Travis Scott | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Firefly On The Fly: Saturday heat from Travis Scott, Death Cab For Cutie, Tank and the Bangas, Little Simz and more
If day one of the Firefly Music Festival was a great experience discovering new artists, day two was time for adjusting expectations. While there were plenty of highlights, some artists that have been talked up as the next big thing did not exactly deliver, while others performed strongly but were slotted on stages and at times that didn’t work.
The day began with XPN favorites Tank and the Bangas, who played two sets: a day-opening set at the intimate Toyota Music Den stage and a proper set at the larger Lawn Stage. The first set was like a morning stretch for the New Orleans band: they played more mellow songs that felt very improvisatory and featured flautist / saxophonist Albert Allenback heavily. This still floored the crowd, despite the down tempo vibe, and their Lawn Stage set dialed their energy up to the max.
Immediately following Tank, Baltimore rapper Rakeem Miles drew an enthusiastic crowd in the barn-style Roost Stage. He played some early tracks as well as his latest single “Black Ass,” which unfortunately inspired many white dudes in the crowd to think it was okay to yell along with the lyrics that include a certain word which literally goes against the message of Rakeem’s song.
A short walk over to the Prism stage and I was able to catch Taylor Bennett’s set. The Chicago rapper had a lot of energy and played mostly from his 2018 album “Be Yourself.” Highlights were “Rock n Roll,” and the title track.
Phosphorescent was the first act I caught on the main Firefly Stage. Unfortunately that stage was not the best place for them. Though “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)” got folks on their feet and flower-crown festivalgoers dancing in the field, the overall mellow vibe of the selections from the band’s latest, C’est La Vie, served more as a soundtrack for those wanting to relax in the shade off in the distance.
Back on The Prism Stage was another Chicago rapper, Saba, also brought lots of energy, and a set of songs from last year’s Care For Me as well as 2016’s Bucket List Project. There was a lot of crowd participation, but he didn’t blow me away. Maybe it was the distance between the stage and the crowd that was the issue but it seemed like the stage was swallowing the atmosphere.
Next was the highlight of the day: London rapper Little Simz and her band are the real thing and killed it at the Roost Stage. Her rhymes, performance, and stage presence justify her being so talked about by journalists and hip-hop fans alike. Let’s hope she plays bigger stages next time she comes through because she deserves it.
I had heard a ton of great things about King Princess and have enjoyed the singles she’s put out. Live, she’s like a more pop St. Vincent. That’s a little different than how her studio work sounds — but it was a fun and interesting performance all the same.
When 6:00 rolled around, it was to take a dinner break and watch some of the techno craziness taking place at the Prism Stage. The crowd started to grow and get a little drunker so I guess dancing to White Panda while he played snippets of hit songs is what one does in that situation? Think of it as Stars on 45 but live and with a dude wearing a giant panda suit and you get the idea.
Back on the main stage, Bishop Briggs was emotional and very earnest. Her songs of resilience and strength were crowd-pleasers, but her between song banter sounded a like she was a popular girl trying to make us dorks feel better. Briggs talked about experiences with trauma, and heartbreak, and brought out a gospel choir from Philly to assist her on the unreleased closing song.
On the Pandora sponsored Hideaway Stage, Snail Mail showed us that she’s now a festival veteran. She worked the stage and got into the songs much more than when she played The Met in December opening for Kurt Vile, delivering a stellar performance of “Pristine” from last year’s Lush and closing with an unreleased song performed solo electric.
Death Cab For Cutie started strong but flat lined about halfway into their set. They focused on mostly songs from the past decade of their 22 year career with a few songs from Transatlanticism thrown in for good measure. They played quite a few singles, which was good for connecting with the casual fans in the audience, but the deeper cuts weren’t enough to hold the attention of those waiting for Travis Scott’s set.
With some downtime before the Houston rapper played his headlining set, I checked out British duo Let’s Eat Grandma at the Roost. They were lush and synthy, with a touch of silliness. Their choreography involved both Patty Cake and the Macarena but their songs were literary and perceptive.
For his headlining appearance, Travis Scott brought a psychedelic carnival to the Firefly Stage, complete with a neon merry-go-round, intense video images, pyrotechnics, and larger-than-life energy. He jumped around the massive stage and sprinted from end to end effortlessly. He tore through one song after another from last year’s Astroworld with the crowd yelling along gleefully. While he only played 45 minutes, the entire package of his set demonstrated how festival rap sets show be done.
The post-headliner set was Passion Pit who closed the night out with their mix of indie and dance providing a fun end to a busy day of concert-going.