Let’s just say that the day didn’t get off to an auspicious start. The forecast said 100% showers throughout the day, and walking to the subway station, it had already begun to drizzle. When we got out at the 125th Street station, it seemed like it had cleared up for a second, and as we rode the bus over to Randall’s Island to catch the early bands at Catalpa, an inkling of false optimism wiggled its way into my mind.
When we arrived at the field grounds around 3, the festival was pretty mellow yet. There was a ton of tantalizing food from local NYC venues–a necessity for the several hours we were about to spend there. For about half an hour, as really dark clouds started to roll in overhead, I hoped against hope that the rain might just miss us. It didn’t. A steady drizzle quickly turned into torrential downpour for a solid 30 or 40 minutes, and the soggy ground became a muddy swamp. The lumpy poncho I was wearing kept me only slightly dry. My Converses are probably damaged for good.
Luckily, the sun came out for a glorious 5 minutes as we headed over to watch The Sheepdogs’ hour-long set. Maybe it was relief that we weren’t wading through a lake of water anymore and were finally beginning to dry off, but they sounded damnnnn good and had great energy considering the circumstances. “The Way It Is,” “Southern Dreaming,” and “I Don’t Know” sounded even bluesier and more rousing live, and they hit their harmonies and guitar riffs with such precision, which was impressive since the band and their instruments had apparently also gotten soaked in the showers. And their shaggy-haired look was freaking great.
Another pleasant surprise was the silent disco tent. I wasn’t sure I really “got” the concept (people listening to the same electro music through separate headphones to avoid the music playing out loud) or the appeal, and from the outside, it certainly looks strange–basically a bunch of people flailing their arms in silence. But once you put on the headphones and step into the tent, it would be hard to tell that you weren’t in a raging club…despite, of course, the gawks of confused passersby.
TV on the Radio’s performance was real raw. Tunde Adebimpe offered up some sweet moves on stage, but their music was so powerful and soulful that they didn’t need many onstage antics to captivate the festival goers jamming out in front of them. Is it weird to say that their music scares me a little? In, like, the best way possible. It’s just that their background vocals, keyboards, and bass parts are so dark and dangerous on a track like “Staring at the Sun” that it’s almost frightening.
After TV, there was a short lull before Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach hit the stage to an overwhelming, ecstatic reception. True to their onstage habits, they pretty much just sat down and started to play, with little showy material besides their fantastically epic closing number.
I saw The Black Keys at Madison Square Garden a few months ago, and they played a very similar set at Catalpa: a killer combination of tracks off El Camino and some of their best “oldies but goodies,” as Dan Auerbach introduced them. They especially slayed “Thickfreakness,” “Gold on the Ceiling,” “I Got Mine,” and “Little Black Submarine.” I really can’t think of a group that has better on-stage chemistry and ability; their backup band is clearly talented, but the sound that just the two of them can produce is so beautifully simple yet so unbelievably explosive. They lived up to the hype and the pre-show anticipation; I can say confidently that waiting through the downpour was worth it.