I knew things had gone a little too smoothly on Thursday night, everything was like clockwork. With that in mind I was sure it would be the same case, but alas it was not. I approached the media check in with a smile and was very nearly scolded and told to wait my turn, before I barely spoke. Then they couldn't find me on the list, though they were clearly looking at the photographer list, and I explained I was a writer. Then they searched for other lists, none of which looked like the list from the night before, which I tried to explain and was scolded again and told I wasn't on the list at all. I returned to my office, sent a few messages and decided I would wait at the entrance of the venue just in case something happened. Luckily, the woman that scolded me was no longer there, the guy said he found the list, but they had no tickets for us. In the end this wasted an hour, I missed Kevin Devine and I was given a Red Bull wristband which would serve as my ticket.
I was, however, still bummed about missing Kevin Devine, and from what I heard from other festival goers, his set was pretty great. I had no time to mourn for very long since Manchester Orchestra took the stage and after Devine's set, they came on like a goddamn bulldozer. They started with the megalithic "Pride," a song about the difficulties of dealing with addiction from 2009's Mean Everything To Nothing. They followed this with the equally powerful "Top Notch." Their set was filled with roaring guitars and pounding drums. "Shake It Out" was a teutonic juggernaut unto itself in this fashion. They toned things down slightly for "Pale Black Eye" and while it still raged, it just stood out early in the set as pure cool. Following in that vein, "Every Stone" from last year's Cope album was another softer song (in their context) which meant fantastic up tempo rock. One of the finest moments of their entire set was "I've Got Friends," another track from 2009, which stunned the crowd and this reviewer as the sun was setting. The emotionally heavy "I Can Barely Breathe" followed in its wake and showed the depth they possessed right from the start on their debut album. "Everything To Nothing " was another highlight of the set and live it occurred to me that it sounded like a folk song dressed in metal clothing. Without much rearrangement, this song is just begging to be covered by an intuitive freak folkster. The set finished with "Where Have You Been" from their 2006 debut, starting with a weird unexpected choir and finishing with an homage to a Kevin Devine song, singing his lyrics "Don't kill yourself to raise the dead" in place of their own. It was a damned fetching finale for a solid as hell set.
I must admit from the start that the big draw to this day of the festival was Spoon. They have probably been my favorite contemporary American band for the past decade. I didn't know what to expect from their set, as I hadn't seen them in a few years. I have to say it was in no way a disappointment. They started strong amidst a wash of feedback with "Rent I Pay," from last year's They Want My Soul album. They shifted gears quickly for "Small Stakes," the album opener from 2002's brilliant Kill The Moonlight. Britt Daniel took some time to engage the audience and announce, "This next song is about getting high in the back seats of cars" and then launched into the crowd favorite "The Way We get By." They pulled another tune from their most recent album, "Knock Knock Knock," and it was simply stunning live. The irresistible funk of "I Turn My Camera On" was up next, and it was every bit as wonderful as it was ten years ago, but now with a longer intro than ever before. Pulled from 2007's breakout Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga was the "Ghost Of You Lingers." Then came "The Beast and Dragon, Adored." This was quickly followed by the wonderful "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" and the astounding "Don't Make Me A Target" both from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. They returned to their newest album with a great performance of the anthem "Inside Out." "Don't You Evah" was another crowd pleaser that appeared to have people from 15 to 50 singing right along in the crowd. They took one last swing at Gimme Fiction with the amazing "I Summon You," before launching into an unlikely cover of The Cramps' "TV Set." After nearly an hour the set had to come to a close and the finale of "The Underdog" had everyone singing and dancing.
Thrice came on like an avalanche after the indie rock of Spoon. Not unlike Manchester Orchestra, Thrice started off their set with some of the loudest, most blissfully aggressive songs of the set. Kicking it off with "Of Dust and Nations" from 2005's Vheissu, the band launched into a solid set that represented their career of melodic hardcore triumph. They then launched into two back-to-back tracks from The Artist In The Ambulance, including "Silhouette" and the fantastic title track to the now classic album. The heaviness continued with "Firebreather" from The Alchemy Index and it struck me that it was the first song in the set that wasn't over a decade old. They mellowed things out a bit to visit the 2002 gem "In Exile" before launching into "Promises" which was refreshingly from this decade on their last album Major/Minor. Dustin Kensrue had to pause for a moment to say, simply "This is a crazy lineup" and it seemed he was genuinely joyful about it. "All That's Left" was up next and it was pretty great, showing a wonderful punk luster at its core, followed by "Stare At The Sun", both from The Artist In The Ambulance. The speedcore intro for "Deadbolt" was amazing and it returned to the early days of their career, to immediately sling shot to their last album with "Yellow Belly" and the self-referencing "Anthology." They finished where they began their set in Vheissu with "The Earth Will Shake." I have to admit, for a reunion tour, this was pretty great and I have to wonder if this will get back into the studio after their three-year hiatus.
