September 21, 2009 | 8:00am
The temperature, reaching well into the 100s, mixed with a less than overwhelming lineup made for the perfect late-arriving crowd scenario. The later sets from Ben Harper and Relentless 7, Flogging Molly and Social Distortion were worth the effort, thankfully, and provided Sunday's defining moments -- a fitting bookend to a weekend's worth of live music.
There is just no getting around Sunday's lineup. Yes, it featured marquee acts in Molly and Social D, but even if those bands played the best sets of their careers it does not hide the fact that the day's earlier lineup (Slowpoke, Carolina Liar, Airborne Toxic Event, The Bravery) produced pretty lackluster crowds. It is not those bands' faults that the sun was out to kick everyone's ass, but I can guarantee you that played a big factor in some fans waiting until things cooled down to make their way to Tempe.
Those dedicated fans (perhaps ones that did not stick it out until midnight the night before) of both Slowpoke and Carolina Liar were treated to pretty standard fare opening acts. The high noon time slot for Slowpoke may have proven too early for some, but for the band it was a perfect opportunity to play to a unique outdoor audience and build that always crucial word of mouth.
Once Airborne Toxic Event took to the stage at 2 PM, things had started to build considerably. For most fans, Ben Harper's performance was a mere two and a half hours away, but Airborne's set was still one of importance as the band has been gaining more and more popularity over the past year, since their performance at last September's EdgeFest. They were very cognizant of the hot temperatures, constantly remarking how hot it was on stage. Perhaps fans find it endearing, that moment of "Yeah, no shit it's hot out, I'm standing 20 feet away from you," but the seemingly harmless banter put a minor damper on whatever momentum the band had gained. Everyone in attendance is here to listen to you, and your music acts as a refuge from the ridiculously hot September sun, so you don't need to remind us how hot it is, especially since your performance of "Sometime Around Midnight" is one of your more enjoyable live songs.
Next on stage were New York post-punk revivalists The Bravery, lead by borderline doofus Sam Endicott. The goofy, aloof quality he possesses lends itself quite nicely to his singing style, but his between song banter just made him sound like a goofball, especially since he insists on carrying on with this slack-jawed, laid-back hipster vibe. We get it, you used to get trashed at a bar in Brooklyn while wearing ironic little hats and striped shirts, just play that damn "An Honest Mistake" song -- which they did, to a fantastic reception. I was honestly surprised the band played quite the collection of songs from their self-titled debut ("Public Service Announcement," "Swollen Summer," "Unconditional") seeing as that they miraculously still make records, with a new one apparently due out November. As long as The Bravery makes us all remember those heady days in the summer of 2005 when we couldn't quite decide between them or the similar-sounding Killers, then all is forgiven.
They gave Ben Harper & Relentless 7 an hour and half to play, and I'll be damned if he didn't take every minute of that. Multiple times throughout his set, I remarked that Harper was "getting his money's worth," playing his trademark barefoot folk rock. His crowd was much larger than earlier acts, and he gave those adoring fans all he could throughout his elaborate set. Harper, who sat through most of the set, came to his feet for a few songs, but that didn't seem to matter to the crowd. He has endeared himself to his more loyal fans, leaving some of us casual fans to inevitably notice that his music tends to run together, due to his songs sounding very similar. Harper also is no stranger to a 9-minute song, so those of us not paying that close of attention may not notice just exactly when one song ends and the next begins.
With the beautiful night sky behind them, Flogging Molly took to the stage with the day's biggest crowd yet. I had noticed that Ben Harper's crowd contained more 21 and over fans than underage ones (which makes perfect sense), but Molly had taken care of that disparity, filling both sides of the crowd's age-divided area. Both sides even featured their own circle pits, a gesture I found to be rather unique. Arizona sure loves Flogging Molly, however, and the band has all the love in the world for Arizona. They were at Edgefest a year ago, and last night's set only built on their impressive showing out at the lovely Schnepf Farms.
The crowd was finally at it's largest for the night, right in time for Social Distortion and Mike Ness to take the stage. Social D fans have a very unique look to them, and I have always loved that about them. The greased hair, the bandanas and the cuffed denim set the Social D fans apart from other, more bro-tastic fans in attendance on Sunday. I am just glad Fall Out Boy and Social Distortion didn't play on the same night, because those two distinct fan groups would have made for some really odd cultural cluster-fuck. Social Distortion is one of those bands you can really hang your hat (or derby or fedora) on, thanks to the fact that they have a live show that will absolutely never disappoint their fans. Mike Ness is god, his stage presence is epic and his actions are infallible. Social Distortion's career has always been fueled by their passionate fans, and everyone and anyone will walk away from one of their shows both satisfied and amazed at how the band can still bring it since their formative days in the late 1970s.
And just like that, Arizona Fall Frenzy was over. The crowd lingered, wanting to savor the last taste of live outdoor music in The Valley until Tempe Music Fest, most likely. Sunday didn't see anywhere near as controversial bands as Saturday night did, but I am willing to bet Saturday's crowd was a larger one. While Friday was for the easy-listening cougar crowd, Saturday for the emo kids and the 90s pop punks, Sunday was for the dedicated fans, those ones that have been listening to their favorite band (whether it be Flogging Molly or Social Distortion) for nearly three decades in some instances. Gone was Saturday's animosity towards its Slightly Stoopid/Fall Out Boy/Blink 182 bill, one that absolutely no one could agree on, making way for a more relaxed, happy atmosphere. Sunday's acts really knew how to treat their fans right, and those fans that came out were treated to a well-earned day of live music.