Firefly on the Fly: Friday smokes with Arctic Monkeys, Lizzo, Lukas Nelson, Jimmy Eat World, Tierra Whack, Southern Avenue and more

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Arctic Monkeys | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

I don’t have a FitBit, so I can’t tell you how many miles I actually walked around the Firefly Music Festival yesterday, but it was undoubtedly a lot. What can I say? There was so much great stuff to see — and some clunkers, admittedly. 

An early afternoon set from Toronto electronic rock outfit Lights wound up being as generic as their name; the energy and charisma was high, but the songs were indistinguishable from most of the nameless / faceless corporate sounds flooding commercial modern rock radio. Likewise, YouTube rapper Jeremy Zucker still seemed in awe of the digital success that drew him here. “This is crazy,” he said. “I just graduated high school.”

But two let-downs in a day that is mostly solid or excellent is a respectable average. Southern Avenue brought an intersection of gritty rock and stratospheric soul to the Porch stage; dynamic lead singer Tierinii Jackson’s voice intertwined with harmonies from her sister Tikyra on drums, and their bandmates brought down the house at 2:30 p.m. Philly-born Nashvillian Ron Gallo gave a performance that was part Andy Kauffman-esque theater of the absurd, part Bill Hicks cosmic philosophy, part rock-and-god-dang-roll in the garage punk tradition. Things got even more amped from there, as Tierra Whack‘s Coffee House stage set was possibly the most fun 25 minutes of my entire day; the Philly rapper not only does imaginative pop jams, she rocks the crowd in ways that most can’t even begin to touch.

Emo favorites Jimmy Eat World played a hit parade on the Firefly Stage, followed by electronic pop earworm crafters Marian Hill on the Backyard Stage. Singer songwriter Lukas Nelson dropped by the Coffee House stage for an acoustic performance of sad ballads, tributes to his heroes (a cover of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown,” lyrical nods to his famous father Willie) and an onstage engagement. Minneapolis rapper Lizzo had one of the most unifying sets of the day, getting thousands of fans at the Lawn Stage to pogo to “I Am Free,” sing along to “Good As Hell” and twerk in unison, supposedly for a Guinness Record.

Blog rock turn modern rockers Cold War Kids are a hit or miss band for me, but I respect the hell out of their longevity; their debut Robbers and Cowards dropped during an industry feeding frenzy, and they’re still at it twelve years later. Their Lawn Stage set included deep cuts, new jams, and a rendition of Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain” — which frontman Nathan Willett perplexingly told the crowd that CWK wrote but “Rihanna hasn’t recognized us yet, so we’re stealing it back.” Not sure if that was tongue-in-cheek or not.

Closing the day was a moody yet dazzling performance from Britain’s famed Arctic Monkeys, another group that came out of the blog rock days and never gave up. Aesthetically, Alex Turner is fully ensconced in a Thin White Duke via American Hustle phase; his voice sounds tremendous, and the band has sprawled out to a seven or eight piece (I couldn’t tell who flanking the wings was an auxiliary member with musical duties and who was tech crew) and the full ensemble made even their quickly jutting rockers feel maximal. The Monkeys simmered across a 90-minute late night set of left-of-center slow burners from this year’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (opener “Four Out of Five” packed a wallop) as well as ragers like the early hits “Brianstorm” and “505” from Favourite Worst Nightmare. A cool, stylish way to cap the day.

Check out photos from Friday at Firefly below.

Welshley Arms | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Southern Avenue | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Liz Cooper and the Stampede | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Ron Gallo | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Ron Gallo | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Tierra Whack | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Jimmy Eat World | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Jimmy Eat World | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Marian Hill | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Lukas Nelson | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Lizzo | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Lizzo | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Forest path | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Cold War Kids | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Cold War Kids | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Arctic Monkeys | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

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