It was time to mentally shift gears and stages for a hometown heroes show with Jimmy Eat World. It's hard to believe that Jimmy Eat World has been making music for more than 20 years, and honestly, looking at the band, they are aging incredibly well, as is the music. What's even more impressive is that in just over an hour they ran through 18 songs covering most of their career. It began with the power pop of "Pain" from their 2004 gold album Futures, followed quickly by the title track of that same album. It was at that point the festival had really kicked in, I realized this because a girl casually vomited in a garbage can next to me and I immediately sought higher ground. Culled from the cult classic Clarity, "Lucky Denver Mint" was up next. That album and the songs on it are something akin to Weezer's Pinkerton and they are seriously treasured by long standing fans. The first of the hits from Bleed American exploded into the crowd with "A Praise Chorus" which had everyone dancing and singing right along, which was followed immediately by "Get It Faster" from the same classic album.
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Lead singer Jim Adkins made much mention that this was home to him and may have missed it while on a solo tour in Europe recently, so he announced "Here's a song about home" and launched into "Goodbye Sky Harbor" from Clarity. It's a mellow number right until it becomes explosively heavy. "Appreciation" from their last album, 2013's Damage, was next and incredibly well received by the adoring crowd. "And now for something completely different," Adkins said before playing the beautiful "Hear You Me" from Bleed American, and angels led us in. They returned to Clarity for "Blister" and everyone just ate it up. One of my favorites of the entire set was the heavy as fuck "Nothing Wrong" from Futures, which sounds like power pop meets Manic Street Preachers in the best way possible. This was followed by the driving awesomeness of "Work" and the melancholic "23" from that same album. "Bleed American" and Damage's "Steal You Back" followed next an the crowd was bracing for a cavalcade of hits. At this point Adkins took time to point out local luminary and musician extraordinaire Robin Vining accompanying them. The brilliant power pop of "The Authority Song" was up next, followed in contrast by the heavy as hell "Big Casino," the sole song from 2007's Chase This Light in the set. They closed out their set triumphantly with the back-to-back Bleed American singles "Sweetness" and "The Middle" — two of the finest songs in their catalog and a perfect finale to their first show in nearly a year.
It was time for the headlining act of the evening and the crowd was at its largest of the evening eagerly anticipating Brand New taking the stage. I hadn't seen them in a decade and I didn't know really what to expect, plus, except for the new single, they haven't released anything in six years. Nothing could have prepared me for their 90-minute set or how great it was going to be. It seemed appropriate then that they kicked off the set with "Tautou," the album opener for their breakthrough 2003 album Déjà Entendu. They immediately had the crowd eating out of their hand only one song into the set. They followed immediately with "Sink" and "Gasoline," both from their last album, 2009's Daisy. The set took off for me with "Millstone" from The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me (2006). That was the departure point for me, where I began to lose track of space and time and became part of the music. It was the perfect launch point because the downright funky bass line of "Sic Transit Gloria...Glory Fades" came up next and everyone was in a bit of post-hardcore, emo heaven. It was the first of three songs from Déjà Entendu in a row, followed by "I Will Play My Game Beneath The Spin Light" and "Okay I Believe you, But My Tommy Gun Don't," all of which were stunning. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised when they broke out two songs from their 2001 debut Your Favorite Weapon, with "Mix Tape" and "Seventy Times 7." I wasn't sure if they were even going to touch that record, but they did and they did it well.
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It appeared that they liked to group songs from their albums together, which made sense sonically and thematically. "At The Bottom" and "You Stole" from Daisy followed in this fashion. It was at this point that I noticed a fair percentage of drunk white girls, stumbling about the grounds; it was as though a button had been suddenly pressed. The touching "Brothers," a rare track from the TDAGARIM recordings, is probably the most beautiful song that Brand New has ever composed, I was stunned to hear it live in any capacity. "Luca," "You Won't Know." and "Degausser" from that album proper all followed to finish the set. I have to admit that it was one of the most powerful trios of songs presented in their show and in the entire evening. The respite was short before Brand New returned for a three-song encore. They struck up a beautiful guitar line and launched into "Jesus" from The Devil and God... to the delight of all. Everyone had been waiting for them to play the new single and finally they delivered "Mene," and it was better live than the recording they released in every way. They closed their encore and the evening with "Sowing Season" and a fantastic finale of smoke and feedback madness. While Spoon may have been my favorite set, Brand New hands-down delivered the best set of the evening. We all got to see something special at Tempe Beach Park, as they played songs from every album over the better part of two hours time. It was magical to say the very least and some were proclaiming it as the best show they've ever seen in their lives. I know one thing, I'm pulling my Brand New albums off the shelf this week to revisit the glory again and again.