Spring training is still on pause, but Innings Festival is back at Tempe Beach Park this weekend.
Dave Grohl brought the opening day to an electrifying close with Foo Fighters, reminding us why he’s become the standard-bearer of a certain rock aesthetic that wears its love of classic rock and vintage metal like a crusty Slayer shirt.
Sunday’s highlights are set to range from Tame Impala to War on Drugs, whose leader tells us they’ve been “firing on all cylinders,” and Black Pumas, who earned a Best New Artist Grammy nomination.
We’ll be updating this blog all weekend long with photographs and highlights of the music festival on the shore of Tempe Town Lake.
Some people think “nostalgia” when they think about Tame Impala.
That’s what Phoenix residents Eric and Jasmine Swier think about the band. They can’t wait for the headliner to hit the Innings Festival stage Sunday night.
It’s their first time seeing the band live but it’s a long time coming.
It’s the couple’s fourth time at Innings Festival, but this year they came for the band which brought them together nine years ago. The couple fell in love while serving with the Peace Corps in Zambia.
When Eric left the United States to serve, all he had for music was an 8 gigabyte blue iPod shuffle. He could only download 100 songs. Tame Impala made the cut.
Eric and Jasmine came for the whole day, and were counting down the minutes until Tame Impala is on stage. In the meantime, they were vibing to the Black Pumas, a soul-pop band based in Austin, Texas.
“That’s the beauty of this festival,” Eric Swier said. “You come for one person and you find a dozen more.”
— Sofia Krusmark
Black Pumas earned a prominent place on the lineup
Having seen Black Pumas work their soulful magic on the crowd that came to see them at the Rhythm Room, a Phoenix blues joint with a modest capacity of 275, in 2019, it was great to see them draw a crowd of several thousand to the second stage.
They were the last act of the day to grace that stage. And they quickly made it clear that they had more than earned that placement on the bill.
Eric Burton is a deeply soulful singer and a truly charismatic frontman, two great qualities to have at your disposal in a psychedelic soul band. And their rhythm section grooves with real authority.
Highlights ranged from “I’m Ready,” a Pumas original funky enough to pull off a lyric as evocative as “If you want it now we can make love to Marvin Gaye for the first time,” to a deeply emotional reading of “Oct 33” and the gospel-tinged “Colors” that featured an incendiary lead guitar break. And they threw in a really nice cover of “Sugar Man” by Rodriguez.
— Ed Masley
It could be argued that The War on Drugs were never meant to be experienced within minutes of watching an audience tossing inflatable dolls through the air to Matt and Kim.
But in a way, that may have worked to their advantage, in that it heightened the sensation that this was music operating on a level most acts playing Innings Fest weren’t even trying to achieve.
That this was something altogether more sublime.
Adam Granduciel wasn’t kidding when he told us they’d been “firing on all cylinders” since reassembling to work up live arrangements of the songs on last year’s brilliant “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” before their first tour back since the pandemic hit.
What they arrived at was an atmospheric wall of sound, often blurring the lines between the individual instruments, which underscored the haunted nature of the songs themselves.
There were moments that rocked, but even then, a haze hung over the proceedings, allowing the listener to get lost in the dream, as they say.
— Ed Masley
No one seemed more clearly driven to a state of near euphoria by the experience of playing Innings Fest than Matt and Kim.
Not even Dave Grohl at his most ecstatic.
Bounding on stage to the first of many hip-hop samples — Fatman Scoop “Be Faithful” maybe? — they threw themselves directly into “Hey Now” with youthful abandon.
Before the song was over, Kim was standing on her kick drum, grinning ear to ear.
Then, when the song was through, she came out from behind the kit and held her arm out.
“Wait can I just show you guys?” she asked. “I’m shaking. That’s how nervous I was. I’m shaking. I’m so happy to be here.”
Their set was a pure distillation of joy devoid of inhibitions, good taste or concern for community standards.
Matt played the intro to Van Halen’s “Jump” on his keyboards long enough to make it feel like they might really do it.
Kim exposed her breasts and shook them for the cameras.
Compared to the marital aids she used to smack her floor tom during “Get It,” that was pretty tame.
Toward the end of the set, their roadies tossed inflatable dolls to the crowd and the audience took it from there.
It was, in short, a wild night at the club as played out in a giant field.
— Ed Masley
People usually cheer at the end of songs.
But they also close their eyes and swayed as The War on Drugs guitarist Adam Granduciel soothed the crowd’s energy with his guitar riffs — crisp, clean and yet seemingly relaxed. A few couples lingered in the back of the crowd and swayed to the music.
The vibe of the music fit the fashions on display in the crowd as well. Two men walked by in sequined gold and silver blazers, a few girls flaunted their ’90s sunglasses with vintage flared jeans and several sported neon headbands. The eclectic but relaxed look fits the music.
