Sep 18, 2017
No Sophomore Slump Here: Words and Images From The Meadows
For the second year in a row, Founders Entertainment gave all of New York City an excuse to trek up to Queens, turning a place usually reserved for cars, drinking, eating, and tailgating—the Citi Field parking lot—into a place reserved for music, drinking, eating, and hanging.
It’s easy to focus solely on the live music aspect—and we will in the paragraphs that follow—but The Meadows once again was not only a fall haven for live music, expanding to three days with smooth precision, but also managed to be a generally fun place to hang out. The food options were diverse and exceptional, with a “FEASTival of Queens” area that offered cuisines of differing nationalities, while the drink options covered all of the wine, beer, and liquor bases that you could imagine.
And the music—oh, the music. It’s not a secret that this year’s Meadows lineup, led by Jay Z, leaned pretty heavily on the hip-hop side of the spectrum, but from top to bottom, music fans were able to get their money’s worth this weekend. We’re happy to have experienced it, and below detail a couple of standout moments from another exceptional weekend up in Queens.
The first act that fully demanded my attention was the new wave–influenced, multi-layered pop of Sky Ferreira. I was deciding right down to the wire if I was going to check out Sky or Migos, and the decision was made easier when I heard the 25-year-old pop singer open her set busting into “24 Hours” from the shaded area where I was enjoying a drink beforehand.
From this point on, a small but very dedicated crowd gathered, jamming for the full hour to hits from Ferreira’s first (and to this moment, only) album Night Time, My Time, as well as her Ghost EP. Ferreira also paid tribute to her recent forays into acting-in-dope-things, as she played small roles in both Baby Driver and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return. Slowing things down, she played her reworked cover version of “Easy” by The Commodores, prompting a crowd sing-along that those in attendance aren’t likely to forget.
Brooklyn-born-and-bred Joey Bada$$ is one of the most exciting young rappers in hip-hop right now, and that was on clear display early Friday evening, when the Bed-Stuy native took the stage in front of a very big display of the cover of his new album ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$. Those unfamiliar with the album might recognize the art from around Brooklyn anyway, as the album has inspired a mural on the side of Williamsburg’s Sweet Chick—one of my favorite things to look at in the neighborhood.
Launching into a set that leaned heavily on his new AABA album, the 22-year-old rapper put it all out there for his set on the American Eagle Stage. “For My People” and “Temptation” are a couple of standouts from the new album, while “Paper Trail$,” from the rapper’s 2015 debut, B4.DA.$$, is always a crowd-pleaser. By the time he closed his set out with “Devastated,” with him and several others bouncing up and down, the crowd was going absolutely bonkers—and with good reason.
As the headliner of the whole festival, the biggest name connected, promoting his best album in over a decade, Jay Z had a lot to live up to on Friday night when he took The Meadows stage. With the catalogue that Jay has at his disposal, it would’ve been pretty hard for him to mess it up—but there’s no need to worry about that, because he absolutely rocked it, playing a 26-song set that further proved him to be perhaps New York City’s biggest rock star.
Mixing in many 4:44 tracks like “Moonlight” and “The Story of O.J.” (the latter of which he dedicated to Colin Kaepernick) with his usual stable of hits, Jay played hit after hit for his 90-minute set. As usual, the crowd was very appreciative of the obvious: “Public Service Announcement” and “Big Pimpin’” were among the obvious standouts.
But that’s what is so great about Jay Z, as an artist, as a big-venue act, and as a festival headliner. He is incredibly dependable. His catalogue is very deep, and now, in 2017, he’s back to making some of the best music of his career. Blueprint 3 and Magna Carta Holy Grail weren’t great, but picking and choosing a couple songs here and there—”Run This Town” opened the set, and Jay probably can’t ever do a show without playing “Empire State of Mind” again—is a perfectly acceptable compromise. Jay is, and always has been a master of self-awareness; he knows what works, and he knows what doesn’t. He even publicly acknowledged the mediocrity of his Kingdom Come album a few years ago; on Friday night, everything worked out for Jay Z—and he knows that for sure.
