St. Vincent, Susquehanna Bank Center last night by PETE TROSHAK
WXPN’s XPoNential Festival is one of the yearly highlights of the Philly summer concert calendar, and the 2015 edition was no exception. The festival draws over 25,000 fans, spans three days and this year included over 30 performances. If you were only going to make it to one day of the festival this year Saturday was the one to choose with a stellar lineup of fiercely talented lesser known musicians on outdoor stages during the day and the dynamic one-two punch of St. Vincent and My Morning Jacket closing the show by playing to a huge crowd at the Susquehanna Bank Center.
Local duo Vita and the Wolf kicked off the outdoor portion of the day’s music with a short set that showcased Vita’s chilly but emotional vocals and synth work and the Wolf’s powerful yet fluid drumming. Up next was much-buzzed-about Philly group Hop Along who gave one of the best performances of the day in support of their critically-acclaimed sophomore album Painted Shut. Singer Frances Quinlan displayed her achingly frantic vocals while pile-driving her quartet through an intense 40 minutes that included a thunderous “Tibetan Rock Stars.” Field Report performed a dreamy set of their swirling acoustic/electronic soundscapes that transported the crowd’s spirits away from the broken dream boulevards of Camden to shimmering desert oases and purple mountain majesties high above the fruited planes. Calexico proved to be a perfect antidote for the roaring afternoon heat, delivering a cool-as-a-cucumber set of Tex-Mex desert noir, included a rousing, set-closing “Cumbia De Donde” that had the crowd moving and grooving. Dressed in jeans t-shirts and looking like they were just four hardhats short of starting a construction company the men of Fly Golden Eagle rocked the second stage with a magic carpet ride of rambunctious, sloppy ’60s-fueled boogie and psychedelia that was easily one of the loudest and most well-received sets of the day. Backed by a drummer and badass pedal steel guitarist Melvin Duffy, the two singing Swedish sisters of folk rockers First Aid Kit arrived looking like sweet but grievous angels in pure-as-the-driven-snow-white old timey dresses and proceeded to stun the crowd with their lush, glorious harmonies and songs haunted by the ghosts of the work of Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and Johnny & June (who they dedicated their set to). North Carolina roots rockers Delta Rae closed out the outdoor festivities with a high-energy, harmony-rich performance that felt like a whirlwind rushing through Wiggins Park, scattering the debris and dust of the day away and dispersing a smiling and sunburned crowd into the night and on to the next venue.
Despite going on before My Morning Jacket, co-headliner St. Vincent stole the show and ruled the day. She arrived on the main stage rocking a black, bubble-wrapped dominatrix/Catwoman suit and proceeded to drop her angular guitar-fueled cherrybombs on a delighted, rabid crowd for over an hour. Her records are solid, but witnessing St. Vincent and her powerful guitar playing live is akin to that moment in the Wizard of Oz when the color palette shifts from drab black and white to glorious technicolor. As her three-piece backing band delivered burbling beats and miles of groove, St. Vincent strutted around the stage like a robot. Her mechanized dancing inspired a large portion of the crowd to dance like those models in Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” videos throughout her performance, which added a surreal layer to the scene. But more memorable than the outfit or the dancing was St. Vincent’s guitar playing, which on this night could best be described as epic. She alternated between slamming out riffs and coaxing all things sonic — up to and including the proverbial kitchen sink — out of her axe while spouting her jagged haiku lyrics. Hands down, she gave one of the great guitar performances probably in the history of the XPoNential Festival.
My Morning Jacket closed out the night by planting their flag on top of the jam rock band with a two hour nineteen song rock and roll extravaganza ride on space mountain. Singer Jim James took the stage wearing what appeared to be a magician’s black suit coat emblazoned with runes seemingly scrawled in sidewalk chalk and the band immediately launched into “Off The Record” with James adding some licks from the Hawaii Five-O theme to the song for flair. The band’s set drew heavily from their new album, The Waterfall, with songs like “Compound Fracture” and “Believe (Nobody Knows)” proving to be much more heavy and formidable live than on record. About three quarters of the way through their set the crowd seemed to be fading a little, probably overdosed on sun and music, and the band resuscitated them by delivering one of the memorable performances of the fest with a rousing seven minute musical rollercoaster ride through “Circuital.” The band’s encore included another classic with a tension-filled but groovy “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2” and they closed with “One Big Holiday” which seemed an apt way to summarize the weekend as a whole: three days of love, peace and music. — PETE TROSHAK