly beautiful last release, Stars and Satellites, in addition to older material, all at finger bleeding speeds and with an intensity that stood in glaring contrast to the band’s rare ability with the slow and desultory numbers encompassing the bulk of their repertoire. In attendance were perhaps seventy people, but those fans—the word is rarely used more appropriately—danced wildly from the pure sonic joy of Trample’s performance, and sang with a conviction to drown out the noise bleed from the forty thousand cheering for Modest Mouse playing the main stage concurrently some hundred yards away behind a thicket.


The apt amongst you will realize here PopMatters correspondents have the physics defying ability to attend two separate shows at the same time. And since we’re on the subject of higher education, why don’t we shift the focus from science to mathematics? It’s a hard thing to grasp the staggeringly impossible odds Modest Mouse has overcome. This is a band that pulled massive success from the jaws of certain obscurity. They were the nineties equivalent of Trampled by Turtles. By this we mean in regards to their music there existed only two classes of people, the unknowing and the hopelessly devoted. Isaac Brock was much more likely to hit Powerball than to grace the stages of Firefly as sleeper-pull, guest artist. 


And though the tension in the air looked like it could be cut with a knife, Modest Mouse played as if they were earning a paycheck. That’s not to imply the set wasn’t enjoyable, they spanned their entire career playing deep cuts, if not outright unpopular choices, for nearly two hours. It simply means Mr. Brock’s insanity and desperation has somewhat cooled with maturity. Song themes may have been radical, but their delivery was family friendly, creating out of a previously enchanted crowd a listless mob.


The rain had quit but the sky was grey and there was no sunset. All the rumors proved true. Passion Pit had dropped out of the show owing to physical/mental exhaustion, break up, stage fright or else (insert excuse here) and in their place played the poorly chosen Yeasayer. Nothing more will be related about this group’s less than stellar performance.


With disappointments mounting The Killers came as a sweet release. Due to the vice like grip of their hooks and the sickly sweet over production of their singles, it’s easy to assume the band is nothing more than another studio act. Their closing set Saturday night should serve as proof to any but the most jaded this is far from the truth. Ever dapper Brandon Flowers has a knack for showmanship that meets or exceeds his choice of fashion, and the combined choreography of fireworks and hot air balloons in conjunction with the ecstatically vibrant and tight sound of The Killers’ live performance created nothing less than a spectacle.


Friday’s incompetency and Saturday’s inconsistencies leading up to The Killers had prepared me to write off the entirety of Firefly as another east coast failure, another money grabbing one off scheme. But I couldn’t do that… not yet.


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