It's only been a few days since Innings Festival, the two-day music and baseball event that took place at Tempe Beach Park, and we can't stop thinking about all the incredible music we heard. Here's a look back at some of the highlights of the festival.
Almost MondayIf you wanted a perfect band to kick off Innings, you mostly had it with Almost Monday. The San Diego outfit are a clear instance of lovingly sidestepping genre tags, as their set reflected a mix of pop, dance, indie rock, R&B, and soul that was fun, albeit slightly uneven. It was the sort of light, playful affair that would prime the mind and body for a fest that similarly refuses to make up its mind. (Baseball and music — it’s less of a congruent gathering than you’d expect.) And the crowd responded in kind, as a not insignificant number of early arrivals gathered to start the day drinking and shimmying away. There was more musical goodness to come with the weekend, but for a moment everything clicked in a fun, frills-free sort of way. Chris Coplan
Del Water GapIf you ask the internet, the claim to fame for one S. Holden Jaffe is being the college bandmate of singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers. But Jaffe is no slouch, and his band Del Water Gap is a thoughtful and mostly earnest blend of modern pop and indie rock. More than that, Jaffe plays things like a true and proper frontman, singing of heartache and romantic glory in his ‘70s slacks and white heart sunglasses. The gimmicks really played up Jaffe’s innate charm as both brooding sexpot and evocative crooner — like some ‘90s Bono without all the irksome personality quirks. He and the backing band perhaps slowed things down more than you’d expect for an early afternoon set, but it was just more of a chance for Jaffe to play with and romance the crowd. Maybe it was the sun, or the Coronas, but folks were definitely swooning. CC
Black Pistol FireI remarked once — either in print or in person, the distinction gets ever blurry — that two-man bands are rock’s greatest configuration. And that notion was reinforced by Black Pistol Fire, who mix the fury of punk with the heft and passion of Southern rock. It would be slightly lazy, almost insulting to compare them to a Black Keys or White Stripe, even if such references prove initially useful. (Really, they’re like The Who if it were just Pete Townshend and Keith Moon.) No, BPF have perfected their own riotous concoction, and their additional commitment to playfulness and subtlety extended into a giant-sized cover of Childish Gambino’s "Redbone."
But perhaps the best example of their prowess is how they interacted with their surroundings at the festival’s biggest stage. Not only were they unafraid of the massive construct, or even overwhelmed by the large crowd, but they turned the mid-afternoon set into something more intimate and nigh sensuous. (Even with a bit of mid-set acrobatics as singer-guitarist Kevin McKeown flipped over some equipment). That’s the mark of a genuinely great band: bring people into your world, and make them bend to every sweltering note and thunderous chord. CC
Dashboard ConfessionalThe only reason you’d book Dashboard Confessional at Innings is pure nostalgia. An older, Gen X-adjacent crowd, plus elder emo kids, made this a slam-dunk booking decision. (Pardon the mixed sports metaphor.) For their part, DC seem to revel in all the retromania, as their stage show leaned more toward anthemic pop rock band as opposed to the overly sensitive emo you’d associate with the long-running outfit. Still, the sunshine and picnic atmosphere didn’t take away from the songs, and if anything, all those deeply evocative ballads masquerading as massive pop songs just made the afternoon feel all the more robust and celebratory — like their practically giddy cover of The Cure’s "Just LIke Heaven."
Not every band can play to both drunken baseball dads and too-cool 20-somethings, but DC excel because they know themselves — they’re a band with a presence at that sweet spot between aw-shucks joy and true masters of their craft. (Frontman Chris Carrabba is both an adorable goof and a rousing deity in equal measure.) Can emo truly grow up and transcend? Sure, anything’s possible. But DC demonstrated that it only happens if you’re a band who knows their crowd, gives them what they want, and still breaks new grounds in the name of greater creative joy. Okay, emo is not even close to dead, folks. CC
CAAMPOhio folk rockers CAAMP assumed what you might call the pivot spot — the last band to play before the headliners started rolling out. It’s never a position of great envy, and it’s often hard to tell if folks are there to see your band or just killing time. It certainly felt like the former, as they tackled that early evening set by staging a genuine town dance for a massive crowd. It helped that their brand of folk, a mix of old-school tendencies and a more modern intensity and showmanship, makes two-stepping a natural outcome. But CAAMP aren’t just a feel good band for semi-drunken line dancing; they have the heart and charisma of a great rock band, matching the skills and chutzpah of almost any other artist at Innings. Case in point: frontman Taylor Meier performed some 14 hours after being hit by a car — practically a Herculean feat (even if his arm sling prevented us from hearing the “best banjo solo in the world”).