— Sofia Krusmark
I wasn’t sure how well people in the audience knew the indie electronic duo Matt and Kim.
Turns out, their number one fans were dressed in a strawberry suit, a banana onesie and a hot dog onesie. The three led the crowd from their spot at the front.
Illinois resident Derek Burch flew out with his girlfriend Emalie Thornton and her 6-year-old daughter, Parker Turner, who was dressed like the strawberry. The family was in its most festive decor.
“We just wore what we had in the closet,” Thornton said, laughing.
Burch, who introduced the band to Turner and Thornton, has seen Matt and Kim 15 times. This was the child’s first Matt and Kim concert and the band members (Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino) even offered to have “the strawberry” surf the crowd.
Turner loved the idea.
— Sofia Krusmark
Fitz and the Tantrums like to perform — but their fans might sing even louder than them.
Songs like “Out of My League” and “HandClap” left fans singing entire verses and choruses while the band jumped up and down, shook tambourines and rode on the screams of the crowd.
Up close, fans scream in your ears. And from far away, you can hear the band drop their voices from the mics and pass the song to the crowd.
One crowd member, Stacy, beat the younger fans out for a spot right in front of the stage. She’s been a fan of the band for the last 13 years. The way she grooved to the song “Money Grabber” was proof of her fandom. She was the only one within earshot who knew all the words.
“You just gotta live when you’re in your 50s,” Stacy said, as she bounced up and down to the music.
— Sofia Krusmark
Low Cut Connie’s Adam Weiner was in many ways the weekend’s most cartoonish presence and in many ways its most sincere, often blurring the lines between the two extremes in a wildly entertaining second-stage performance.
Weiner offset his piano-pounding wild man shtick at the helm of a spirited soul-punk revue with heartfelt monologues about making it through these troubled times together and remembering those who didn’t, often punctuating the gospel he was throwing down with “baby” or “babies.”
As in “Low Cut Connie loves you, baby.”
After asking “Do you want to see me take off all my clothes right now right on top of this piano,” he climbed on top of that piano and tore his tank top in half.
He also pounded out a solo on that oft-abused piano with the bottom of a mic stand.
As much as Weiner tends to dominate the spotlight, that set wouldn’t have been nearly as unhinged if the other members of his band hadn’t been every bit as committed to taking it over the top as he was.
Highlights ranged from a cover of Prince’s “America” to “Shake it Little Tina,” a song he dedicated to “my hero,” Tina Turner.
It was like a rock ‘n’ revival tent, Weiner talking about the musicians we’ve these past two years and saying, “I feel like it’s our job to keep the spirit alive.”
And that’s exactly what their set was all about, especially “Revolution Rock n Roll,” a song that warned, If you don’t preserve it, then you don’t deserve it.”
Can he get a hallelujah?
— Ed Masley
Welcoming festival goers back to Innings Fest on Sunday as the first act of the day was something of a warmup gig for hometown hero Sydney Sprague.
She’s leaving Monday to open a co-headlining tour by fellow Innings act Dashboard Confessional and fellow local act Jimmy Eat World.
And she definitely made the most of the challenging opportunity that the opening act on a festival faces, welcoming early arrivals to her set with the explosive whisper-to-a-scream dynamics of “I Refuse to Die,” her band fleshed out by kindred spirit Danielle Durack on guest harmonies.
It was the first of several highlights pulled from last year’s “Maybe I Will See You at the End of the World,” the debut that landed her spots on things like Innings Fest and a Jimmy Eat World tour, from “Staircase Failure” to the melancholy title track.
Two songs in, she introduced herself and pointed out that she’s from Phoenix.
“So I’m really stoked to be here,” she added. “It’s really convenient.”
In addition to songs from her debut, she shared a new song with a chorus of “My mind goes terrible places” and “a cover that as far as I can tell is definitely about baseball,” Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Goin Down.”
— Ed Masley
St. Vincent was stunning Saturday night
St. Vincent brought a wildly theatrical art-funk revue to the main stage at Innings Fest, with Annie Clark leading her bandmates in a set that put the focus squarely on her two most recent efforts, last year’s “Daddy’s Home,” which topped our year-end album list, and “MASSEDUCTION.”
It was sexy, cerebral, exciting and fun, with several walk-ons by a waitress, who at one point brought a phone onstage for Clark to answer.
The performance began with a trio of backup singers — Stevvi Alexander, Nayanna Holley and Danielle Withers — making their entrance to the sound of Jason Falkner’s wah-guitar and a bass-driven funk groove before Clark emerged to set the tone with the robotic art-funk of “Digital Witness.”
Clark has assembled an amazing touring band, from Falkner to bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen, drummer Mark Guiliana and keyboard player Rachel Eckroth, who spent a good part of her formative years in Phoenix.
