Lightning on the Green: Rock the Garden marries music and art

Categories: Concert Review

Rock the Garden 2008
Bon Iver, Cloud Cult, The New Pornographers, Andrew Bird
Review by Jeff Shaw
Photos by Daniel Corrigan

A good rock show is like a love affair, a heart-pumping ball of excitement that emboldens one's passions and adds a healthy jolt of pleasure into the day -- even if it won't change your life. A great rock show is like a marriage, a sprawling majesty of ups, downs and unexpected moments that combine into something greater than the sum of its discrete parts.

The Walker's Rock the Garden was a marriage, a full day's commitment to four critically acclaimed artists that brought sunshine and rain and more -- the show was delayed for 10 minutes during the headliner by lightning, for Ben Franklin's sake -- on its way to becoming one of 2008's most memorable events.

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More than 7,500 people enjoyed Rock the Garden. More photos by Daniel Corrigan in the slideshow.

Like any marriage, the day began all clear skies and roses. Opener Bon Iver set off the event backed by both brilliant sun and a full band. Concerns about whether Justin Vernon's brand of quiet indie folk would play well in a festival setting proved unfounded, as his hushed tones served well as warmup for the evening's more boisterous acts.

Vernon's charming stage presence and warm voice were irresistible. Then Cloud Cult, whose name proved to be foreshadowing, also proved that their precise and intimate studio recordings could be brought to life in front of 7,500 listeners. Favorites from the band's earlier effort The Meaning of 8 gained new currency alongside more recent material, and first-time Cult watchers witnessed the group's paint-during-the-performance routine bring visual art to bear next to aural.

There were lulls. The day's only band whose live performance didn't bring multiple new wonders to the table were the New Pornographers. Maybe it was the absence of Neko Case and Destroyer's Dan Bejar in this lineup, or maybe it was the insistent echo off the Walker's walls from my usual vantage point, which undermined song rhythms for the listener during hard-driving tunes. Or maybe it was, compared to the musical innovations to follow, their brand of perfectly-good-rock-n'-roll seemed a bit of been there, done that.

You have to give them credit for closing with ELO's nugget "Don't Bring Me Down," though -- a lively introduction to the day's first squall of rain. Clouds that were once welcome respite from the sun now sent several scurrying inside the Walker.

The weather's turn was one hiccup in the day. Also, food lines were beastly. The Chipotle queue (where one friend spent 80 minutes, and that was during the New Pornos' set) was only rivaled by Joe's Garage in length. Thankfully, beer and lemonade lines moved much faster.

As anticipated, the evening's crowning moments belonged to Andrew Bird. Accompanied by Martin Dosh, Bird's expertly crafted sound pieces -- the man can really whistle -- kept the crowd engaged even as the day's warmth turned to chill showers. Bird's virtuosity is such that varied responses like singing along, wild dancing to violin lines, listening at rapt attention (or even playing with beach balls, a practice that continued in earnest during the unscheduled lightning break) and more all seem appropriate. And all were on display during the apex of the crowd's day-long relationship with these musicians.

The last strains of Bird died down. The day ended. We'd seen the best of summer and enjoyed. We'd hit a storm and weathered it, inside and out. We were sated, we were exhausted, and we would not forget.

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