And, sure, some folks only used this time to get dinner, drink some more, or find a nice spot in the grass. But the folks paying attention outnumbered those more leisurely fans, and their commitment was met with a great set of freewheeling tunes from a band skilled at engaging and uplifting a rather mixed crowd. It was the kind of powerful, unassuming set that maybe didn’t steal everyone’s respective show, but demonstrated there’s ample headlining talent beyond the top of the card. CC
St. VincentInnings is a music festival with strong jock energy. The beer lines, the baseball heroes in attendance, the giant inflatable catcher’s mitt greeting the crowd as we entered Tempe Beach Park. St. Vincent is the wild card on this All-American bill, injecting a bit of theater kid energy into this situation. Taking to the stage in an all-white ensemble of Nancy Sinatra boots, hot pants, and a sequined DADDY jacket, St. Vincent’s Annie Clark was backed by a trio of back-up singers and a full band that looked like they stepped out of a That '70s Show episode. They even had a woman onstage dressed in a throwback diner waitress outfit that Clark called “our team cheerleader and mascot” who brought out props and danced with the band. Somewhere, a Party City died so that this stage show could live.
The sound quality was spotty throughout the set. At times, Clark’s guitar was so loud that it rendered her voice indistinct. But they were able to play through the pain, turning in a set that took advantage of the full band set-up (a stark contrast to her solo Masseduction shows). The songs off her latest album, Daddy’s Home, did particularly well in this environment. On the album, songs like “Down and Out Downtown" and "Pay Your Way in Pain '' sounded smothered by too-busy production, buried under layers of sound and studio magic; live, Daddy’s Home cuts had more room to vamp and breathe, the stark difference between an overly-considered rehearsal and an in-the-moment performance.
Aside from some self-effacing stage banter and a brief Big Bopper-esque interlude with a rotary phone, Clark limited her theatrical gestures to sitting on the lip of the stage to sing “New York” and getting so caught up in a dance party with her band during “Slow Disco” that she almost tripped over some cables on stage (people in the audience audibly gasped as Clark briefly flailed onstage on invisible roller skates). Most of her set involved newer material, but she did wrap things up with an apocalyptic rendition of “Your Lips Are Red,” pulling atonal shrieks out of her guitar as a bright red light straight out of Mario Bava’s dreams drenched the stage.
The whole thing was a bit too much, a bit too try-hard, but that’s what made it so refreshing. On a day marked by perfectly competent performances, it was thrilling to see someone taking some big (and occasionally goofy) swings. Always count on a theater kid to go the extra mile. Ashley Naftule
Billy StringsFor a music festival centered around baseball, rock music, and waiting a half hour in line for a $10 drink, a jammy electric bluegrass musician is a weird choice to close out the festival’s second stage. Night descended on the beach park as St. Vincent wrapped up her set and a portion of the crowd drifted over to vibe out to some Pink Floydian lasers and banjo plucking. A series of vertical light bars were suspended over Billy Strings and his band — they shifted colors throughout the set, illuminating the band like a frozen neon rainfall as lasers sprayed across the sides of the stage.
The seemingly-incongruous booking made sense when Billy and his band started jamming. Sprawled out on the grass in the dark, listening to Billy’s brand of electric rock 'n' roll bluegrass had a soothing effect. The band’s sound was bass-heavy and thick, adding a modern-sounding foundation and electronic textures to complement their more traditional instruments and songs. The first five minutes found the band jamming without vocals — it seemed like maybe the whole set would be instrumental until Billy opened his mouth and started singing. Frankly, the vibe was much more immersive and meditative without vocals. As soon as the frontman began his soulful crooning, it was hard to resist flashbacks to the band Blues Hammer from Ghost World.
