Jay-Z kicks off Made in America festival
Posted September 2, 2012
With a main stage sitting at the foot of the Philadelphia Museum of Art where Rocky famously trained, Jay-Z's inaugural Budweiser Made in America festival boasted a lineup spanning genres from indie rock to EDM. The sun was shining and the crowd at Benjamin Franklin Parkway was decked out in red, white and blue on Day 1 of the fest, which began with Latin bachata and ended with Kanye West.
Rolls Royce: Prince Royce asserted himself as the next Latin heartthrob for a crowd of swooning girls, kicking off Saturday afternoon on the smaller Liberty Stage. With a pompadour hairstyle and a leather jacket, the 23-year-old singer rocked a Bruno Mars look while doing his best Enrique Iglesias impression.
Royce's performance was almost entirely bilingual, as he performed R&B staple Stand By Me in a mix of English and Spanish. Even his stage banter switched back and forth between languages, with a common theme — wooing the ladies. Royce's bachata music, a genre traditionally consisting of lovelorn, romantic songs, drew a swarm of fans, most of them female. Royce played off his heartthrob status, imploring women to tweet at him and bringing one lucky lady on stage to dance, handing her a rose afterward. "Valentine's Day is every day, fellas," Royce told the guys in the crowd.
Though Royce's stage antics were lovingly clichéd, the "Prince of Bachata" seemed determined to win over the audience with his dance moves and Latin flavor, and left the crowd buzzing with approval.
New soul: Neo-soul virtuoso Janelle Monae delivered an afternoon performance worthy of a headliner.
Monae launched into the spoken-word chant of Dance or Die, emerging from a black cloak to shimmy and strut across the stage. Monae has been on the road since the release of 2010's The ArchAndroid album, crafting her live show into a futuristic vaudeville in the process. Her performance displays both artistic and technical prowess, showcasing Monae as an artist whose style channels Prince and vocals rival those of any storied R&B diva, with dance moves swiped straight from Michael Jackson. Her Jackson reverence permeates her whole set, as she moonwalked across the stage and followed with a spirited cover of I Want You Back.
An equally impressive backing band matched Monae's dynamic stage presence. Dressed all in black and white, a string quartet, brass section and handful of background dancers operated as a single musical unit, in addition to dancing in unison.
Monae's performance ran the gamut of genres, her music betraying influences from big band jazz to '60s rock to Motown soul to modern R&B. Monae's powerhouse voice and eye-popping theatrics set the bar impossibly high for the following performers of the day.
Pop rocks: Passion Pit ushered Made in America into the evening hours with a Technicolor synth-pop set. The band, the project of vocalist and keyboardist Michael Angelakos, delivers a brand of electropop that is sugar-coated and grandiose, translating well to the massive sound system of the main stage.
The band's newest record Gossamer was released in July, and the evening set heavy with new material fell flat with the crowd, despite the high quality of the songs. New single I'll Be Alright was a highlight, combining all of the band's trademark moves — crashing synths, scattering drums and Angelakos' sky-high vocals over chipmunk-tuned samples. But Angelakos' uneasy stage presence didn't help the crowd's disconnect, as the singer hurtled himself around the stage clutching only a microphone.
When the band broke out hits from debut album Manners, the crowd transformed into a sea of waving arms. The energy reached an apex during set-closer Little Secrets, as the song's refrain of "higher and higher" echoed through the park, the crowds streaming away from Passion Pit to the dance tent still dancing in the streets.
Quirk factor: With Calvin Harris playing a competing set in the dance tent, the crowd to see idiosyncratic art rockers Dirty Projectors was one of the smallest of the evening. But the rival times were a blessing for Dirty Projectors' fans, who got to watch a stunning set from the Brooklyn indie band free of hard-partying dubstep fans.
Frontman David Longstreth delivered his signature ambling guitar solos, his presence the gravitational point around which the red, white and blue-clad band revolved. His voice was clearly tired, as he struggled to hit the higher notes in his set. His dry sense of humor, however, was stronger than ever. "Did you all see Maybach Music Group earlier?" he asked the crowd, referring to the raucous set earlier in the day from Rick Ross. "Man, I'm jealous."
Playing a set that leaned toward new material from the band's most recent album Swing Lo Magellan, the accessible material was a proper fit for the crowd. But every so often, the band let its weirdness run wild, ripping piercing harmonies through the chorus of new single Gun Has No Trigger and flawlessly sailing through the intricate vocal parts on Beautiful Mother. While those melodies unfortunately fell on a crowd of largely uninterested ears, that didn't stop the band from delivering a colorful and tightly controlled performance.
Jay to Z: Closing out the first day of Made in America was rap legend and festival organizer Jay-Z's behemoth set. "Allow me to re-introduce myself," Jay rapped as he entered the stage, a screaming crowd of thousands joining him in every word and making clear that no introductions were necessary. Breaking the day's tradition of rappers surrounded by hype men, Jay-Z struck a dramatic pose alone on stage.
His set's first surprise was a video from President Obama, who voiced his support of Made in America's patriotic vision and urged concertgoers to register to vote, a call to action greeted with cheers.
Backed by a live band and celebrating his recent NBA partnership by sporting a Brooklyn Nets hat, Jay-Z flew through a sampler of his most beloved hits, from early hit Izzo (H.O.V.A.) to crowd favorite Big Pimpin. He gave plenty of love to his new material as well, performing an ode to his hometown of New York City with a euphoric rendition of Empire State of Mind and leading the crowd in singing Run This Town, before playing the hard-driving On to the Next One.
Jay didn't miss a beat, delivering a vibrant set reaffirming that after decades on the rap scene and a few short-lived retirements, he could still deliver a verse better than any rapper du jour.
And Jay-Z's turn at Made In America wasn't complete without a few high-profile guests. As the show neared its end, Kanye West and his G.O.O.D. Music posse stormed the stage. West, joined by Pusha T, Big Sean, 2 Chainz and Common, showcased new tracks Mercy and New God Flow with his crew before splitting off to perform several songs solo. With the crowd in near pandemonium, Jay and Ye closed the night with collaboration N----- in Paris.
With a showstopping set, Jay-Z made it nearly impossible for any artist on Day 2 (the lineup includes Pearl Jam, Run DMC, Drake, Odd Future and Jill Scott), to top his performance. But after all, it is his festival.
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