For the last several years, our local alternative rock radio station in Philadelphia – Radio 104.5 (http://radio1045.iheart.com/) – puts on a day long festival celebrating their birthday. This year is the radio station’s 10th birthday, and they are putting on two shows to celebrate. The first was held at the BB&T Pavilion on Saturday, May 13th and featured headliner the Kings of Leon.
Before I get into details of each of the artists and their performances, a little about the overall experience. First on the positive side, the radio station does a great job, in general, with these shows. For less than it will cost you for a lot of concerts, you get a day long festival full of music. The show on May 13th featured 7 bands on the main stage, plus additional local bands on a side stage. The show is very well run. The time in between bands is short considering all the equipment that needs to be moved around. The station puts out a set time list a few days before the show, and they stick to it pretty closely.
On the negative side, you don’t get a full set from any band. Even the Kings of Leon, who were the headliners, only played for an hour. The earlier bands play much shorter sets than that. Those short set lists are very typical for festivals. On the plus side, if there are some bands you don’t care for, their sets are short. Additionally, because they are short sets, the bands tend to play their more familiar songs rather than a lot of rare or new stuff you haven’t heard. On the negative, if this was your only chance to see your favorite band, you won’t get to see a lot of songs from them.
Two other negatives about the show – both of out the radio station’s control. First, the weather was cold and rainy, which made it miserable to be outside all day. Luckily, we had seats under the roof, so we stayed dry. However, it was still a chilly, raw day.
The other negative was the way seating was handled. The show is held in an outdoor amphitheater that has a general admission pit, reserved seating, and a large general admission lawn. For the first four acts on the main stage, all seating is open. They do this so that there are more people in the pit and in the seats for the first several smaller acts that come on. Makes sense, unless it is a rainy and cold day, and you show up to your reserved seat only to find someone else is already sitting in it. I didn’t see any problems with this, but I heard of a couple instances where people were not too happy that someone was sitting in their seat when they arrived. The part that really did not work well, however, was that before the last three acts came on stage, they made EVERYONE exit the pit and the seated area and come back in with their ticket. I understand that they were trying to make sure that people that did not belong in the pit area or reserved seating left. But for those of us that were already in our proper seat, this was a mess. They herded everyone out and people just jammed the concourse waiting to get back in. It took so long for the whole process, that a lot of people didn’t make it back to their seats before the next act came on stage.
Now for a review of each of the performances.
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PHNTMS: The day kicked off with local Philadelphia band, PHNTMS. This was the first time I’ve heard the band, and I was really impressed. Their rock sound, along with powerful vocals from lead singer Alyssa Gambino, made for a strong performance. The band has tons of energy, and you could tell that they were genuinely excited for the opportunity to play on the main stage to a big crowd. The band is getting ready to release their debut full length album, and it will definitely be something to check out. They play shows around the Philadelphia area, so check them out if you get a chance. Information on their music and their tour dates can be found on their website at www.phntmsband.com.
Rag’n’Bone Man: The first national act on the stage was Rory Charles Graham, aka Rag’n’Bone Man. Based out of the UK, Rag’n’Bone Man combines his powerful voice with his soulful music. His hit song “Human” (download Human here), seems to be in constant rotation on the radio, and was the highlight of his performance at the show. His performance didn’t have a lot of flash – no fancy video screens playing in the background, or special effects. It was just him and his musicians, including his back-up singer (who had a fantastic voice as well). His songs went from mellow and “unplugged”, to hard hitting beats that made you want to get up and move. I think his music and performance is much better suited to a smaller venue, than a large one. It will definitely be interesting to see if his popularity is sustained beyond this first single. You can get more information on future tour dates on his website at http://www.ragnbonemanmusic.com.
Fitz and the Tantrums: This was one of my favorite performances of the day. It was a huge dance party! The band is full of energy, led by lead singers Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs. The band has been around since 2008 and is based out of Los Angeles. They played all of their hit songs including “Out of My League” and “Handclap”. They got the whole crowd pumping their arms and dancing along to “Roll Up” (download Roll Up here). My favorite part of the set was when they played their first hit – “MoneyGrabber” – and had the whole crowd singing along. This is a band that I would definitely buy tickets to see again, as it’s a guaranteed fun time. For more information on the band and upcoming tour dates, check out their website at http://www.fitzandthetantrums.com.