It was brilliantly staged and/or choreographed. And Clark is an increasingly commanding presence who’s only gotten more provocative and playful with each passing tour.
For all the effort they put into staging, though, the set felt very much alive, at times recalling Prince or Dave Bowie in the way it pushed the sonic envelope without relinquishing the groove.
The songs that featured Clark and Falkner squaring off on dueling lead guitars run through effects that made them sound as otherworldly as something off of Bowie’s “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” album were especially exhilarating.
After making their way through such obvious highlights as “Birth in Reserve,” a “Sugarboy” that came to a cacophonous conclusion, the killer funk of “Pay Your Way in Pain” and the slamming power chords of “Cheerleader,” they ended with “The Melting of the Sun,” slowing it down to dramatic effect before going a cappella with handclaps.
It’s pretty safe to assume it was all a bit much for some Foo Fighters fans in attendance. But Clark remains one of the more intriguing artists of her generation and this set more than lived up to her reputation as must-see artist.
— Ed Masley
9 p.m. Saturday: Caamp singer didn’t let getting hit by a car stop the show
At a certain point, a grinning Taylor Meier felt compelled to ask the crowd, “You want to know what happened, don’t you?”
He was several songs deep into his second-stage performance at the helm of Caamp by that point, after all, and hadn’t played guitar all night, what with his right arm being in a sling.
“Well,” Maier said, “I got hit by a car last night. Spent a few hours in the ER, but we’re good and we’re here. Let’s go.”
And with that, he led his bandmates in a heartfelt “By and By.”
Maier being in a sling meant Evan Westfall had to play guitar all night and couldn’t do his banjo parts.
So everything was kind of sparse and weird and different. But that just made it feel like you were seeing something no one would’ve seen if someone hadn’t hit him with a car.
It made it special.
Maier clearly saw the humor in the situation. “I feel like Ricky Bobby up here,” he joked. “I don’t know what to do with my hands.”
However awkward Maier felt, it didn’t stop him from delivering with the lyrics with characteristic conviction. He’s got what you might call a lived-in voice, lapsing into a Dylanesque wheeze as it does on occasion.
Before the set was through, he took a moment to clarify that he hadn’t been drunkenly wandering the streets when he was hit.
“Dude smoked me on the sidewalk,” he said with a grin.
As they were nearing the end of a set whose many highlights ranged from “No Sleep” to “Send the Fisherman” and “Peach Fuzz,” Maier said, “I feel like I’m singing karaoke to 8,000 people. It’s kinda cool ’cause I know all the words, but I kinda wish I had a guitar in my hand.”
— Ed Masley
Someone walked past seemingly holding a massive slinky.
Upon further inspection, it turned out that he was carrying a stack of orange plastic cups. It had grown so long that gravity made it arc down toward the ground. He plucked another cup from a recycling bin and added it to his cup-slinky.
Why? Well, he’s trying to win a prize. What prize? It’s anyone’s guess because the website that the QR code directs to does not say.
See, there are bins around the grounds — powered by TURN’s capture and reuse system — which collect the cups that vendors use for drinks. Festivalgoers can register their wristband, scan it on the lid of the bin and drop their cup inside for a chance to win. Unfortunately, the QR code on these cup return signs does not elaborate on what a recycled cup can earn you.
The odds of winning are supposedly 20 to 1, so it looks like this guy and his 30-some cups might hit a home run today.
— KiMi Robinson
As the Innings Festival entrance came into sight, I passed by a person using some choice expletives to describe the line.
It was unclear which line she was describing. There was one queue going down the block for will call across the street as well as several snaking lines heading into Tempe Beach Park. The latter proved to be an avoidable, disorganized mess of human beings crowding into one area.
The relief upon finally making it inside the festival was short-lived for one family. As I wandered toward the Home Plate stage, one horrified kid turned to his parents.
“Where’s my phone?” he asked.
After confirming that it wasn’t inside his or his brother’s pockets, the resigned family split up, with one parent taking him back the way they came.
I’m not optimistic that they’ll make it back in time for St. Vincent to take the stage.
— KiMi Robinson
Black Pistol Fire emerged as a crowd-pleasing highlight of opening day, as anyone who saw them work their unhinged brand of blues-punk magic on an unsuspecting crowd in an electrifying second-stage performance in 2019 had to know they would. They’ve graduated to the main stage in the intervening years without losing the spark that made them burn so brightly in the first place.
They exploded on impact with “Pick Your Poison” and before the song was through, guitar-playing vocalist Kevin McKeown had left the stage and was communing with the audience down front. He dropped to his knees and flipped over while soloing on the stage during “Speak of the Devil,” eliciting howls of approval from the audience.
And he brought the set to a raucous conclusion with the reckless abandon and furious shredding of “Bully” while crowd surfing.
