At least the weather was perfect for opening night of the Basilica Block Party, even if the climate around town was stormy.
The 22nd annual beer and music bash outside the Basilica of St. Mary in downtown Minneapolis — a fundraiser for the historic church’s upkeep and preservation — went on with its usual breezy air of festiveness Friday.
About 11,000 fans filed in under partly cloudy, 70-degree skies and proceeded to line up in front of the Bud Lite stands and two big stages for rock bands that included Death Cab for Cutie and American Authors. An even bigger crowd is expected Saturday for the Fray, Matt Nathanson, Ryan Adams and more.
Back for their fifth Basilica bash, Kevin and Rachel Weise of Mankato echoed many other attendees’ feelings when they said the tragic news in the Twin Cities — including the fatal shooting of Philando Castile by police Thursday — should not spoil the party. “It’s the kind of event where we celebrate life,” Rachel Weise said.
The news of the week was on at least a couple of the performers’ minds, though.
Typically as diverse as a rerun of “Friends,” the BBP lineup this year boasted two fast-rising African-American stars, blues-rocker Gary Clark Jr. and vintage R&B singer Andra Day, both on Friday.
Before singing Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” and her own hopeful anthem “Rise Up” near the end of her set, Day addressed the tragedies.
“There have been too many deaths, too many families hurting,” she said. “The whole country is crying now.”
Earlier in her set, Day made a less overt but more powerful reference to the news by passionately covering Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam,” about the tragic killings of blacks in the early 1960s. It’s one case where church officials maybe could’ve forgiven taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Minneapolis singer Jayanthi Kyle — a presence at many local Black Lives Matter rallies — tackled the issues head on during her band Gospel Machine’s set on the all-local third stage. With a trio of fellow African-American women guest singers, she delivered the haunted-mother anthem “Black Childs” a cappella, invoking Castile’s name and other slain men over refrains of “say their name” and “respect the young black men.”
In his headlining set at the church-front stage, Clark did not directly address the matters, but like any good blues artist, he did reflect modern-day struggle and strife. The Austinite’s set was a little too sluggish overall, but his mellower tunes, such as the falsetto-fueled “Our Love,” shimmered in the dusky skyline backdrop, a sight perfectly matched with the heavier opener “Bright Lights.”
The vibe was much lighter-hearted over on the bigger parking-lot stage. Florida strummer Matt Hires kicked off the party with such vanilla-flavored songs as “Honey Let Me Sing You a Song,” somehow managing to sound giddy and whiny at the same time.
American Authors were even more chipper, but fared better. Minnetonka-reared frontman Zachary Barnett did not acknowledge the local news but made a shout-out to his high school friends. There was a charmingly sophomoric and youthful energy to his band’s uninventive but irrepressible cover of Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” and their own cheery hit, “Best Day of My Life.”
Headliners Death Cab for Cutie fell in the middle mood-wise, with typically mopey lyrics but buoyant songs that had longtime fans in attendance dancing excitedly while many others flatly stared ahead. The longtime fans had it right.
Already sounding hipster-jean-tight early in their tour at Northrop auditorium last year (despite a change in guitarists), the Seattle indie-rock vets sounded exponentially more refined and greasy-wheeled Saturday, rolling fast and strong through a set heavy on recent songs such as “Black Sun” and “I Will Possess Your Heart” and just a few oldies (“Soul Meets Body,” “Transantlanticism”).
Oddly, both Death Cab and another main-stage act, “Renegades” hitmakers X Ambassadors, cut their advertised set times by 10 to 20 minutes. At least in the latter case, the brevity proved to be something of a church-worthy blessing.