For three years now I’ve been travelling back and forth over the Ambassador Bridge to get from school to home and back around again. Only for the past two have I developed a new appreciation for the area surrounding it, rather than looking at it simply as a gateway to freedom and revelry in Ann Arbor and Charon’s ferry when I have to return home.
Riverfront Park in Detroit is, simply put, beautiful. Even in last weekend’s searing heat, concert goers were bubbly and bright as they made their way across the exhaustively long field from food to music. The first day was sparse, the second day crowded — in the field before Solange’s sunset set (as Phantogram had so romantically put it the day before) stretched a crowd that could rival any.
The lineup this year rested heavily on three genres: punk, hip hop and indie rock. Ranging from Wavves’ punk rock mosh to Solange’s orange aura to Foster the People’s indie tedium, Mo Pop this year delivered us into the havens of hip hop but also left me feeling slightly underwhelmed. Tyler, The Creator, Wavves, Solange and Run the Jewels — these were the domineering sounds of my weekend and for many others. Outside of the headliners, they drew the largest crowds despite only half of them being on the main stage.
Concert-attendees gliding gradually to the exit during Foster the People’s set the first night was noticeably juxtaposed with Solange gliding gracefully through the first four tracks off of A Seat at the Table to an avid, enthralled crowd. Foster the People’s set was tedious, at best. Closing out the first day of fierce sunrays and lengthy sets, the crowd was antsy, and not even the possibility of hearing crowd-pleasers like “Houdini” and “Pumped Up Kicks” was enough to get people to stay. It’s not like it’s entirely their fault: Run the Jewels had put on the show of a lifetime on the same stage only an hour before.
It got to the point where there was sand in my shoes, coated on my legs, in my hair, my face. It got to the point where the crowd was jumping and dancing so aggressively to Killer Mike and EI-P loud-mouthed rap that there was a sandstorm all around us. And who can blame them? The chemistry between the two rappers is undeniable and irresistible. One of the security guards by the front barrier effectively became a hype man halfway through the set. And then, three-quarters of the way through, turning around I could see hundreds of people all shouting at once “Lie, cheat, steal, kill, win, win” with a “everybody’s doin’ it” to wind it out. It was inspiring, really.
I heard someone shout to his friend the next day that Tyler was good but RTJ ruled. I’m here to disagree. Because when the sound cut out with four songs left of Tyler’s set the crowd had no idea. When the sound cut out right before “November” he crouched down at the front of the stage, stage right, and went right into “She,” performing it entirely a cappella. No one knew anything had gone wrong until he bragged about it. And even after they plugged in an iPod to fix the sound, none of the set suffered. Tyler, The Creator has a way about him on stage that’s mesmerizing. His songs, especially the ones off of Flower Boy are vulnerable but are masked in a rage that refuses to let that vulnerability immediately reveal itself. And the way he kicked and threw himself around stage while leading the crowd in “IFHY” and “911/Mr. Lonely” made it seem like whether we like it or not, those songs have a certain control over us, and it’s all in their hooks. His set melded his new — arguably some of his best — work with his old, holding up the crowd during “Yonkers” to concede that he doesn’t have anything against Bruno Mars, even singing a little bit of “That’s What I Like.” There was one true fumble: He forgot parts of “Tamale.” And so did the audience. But I didn’t even remember that happened until I looked up clips from his performance, so no loss, no foul.
And then there was orange. A pristine, radiant orange pulsated from the other stage where Solange, her dancers and her band emerged. Every move made on that stage was choreographed to a T. Every wave, bow, kick — even when she broke out sporadically from the choreography I’m pretty sure it was calculated and planned. And the effect was incredible. The entire stage and band was draped in this sunrise orange during the sunset set.
And in comparison, Alt-J paled. With their flashing lights and formulaic songs that don’t vary much one to the next, their set was daunted by Solange’s holy presence.
On the 29th and 30th of July, blue skies and plenty of sun graced southeastern Michigan for two days of reliable indie rock. This year marks the fifth consecutive year for Mo Pop Music Festival, and with headliners of Foster The People and Alt-J, the young fest appears to have carved out a more permanent place for itself in Detroit’s busy calendar of summer events.
Although Mo Pop may be written off by some for its relatively small size, the festival pulls off what few others of its magnitude have. That is, it is a family friendly space truly brimming with creative energy. While the two primary stages — dubbed “Grande” and “Captain Pabst” — were likely the greatest source of entertainment for any given individual, the festival also featured a third “School of Rock” stage where younger musicians not listed on the festival’s billing covered classics throughout the weekend.
Just beyond the entrance to West Riverfront Park — the festival’s home for the past three years — past the water and the School of Rock, a bona fide arcade (complete with air conditioning) housed upwards of 20 classic games for young and old alike. Next on the path toward the main stages were the Nerf battleground, back for its second year, and ample cornhole boards and beanbags. Beyond these were far too many food trucks to try in a single weekend, a craft bazaar featuring local projects, vendors and booths run by local radio stations, corporations and numerous sponsors — including Pabst, Deep Eddy and Faygo, the last of which was humorously promoted by a number of acts during their stage time — offering various forms of entertainment.
However, seeing as Mo Pop is a music festival, music was the main draw of the event and its most impressive aspect. Saturday was opened up by Humons, Michigander and early-afternoon highlight Jay Som, whose ‘90s-inflected bedroom pop put the park in high spirits for the rest of the evening. Following Jay Som were Mondo Cozmo, Grace Mitchell and Pvris, their performances alternating between the stages such that any overzealous attendee could very well come into relatively close proximity to the stage for every show. After an underwhelming set from Amine, the evening took a turn for the boisterous, with Wavves’s noisy punk rock providing an odd transition into Run The Jewels’s pummeling rap and Phantogram’s self-described “electro pop.”
The first night was closed out by Foster The People, who played a drawn-out and eventually downright boring set during which music from their new album, Sacred Hearts Club, was played until the inevitable could no longer be denied — the inevitable being “Pumped Up Kicks.” By the time the band delivered their closer, “Pumped Up Kicks” indeed, a large portion of the audience was long gone.
If Saturday’s conclusion was disappointing, Sunday was anything but. With high-energy undercards like pop-rockers White Reaper, the punk riotness of PUP and the final three set times occupied by Tyler, The Creator — fresh off of the release Flower Boy — Solange and Alt-J, Sunday was an assured success through and through from the moment it was booked. They even got the guy who does “Riptide!”
Tyler’s set, though challenged with technical difficulties, brought the crowd to life more than any other during the weekend. Solange’s captive stage presence and fine-tuned choreography proved surprisingly well-suited to the crowd. And, finally, Alt-J did what they do best, delivering an enjoyable if predictable set consisting in the vast majority of cuts from the band’s debut, An Awesome Wave.