While I nodded in and out of the set, at times intrigued by Strings’ instrumental dexterity and repelled by his voice, most of the crowd seemed engaged and voiced their approval as the band shredded and picked their way through their set. Billy Strings may not have the world on a string like Sinatra, but he certainly had this crowd dangling from his fingertips. AN
Foo FightersWith nary a hint of hyperbole, enforced by having seen countless concerts across the musical spectrum, Foo Fighters blew the top of this particular reporter’s head clear of their dome. Anyone born after, say, 1985 has a distinct and well-defined relationship with Dave Grohl’s other band. And in a two-plus-hour set, Grohl and company absolutely annihilated many of these preconceived notions — leaving only a mass of new converts in the mighty Foos army. Because if you’ve never seen the band before, it’d be easy to think they’re just some great, genuinely prolific rock band, which they most certainly are. But the live version of Foos are a different monster entirely. They took hit songs like “The Pretender” and “Learn To Fly” and transformed each into snarling anthems, doubling back with huge interludes of righteous noise and boundless fury — except in the case of “My Hero,” which was made into an even more sweeping ballad. Or, how Grohl comes off as both the ringmaster and a madman, exuding an angst and power that proved singularly intoxicating. (Never has someone called a crowd “motherfuckers” so many times and every time it’s still super charming.)
Perhaps it’s all in their stage setup, with lights and grade-A videography as if you’re watching some epic rock doc unfold in real-time. It could even be their touching but sweltering cover of Tom Petty’s classic “Breakdown.” I’d likely bet actual money it’s their extended “band introductions/solo sections,” which is more charming and entertaining than many actual shows, especially when drummer Taylor Hawkins sings the bejesus out of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” (complete with Grohl’s drum solo). And, of course, it could almost exclusively be how Hawkins controls his massive drum kit with the most ridiculous, life-affirming smile perpetually plastered across his face.
Regardless of the reasons, the band had the crowd eating out of their hands with every song, and the legion of attendees twisted and turned perfectly with every ebb and flow. Is everyone who attended going to be forever changed, altered down to their very last molecule? Maybe. It was that kind of show — it tore down the walls of a great rock concert and made you question the very laws of emotional physics and pure artistry. It pulled people into a communal expression of pure joy, singing their hearts out simply to keep pace with their new favorite band. And the band responded in kind, building things up from a sonic and narrative standpoint with the heft and grace of seasoned rockers. Maybe this kind of massively transcendent thing just happens all the time at a Foo Fighters concert; that would clearly track with how effortless the band came off (but never, ever forced or boring). But it doesn’t change the fact that, in the middle of a Valley park near a random lake, Foo Fighters burned things down and left everyone shaking maddeningly, joyously in their wake. CC
We're a little biased, but local singer-songwriter Sydney Sprague was the perfect kickoff to the second day of the festival. When Phoenix New Times put her on the cover almost a year ago, we knew Sprague was on her way to doing big things. And sure enough, her Innings set was the last thing she did before she headed out on tour with Jimmy Eat World and Dashboard Confessional.
Most of Sprague's set was composed of songs from her 2021 album maybe I will see you at the end of the world. Songs like "i refuse to die," "object permanence," and "quitter" showcased Sprague's talent for singing hard truths sweetly.
Sprague dropped a few new tunes into the set — "terrible places" and "think nothing" — and introduced a cover of Fall Out Boy's "Sugar We're Goin' Down" by saying, "This is a cover that, as far as I can tell, is definitely about baseball."