— Ed Masley
First-time Innings Festival attendee Stephen Navin from Utah doesn’t usually go to festivals, but he would definitely come back to this one he says.
“There is nice separation between stages and you aren’t confined to one spot,” Navin said. “You can move depending on who you want to see perform. There’s even space to move around,” he said as he kicked a hacky sack to his friend. Navin and his friends traveled from Utah and they are particularly excited to see Caamp. Their group of friends secured a spot near the front of the Right Field stage.
Passing the time with fun activities while waiting for acts to perform isn’t uncommon at the Innings Festival. There are people throwing frisbees, playing on the large scale Connect Four and taking snapshots with the cool Innings Festival Photo Booth that has a view of the Home Plate stage.
— Shanti Lerner
As great as Girlhouse was to witness, the first act on opening day that seemed hellbent on working his way up the ladder to one of those headlining sets at a future Innings Fest engagement was Del Water Gap, the solo project of songwriter S. Holden Jaffe, who made the most his afternoon second-stage set.
An animated frontman in high-waisted trousers and heart-shaped sunglasses, Jaffe comes blessed with a show-stopping voice – a soulful instrument with real power and range that he used to brilliant effect in a crowd-pleasing set whose highlights ranged from “Hurting Kind” to “High Tops” and “I Hope You Understand.”
It doesn’t hurt that Jaffe has a brilliant onstage foil in guitarist Nick Cianci, whose leads were just flashy enough grab the spotlight but scrappy enough to give the songs more of an edge than they would otherwise have had. He also dressed for the occasion in a bright red Arizona T-shirt.
Jaffe also showed the home team fans some extra love.
“This festival is special to me because I grew up loving baseball and the first game I saw was the Diamondbacks,” he revealed.
Then he tossed in the first of two references to Randy Johnson and his mustache.
The second time, as they were winding down their set, he said, “Is Randy Johnson here? Oh my God, it’s him! You shaved your mustache.”
— Ed Masley
Brothers Michael and Matt Musso and Alex Street were certainly getting attention amongst the sea of people as they held up signs promoting their friends’ Austin-based band, Briscoe. Their sign with big letters, invited concert goers to come see the Briscoe play tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. at the festival’s Home Plate stage. The Musso brothers and Street traveled all the way from Austin to Phoenix to support their longtime friends, Truett Heintzelman and Philip Lupton, the duo that makes up the band.
When asked why they were holding signs and calling other festival goers to see Briscoe, “This is pure loyalty,” Street said.
“We are doing door-to-door advertising here,” Michael Musso said. “It’s exciting to see our friends at this kind of venue.”
— Shanti Lerner
Lauren Luiz of Girlhouse did a great job of making the first main-stage set of the opening day at Inning Fest feel like a slow night at Modified Arts (or any small all-ages arts space).
After setting the tone for a powerful set of understated, minimalist chamber pop with a nakedly honest rendition of “Happy Now,” she welcomed the crowd.
“Our band’s name is Girlhouse,” Luiz said. “We don’t expect you to know that at all. So no pressure. But let’s get to know each other.”
It would’ve been hard not to feel you were getting to know her as the set progressed, from the vulnerable feelings she expressed so well in richly detailed lyrics to her frequent attempts to strengthen that connection with her clearly nervous banter.
She prefaced the Innings-compatible “Ballcap Szn” with “I hope you guys get a nice little break from all the chaos in the world that’s always happening at all times.” Or words to that effect.
And when it came time to unleash their haunting reinvention of Counting Crows’ “A Long December,” it came with a warning.
“This is a cover that I always (expletive) up,” she said “And I’m gonna try not to cry when I do.”
If there was any crying, it was for the way they tapped into raw emotion of those lyrics.
— Ed Masley
Nothing says express yourself like festival fashion. At Innings Fest Saturday afternoon, festival goers are dressed in boho and hippie chic outfits colored by bandanas, flowers, and funky sunglasses. There is also no shortage of baseball jerseys of people’s favorite teams from the Giants to the Red Sox and the Cardinals.
To take a little heat off from the bright sun, big sun hats and cowboy hats stick out among the crowd. Clear backpacks, purses, and fanny packs are also in style. There’s also a guy walking around in a banana suit so keep your eyes peeled in case you want to catch a photo with him.
— Shanti Lerner
The stages and the drink vendors are conveniently located adjacent to one another. On one side of the park, festival goers have easy access to beverages and still got a glimpse of the band Black Pistol Fire as they played a cover of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone.” While some fans walk back and forth to quench their thirst, others lounge on blankets under the hot sun while crowds are still trickling in to catch the late afternoon acts like Caamp and Billy Strings. One fan shouted to her friend “I only came for Billy Strings, he’s a god on the guitar.”
— Shanti Lerner