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Made in America Philadelphia 2014: Top 10 Sets + Photos

Festival Review

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Labor Day means the end of the summer and also the winding down of music festival season. By this time of year, it’s fair to ask, “What can a festival give that hasn’t already been seen?” For the third year, Budweiser Made in America Festival made its home in Philadelphia’s scenic Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with the Rocky Steps behind the main stage and the backdrop of beautiful downtown. But the major storyline of this year’s edition was its simultaneous occurrence in Los Angeles, which made MIA the first bicoastal music festival in the United States. Despite early speculation of the wild possibilities this system could provide (like hologram performances or an artist performing on the same day at both festivals), the reality was much less crazy. Lineups were mostly exclusive to each location, with just a handful of artists taking red-eye flights to perform the next day on the other coast.

Made in America Swings - Killian YoungBut that doesn’t mean MIA wasn’t without its memorable moments. From Kanye West’s incredible headlining spot (arguably his best performance on the US festival circuit this summer) to the OBGMs’ Cinderella story, there were plenty of triumphs big and small for many artists on the bill. And of course, there was the unpredictable summer weather.

After a gray Saturday, the sun broke through on a stifling Sunday afternoon. But later that evening, severe thunder and lightning rolled in, scattering attendees after an evacuation of the festival grounds. The same storm system that pummeled New York and ultimately caused the cancellation of Electric Zoo’s third day couldn’t keep MIA down, though.  The rain delay only lasted an hour, and the shows resumed relatively quickly. Props to the on-site crew for readying the stages again, having every scheduled artist perform (although understandably with shortened sets), and pushing back the end time from 11 p.m. to midnight. By and large, organization was on-point throughout the weekend, with sets running mostly on time and minimal time conflicts later in the day. The crowd was large, but navigating the grounds didn’t feel unpleasant or claustrophobic, save for being packed in for Kanye West’s headlining performance on Saturday.

Earlier in the year, our Festival Outlook examined where all the hip-hop festivals went, and MIA is the perfect example of a hybrid festival that incorporated a strong rap presence (Kanye, YG, Danny Brown, J. Cole, Pharrell, Big Daddy Kane) into its genre-defying lineup. If, as the legend has it, Jay Z does “personally curate” the artists, the man has great taste. The Philadelphia edition featured something for everyone, from local bands to rising indie darlings to international superstars. Fans got to don the stars and stripes and give one last hurrah to summer while hearing some fantastic live music along the way.

–Killian Young
Contributing Writer

FEEL-GOOD STORY

THE OBGMS

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Photo by Cathy Poulton

Saturday, Skate Stage – 1:15 p.m.

Budweiser scoured Canada for local talent and plucked the oOohh Baby Gimme Mores (also known as the OBGMs) out of relative obscurity for what they told the Toronto quartet was a documentary about indie bands. It was a trick, though – the company actually set up a show with hundreds of fans in the crowd. The icing on the cake for the story (at least for now) was that the OBGMs would kick off Made in America in Philadelphia.

As lead vocalist Densil McFarlane beckoned curious onlookers closer, he promised, “We’re not Kanye West, but we’re gonna put on a good show.” Despite referring to themselves as an “R&B band” at the start, the OBGMs ripped through a set of synth-infused garage tracks. McFarlane proved to be an engaging conductor of the crowd, encouraging those watching to “get low” and then to mirror his movements as he bounced from left to right on stage. On “King Stay the King”, he even convinced fans to separate into two groups and collide together in a mini wall of death.

BEST SET YOU PROBABLY MISSED

BABY BABY

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Photo by Cathy Poulton

Saturday, Skate Stage – 2:45 p.m.

When Baby Baby emerged onstage five minutes before their set time, there was practically no crowd. Out of the four performance spots at Made in America, the Skate Stage usually had the fewest viewers, especially in the early parts of the day. Then the Atlanta quintet took a really long sound check, with vocalist Fontez Brooks occasionally heckling the skateboarders. Eventually the band kicked off with the amazingly titled party-rock track “Turnip” — their sound blended propulsive keys with raw, punk instrumentation and vocals. After their opening track, Brooks pretended to take a call from Jay Z and apologized that they’d have to cut their set short.

