It was a tale of two headliners at the 21st annual Basilica Block Party. Two distinct story lines developed between the two main stages, too.
On Friday, the top dog on the lineup for Minneapolis' biggest, booziest, loudest church fundraiser, Weezer, ended 15 minutes early, breezed through their most dumbed-down/crowd-pleasing hits — ones favored by corporate FM radio stations — but conspicuously avoided all songs from a sophomore album beloved by their most devout fans. Frontman Rivers Cuomo barely acknowledged anyone there to see his band.
Meanwhile, Saturday's closers Wilco went 15 minutes over curfew, picked out several of their most challenging/structure-bending songs — ones that corporate FM radio would never touch — threw in a few rarities, and selected three deep cuts off their sophomore album, also adored by longtime fans. Frontman Jeff Tweedy made several sweet comments to the audience, too.
"This is our home away from home, [and] we like it here," the Chicago indie-rock vet said midway through his band's 95-minute performance.
For all the many times Wilco has played Minneapolis, though, it had never landed outside the Basilica of St. Mary — or, more specifically, the giant parking lot under the highway overpass that houses the main stage of the Basilica Block Party. "It's wonderful to play this close to an interstate," Tweedy quipped.
Los Angeles' vibrant singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis made a similar comment two sets before Wilco on Saturday: "This reminds me of California, being right by the highway like this," she said.
Funny how none of the main-stage acts at the Basilica bash this year except Weezer had ever played there before, even including the lone Twin Cities band, Motion City Soundtrack.
By contrast, both of the headliners on the secondary stage in front of the big church have been usual BBP suspects. Saturday's secondary closers, Fitz & the Tantrums, have played the event three times in four years. It was easy to see why, as high-energy songs such as "Don't Gotta Work It Out" evoked a Motown sound that even Satan couldn't hate.
Many of the church stage's performers have earned steady Cities 97 rotation, too. In the case of Friday's vanilla offerings on the smaller church-side stage, O.A.R. and Mat Kearney both sounded like they've been catering their music too much to modern radio formats.
The smaller church stage did feature a couple Cities 97-favored newcomers, Rachel Platten and especially Echosmith, who earned quite a blessed christening Saturday. Platten covered Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" with charming results.
The holy mother of all covers, however, was sung by Nate Ruess on Friday: Prince's "Let's Go Crazy." Not even that hometown favorite could compete with the excitement and vocal response he got later to "We Are Young" and "Some Nights."
Jason Isbell dropped in five songs from his record due out Friday, including the moving family ode "Children of Children" and the redemptive rocker "24 Frames." He seemed to win over many new fans with his older signature moves, from his grave-waking slide-guitar work in the DBT fave "Decoration Day" to his desperately dramatic vocals in "Cover Me Up."
As for Weezer and Wilco, the former played to a much bigger crowd — Friday's show sold out with more than 16,000 fans, and Saturday saw about 13,000 — and it drew a better response, too. Fans whooped and whoa-ed and sang all the "oh-we-oh's" in "Hash Pipe," "Dope Nose" and early favorites "Undone (Sweater Song)," "Say It Ain't So" and "Buddy Holly." It was a fun set for a crowd made up of casual fans.
Wilco, meanwhile, dragged out the downbeat tunes "Panthers," "Red Eyed & Blue" and "Jesus, Etc." alongside such quirky, off-kilter rockers as "Kamera," "The Art of Almost" and "Impossible Germany," plus what few hits the band has, "Heavy Metal Drummer" and "California Stars" (the latter delivered with Isbell). It was a fun set for their die-hard fans.