Big Boi/Erykah Badu/ LL Cool J
The first part of the day on Saturday was spent bouncing around a good bit. As I walked into the festival’s grounds, I heard the stage in front of me blasting, as Big Boi performed “The Whole World,” one of the absolute greatest tracks that he made as a part of Outkast. Hearing that song performed live from a stage had a mosquito-flying-toward-light effect for me; how could you not walk right toward? Big Boi is a fantastic live performer and always has been—his set included a good few more Outkast covers, including “B.O.B.,” basically the greatest rap song ever (though admittedly different without Andre 3000 on hand). It was a nice discovery for me; I haven’t spent a ton of time with Big Boi’s new album Boomiverse, but one of the songs he played off it, “All Night,” was an instant earworm.
Following this, I bounced around a little bit between the LL Cool J set and Erykah Badu’s set. Erykah Badu: What more can you really say about her at this time? She’s got one of the most beautiful voices in the history of R+B, and that was just as clear in real life on The Meadows stage as it is on studio recording.
LL Cool J’s set was one that I kind of heard by serendipitous proxy, but… it was cool. LL read the minds of the younger crowd, who may not be familiar with his rap background. “I know a lot of you are probably thinking, what does LL Cool J know about hip-hop? This guy hosts The Grammys,” he said, before breaking into a couple impressive jams. Most impressively though? As I was walking by, and heard someone spitting back and forth with LL. “That sounds like Q-Tip,” I thought. And, surprise, it was Q-Tip! Just a moment later, Jarobi White also emerged, and they all performed “Award Tour,” the Tribe Called Quest classic: an especially special moment, considering the group played their final NYC show ever back at Panorama, and claimed to have played their last show ever just this week.
As great as many of the sets that I saw all weekend were, there’s a strong chance that when I think back about The Meadows 2017, the first thing I think about is Future’s saturday night set. Really, it was the perfect storm—I was already super amped to see the Atlanta MC, who earlier this year had not one but two chart-topping albums, along with a world-beating new single (“Mask Off,” which absolutely beat the world when he played it on Saturday). His music, of course, translates extremely well to a live festival crowd, what with his extremely high-energy, catchy hooks and quotable ad-libs.
But then there’s the extra stuff—about halfway through the set, Nicki Minaj walked out, along with Yo Gotti, and the two performed “Rake It Up,” with assistance from Future himself. Not long after, “Pick Up the Phone” started playing. Future isn’t on this song, I thought to myself; that’s when Young Thug revealed himself, joining Future and sticking around for a mini-set of his own, culminating in a performance of the pair’s song “Relationship.”
It’s interesting to refer to hip-hop stars and rappers as rock stars, but I think in this case it’s more than appropriate—he even calls himself Future Hendrix—and there’s really no better way to describe his musical persona both onstage and on recordings. The man knows how to put on a show, and the crowd at The Meadows reacted accordingly. By the time he closed his set up with “Fuck Up Some Commas,” all bets were off. If there was a roof, it would’ve been blown off way earlier—but that closer sure did it too.
It’s hard to describe, in a nutshell, what a Gorillaz show is like. First off, well, it’s not even a show, in the typical “concert” sense—instead, rather, it feels closer to the type of show that you’d see on Broadway (only set in a music venue). There’s just so much going on throughout, with special guests constantly rotating in and out—it’s a lot to take in, and a lot on the shoulders of lone Gorillaz member Damon Albarn and his artistic partner Jamie Hewlett.
Throughout the 19-song set, Albarn was constantly flexing himself, going from playing an instrument to singing to dancing to running around the stage, sometimes all in the course of a few seconds. The band managed to span their long career in the whole set, with “On Melancholy Hill” dropping right in the middle, many Humanz tracks early on, and closing with “Clint Eastwood.” They managed this all while being joined by a number of special guests throughout the set, including Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Pusha T, D.R.A.M., and more.