The 1975: The next band up was actually my least favorite performance of the day, although the dozens of screaming teenaged girls around me would definitely disagree. The band is based out of Manchester, England and headed up by lead singer Matty Healy. They have a little bit of the “bad boy” vibe going, as Matty lit up multiple cigarettes during their set, and seemed to want to portray that bad boy image. None of that deterred (or maybe it even encouraged), the young female crowd from going crazy over them. There was even one girl in the crowd that threw a bra on stage, which Matty caught with one hand without missing a beat. The crowd went crazy when they played their hit single “Chocolate”, as well as their current hit “Somebody Else”(download Somebody Else here). I found their music and performance to be a bit flat, so they aren’t someone that I’d go out and see again. However, if they are your cup of tea, you can find all of their future tour dates on their website at www.the1975.com.
Empire of the Sun: Sometimes you hear a band on the radio and have a picture in your head of what they look like. Then, when you actually see them perform, it’s not at all what you expected. That’s an understatement for Empire of the Sun. I’ve heard their songs “Walking on a Dream” and “High and Low” (download High and Low here) on the radio, and thought they were a typical alternative rock band. What came on stage was nothing short of a spectacle. The band – based out of Australia – is actually an electronic music duo made up of Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore. The visual effects and costumes – including those worn by four dancers that were also part of the performance – were not only spectacular, but pretty “out there”. While they played their radio hits, they also played a lot of totally different electronic music, that I would have never guessed came from the same band. Most bizarrely, the set ended with a loud and pounding guitar by Luke Steele, who proceeded to destroy three guitars and an amp before ending the set. That’s something I would have expected out of a heavy metal band, not an electronic music act with alternative pop hits on the radio. The performance was definitely a show to see. If you are interested in catching their live act, check out their website at www.empireofthesun.com for future tour dates.
Bastille: This was one of the performances I was looking forward to the most, and it did not disappoint. We first saw Bastille a few years ago, when they were just gaining popularity on main stream radio with their hit song “Pompeii”, and absolutely loved their performance. We were disappointed that they did not have a Philly date as part of their recent Wild World Tour, so it was great to see them on the bill for this. Lead singer Dan Smith is a powerhouse on stage. His strong voice and high energy keeps you dancing the entire set. They played a nice mix of old songs including “Bad Blood”, along with their recent hits “Good Grief” and “Blame” (download Blame here). My favorite part of the set was when they covered “Rhythm of the Night”. Dan had the whole place jumping around and singing along. They closed with “Pompeii”, which is still definitely a crowd favorite based on everyone singing and dancing. Bastille just wrapped up their Wild World Tour in the US, and are heading to Europe. But, keep an eye on their website for future tour dates at http://www.bastillebastille.com. They are definitely a live show worth going to!
Kings of Leon: The headliner of the day was Kings of Leon. Personally, I have been waiting to see this band live for many years, and I’m happy to say that their performance exceeded my expectations. The band is based out of Nashville and is made up of the three Followill brothers (Caleb, Nathan and Jared) and their cousin, Matthew. What I love about this band, is that they are just a good old fashioned rock band, like the Foo Fighters or Pearl Jam. There isn’t any flashiness or special effects. It’s just the guys up there singing and playing and putting on a great show. Caleb’s voice is amazing, and totally unique. The music sounds fantastic. While the set was short, it was a good one. They opened with their recent hit “Waste a Moment”, which got the crowd going right away. Again, there isn’t any flash to this band, so they just played and played – one song after another. The show built up to a huge crescendo for me, as the last four songs of the set started with former hits “Use Somebody” and “Notion”, into current hit “Reverend”. They closed the show with a great version of “Sex on Fire”. Sadly, a lot of people left before they came on, and a lot more left before the end of the show and missed what I consider to be the best four songs of the entire day. I think it was a combination of the bad weather and long day that caused some people to leave early. Also, while I personally love the Kings of Leon, they didn’t quite fit in the same genre as the other bands in the line-up. Where the other bands were geared towards a younger, more pop-based crowd, Kings of Leon is a harder rocking band geared toward a more mature audience. I loved their performance and stayed until the very end. I can’t wait for a chance to see them next time. Download Kings of Leon’s latest album Walls here. Keep up to speed on their tour dates on their website at www.kingsofleon.com.
The second Radio 104.5 Birthday show is in June, with headliners The Killers. I’ll be at that show as well, so stay tuned for pictures and reviews of that show next month.