All said, Sprague's gently gloomy brand of alt-pop eased the Right Field crowd perfectly into the second full day of music. Jennifer Goldberg
BriscoeMy initial introduction to Austin, Texas’ Briscoe came after standing in line behind a group of middle-aged men decked out in band tees and hats. But I tried not to hold that against the band, as they didn’t come off nearly as insufferable and entitled. That’s not to say Briscoe were exactly worthy of our instant adulation: Their brand of country-tinged folk rock, sort of like if Mac DeMarco and Band of Horses started up a Chicago cover band, exuded some extra dorky, slightly hokey energies. (See their energetic but nonetheless forced cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”) But if that description didn’t bring you any immediate psychic discomfort, you perhaps could have fallen for a band who offered an unassuming presence and stage show, unironically cheesy subject matter, and genuine cohesiveness as a collective. It was the first band at Innings that was clearly booked for baseball dads, and that’s an audience still deserving of their heroes (that aren’t baseball legend Tim Raines, of course). CC
Low Cut ConnieCan you judge a band by its name? No, but you can glean vital information, as was the case with Philadelphia’s own Low Cut Connie. The name alone hints at heaps of sexuality, an overt playfulness, and a commitment to lewdness as a form of artistic merit. But beyond that promise, the actual band were mostly hard to nail down. On the one hand, they sounded like the mutant love child of Jerry Lee Lewis and Meatloaf from Rocky Horror Picture Show (with just a sprinkle of off-Broadway showmanship). But that’s not nearly as awkward and irksome as it sounds on paper, as you can drill through the southern rock vibes and piano playing antics for a band with passion and grit to spare. They’ve got their whole shtick down pat, and while the crowd maybe wasn’t always so sure of what to make of it all, enough folks got lured into this perverted, nonetheless heartfelt take on a Sunday church service. (The theme? Rampant self -ove and social revolution.) When singer Adam Weiner said he loved the crowd about 40,000 different times, you could feel the truth of that declaration — even if all those emotions sometimes felt awkward, distracting, and not entirely fulfilling. CC
Jade BirdInnings fest offered up lots of folk-adjacent music, with bands mixing it up by injecting punk, garage, and Southern rock. England’s Jade Bird, however, comes from a purer folk/Americana background, and that directness made a substantial difference. Like Black Pistol Fire on Saturday, Bird was immediately in a position to be swallowed up by the sizable stage and slow-building crowd — even when she had temporary backup. But with little more than her guitar and slightly husky croon, she balanced both a big rock show feel with the intimacy of some coffee shop gig. The secret was the songs themselves, and Bird’s thoughtful ballads flourished thanks to the grit and heart imbued in every line. (That, and Bird’s accent and endearing, coffee-addled banter.) It’s hard to draw a meaningful crowd as just one person, but Bird happily fought for every scrap of attention, providing passion galorehe crowd with a bevy of heart, some low-key dance grooves — via a slick cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” — and an unyielding drive to connect as deeply as possible. Folk-leaning acts were a major part of the Innings “identity” across 2022, and Bird made that abundantly clear with a dark horse contender for Saturday’s most endearing performances. CC
Fitz & The TantrumsHere's a theory: The folks who had been at the festival since the gates open at noon were feeling tired and hadn't yet caught their second wind, and the ones who had just gotten there for the evening sets weren't drunk yet. Perhaps that's one reason why Fitz & The Tantrums' set didn't really land with the crowd. Michael Fitzpatrick and co. kicked off their 15-song set with "OCD" off their latest album, 2019's All the Feels. Over the next hour, the band checked the boxes of the high points of their decade-plus career; hits like "Out of My League" and "HandClap" did get the crowd singing along and even dancing a bit, but the energy level dropped sharply on songs that were less familiar to listeners. Noelle Scaggs, the co-lead singer of the band, brought a powerful voice, but Fitzpatrick really just seemed like he was trying too hard. Awkward segues between songs (like when Fitzpatrick asked the crowd "Hey, what day is it?" before launching into "Living for the Weekend") sucked a lot of the momentum out of the set. We don't need the chatter; we just want the music. JG
Matt and KimI saw Matt and Kim at the Clubhouse Music Venue in October 2010. Way back then, still early enough in the duo’s career, they perpetuated a sweat-soaked dance party suited for that tiny, sorely missed club. Now, some 12 years later, things remain unchanged — at least in the ways that genuinely matter. It’s the same kind of hyperactive, bare-bones electro dance gems whose catchiness exceeds all physical limits. The same us against the world mentality (sans the legions in attendance, of course) that’s made the pair endlessly charming and appealing. The same dance breaks and random cover interludes (like DMX’s ”Party Up” and Alice Deejay’s “Better Off Alone”) that expanded the greater experience. The same mid-show party games that, while slightly cumbersome, provided another layer of fun. And even the same tendency for cathartic singalongs at almost every turn. All that’s changed — beyond when Kim played drums with, um, jelly dildos — is that they’ve honed their craft, modifying in mostly understated ways to further bring people together in the name of family and healing and carefree expression. Sure, there’s something to say about those early shows, and how they fostered an immediacy and visceral connection that festivals can’t fully match. But you know who never cared one iota? The crowd dancing to every song like it was the first time and the 1,000th time all at once. CC
The War on DrugsThe War on Drugs weren’t even originally set to play Innings; they stepped in for My Morning Jacket in early January. So it’s mostly hard not to imagine what could have been, as MMJ occupies that precious overlap in the Venn diagram of indie rock fans, baseball dads, and overt hippies. And for their part, TWOD stepped up with the same kind of unassuming grace and stoicism that has defined much of their recorded output. It wasn’t an entirely perfect fit, of course, and that’s really important for a few different reasons.