Of course, the song that the whole crowd got an extra electric jilt for was “Feel Good Inc.,” the band’s biggest hit and part of the reason they’re as big today as they are. De La Soul joined for their verses, and it was all very exciting. The visuals and stage setup were just stunning throughout. Albarn is the star here as always, but Hewlett’s artistic vision should really never go unnoticed. Gorillaz truly are a special art project—and one that’s now lasted for nearly two decades, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Action Bronson/Foster the People/Broken Social Scene
The trains were out of control on Sunday morning, and the G train ended up in a mysterious abyss somewhere, so I ended up getting up to the festival grounds later than I had hoped. But, alas, I did still get to see a good amount of good music, running around a bit when I first arrived. First, I checked out a little bit of Queens’ own Action Bronson, who owned every bit of the big, recognizable persona that he’s created for himself over the past few years. The art for his new album, Blue Chips 7000, was his stage backdrop, before being replaced by the imagery from his VICE show Fuck, That’s Delicious. His energy was infectious, and he passed it along to the hometown crowd.
Next, I made my way around the grounds to check out a little bit of Foster the People, who low-key released a new album a couple months ago. So, while I didn’t know any of the new music that they performed, there are still a whole lot of fun Foster the People songs that are always worth your time to hear live: “Houdini” is a blast, as is “Helena Beat” and “Call It What You Want.” Mark Foster is kind of a weird guy, and this is the second time that he’s ended his set with a kind of disjointed, meandering speech… but he means well, so it’s the thought that counts, I guess.
From there, I made my way over and got really close for Broken Social Scene, who are, of course, one of the best indie bands of our time. They have so many people on the stage, because they have so many members in their band, but it was not detrimental: in fact, it was great. With Kevin Drew leading the way, the band played a bunch of songs from their great new album Hug of Thunder, joined by Emily Haines of Metric (who performed “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl” as one of her three songs with the band, along with new “Protest Song” and closer “Hug of Thunder”). BSS was fantastic in the brief time that I spent at their set, and are certainly a band that I will make a concerted effort to see again.
Oh, Weezer. This is a band that has been a part of my life for quite a long time, and due to Rivers Cuomo’s late-career prolific songwriting, seems like will continue to be for quite a while. This was a sneaky set where I didn’t totally expect it, but I wound up knowing just about every song that was played, from Blue Album songs all the way through to last year’s White Album. And, quite frankly, it was an absolute blast. Hearing “Undone” and “Say It Ain’t So,” live is special. If you like those songs at all, well, it’s an experience to hear them played live.
I’d seen Weezer live once before, eight years ago, at the Blink 182 reunion show, where they were also joined by Taking Back Sunday. You can probably figure out my exact age from that sentence. Weezer’s music continues to hold up—the set mixed in a couple new songs as well, like “(If You’re Wondering) I Want You To,” which isn’t one of their best, but is a blast nonetheless. A couple of covers also made their way into the set, as Rivers blasted his way through “Hey Ya” and “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” at differing times in the set.
One highlight was when the band played “Thank God for Girls,” a single from The White Album, and the song was accompanied by a background slideshow of different notable ladies, from Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, to Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones, to sweet, sweet Michelle Obama, the crowd’s applause increasing with each passing person.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Even more so than Weezer, Red Hot Chili Peppers are a band that has been around forever, and will continue to always be around. There’s no denying that the Chili Peppers have been higher on the musical totem pole than where they are right now, but when highlights from the 34-year career of Anthony Kiedis, Chad Smith, and Flea are squeezed into one festival-headlining set? Well, no one is going to argue with that output.
Playing hit after hit after hit, mixed in with Smith’s impressive drum solos and Flea’s bass slappin’, there’s no other way to describe the RHCP set than it being a complete blast. Opening up with “Can’t Stop,” the crowd was in it from the start, and whenever you think they’ve played all the songs that you know and love, that’s when another “Scar Tissue” or “Californication” or “By The Way” showed up.
“Under the Bridge” was a high point for me—at one point I was such a fan that I read Kiedis’ memoir, Scar Tissue, about his struggles with addiction, and this performance really brought it all back to me. It’s such an emotional song and piece of writing, and I can only imagine being in his shoes, sharing it with so many fans who sing along night in and night out.
More photos from our weekend at The Meadows:
Run The Jewels
Red Hot Chili Peppers
De La Soul
All photos by Kelsie Netzer
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