Labor Day weekend in Philadelphia. For decades, the tradition in this part of the country for saying goodbye to summer is to go down the shore one last time. For the second year in a row, Jay Z has provided a new tradition, the Made in America festival: a patriotic weekend of eclectic music with one day spared for those who still want to get in some last-minute beach time. The variety of performers brings an equally diverse audience, as acts vary from pop to hard rock to hip-hop.
The headliner of Day One was Queen Bey, Mrs. Carter herself, Beyonce. She brought the full power of her Mrs. Carter world tour to the estimated 60,000 fans in attendance. Her pace was fierce, with a costume change every three-to-four songs (she wore spangly and sequined leotards and catsuits — she looked incredible, new hair and all). A strong all-female live band and a team of energetic backup dancers supported the Queen. Beyonce’s voice has not worn out with use; as expected, she effortlessly delivered a pitch-perfect performance, nailing every modulation in “Love on Top,” and giving a show-stopping, Tina Turner-esque diva performance on “Why Don’t You Love Me?” Crowd favorites “Crazy in Love” and “Single Ladies” were explosive, while a touching a capella snippet of “I Will Always Love You” introduced “Halo.”
Of course, there was about eight hours of music before even a hint of Beyonce was in the air. Deadmau5 brought out all the latter-day club kids and ravers. Four homemade mouseheads were spotted in the audience, each crafted with more care and impressive light effects than the last, while spontaneous dance circles broke out around the stage. Phoenix delivered a lightweight set that was enjoyable, though they may have benefitted from a slightly shorter set time. There were times the band members themselves looked bored.
Intergalactic timelords Empire of the Sun brought their brand of visually stunning, serious and stern dance-rock to a crowd completely taken in by the sound and spectacle. Helmeted dancers, hammerpants, faux-hawks ripped straight from Sarah Jessica Parker’s “punk” gown at the Met ball and a lead singer dressed like a glittery Loki (horned crown and everything) were enough to entertain even those who just don’t feel like dancing… morosely.
Imagine Dragons brought an earnest and humble attitude to their set. It seemed everyone did double-duty playing their own instrument as well as giant drums for a thunderous sound that carried all the way over 2 Chainz, who had not quite finished his electric set when the Dragons started. 2 Chainz was the highlight as a special guest in Drake’s set last year, and was the first act this year to really get the crowd going. Fans dashed to catch his set the moment it started. Midway through, he quieted everyone for a moment of silence. Fans solemnly hushed in respect as the MC quipped, “A moment of silence… for this stage ’cause I’m killin’ this shit!” Truth.
2 Chainz may represent the new school hip-hop, but it’s hard to think of a stronger old-school act to represent than Public Enemy. Walking onstage to the sound of an air raid siren and performing in front of a sign that read “FREE MUMIA,” Chuck D and Flavor Flav hit just as hard as ever on classics like “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Fight the Power.” Keeping their classic ethos intact as well as their songs, they took the time to call out Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett for spending $400M on prisons while closing Philadelphia schools.
For those who arrived early, they caught a glimpse of some of the best up-and-coming acts. Let it be known, Made in America does not stuff its roster with filler. Openers Walk the Moon offered a bouncy pop-rock with a Vampire Weekend flair (minus all the post-grad lit essays). Women dominated the earlier settimes, however, with Emeli Sande and Haim delivering standout performances. Sande (recently featured on Jay Z’s The Great Gatsby soundtrack) mixed R&B and pop for a soulful, inspiring set. Though her drummer wore an “I Heart London” t-shirt to an America-themed fest, Sande warmed over the audience, particularly with “Lifted” and “Next to Me.”
With Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age performing on Day Two, perhaps organizers aimed for a more pop-rock lineup for the first day? Haim were probably the most raw rock act of the of the day. The ladies tore through their too-short 45-minute set with blended shared vocals over drums, bass, occasional keys, and guitar noise. Acknowledging comparisons they’ve received to Fleetwood Mac, the band paid tribute with a raucous cover of “Oh Well.”
The only blot on an otherwise beautiful day was a very late A$AP Rocky, who essentially cut his short set in half, performing only four or five songs before having to give up the stage. He had a lot of fans in the audience who would have wanted more time with the young rapper.