River's Edge Music Festival
June 23-24, 2012
This weekend marked the first year of Livenation's new River's Edge Music Festival, which dominated Harriet Island in St. Paul. The entertainment giant shelled out $4.8 million to make the festival happen, with over half of that going towards paying the performers.
Coheed & Cambria played a set early Saturday afternoon that included favorites such as the title track from their second album In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 as well as an unexpected cover of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know". It was their first time here since ousting drummer Chris Pennie in favor of their original drummer Josh Eppard. Local pop-punkers Motion City Soundtrack began immediately afterward, fresh with excitement over their very recently released full-length Go. It was their older material from the Commit This To Memory era that still retained its power to exhilarate, and it was very appropriate to see them playing with the St. Paul skyline in the background. Brand New followed with a setlist that contained no new material, which seemed odd considering their last full-length Daisy is approaching three years of age. That was fine with the audience as their setlist was peppered with crowd-pleasers such as "Jesus", "Soco Amaretto Lime", and my personal favorite, "Millstone". I decided not to follow the army of dreadlocks across the field to see Sublime with Rome, instead opting to stay put to have a coveted close vantage point for mysterious metal gods Tool, who were undoubtedly the highlight of the first day. Seeing the quartet in an outdoor general admission setting is exceptionally rare considering that they do their best to have seating be mandatory as often as they can due to their stance on moshing. Their outrageously rabid fanbase justified the band's attitude with their unparalleled aggression. When their performance began there were perhaps 5 rows of people between myself and the barrier, and I was close enough to see the wrestling portrait hung from one of guitarist Adam Jones' three amplifiers and the slight gray in his hair. I quickly moved a bit back after being knocked off my feet and subsequently helped back up by a kind metalhead (thank you, anonymous metalhead). Only then was I able to fully appreciate the band's performance - their visuals are positively massive. Seeing this stunningly large graphic display truly helped to convey the band's aesthetic and worked perfectly in conjunction with the music. When watching only the band it becomes apparent that they're so familiar with the material that they seem almost casual about running through these technically and physically demanding workouts. They mostly keep to themselves and don't engage with the audience much. Frontman Maynard James Keenan spent the entirety of the performance on a riser next to blisteringly dextrous drummer Danny Carey, who is undoubtedly one of the most gifted in metal. Their setlist contained many crowd favorites such as "Schism" and "Stinkfist", and they ended their slightly abbreviated set with the title track from Ænima.
Sunday's acts were distinctively mellower. I began the day by seeing much buzzed-about local quartet Poliça. It was fairly apparent that the majority of the crowd had never heard of them before and they were nothing short of triumphant considering how unusual that is in their native state. Frontwoman Channy Leaneagh made a point to be grateful about playing to such a sizable audience and remarked that for a time she lived just a few blocks away from the site of the festival. The group chugged away tightly as a unit and Channy has all the stage presence of an established superstar. This was definitely a performance which won them more than a few new fans. I watched Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan's side project Puscifer from afar, touring in support of 2011's Conditions of My Parole. There was a flight attendant aesthetic throughout the show, complete with band members dressed accordingly and Keenan in a faux mustache. A juvenile mock advertisement for the fictional airline "Vagina Air" played as an intermission of sorts during the set which effectively explained why the project is not nearly as respected as Keenan's other endeavor. The Flaming Lips followed with a typically over-the-top performance unlike any other - I can say so because this was my sixth time seeing them. They opened with "Race For The Prize", which I don't think they've been in the habit of doing since 2007, and immediately played "She Don't Use Jelly" and "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song". Confetti and gigantic balloons filled with even more confetti rained down over the audience. Wayne Coyne then entered his inflatable bubble and walked on the crowd. They calmed down substantially after opening with this trio of their most anthemic numbers, playing the more heavy and groove-oriented material from their last LP Embryonic as well as "Where Is The Light" from The Soft Bulletin and an acoustic version of "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1". Also included was an impromptu cover of the first verse of "Black Diamond" by KISS and by way of The Replacements as a tribute to Paul Westerberg. They were called out for the only encore I saw during the festival and blasted through their customary closer "Do You Realize??". For the rest of the evening I wandered around the festival grounds and spent a bit of time watching the polarizing headliner for the evening, Dave Matthews Band, who were given three hours for their performance. There's no denying that they're a musical powerhouse in concert, particularly drummer Carter Beauford who honestly gave the previous evening's star performer Danny Carey a run for his money. I stopped by the stage on isolated Raspberry Island to see DJ and producer Diplo performing what was probably the loudest and most energetic set to take place during the entire festival. Much of his set consisted of remixes of other tracks (Blur's "Song 2", The Police's "Roxanne", Beastie Boys' "Intergalactic" among many others) and frequent encouraging of the crowd to go absolutely mental, which they seemed to have no qualms with.
The festival was organized well, with lines for bathrooms kept to a minimum, a large amount of security and police presence, and cleaning crew operating efficiently throughout the day. Food was spendy, as is to be expected for such a festival, but there was nothing stopping anyone from just leaving the grounds for a bit to enter nearby downtown St. Paul for a much more affordable nibble since the wristband system allows for re-entry. Hydration stations provided water to anyone with any sort of empty container and there was even a cell phone charging station, free of charge. Livenation have signed a contract for 5 years of the festival, so expect the masses to once again descend upon Harriet Island for a few June weekends to come.
Written by Tom Steffes, Radio K volunteer