As the sound bled from the nearby Freedom Stage (where the electronic artists mostly played), Brooks shouted, “Rock ‘n’ roll will live on. We will not die. You can play that EDM shit all you want – we’ll dance here!” The band then tore into “Quarter Life Crisis” and “Keisha”. By that time, the OBGMs had re-emerged and joined the crowd, starting a mosh pit that this writer got pulled into. Many passers-by joined in facetiously at first, but Baby Baby got a sizable crowd thrashing together at the high point of their set.

ACCEPTABLE TIME TO SIT ON SOMEONE’S SHOULDERS

CHROMEO

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Photo by Cathy Poulton

Saturday, Liberty Stage – 5:30 p.m.

Having a sea of people sitting on their friends’ shoulders can be a frustrating sight during a music festival, especially if it means that you can’t see the stage anymore. Throughout MIA, security was quick to shine their flashlights at you if you were trying to sit on someone’s shoulders. But Chromeo encouraged the women in the crowd to break the rules for a cool effect during “Over Your Shoulder”, their ode to all ladies. This was just one of the funk duo’s crowd-pleasers of the set, as Dave 1 and P-Thugg also danced through “Jealous (I Ain’t with It)”, “Sexy Socialite”, and “Come Alive”.

MOST POWERFUL OPENING

J. COLE

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Photo by Cathy Poulton

Saturday, Liberty Stage – 7:30 p.m.

J. Cole didn’t perform “Be Free” live, but his anguished ode to Michael Brown boomed over the speakers at the start of his set, accompanied by clips of police violence. When the rapper emerged, he transitioned to the thematically similar “Enchanted” from his Friday Night Lights mixtape, keyed by his powerful lines: “If them bullets wet you bet your momma need a tissue/ Your face on the front of our shirts, screamin’ we miss you.”

MAKING THE BEST OUT OF A TOUGH SET TIME

THE NATIONAL

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Photo by Cathy Poulton

Saturday, Rocky Stage – 8:30 p.m.

How do you precede the most highly anticipated set of Made in America? The National faced this tall order when performing before Kanye West’s headlining performance Saturday night to a somewhat unenthusiastic crowd. (Yeezy fans had been holding down prime spots since the previous set, City & Colour.) Make no mistake, the National did nothing wrong, and their set was technically sound. Dueling guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner unleashed wall-of-sound riffs, and vocalist Matt Berninger led the performance with his intense vocals and guttural screams as he repeatedly threw down the mic stand. Berninger finally broke through during the final two songs when he hopped off the stage and waded past the barrier for “Mr. November” and “Terrible Love”. The fans swarmed and supported him as he stood atop the crowd and sang his heart out, triumphant and sweaty.

LIVING UP TO THE HYPE

GRIMES

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Photo by Cathy Poulton

Sunday, Liberty Stage — 5:15 p.m.

If you’ve kept up with Consequence of Sound’s festival coverage this summer, then you know that Grimes is a staff favorite. (See here, here and here, for example.) This was my first time seeing Grimes, and I was impressed. The synthpop songstress’s mesmerizing dance moves – from sashaying to headbanging – complemented her vocals, which ranged from delicate, high-pitched crooning to throaty screaming. The pretty piano buildup that leads to the throbbing bass drop in “Go” dazzled live, and she closed with the beautiful, shimmering “Genesis”.

MOST WEATHER-APPROPRIATE SONG

SPOON

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Photo by Cathy Poulton

Sunday, Rocky Stage — 6 p.m. / 7:45 p.m. after rain delay

Spoon had just kicked off their set on the main stage when the storm system rolled in, which caused the evacuation of the festival grounds. When they returned, the dark clouds held for a few minutes before a torrential downpour began. The show went on, though, with “The Way We Get By” ringing especially true: “We go out in stormy weather/ We rarely practice discern.”

BEST CURRICULUM VITAE

PHARRELL

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Photo by Cathy Poulton

Sunday, Rocky Stage – 9:05 p.m.

Hearing all the songs in Pharrell’s set was an impressive reminder of how influential he’s been as a writer, producer, and vocalist. His performance included Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” (co-writer and co-producer), Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” (co-writer and featured vocalist), Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” (co-writer and co-producer), Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” (co-writer and co-producer), and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (featured vocalist, co-writer, and producer).

