Innings Festival descended upon Tempe Beach Park for its third year over the weekend. The music festival offered a mixture of jam bands, indie favorites, and baseball. Phoenix New Times was there throughout, taking in the sights and sounds of the event.
You could pretty much get away with never having heard a single song by Dr. Dog, and still have the time of your life. There's a fair amount of laid-back jam band vibe, but there's more meat to their lyrical muscle, a wit and heart that takes a page from the Jeff Tweedy school of songwriting (“She dresses like a pillow so she’s always in bed” from “Where Did All the Time Go?”). They set the tone by opening with "The Breeze" from their fantastic 2008 album, Fate, and the quality didn't let up from there. It’s a testament to their skill that they can take out an acoustic number like “Jim Song” from 2017’s Abandoned Mansion and hold a festival-going crowd. Lines like “She was so quick to recover / Was I just some two-bit lover” and “I don’t miss her like I miss my pride” hit home for me. Jared Duran
Portugal. The Man
Though the characters made their debut on their 2018 tour, it’s still nice to see Beavis and Butthead up on the big screen welcoming Portugal. The Man onto the Home Plate stage, even if their "greatest band of all time" claim is a bit much. It’s clear that the band — fantastic musicians, adept at weaving nods to artists including Pink Floyd, Metallica, and T-Rex into their own relentlessly energetic sound — don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s music for people who want to throw themselves around and not think too much about what they’re listening to. Having said that, they are the only band who made any overtly political statements, with a Native American guest given time to speak to the vibrating festival audience before the ensuing antics. It’s something that the band are known for, but a bold move at a sports-themed festival in Arizona nonetheless, and one worth noting. Jared Duran
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
If you decided to take a dinner break to conserve your energy for Dave Matthews Band, then you made a huge mistake. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit put on the sort of show that sticks in your head long after the final notes are played. Considering those final notes came from a blistering rendition of the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac classic “Oh Well,” that’s saying something. Isbell has a cracking band, and their impassioned delivery allows Isbell to deliver some seriously weighty lyrical material in a way that lifts you, rather than bringing you down. During the set, the band unveiled material from their upcoming album, Reunions (due out May 15), including “Overseas” and the new single, “Be Afraid.” To call this a festival highlight wouldn’t do the performance justice. Jared Duran
Dave Matthews Band
Sometimes it’s difficult to find the heart and soul of a band, the person who makes each performance crackle with life and excitement. For Dave Matthews Band, it's drummer Carter Beauford. When things got off to a dark, psychedelic start with a brooding version of “Don’t Drink the Water,” the man behind the kit steered the group toward the relaxed grooves they’ve been known for for nearly 30 years. A jazzy, extended rendition of “Crush” saw each member taking a few measures to show off their considerable talents.
It’s a beautiful thing to see Beauford continue to anchor this band through ups and downs over three decades. The high energy of the two-and-a-half-hour set rarely wavered, with hits, rarities, and a cover or two thrown out to the massive crowd that gathered at the Home Plate stage ("Tell Me Something Good," with Phoenix native Buddy Strong on keys, was a highlight). It was a fantastic finish to an exciting day. Jason Keil
Pedro the Lion
“Take what you need and leave the rest,” said David Bazan toward the end of an exquisite bummer of a set. The Pedro the Lion singer spoke with humility, encouraging folks to enjoy their Innings Festival experience. Playing in the middle of the afternoon on Sunday, Pedro the Lion’s emotive and slow guitar rock, whose melodies unfurl with all the speed and thickness of sap rolling down the side of a tree, was an odd fit for a music festival whose branding screams “Sports” and “Shit That You and Your Dad Both Like.” It’s a festival with aggressive normie energy to it, which makes Pedro’s presence unexpected. It’s not exactly pound-brews-and-jam-out-to-tunes music.
While the vibe was sedate throughout most of their set, that wasn’t the band’s fault. It seemed like the energy level around Tempe Beach Park was fairly low on Sunday afternoon. Bazan and company put on a fine performance nevertheless, pushing through the lazy Sunday energy by playing songs like “Leaving the Valley” with all the intensity you can muster when you’ve got a giant inflatable baseball glove in your line of sight. Ashley Naftule
Death Cab for Cutie
“I’m as sick as fuck up here," Ben Gibbard said. "I’m going to do my very best.”
The Death Cab for Cutie lead singer's best ended up being just four songs. His voice failed to punch through the exquisite wall of sound, particularly on a performance of "The New Year." He removed his guitar in frustration and walked off the stage. It was announced that Gibbard's voice couldn't hold out, and the band apologized for cutting the show short.
To our fans at Innings Fest,— Death Cab for Cutie (@dcfc) March 2, 2020
We made every effort to step on stage and play music for you tonight. Unfortunately, Ben came down with a severe illness during the week that required cancelling his solo show on Friday...
From where I was standing, there was an audible gasp of disappointment when the show abruptly ended, with people more concerned that the band would still get paid despite being on for only 20 minutes. (I don't know if my proximity to the VIP area had anything to do with it.) It prompted a lot of discussions among those I spoke to in the crowd about what performers owe an audience, but we sometimes forget that performers are also human. We're all doing our best. Jason Keil
There’s only so much goodwill a band can coast off of from two classic LPs. The Blue Album and Pinkerton are incredible pieces of work, but my appreciation for them dims every time I have to listen to bullshit like “Beverly Hills,” “Pork and Beans,” and that sad as hell meme-chasing stunt of a Toto cover. To be fair to bandleader Rivers Cuomo and the boys: They make you forget about stink bombs like Hurley when they drop that Van Halen-esque W logo and let it rip live. At least for a while.
It’s mind-boggling to think that in the 21st century Weezer have gone from being the nerdy band singing about having KISS posters on their wall to being one of the few rock bands left that can draw and sufficiently rock KISS-level audiences. And it’s a testament to their skill as a live band that they can play to a crowd at 10 p.m. on a Sunday and get them amped as hell to hop around and scream along to “Say It Ain’t So” and “Surf Wax America.” There’s going to be a lot of hoarse-voiced people clocking into their shifts on Monday with Weezer melodies still ringing in their ears. I’ll be one of them.
That being said: I’ll never forgive them for Raditude. Ashley Naftule
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.