Something for oldheads, newheads and indie rock fiends
The rock critic Zoe Camp recently reckoned the competition between the Gov Ball and Panorama music festivals to an arms race for the rights to the kind of geographic hegemony granted to festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo, to be the Woodstock in the mind of the east coast set.
Last year, in reaction to the warmly-received debut of Goldenvoice’s Panroama fest (they had bathrooms that could flush!) and a dispiriting turn at their own Governor’s Ball—the third day had been canceled due to fears of a thunderstorm that never happened—Founder’s announced that they were going to have one up on those invading Californians and pull off what so many festival organizations couldn’t: a music festival that you didn’t require waiting for a ferry. Put together in a rush in a parking lot in Queens, last year’s Meadows Music & Arts Festival was a bit of a mess. Headliner and ostensible raison d’etre, Kanye West dipped midway and its second headliner, the reliably chartopping Toronto crooner The Weeknd, didn’t even make it and was replaced with the vaguely polarizing J. Cole.
This year’s festivities promise to be different. Extended into the traditional three-day spread, The Meadows is marking its flag on new terrain for the slowly expanding festival season. Competing for attention this month in the Big Apple will the return of the Village Voice’s Seaport Music Festival, which used to run in the early naughties until it was supplanted by something called 4Knots which, itself, mysteriously disappeared this year and Pitchfork Media’s plunge into the New York scene, Octfest, which has something to do with their AnBev-funded offshoot of the same name. Both are old school rock events, headlined by Ted Leo and Guided By Voices, respectively, so it makes sense that Meadows is using the newfound Live Nation weight to bring some of the big names in hip hop over to Queen’s Citi Field.
Who’s a bigger hip hop get than Shawn Carter himself? An even bigger achievement, considering that this would mark Jay-Z‘s first proper New York show in ages (Friday, 8:15), though that depends on who’s counting. Technically, he appeared, very briefly, in last year’s celebration of Bad Boy Records at Barclay and, the year before, he played a special show for select Tidal members at Terminal 5. He also headlined the Global Poverty Project’s big ol’ festival at Central Park way back in 2014 but getting tickets to that is always hella weird. SO. We have to go all the way back to January of ’14 in order to find the last Hov show you could actually dump a small fortune on in order to attend in the vicinity of his native borough.
And two days later, Queen’s own Nasir Jones (Sunday, 6:00): a pairing that cannot help but feel weighty with the kinds of geographic significance that music festivals die for: both rappers feuded infamously in the late ’90s and early ’00s for the “King of New York’ crown, a battle that Dariel Figueroa once called the “last epic rap war” of our time, rife with the kinds of diss tracks that Meek Mills still dreams of.
Nowadays, the two have more in common. They shared the same label for some time, Def Jam, during the period that Jay ran it. More recently, both prominently appear in A&E’s latest retrospective on Biggie Smalls, the rapper whose legacy they competed so fiercely for. More curiously, both enjoyed critical reevaluations with comeback records that were helmed by Chicago icon No I.D. (Nas’ Life is Good in 2012 and Jay’s 4:44 earlier this summer). Jay-Z’s successful mogul-mythologizing would have you believe that Jay-Z ended up with the crown but deeper heads might disagree; The Source, for instance, named Nas the 2nd greatest lyricist of all time in 2014, two steps above Brooklyn’s finest. The hatchet, between the two, was buried live: Nas appeared at Jay-Z’s headlining set over at the, ahem, Meadowlands Arena back in the 2005 (it was called the Continental Airlines Arena back then, but whatever). Jay-Z remains a fan of staging reunions, his TIDAL-only set at Terminal 5 notably featured reunions with Beanie Siegel and Memphis Bleek, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed.
Ditto Big Boi (Saturday, 3:00), of OutKast fame, who recently recorded his finest solo record in seven years, Boomiverse: a powerhouse of smartly used guests and gunfire bars. “Mic Jack” remains the best I’ve ever heard an Adam Levine croon.
