Live: Catalpa Offers A Little Bit Of Everything To The Soggy Masses At Randall's Island
The Black Keys and Snoop Dogg headlined, and the similarities between these two acts go a long way toward explaining Catalpa's underlying aesthetic.
Pablo Rojas The Black Keys.
The current incarnation of The Black Keys is a pop band, although that fact remains unspoken. At this point, Pat Carney and Dan Auerbach are consummate professionals, used to playing for very large and enthusiastic crowds in huge venues. They've tailored their music to match their newly sizeable audience, toning down their blues noodling, tightening their song structures, and adding lyrics about relationships and chant-along choruses. This transformation hasn't gotten in the way of qualityan important distinction between The Keys and a band like the Cold War Kids, who tried to go "full mainstream" and lost the edge of their first, most popular singles.
The Keys were professional as always on Saturday night; Auerbach occasionally shouted encouragements like "let's keep this moving right along" and "just a few more, guys." Though they mostly stuck with crowd favorites from their last two albums, a couple of songs from their Chulahoma EP, where they covered compositions by the late Junior Kimbrough, snuck into the middle of their set. There's no denying the fun of a gut-busting turn from competent rockers and the Black Keysthough they may have lost a little spontaneity on their road to commercial darlinghoodare nothing if not competent.
Sunday's headliner, Snoop Dogg, has quietly transformed into a new-school American icon with a long career and a safe persona that combines Huggy Bear with Willie Nelson. But even though he'd clearly been chosen for his relative mass appeal, Snoop played the entirety of his 1993 classic Doggystyle. Though Snoop's set was practiced and smooth, aided by pulpy videos which furthered Tha Doggfather's myth, it was funny to see the crowd bemused by such classic rap tracks as "Murder was the Case that They Gave Me" or "Stranded on Death Row" (from Dr. Dre's magnum opus The Chronic). G funk is fast approaching its thirties and aging well, but the crowd responded most to the two songs Snoop played last: "Drop it Like it's Hot" and "Young, Wild, And Free," the latter of which has as its chorus the defiant proclamation "So what we get drunk, so what we smoke weed, so what we have fun... we're young and wild and free." It's probably the least divisive chorus that could be performed at a music festival.
Araabmuzik is an MPC wizard who splices trance, rap and R&B into a bass-heavy hybrid. His set made use of two equally effective elements: his sense of pure mechanical showmanship and the way he provokes the crowd into a frenzy by teasing traces of samples farther and farther until he finally lets songs play out in their entirety. This treat-dangling stokes the desire to hear the songs in full; even a single undistorted syllable ends up sounding heavenly. When the former Dipset producer finally let a whole song float on its own, like he did with Flux Pavilion's "I Can't Stop" and Damian Marley's "Welcome to Jamrock," the crowd (particularly the two women behind me who insisted on referring to the artist as Mr. Araabmuzik for the length of his performance) went absolutely nuts.
Girl Talk also uses samples to incite a fever in the crowd, though he doesn't tease them out slowly; he introduces bushels of familiar singles to the crowd, tossing off old pop songs and rap hooks like so many grapes. He's passé in the strict definitive sense of the word; he's been making danceable music from the same idea for the last ten years. He's not on the cutting edge, and to those for whom "safety" in a musical artist is a pejorative, he's no longer worthwhile.
But very few people at Catalpa minded. The move toward the main stage when Gillis started whipping his hair back and forth was by far the festival's biggest migration, and that's because Gillis is really good at what he does. He knows the songs that make a certain group of people go "ooo!" He knows surface-level pop in nearly every genre. For a festival without a solid identity, where no one could really decide exactly what they wanted to hear, Girl Talk was a perfect fit. After all, he played everything.
Critical bias: The employee who proffered me the fizz-inducing pill told me, "It'll make you turn into the Hulk." This person clearly knew what I was looking for.
Overheard: "It looks like a regular concert in a field."someone on Facebook asking after the wherabouts some of the promised attractions.
Random notebook dump: Weed feels more legal than stuff that is currently OK for consumption at the moment (though the Hulkamania-inducing substance I ingested is not endorsed as medicine by the FDA). There were two head shops side by side at the festival, one of which had an actual glassblower on duty to make pipes. The general necessities store sold rolling papers and blunts beside the socks and condoms, as well as baggies and scales for all the forgetful dealers who were slated to show up.