Saturday served up the perfect dish of music, weather and crowds for day one at Detroit’s Mo Pop Festival.
The festival included a delectable sampling of 11 emerging alt rock, indie pop and hip-hop acts at West Riverfront Park on a dry, bright summer day.
To kickoff day one, Michigan-based acts Humons and Michigander provided tasty summer electronic and pop entrees to early arrivals.
As Humons, Detroit producer Ardalan Sedghi performed dream house tracks from “Spectra,” his five-song EP, and briefly transformed the park into a mini outdoor daytime dance hall for festivalgoers – the ideal way to start any Motor City music festival.
Humons’ dance club was quickly transformed into an intimate rock club when Kalamazoo’s Michigander took the Captain Pabst Stage for his set. Led by Kalamazoo-based Jason Singer, Michigander eagerly welcomed fans with several musical indie pop gems, including “5 a.m.” and “Nineties.”
As Michigander’s debut single, the nostalgic feel of “Nineties” hit home for the crowd, especially me. While most festivalgoers were picturing their early childhood memories, I was recalling my carefree high school and college days and wondering where 20-plus years went.
After Michigander, Oakland, Calif.’s Jay Som brought their laid-back dream pop to Detroit for the first time. With Melina Duterte at the helm, the band played tracks for their 2016 debut, “Turn Into,” and their most recent release, “Everybody Works.”
“It seems like a very beautiful place, the water is right there … Lots of very beautiful people,” said Duterte while observing Mo Pop’s afternoon crowd and West Riverfront Park.
Several standout Jay Som performances at Mo Pop included “Turn Into,” “Ghost,” “Baybee,” “The Bus Song” and the closer, “1 Billion Dogs.”
Interestingly, the band played an instrumental cover of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years” while Duterte fixed a broken guitar string. Nice cover choice to entertain the crowd! For a moment, I felt like I was back at The Classic West at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium.
Later in the afternoon, I visited the Mo Pop autograph tent to meet Jay Som. While pulling out my CD copy of “Turn Into” to get signed, Duterte smiled and said, “A CD! I haven’t seen one of these in a while. You’re old school!”
I laughed and replied, “Yep, I’m old school!” As a 41-year-old music, concert and festival enthusiast, I still prefer retro musical formats – CDs, records, tapes, and yes, even 8-tracks!
Despite my “old school” preference for musical formats, I saw several other new promising acts at Mo Pop, including Grace Mitchell, Mondo Cozmo, Aminé and PVRIS (pronounced “Paris.”) Apparently, the letter “v” has become a vowel substitute for rising indie and alternative pop bands. The diehard writer in me has to point that out! Think Chvrches!
Mo Pop’s organizers are experts at introducing new musical acts that include a cross between the “Alt Nation” and “SiriusXMU” sound. (Yes, I’ll speak in satellite radio terms here.) Mitchell’s alternative pop energy mixed with Mondo Cozmo’s indie rock, Aminé’s contagious hip-hop beats and PVRIS’s electro pop and post-hardcore rock is the perfect middle course to sample on day one.
As the day moved on, Mo Pop served up the final musical course wrapped into four amazing acts – Wavves (more v’s), Run the Jewels (RTJ!), Phantogram and Foster the People.
San Diego-based Wavves shared their beachy punk sound with tracks for their latest album, “You’re Welcome,” while festivalgoers moshed and crowd surfed. I kept seeing small cyclones of dust erupt from the middle of the crowd during Wavves’ set. Nathan Williams and his bandmates know how to draw out the rebellious and fun-loving side of any crowd.
Wavves created the right amount of festival energy for Run the Jewels to take the stage after that. The hip-hop supergroup featuring rapper/producer El-P and rapper Killer Mike is amazing musical force on stage every time. I have to thank my brother, Steve, for introducing me to these guys!
“We’re here to burn this mother-f***er down!” said Killer Mike to the crowd. In fact, they completely incinerated the Grande stage to the ground musically with their dynamic hip-hop cultural and politicaljabs.
“Call Ticketron” and “Lie, Cheat, Steal” were two of my favorites along with the set closer, “Down,” which the duo dedicated to Chester Bennington, the late Linkin Park frontman.
As night fell, Phantogram and Foster the People closed out day one with the danceable vibe Humons created earlier in the day.
Electro rock duo Phantogram featured a cool bi-level stage with a large screen that displayed cosmic videos along with pulsating strobe lights. Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter energized the crowd with “Don’t Move,” “Howling at the Moon,” “Fall in Love” and “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore.”
I’ve been listening to Phantogram since 2011’s “Nightlife,” and they’ve grown exponentially since I saw them at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, Mich. six years ago. Nice to see them as a festival co-headliner now!
As the other festival co-headliner, Foster the People invited the crowd to visit their Sacred Hearts Club (also the same name as their latest album) for an 80-minute set. The neon “Sacred Hearts Club” sign changed colors with every Foster song and went through almost the entire spectrum.
Frontman Mark Foster glided across the stage while performing “Helena Beat,” “Pay the Man,” Doing it for the Money,” “Call it What You Want” and “Pumped Up Kicks.”
Foster reflected on the current state of the country’s political situation before playing the closer “Lotus Eater,” which nicely segued into a cover of The Ramones’ “Blitzkreig Bop.”
“There have been a lot of dark things that we’ve been living in, and this record is in rebellion to those ideas,” Foster said. “In the spirit of joy, I want to say that the things that make us different as humans are the things that make us interesting … love will always be bigger than politics.”