TWOD rely more on big rock ballads (like Don Henley by way of a more subtle Bruce Springsteen and electro-leaning Pink Floyd), and that doesn’t always make for the most compelling thing to blast into a giant open field. But they responded by playing with the same kind of commitment that, once more, defines their discography, and that made up for the space issue by creating a certain sense of momentum amid the driving soundscapes. They also aren’t always the most showy sort of band (no screaming or pyro, but some sick light displays), and that’s hard for crowds to handle (especially after the mega dance party at Matt and Kim). But yet again, TWOD just focused on their heart-on-sleeve rock, and it let the crowd come to their specific truth with a rather deliberate pace.
And, of course, you can’t talk about the band without talking about their actual songs, which seem to focus on rich emotional layers and a very specific kind of spontaneity and emotional potential. (See that whole dad rock motif once again if you’re still confused.) But when they made the most of these songs in a live setting, and actively played up those big swings in energy and storytelling potential, then it was enough for TWOD to make those important moments land with devastating effectiveness. Innings was packed with bands doing their best to shake listeners to their core with gimmicks and dance parties and silly games. This band clearly thought differently of their audience, and they seemed to wager that most people had gathered because they needed to hear something singular and slightly novel. And you don’t need any parlor tricks when you can dole out just that with a thoughtful and keenly tailored setlist.
If TWOD are at all “flashy,” it’s because the crowd saw something in letting the band call the shots, denying some pomp and circumstance for a curated momment touching on love and longing and excitement for life’s many varied depths. There were still some distinct and noticeable downsides. Like, how even the tiniest breaks in the action seemed to resonate extra loud across the field. Or how a diminished and/or understated crowd — at least compared to the massive, frothing hordes at Foo Fighters — slightly neutered the greater “arc” of the band’s performance. But if you bought the ticket and really took the ride, TWOD felt not like some great substitution, but a band that gave attendees the kind of experience that scratched the same sort of existential itch. And almost nobody fosters that kind of robust, full-body awakening better than these Philly boys. CC
Black PumasWhen you worship at the altar of sound, a music festival can feel like church. And that's what we got during the Black Pumas set. The Austin, Texas, duo of singer/songwriter Eric Burton and guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada gave the Innings Fest audience a powerful performance that enraptured the crowd.
The set began with red lights and smoke in front of a backdrop depicting the Black Pumas logo. An instrumental intro led into "Next to You," and the church service began. Like a gospel preacher, Burton held the crowd in his sway. "Arizona!" he cried. "Are you afraid to die?" (Apparently, the Innings Fest crowd is not.)
In just over an hour, the Black Pumas burned up the Right Field stage. Tunes like "Know You Better" and "Fire" were sexy and enchanting, and had the crowd swaying to the beat. But Burton's ability to captivate shined brightest on more philosophical songs like "Touch the Sky" and "Confines." Calling the audience his brothers and sisters, Burton encouraged the audience to "touch the sky — whatever that feels like to you."
"In life's confines, I try to let my soul refine," he sang before urging the crowd to "let your soul refine" in a call-and-response. It was the emotional high point of a set that was so good, it was almost a religious experience. JG