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Concert Reviews:
Mo Pop's best moments -- Brookhampton, St. Vincent, Vince Staples and more...

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Tuesday, July 31, 2018

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DETROIT -- The Mo Pop Festival staked yet another convincing claim on the metro area's summer event lineup, with two says (Saturday and Sunday, July 28-29) bolstered by a diverse and potent musical lineup and gorgeous, rain-free weather at West Riverfront Park.

The music -- from 22 acts alternating on two stages -- was the main draw, but the festival had plenty more to offer, from painted pianos for patrons to play along the River Walk to plenty of food even a beer that was custom-brewed for the weekend. The dry weather did make things dusty along the site, but the weekend crowd of more than 30,000 -- including a surprising number of families with young children in tow -- put scarves over their mouths and gamely trouped around the site.

There was plenty to enjoy, but these some of our favorite moments from the weekend...

* Playing just in front of Sunday's big names, Brockhampton delivered a festival-stealing set on Mo Pop's River Stage -- showing why fans were nearly stampeding from Daniel Caesar's chill set before in order to get choice standing room in front. The white T-shirted, self-proclaimed "best boy band in the world" set it off from the get-go with "1998 Truman" and kept the crowd's hands in the air through a set that included the first-ever performance of "1997 Diana" and quieted down only for Bearface's solo rendition of "Summer" before closing with a dust-raising rendition of "Boogie." Look for a welcome return to the metro area in the not-too distant future. -- GG

* Portugal. The Man's good humor and jammy, mash-up sensibility were the stars of the group's Sunday set -- which started on a spiritual note as the group's Zach Carothers introduced local Native American activist Nicole Fox to chant an invocation. Portugal. followed with -- what else? -- a customized Beavis & Butthead introduction and an instrumental rendering of Metallica's "For Whom The Bell Toll" before blending "Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" with its own "Purple Yellow Red and Blue." The Alaskan quintet's comments came the video screen "because w are not very good at stage patter," and while it played it's two big hits -- "Live in the Moment" and a nearly dismissive version of "Feel It Still" -- the sextet really lit up the Grand Stage with clever inserts, including T. Rex's "Children of the Revolution" with "Creep in a T-Shirt," the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" with "Atomic Man" and the riff of the Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" that rolled throughout a pairing of "All Your Light (Time Like These)" and "A Kilo." -- GG

* After playing the Fillmore on her own, St. Vincent showed how nicely she played with others on the River Stage, presenting her four-piece band on a raised platform, with both a light wall and a video screen adding visual punch to the troupe's 14-song performance. Sporting a red dress and lacing guitar solos throughout the night, the Grammy Award winner focused on the electro-pop of last year's "Masseducation" album, telling the crowd before "Digital Witness" that, "It's a miracle that you're here, and no matter how insane things get in our lives, we ca always find a reason to dance." St. Vincent (aka Anne Clark) finished on a quiet note, however, with an affecting version of "Happy Birthday, Johnny." -- GG

* Closing Mo Pop -- and especially after high-octane performances by St. Vincent, Portugal. The Man and Brockhampton -- was a daunting task, but The National proved up to it on Sunday with a generous set of its sophisticated brand of Americana-flavored indie rock. "Ah, cool river air," frontman Matt Berninger told the crowd in front of the Grande Stage. "It smells like Cincinnati -- only less racist." That attitude reflected the topically influenced material of the lengthy set, with sterling sound as the expanded seven-member version of the group deftly delivered the likes of "Nobody Else Will Be There," "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness," "Walk It Back" and "Guilty Party." The National even dedicated "Bloodbuzz Ohio" to anyone in attendance from the Buckeye state -- though Berninger playful acknowledged that he might have caused some problems with that reference. -- GG

* Dermot Kennedy opened his Sunday afternoon Mo Pop set with just his voice and a piano. The Irish singer, fresh off his self-titled EP, was dressed in all black as he dove into "A Closeness" before his four-piece band joined in. A gifted storyteller, Kennedy delivered an emotional hour-long set that included his singles "Young and Free" and "Moments Past." Moving back and forth between his acoustic guitar and just singing, Kennedy's poetry like songs owned the Mo Pop Grande Stage for the afternoon. -- MB

* Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers were greeted as hometown heroes on the River Stage Sunday afternoon. The Lansing group played songs off its latest endeavor 2017's "Pluto," as well a a mix of older tunes. The crowd got involved early, singing every word to songs like "The Garden," "Lonely" and "Old Love." Hertler and company brought energy along with saxophone and triangle solos during its 45-minute set before Hertlertold the crowd that "this festival is one of the most important things going on for Detroit music." -- MB

* Massachusetts electrpop artist Clairo seemed at home with her four-piece band Saturday afternoon, getting a bit ovation just for walking out onto the MopPop River Stage. Walking back and forth she seemed loose and comfortable during her first Detroit appearance, opening the set with songs ("B.O.M." and "Ever") from her debut Ep "Diary 001" and moving on to her viral hit "Pretty Girl." If the Mo Pop crowd's response was any indication, Clairo will be back very soon. -- MB

* Rex Orange County may well have stolen Mo Pop's first day in front of a crowd that seemed to know every word during the soulful British act's energetic, hour-long Saturday afternoon set on the Grande Stage. Alexander O'Connor and company opened the show with melodic, piano-driven pop tunes from his current release, "Apricot Princess," including the title track, "Television," "So Far So Good" and the Spotify hit “Loving Is Easy." With O'Connor alternating between piano and guitar, the music weaved pop hooks into complex, jazzy arrangements. -- MB

* Billie Eilish walked out onto the Grande Stage on Saturday afternoon in a green jumpsuit, with energy to spare and a focus on songs from her debut release "Don't Smile At Me." Her music was sweeping and melodic as she moved through songs such as "Bellyache," "Watch" and "Ocean Eyes." The confident 16-year-old was playful, too, interacting with the crowd, bouncing around the stage and accompanying herself on ukulele for one song that really sent the crowd over the top. -- MB

* Vince Staples let Mo Pop know right from the get-go on Saturday night that "“the one thing at a Vince show every is everybody has fun," and he delivered on that promise during his hour-plus on the River Stage. The Compton rapper played a mix of his debut record "Summertime 06" and his current release "Big Fish Theory" during his hour-plus set. Fan favorites "745," "Big Fish" and "Rain Cone Down" really stole the show, and Staples interacted with the Detroit crowd by asking and receiving for hands up and rap-a-longs throughout the set, matching his energy and masterful focus on stage. -- MB

* Bon Iver (aka Justin Vernon) closed the first day of Mo Pop by starting with just his voice and guitar before being joined by the rest of the five-piece band. For what Vernon claimed was the group's first performance in the Detroit area in more than a decade, the troupe played a mix of new and old during its 90-minute set, although most of the set came from 2015's "22, A Million" along with older material such as "Blood Bank" and "10 deathbreast." The performance was both powerful and beautiful, with saxophone solos and Iver's signature vocoder setting the mood for near-full moon night. Vernon told the crowd that, "My dad is from Jackson, Mich., and we never actually play Detroit proper, which is f****** stupid," before instructing the crowd "to be nice to each other" and wishing it a fond farewell. Hopefully Vernon and company will be back before another decade passes. -- MB

Web Site: www.mopop.com

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