On the second day of Jay Z’s Made in America festival, rock acts loomed large (compared to Day 1‘s poppier lean). While the fest maintained its trademark diversity, there was a little more guitar ringing through the air– the 90-degree, hot, humid air.
The day kicked off with an energetic set from Fitz and the Tantrums. Singers Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs shared frontman duties and knew how to balance each other both harmonically and in their stagecraft. Adept at breaking down the barrier between performer and audience, the pop-rock band sounded tight and connected with the earlybirds.
Wavves gave a somewhat surprise performance. Listed on the schedule only as “TBA,” the surf rock band gave a quick burst of noise before Gaslight Anthem took the stage. Gaslight earns the distinction of being the first rock act of MiA to bring a groove with them. Their barroom-Springsteen-New Jersey heritage is likely responsible, but whatever the reason, rhythm guitar with actual rhythm was a welcome sound. Lead singer Brian Fallon is a man of few words, speaking little, but singing his raspy-voiced heart out. In a neat turn, the band worked Paul Westerberg’s “Waiting on Somebody” into their hit “American Slang.”
The late afternoon acts brought another kind of a groove. Solange launched her set with bass-heavy funk before working her way through R&B, and adding light pop touches along the way. Her charming stage presence is all smiles and dancing. Her love of performing is evident, and her impressive vocals make her act an easy one to love.
The largest crowd yet gathered for buzzworthy Kendrick Lamar. However, he gave much of his time to his special guests, fellow TDE artists Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, and ScHoolboy Q (together, Black Hippy). The audience welcomed each rapper, but saved their best for Lamar, who brought his A-game and a full backing band. Despite his latest release, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, certified platinum, he seemed genuinely touched, if not surprised, the audience knew his lyrics so well and chanted them back to him with fervent energy.
Miguel barely broke a sweat (well, figuratively), dressed in all-white and crooning for an ecstatic audience marked by squeals for every dance move and near shirt-lift. He gave a quick shout-out to Lamar by intro’ing his “How Many Drinks?” with Lamar’s “Swimming Pool (Drank),” before moving to the darkly seductive, “Do You,” which also featured an odd bit of Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up.” Miguel likes to move in many directions at once.
You might have known Wiz Khalifa was coming up from the haze that somehow appeared hovering just over the audience like o-zone. Khalifa introduced himself to the uninitiated, “I’m tall. I’m sexy. I like to smoke weed and I like to have a good time.” With that, he wasted no time moving through his set, cramming an impressive seventeen original cuts and covers into 45 minutes. “Work Hard, Play Hard,” “Young And Wild And Free” and “Taylor Gang” all had the audience rapping along, while “Black and Yellow” was an easy win. Not to mention, his inclusion of a keytarist was certainly a win.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the fastest-rising new artist at the festival, performed their recent string of hits for a massive crowd. Personable and engaging, Macklemore connected to the audience with his energy, whether bouncing on the exuberant “Thrift Shop” or giving a heartfelt intro to “Same Love,” their plea for equality. Not letting things get too serious, when introducing “White Walls” Macklemore invited “as many as will fit” into their after-show limo (a 1990 Cadillac DeVille) for a Capri Sun and a Lunchable. ScHoolboy Q joined the duo onstage to reprise his part on the track. Macklemore closed out their set by earning the distinction of being the only artist to be absorbed into the frantic audience for a moment of crowdsurfing before being safely returned to the stage.
As the sun set, Queens of the Stone Age stormed on and paid tribute with “My God is the Sun,” the first single off their latest album, …Like Clockwork, and did not let up. Tearing through songs from their entire career, QOTSA brought out crowdsurfers and dance-rockers alike with a hard-hitting set. The only pause was taken not for a breath, but to chastise security mid-song for harassing a girl sitting on a friend’s shoulders. “What is this, your fuckin’ parents’ house?” frontman Joshua Homme asked, before declaring the rulebook officially put away, and picking up right where he left off. The audience joined in for the romantic sway of “Make It Wit Chu,” before the band launched into a brutal assault with “Sick, Sick, Sick,” “Go With the Flow” and the teasingly ferocious closer “Song for the Dead.” New drummer Jon Theodore especially shined on the finale, taking Dave Grohl’s work on the recorded version and making it his own.
Back on the second stage, Calvin Harris knocked out an electric DJ set. Sandwiched by two enormous horizontal screens, he mixed diverse hits from Florence and the Machine and Rihanna into his set. The sound and energy was so great, even those back at the mainstage securing themselves a close spot for headliner Nine Inch Nails could be seen bopping along.
The anticipation for the NIN set was enhanced by the powerful simplicity of their stage design. A white backdrop, six twelve-foot (or so) white screens and nothing else. “Where are their instruments?” “Do we have to wait for them to set up?” the audience asked. As the start time approached, a single mic stand was brought centerstage. Then, a moment later, a small programmer on a stand. In all black, Trent Reznor emerged and, with a few swift taps, launched into a solo performance of “Copy of A” off their new album, Hesitation Marks (due September 3). While Reznor performed, the other instruments– synths, drum parts– were set up on either side of him and his bandmates took their places. All instruments appeared sleek and minimal, making a branched network of clean lines, stands and arms for each musician to perform behind, their silhouettes cast large upon the white background. It was visually stunning.
As the set progressed, a drum kit was assembled and guitars became more numerous, but it was near impossible to keep track of the evolution of the stage for the music. Having been away since their 2009 Wave Goodbye tour, NIN in 2013 is an old friend returning unchanged. The energy, the anger, the release of screaming “I’d rather die than give you control” is as it always was. The new songs– more electronics than power chords– blended easily into older cuts. The band has a long, diverse selection of songs from which to choose, and they’ll rework songs at will. Benefitting greatly from this treatment was the rebirthed “Sanctified,” from 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine, now blessed with a slinking hand-drum pops, dance beat and seductive attitude. Perhaps most surprising was Reznor’s remarkably intact voice. His scream has grown fuller over the years, and his singing has only become more textured and nimble. Audience approval could be marked throughout the set in screams, spontaneous moshpits, and finally, the thousands-strong chorus they contributed to the encore, “Hurt.”
NIN Set list
Copy of A
Came Back Haunted
March of the Pigs
Help Me I Am In Hell
Me, I’m Not
Find My Way
The Hand that Feeds
Head Like a Hole
QOTSA Set list
My God is the Sun
You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire
No One Knows
Burn the Witch
If I Had a Tail
The Vampyre of Time and Memory
Make It Wit Chu
I Sat By the Ocean
Sick, Sick, Sick
Go with the Flow
Song for the Dead