You’d have thought the National Park Service paved paradise to put up a parking lot, given all the heat the agency took for allowing the National Mall to get as commercial as the Mall of America for a weekend. The feds rented out West Potomac Park for the Landmark Festival, what’s billed as the first of an annual series of private pop concerts.
It’s not as if this gathering of rockers took place on land only reservable by klatches of socialists. These same acres of people’s property, after all, for decades served as polo grounds for the horsey set.
One moment in TV on the Radio fervent’s set recalled another storied rock festival of yore. Frontman Tunde Adebimpe was pouring sweat from working the stage from start to finish of the brainy and brawny Brooklyn band’s performance, but took a break from his workout when a skirmish broke out among the crowd to his left. Adebimpe’s simple approach to peacemaking, asking folks not to beat each other up, was far more successful than Mick Jagger’s peace and love monologue at Altamont. Whatever ruckus was taking place disappeared within seconds of his plea.
Not that the Landmark Festival was a rough and tumble affair. A couple signs of the demographic that frequents contemporary rock festivals:
In the early evening, and with some major acts yet to perform, there was still plenty of beer available at the booze tents near the main stage, but the Chateau St. Jean Pinot Noir was sold out; and burgers were still being hawked, but anybody who came to this big rock show hoping to nosh on something called the Estadio Crispy Pork Belly Bocadillo was out of luck.
Not everybody who decided they must get stoned relied on what was vendored out of the tents, judging by the herbal essences that wafted around the grounds when the sun went down and Alt J had its time on the big stage. Smoking pot is hardly the counterculture statement it was in the infancy of rock festivals, what with pot all but legal in the city. No, this was the stench of progress. Pot would have made for a more fitting complement than alcohol to the mellow Leeds act’s atmospheric set, typified by Joe Newman’s mopey vocals on “Dissolve Me.”
For acoustic purposes, the stages were spread as far apart as possible on the massive but finite grounds. Whenever a set would start, the masses flocked in the direction of the stage where the new sound was coming from like moths to a flame, or, in keeping with the commercial theme, the way shoppers flock to big box stores on Black Friday. At least some faction of the Alt-J crowd sauntered over to high-energy brass-funk band Red Baraat, also of Brooklyn, when it began blowing horns under a big tent a few hundred yards away.
Anybody looking to get angry about all the capitalism could focus on the large tents at the side of the big stages with their pointy tops and big VIP signs and elevated gang planks that allowed the high rollers to not just feel like they were above the hoi polloi on the other side of the fence; they really were.
Latter-day rock festivals are far more punctual affairs than those from back in the day, and bands stuck to their schedules with such precision that fans grumbled lots and lots when the Strokes, the show closer, weren’t yet to the stage 10 minutes after their alotted starting time. Lead Stroke Julian Casablancas has never seemed like he had any fire in his belly for rock and roll, and right after an impressive scream of, “You guys wanna rock?” early in the set, he flat-out admitted his indifference to the music he’s made a career out of, saying he much preferred Stevie Wonder and Beethoven. But as the shriek showed, he can still fake it when he wants to, and he faked it just fine on “Welcome to Japan.”
After muffling through another vintage gem, “Last Nite,” Casablancas seemed glad to have the job he has when he boasted about being at the White House earlier in the day. That was probably a joke, but the way things are going, that venue might be available for rock rentals soon, too.