Chicagoans must be as good as Minnesotans at passive-aggressive behavior, based on the backhanded compliment Chance the Rapper paid an adoring audience a few songs into his set early Saturday night.
“I had no idea this would be this much fun,” the rocketing Chitown rap star said during the relocated but not reinvented Rock the Garden music festival on Boom Island Park in Minneapolis.
Turns out, Chance actually summed up RTG 2016 pretty well.
The festival’s temporary change of location — from Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden to Boom Island Park on the Mississippi riverfront — could have been a logistical mess. Aside from the lines for water faucets being longer than the rolling distance of Wayne Coyne’s human-size hamster ball, though, it was a surprisingly smooth transition. Likewise, the sweat-where-you-didn’t-know-you-could heat could have been a real killjoy, but it added a certain exhilaration for many of the 14,000 attendees (the ones not suffering heat stroke).
Most important, this year’s lineup — which didn’t generate a lot of buzz when it was announced back in April — proved to be one of the most consistent and fun bills in the festival’s off/on 19-year history, helped by the addition of a second stage that kept the music rolling. There weren’t any major “wow” performances, but there wasn’t a dud, either.
Some of the indifference was for Coyne’s band the Flaming Lips, which again offered many of the same showy gimmicks they’ve been employing for the past decade-plus, including Coyne’s crowd-surfing ball, confetti blasters, and a light show that looked like an exploding head-shop. The show overtook the music again, but the many first-timers in the crowd were nonetheless charmed.
Older Lips fans at least got to enjoy the 1999 nugget “What Is the Light?” and hear tributes to both David Bowie and Prince — the former with a wigged-out version of “Space Oddity,” and the latter with a heartfelt shout-out. Coyne said they played “Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung” in honor of “one of our fellow cosmic warriors who dedicated their lives to songs.” If only the Lips had dedicated more of their set to songs.
Two other acts were likely the reason the buzz for RTG 2016 picked up steam and it sold out in the end — and each proved worthy of the buzz.
Chance the Rappers’s career has boomed over the past month with his acclaimed mixtape, “Coloring Book.” No surprise, the songs off the buoyant new release were a blast in concert, especially the poetic bouncer “Blessings.” With a tight funk band in tow — including his brass-blowing cohort Donnie Trumpet — Chance also brought life to earlier gems such as the feel-good show opener “Everybody’s Somebody” and the infectious hit “Sunday Candy,” which prompted a big audience sing-along.
The other show stealer Saturday was Denver’s Stax Records-reviving soul-rock band Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, a belated addition to the lineup.
Worthy headliners themselves, Rateliff’s crew got stuck playing at the peak of the afternoon heat but didn’t sweat it, blasting through a 50-minute set with an enviable exuberance and unflappable grade-A musicianship. The band’s horn section — which picked up local Honeydogs trombonist Matt Darling for the day — made its steamy presence known right away in “Look It Here,” and the crowd pitched in at the end with sweat-muffled hand claps in “S.O.B.”
Two other out-of-town acts also fit in well: The day’s opening band, Plague Vendor, a little-known Southern Cali punk band whose strutting and leaping singer will work the First Ave main room like a pro some day; and Portland, Ore.-reared Americana strummer M. Ward, who played a comfortable lazy-afternoon kind of set highlighted by Buddy Holly and Daniel Johnston covers.
It was a good day for local acts, too. Jangly, young pop-rockers Hippo Campus played to their biggest hometown crowd yet and quite literally had the audience at hello, adding to their momentum by debuting a couple strong new songs. By contrast, the all-woman hip-hop/dance collective Grrrl Prty — which announced this would be its final set as co-founder Lizzo’s career continues to soar — bid farewell with a surprisingly serious set highlighted by rapper La Manchita’s personal plea for better mental-health awareness.
Best of all, pulsating electro-rock quartet Poliça delivered one of its most forceful, emphatic hometown performances yet, led by the new single “Wedding” and an R&B-flavored unreleased song, “Dreams Go.” Poliça, too, got rather serious with its stage banter as frontwoman Channy Leaneagh accused nearby metal factories of “pumping lead into the air for children in north Minneapolis to breathe.”
One more reason to be happy the fest will return to its previous location next year.