Atmosphere, P.O.S, Walkmen and more at Taste of Minnesota, 7/2/10

Categories: Last Night
Photos by Alexa Jones
There's been quite the kerfuffle about the Taste of Minnesota's decision to charge admission at the gate of this year's festival, but judging by the size of Friday night's audience for sets by the likes of Atmosphere, P.O.S, the Walkmen, and Dawes, fans were happy to fork over $20-$30 per ticket for a chance to see the most indie-centric lineup of this year's four-day run.

While most of the evening's music seemed tailor-made for a younger audience, one of the most memorable local music moments of the day happened earlier in the afternoon when St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman introduced longtime scene vet Willie Murphy's set on the Red House Stage and read the proclamation for "Willie Murphy Day." Part of the proclamation included our nomination of Murphy as "Best Blues Artist" in this year's Best of the Twin Cities edition of City Pages, but Willie scoffed and said he wasn't going to play any blues that day, as he was afraid it would put the audience to sleep as they baked under the blazing hot sun. The chiseled singer proceeded to play a set of upbeat soul songs on the river's edge, puffing on a cigar and playing to a small, intimate gathering of fans.

The stages at this year's Taste of Minnesota were spread out and sectioned off enough that each felt like its own event. Haley Bonar played a set to a packed "house," tucked underneath a canopy at BT's Party in the Park Stage (hosted by Brian Turner of Cities 97). Having just returned from a brief respite in Portland, Bonar said she was happy to be back in Minnesota. She debuted a new song about her journey that was grandiose and wrenching, with a drawn-out final chorus that let her voice ring out loud and pure. She was backed by a handful of omnipresent locals -- Jeremy Ylvisaker, Jacob Hanson, Luke Anderson, and Michael Lewis -- and the band made her songs sound big and beautiful in their sweeping sadness.

Photos by Alexa Jones
The City Pages stage was set up in a similar tent, creating a shady mini-venue for attendees to watch a performance by one of the most anticipated bands of the day, Dawes. It was my first time seeing the group, and after hearing heaps of praise from friends and fellow music writers around town ("They are SO GOOD live!" was the general sentiment), I fear that my expectations may have been raised a bit too much. The band was good, without a doubt, and their take on alt-country was beautiful in its straightforward simplicity, but something about it seemed a bit too predictable. Maybe I was just expecting something with a bit more edge; either way, I'm planning on giving the band another chance when they return to First Ave this October.

To be fair, I left after about five songs of Dawes to catch Minus the Bear on the main stage (I was really wishing Taste would have staggered those set times a bit, as there was an hour or two in the middle of the afternoon where it felt like everything was happening at once), and I heard from other concertgoers that the best part of Dawes's set came at the end. Likewise, Minus the Bear's set started with low energy levels but they picked up steam as they neared the end of their slot, capitalizing on the dancey feel of their electro-tinged jams to pull the growing crowd of fans toward the main stage.

The Walkmen followed, and lead singer Hamilton Leithauser commanded the audience's with his versatile and passionate voice. The band's newest music sounds downright poppy on record, but in the live setting they took on a new life with Leithauser bounding around the stage and pausing mid-song to deliver a throaty, heartfelt wail.

Photos by Alexa Jones
Speaking of throaty wails, Mark Wheat was beside himself with glee when it came time to introduce one of the main acts of the evening, "Pee Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Ess!" As with his sets at Coachella and Soundset earlier this year, Mr. Alexander was backed by his Building Better Bombs/Marijuana Deathsquads cohorts and DJ Plain Ole Bill, and the most fascinating moments in P.O.S's set came when he stepped back from the front of the stage and picked up a drum stick to jam out with the band, pulling the songs apart at the seams and taking breaks to let the beats pulsate, drone, and flex into something resembling experimental noise-rock. At one point, Alexander looked up from his snare drum with an almost guilty expression on his face, like he was getting away with something devilish -- and in a way he was, I suppose, capitalizing on the crowd's attentiveness to introduce their eardrums to something even further away from what is commonly associated with hip hop.

P.O.S took a break from the full-band jam mid-set to bring out recent tourmate Astronautalis for "Terrorish," announcing that the duo are wrapping up a collaborative effort that will be done "next Thursday... and then who knows what will happen to it." He also brought Doomtree crewmate Sims out for a song to "fool around" with him on "Low Light Low Lives" before bringing the band out one last time to wrap up the set.

Photo by Alexa Jones
Slug of Atmosphere
The sun had started to set and the crowd in front of the main stage had swelled to its largest size for Atmosphere. While the group's performance at Soundset was uncharacteristically low-key, Slug picked up the pace on Friday night and played a spirited set of songs that ranged from last year's When Life Gives You Lemons... all the way back to early favorites like "Guns and Cigarettes." The Current was so happy to host Atmosphere (the Taste's first hip-hop headliner in its history) that the station spun a song by the group every hour throughout the Fourth of July weekend, and Atmosphere repaid them by performing their best set of 2010.

Critics' Bias: In an effort to see as many locals as possible, I missed out on what I heard were great sets by Justin Townes Earle and James Hunter, and probably a bunch of other things just because of bad timing.
Crowd: Young and increasingly rowdy as the night wore on. By the end I somehow found myself in the close proximity of two fist fights.
Overheard in the crowd: "This freeze-pop only cost two tickets. Score!"
Random Notebook Dump: I'm not sure if the Taste of Minnesota will keep this pay structure for next year, but the best value (as one might guess) was achieved by coming early in the day for the $20 ticket price and spending a solid 10-hour span at the festival -- a long time to be outside in the sun, but worth it when you factor in all the smaller acts and local bands that played the side stages during the afternoon, many of whom were missed by people who paid $30 to just see the headliners.

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