The not-so-good part? Pharrell used a backing track and was lip syncing for a significant portion of the show. This isn’t the first time this has happened; in our 2014 Coachella review, we noted Pharrell’s vocals suffered due to adverse weather conditions. However, at MIA the rain had eased up by his set time. At one point, Pharrell stopped singing while the vocal track continued to play. He walked toward the side of the stage and appeared to gesture toward his lower lip or mouth (maybe an injury of some sort?). Although this was disappointing, the vocals didn’t damper the crowd’s enjoyment of the set, as the fans cheered wildly through all the hits, especially for the jubilant closing track “Happy”.

MOST TRIUMPHANT RETURN

KINGS OF LEON

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Photo by Cathy Poulton

Sunday, Rocky Stage – 10:45 p.m.

Earlier in August, Kings of Leon got in an auto accident when a pedestrian jumped in front of their bus. In the crash, drummer Nathan Followill broke a rib, taking him out of commission for the past few weeks. Followill returned to action for Kings of Leon’s rain-shortened headlining spot, though, powering through a 75-minute set. The final few songs proved to be the highlight of the night, which included the grand “Use Somebody” and a rousing rendition of “Sex Is on Fire”. The end of the set featured fireworks from the stage (Kanye didn’t even get that!) and a giant US flag that took over the entire video board. America!

BEST HEADLINER & PERFORMANCE

KANYE WEST

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Photo by Killian Young

Saturday, Rocky Stage – 10:30 p.m.

The City of Brotherly Love had a ton of love for Kanye West. Kanye responded by delivering MIA’s best performance, which had everything short of a Jay Z appearance. Older cuts like “Jesus Walks”, “All Falls Down”, and “Touch the Sky”? Check. Great covers of “Run This Town” and “I Don’t Like”? Check. A circle pit for “Blood on the Leaves”? Check.

Unlike at earlier festivals Ye performed this summer, this crowd was clearly positively predisposed toward him, as they enthusiastically sang along to each song in his career-spanning set. For instance:

-Mike Dean (who also deserves credit as he impressively took turns at keys, guitar, and DJ) completely cut the instrumentals so the crowd could take over the chorus on “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”.

-Kanye led the “leaders and followers” line multiple times during “New Slaves”.

-The crowd chanted, “I’m sky high” repeatedly during “Touch the Sky”.

-The fans cheered wildly when Kanye replaced the city names in “Good Life” with “It feel like Philly.”

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Photo by Killian Young

Naturally, the performance featured Kanye halting the music (after “Power”) so he could speak his mind. His speech started by criticizing MTV and South Park for making fun of him, but overall the message was positive. “And I got love for anybody in the media, all the tabloids,” Kanye said. “I know everybody’s doing their job. But before we go to the next song, I want people to realize that what we do, we put our love, our heart, our pain, our story, our lives into it, 3 a.m. every night in the studio for this.”

His second speech – partially sung in Auto-Tune in the middle of “Runaway” – meandered through different topics, such as class, being disliked (“What’s the main reason why they would say that Kanye is not a good guy? ‘Cause the only thing I do is, I tell the truth”), and being himself (“My job, my job till the day I die is being exactly who I am, exactly who my parents made me”). Although the crowd noticeably quieted when Kanye spoke, the fans didn’t get restless.

Kanye’s artistry has been well documented in the past, such as when he postponed shows after a screen was damaged on his Yeezus tour. A small instance that manifested itself at the MIA show was when Ye cut the song during “Black Skinhead”. He had noticed that the lights were flashing multiple colors, and he wanted all the lighting to be white. After this was fixed, he began the song again.

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Photo by Killian Young

Once he finished his first speech, Kanye called an “audible,” choosing to play “Blood on the Leaves” in the middle of the set, while also promising to close with it. He encouraged the crowd to open up a circle pit and go crazy when the massive horn section dropped.

During two songs – “Run This Town” and “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” – the moment seemed ripe for a Jay Z entrance, but that never came to fruition. The latter half of the set, which featured some satisfying older jams from The College Dropout and Late Registration, proved just as great, nonetheless.

Kanye disappeared offstage after playing a shortened version of “Bound 2” (with Tony Williams assisting on vocals) and reprised with “Blood on the Leaves”. And just when it seemed like the set might end, Kanye yelled, “We have one minute until they cut the power. Mike, start the song over!”

Gallery

Photographer(s): Cathy Poulton, Killian Young

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