Younger folk will find ample offerings of this thing the folks are calling trap. Future, Migos and 21 Savage will all be in effect at Meadows (Future: Saturday, 6:00; Migos: Friday, 4:00; 21 Savage: Friday, 3:00) all have recorded landmark records in the past year—Future, for the record, did two. But those coming to hear “Bad & Boujee,” should stick around for some of the even fresher talent on the list: reigning queen of Minneapolis, Lizzo (Friday: 2:15), will be bringing her vocal powerhouse to force Friday afternoon. Recently signed to Atlantic, her debut full-length on the label will be coming out later in the Fall but those wanting a taste have her two records on Twin Cities indie sticker Totally Gross National Product to catch up with or can dive in with her on the excellent “Let ‘Em Say,” a collaboration with Caroline Smith that appeared on Broad City last year. Ditto Kamaiyah (Sunday: 1:30) , the Oakland sensation whose debut mixtape received massive raves last year, enough to land her a smooth feature on the latest YG album, which paired her with Drake.
Those looking to rock that weekend should bring their tastebuds thirsty for the alternative guitar music of the early millennium: Weezer, Gorillaz and Broken Social Scene (Weezer: Sunday, 6:00; Gorillaz: Saturday, 8:30; Broken Social Scene: Sunday, 5:00) all hit their prime while before Arcade Fire or Vampire Weekend were much more than a twinkle in the eyes of white children everywhere. BSS’s return has already been properly appreciated; I caught the Canadians playing that jubilant horn music at their slot last year at Pitchfork, fitting as the band was one of the first to ride the website’s hype train. The return of Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz is a more interesting concern: Humanz, their first record since Albarn’s finished reuniting with his old band, deserves revisiting. Anchored by strong performances from festival rap acts like Danny Brown and Vince Staples (the two times I’ve seen Staples live, he’s performed the grime thrust of “Ascension” by his lonesome), the record is a complex attempt to make musically pointed hip hop, dance beats that are worth thinking about. The song that’s been on my mind all summer hasn’t been any of the singles but the gem of a cut, “Momentz” –a De La Soul feature about the omnipresent chug of time set to a trashing beat-pad stomp and a tinkling keyboard that punches sublimity in the middle of drunken abandon.
De La Soul (Saturday, 5:00) will also be performing earlier in the day than Albarn; which will give both the chance for a nice jam session. The New York native tongues icons have collabed with Albarn’s dance project before: most notably, they featured on “Feel Good Inc.,” which remains the group’s biggest hit on the US charts.
Those looking for some new indie sounds will be rewarded for showing up early. Another New York band, Public Access T.V. (Saturday: 12:45) will be putting on kicks from their debut full-length, Never Enough—a record whose punky charm would have had Pitchfork storming if it came out in 2001. These days, they’ll have to contend with appreciation form the guitar-thirsty Brits: raves from NME and The Guardian abound. Further in that direction, Liverpool’s Circa Waves (Friday: 1:30) are fresh on the road from the release of their second record, Different Creatures, a kind of fist-pumping animal of choruses and lost Arctic Monkeys demos that they simply don’t make any more.
And, speaking of fist-pumping animals, it really wouldn’t be a music festival season without at least one appearance from a member of the Strokes. Fortunately, Meadows will have Nick Valensi whipping his sexy hair all around, pumping out the sugary choruses from New Skin, the record he made with his new band CRX (Sunday: 2:15) and recorded with Queen of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme.
Lastly, because I would be so remiss if I didn’t give one of my favorite DJs and namesake A-Trak (Saturday, 5:00) a shout out. The Brooklyn-by way of Canada and now-lives-in-Cali turntablist is most well-known for spinning for Kanye, circa the late ’00s and is considered a big influence on ‘Ye’s sound on Graduation, my personal favorite of Kayne’s old period. But he also mixes lots of indie shit! His latest release, a retrospective of his remix work, features his spin on Architecture In Helsinki, Phoenix, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, among others. I’ll take a remix of the Rapture any Saturday afternoon.
The second annual Meadows Music and Arts Festival will take place on September 15th, 16th and 17th. Buy tickets here.
Andrew Karpan is Popdust’s Live Music Editor. Imagine if live music was edited. Wouldn’t that be wack? Follow him on Twitter