52,000 music maniacs descended on Piedmont Park for Day Two of Atlanta’s resurrected Music Midtown festival on Saturday for a tremendous collection of performances from Pearl Jam, Florence & The Machine, Garbage, hometown rapper Ludacris, Adam Ant and newcomer L.P., among others.
Following a fest-opening L.P. (full name Laura Pergolizzi), an rock/pop songwriter (you've heard her with through the pipes of Rihanna, Chirstina Aguilera & more) stepping into the light herself with a Linda Perry-meets-Emily Armstrong delivery that tripled her audience within the first ten minutes of her set.
“Into the Wild,” the anchor track from her new release (her first in 8 years), was met with powerful enthusiasm, but the most significant reaction arrived with her captivating take on Beyonce’s “Halo,” with upright bass and strings providing backup.
Garbage followed immediately after, with drummer Butch Vig, guitarist/keyboardist Steve Marker and touring bassist Eric Avery (formerly of Jane's Addiction) providing the framework for serpentine beauty Shirley Manson to show every rocker chick out there just how alpha a frontwoman can be.
Returning after a nearly six-year hiatus with their impressive new album Not Your Kind of People, the Shirley & Co. ran through classic staples including “Stupid Girl,” “Only Happy When it Rains” and “#1 Crush” to a hugely captivated audience, peppering in well-received new material, such as “Blood for Poppies” and “Big Bright World”.
Deafening chants of "Luda, Luda, Luda!" soon ushered in hometown hero Ludacris, who arrived with an an infectiously ebullient attitude, toying with the crowd by running through segments of several early favorites from his breakthrough albums going back a decade and demanding louder reception – without the awkward pretense of insecure rappers all but threatening their crowds for adulation.
Backed by a live band and a relentlessly pacing hype man, Luda branched out from his own hits parade to throw curveball snippets of his high-profile work with others – Usher’s “Yeah,” Enrique Iglesias’ “Tonight I’m F*cking You” and Fergie’s “Glamorous” – before throwing the rock fans camped out for Florence and Pearl Jam a bone with a few bars of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit".
Things did not start out well at all for Florence and her mighty Machine, as opener “Only If For a Night” ground to a halt through various technical difficulties, including a dead mic and faulty lights. After emerging from the terrible first impression, which she later equated to “the dream where you show up to school utterly naked,” Florence enraptured the crowd with an ethereal presence and gorgeous delivery of fan favorites including "What The Water Gave Me," "Cosmic Love" and "Heartlines," among others.
Having recovered from a July vocal cord injury and overwhelming exhaustion (she was, by her own account, hallucinating from overworking herself only two months earlier), her full immersion in the performance resulted in a majestic atmosphere for those who gave themselves to the moment.
Closing with the triple-shot of “Shake It Out,” "No Light, No Light" and "Dog Days Are Over," the strength and dramatic majesty in the percussion-driven delivery sent fans off in a beautifully appreciative glow – and judging by her beaming, full-toothed smile through the set, the feeling was mutual.
After an hour wait and unsuccessful hopes that the tens of thousands who'd been locked in place since Ludacris would suddenly be driven to go check out Girl Talk on the far stage (thus freeing up some essential legroom), the energy levels spiked beyond the red as Pearl Jam took to the stage for a two-hour set of largely high-energy rockers that spanned nearly their entire career.
Kicking off with a searing version of Ten classic "Why Go," Eddie Vedder, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Matt Cameron and Boom Gaspar set things on the right foot among die-hards and rock fans taking advantage of an all-too-rare visit from one of the greatest living rock bands of our time. Vedder then botched the lyrics to follower "Save You," a series of slips he tends to avoid until later in the show after more than a few pulls from his trusty wine bottle companion.
With a renewed determination, Eddie utterly nailed virtually every delivery from there on, running through a meticulously crafted setlist that appealed to radio fans as well as those who've run out of fingers and toes on which to count the shows they've been to (guilty as charged). "Better Man" was taken to passionate new heights as the reliable "Save It For Later" tag (originally by 80s pop-rockers The English Beat) was given a more earnest treatment and a beautifully improvised verse.
After what could be the single best rendition of "Even Flow" this particular PJ maniac has ever seen (and it was my 51st Pearl Jam performance) – complete with soaring McCready solo and Cameron percussion assault – Eddie took the opportunity to remind the crowd that in this particular election year they'll need to mind their proof of identification, because some states have new and dangerously restrictive voter ID laws. He mentioned the utterly ridiculous fact that while a college student ID will not suffice, a firearms license qualifies, before replying to the scattered boos: "in Florida that comment got a much bigger reception. Florida and Arizona seem to be in some sort of bizarre arms race with each other." This, of course, leads into a fiery, albeit truncated, version of The Clash's "Know Your Rights".
"Many of the songs we wrote and recorded were done right here in Atlanta, with local hero Brendan O'Brien who is here tonight and is a great friend," Vedder remarked after an impassioned and welcome run through "Crazy Mary," another fan favorite off the general radar of passive PJ acquaintance. "This is what we secretly call him behind his back: The Fixer." It's never been a personal favorite, but damn, does that track just catch fire in live performance.
After an all-crowd singalong for cornerstone tracks "Black" and "Alive," there was a bit of commotion onstage. Eddie realized that the park curfew was two minutes away, and extending beyond it meant a hefty fine levied on the band themselves. Refusing to cut the cord before they finished what they came all the way to Atlanta to do, the band then ran through the single fastest version of "Rockin In The Free World" one could imagine, somehow keeping the song's viscerally sarcastic character fully intact.
Grinning like a kid, having cut just under the curfew wire (or maybe a couple minutes in the red – RITFW was still a good four minutes long despite its abbreviation), Vedder waved goodbye to the ecstatic crowd as McCready snapped some personal photos and the rest of the band filed offstage, another festival headlining slot successfully dominated. If you've never seen Pearl Jam, you're sorely missing out – they're not the raucous fiery champions of youth they may have been two decades ago, but the PJ collective is quite a long stretch from qualifying for the rocking chairs. It's not hard to imagine another 15-20 years of exhilarating live shows before the downshift of age – but don't take my word for it. Go see for yourself. You can thank me later.
Pearl Jam Music Midtown Setlist:
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
Amongst the Waves
Betterman with Save It for Later tag
Do the Evolution
Know Your Rights
Encore Break 1
Given to Fly
Encore Break 2
Rockin in the Free World
Florence & The Machine Music Midtown Setlist:
Only If For A Night
What The Water Gave Me
Lover To Lover
Shake It Out
No Light, No Light
Dog Days Are Over
Photos: Johnny Firecloud