Mo Pop festivalgoers received a delicious second helping of emerging alternative music at Detroit’s West Riverfront Park on July 30.
They sank their musical teeth into the sounds of Michigan-based acts Heaters and Stef Chura. Hailing from Grand Rapids, Mich., Heaters divvied up their psychedelic sound for Mo Pop’s early arrivals and played tracks from their latest release, “Baptistina.”
Detroit’s Chura grabbed the Michigan musical torch from Heaters and shared her ‘90s-inspired lo-fi sounds from her debut album, “Messes.” Her signature garage rock resonated with Mo Poppers as they snacked on the best local musical cuisine.
Over on the Grande Stage, Louisville, Ky.’s White Reaper played garage punk and power pop from “The World’s Best American Band,” including “Judy French” and “Little Silver Cross.” Bassist Sam Wilkerson recognized his brother, drummer Nick Wilkerson, during the band’s Mo Pop set.
“They love you here,” said Sam Wilkerson. “Hey guys, this is the part where he throws out his pants to you. You’ve got to chant, ‘Throw your pants.’”
The crowd quickly and repeatedly responded in unison: “Throw your pants!”
“A very cooperative crowd you are!” Sam Wilkerson said.
“Not quite enough, maybe next time,” Nick Wilkerson said slyly.
While Nick Wilkerson’s pants stayed on the rest of White Reaper’s set, the Mo Pop crowd put on their dancing shoes for the catchy pop tunes of Atlanta’s The Shadowboxers. The band’s danceable indie pop pumped up Mo Poppers during “Build the Beat.”
Moments later the beat traveled down under to the Sydney, Australia and transformed into the alt rock anthems of Middle Kids. I was looking forward to seeing Middle Kids the most on Sunday, especially after watching one of their energetic sets during SXSW at Austin’s Elysium in March.
“We have nothing like this in Sydney, so this is friggin’ sick,” said frontwoman Hannah Joy about Mo Pop before playing “Old River” from the band’s self-titled EP.
Joy and guitarist Tim Fitz engaged in witty stage banter with drummer Harry Day, who slightly towered above his bandmates on a two-foot riser.
“Is it lonely in your ivory tower up there, Harry?” Joy asked.
“I’m shakin’ in my boots,” Day said.
“Are you scared of falling?” Fitz asked.
“I’m more scared of playing the shadow of the United States Postal Service,” joked Day about the nearby gray and yellow postal building. “What an intimidating organization.”
Not long after Middle Kids’ set, I ventured over to the autograph tent with my “Middle Kids” EP in hand to get signed by the band. As I was digging out my silver marker, I noticed the band quickly came to the autograph table and abruptly left after thinking no one was waiting for them.
I wasn’t fast enough at getting that darn silver marker out of my bag. Luckily, I asked a Mo Pop volunteer if he could track down the band backstage and have them autograph my EP. A few minutes later, he returned triumphantly with my signed album.
In the midst of the Middle Kids autograph frenzy, Toronto’s PUP blared their punk rock sounds from the Captain Pabst Stage. The band rocked Mo Poppers with tracks from “The Dream Is Over” while singer and guitarist Stefan Babcock sampled a local pop favorite from Detroit’s Faygo.
“This is the first time ever I’m trying this – Faygo Twist,” Babcock said. “You guys know it’s just Sprite, right?”
After PUP, Melbourne, Australia’s Vance Joy soothed the crowd with his indie folk rock, including two new songs, “Lay It On Me” and “Call If You Need Me.”
A highlight included Vance Joy’s cover of Paul Simon’s 1986 hit “You Can Call Me Al” and his mega single “Riptide,” which featured a gigantic sing-along from the crowd.
The sounds of Mo Pop traveled back to the Great White North with Hamilton, Ontario’s Arkells, who played an energetic set. Frontman Max Kerman took the crowd down a musical journey during “Drake’s Dad.”
“We’re going to take a road trip,” he said. “We’re going to spend some time in the Bible Belt for this next song. We’re going to go to Memphis, Tennessee. Then, we’re going to go to Nashville, Tennessee. Then, we’re going to go up to Louisville, Kentucky. Night one of this road trip, we met Drake’s Dad. Anything can happen in the magic of the night.”
Mo Pop’s magic continued with Tyler, The Creator and headliners Solange and alt-J. At the beginning of his set, Tyler, The Creator urged festivalgoers to enjoy the show off the grid.
“Take your pictures now … stop filming the whole thing,” he said. “I’m in real life, so get your photos now and put your phone away.”
While some festivalgoers continued to take photos and shoot videos of Tyler, The Creator, others waved their hands back and forth during “Where This Flower Blooms” and “IFHY.”
Tyler, The Creator’s hip-hop served as a nice segue to Solange’s neo soul and indie pop. Throughout her 50-minute set, a bright red light shined over Solange and her band as they played “Cranes in the Sky,” “Some Things Never Seem to F**king Work” and “Losing You.”
I could only see Solange’s red shadow as she danced in sync with her backup singers and band members. Solange’s soulful and groovy R&B was a nice contrast to the glitzy, mega pop star persona of her older sister, Beyoncé.
To close out the night and Mo Pop, British indie rockers alt-J played a 90-minute set among eight sets of vertical white lights dangling from the stage.
The hypnotic slow-moving lights were reminiscent of a Sigur Rós show as alt-J’s Joe Newman, Thom Sonny Green and Gus Unger-Hamilton performed in the shadows with screens behind them.
While I haven’t listened to alt-J that much in the past, I was mesmerized by their shimmering lights, folktronic sounds and enigmatic stage presence. “3WW,” “Something Good” and “Left Hand Free” were three of the highlights from alt-J that night.
Luckily, I left that night as a new alt-J fan and an even bigger fan of Mo Pop.
Well done, Mo Pop and Detroit.