XPoNential Music Festival: Dawes, Jenny Lewis & Ryan Adams
XPoNential Music Festival: Dawes, Jenny Lewis & Ryan Adams
Susquehanna Bank Center, Camden, N.J.
During the 21st annual XPoNential Music Festival, University of Pennsylvania's WXPN public radio station hosted close to 30 acts and thousands of fans for a weekend of music in Camden, N.J.'s Wiggins Park, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. For the third year, XPN partnered with Live Nation to keep the music rolling into the night with shows held at the park's neighboring Susquehanna Bank Center. Saturday evening's triple-bill featured two musicians who had played at the Newport Folk Festival the previous day (and one band that would be performing there the day after), but all of their sets soon proved that not just Rhode Island would be treated to stellar live music that weekend.
Dawes, whose Wiggins Park slot at last year’s XPoNential fest was canceled due to rain, took the stage at 7:30 as the SBC lawn began to fill. “We have a lot of making up to do tonight,” said guitarist/vocalist Taylor Goldsmith, to loud cheers. However, that “making up” for 2013’s weather interference would be short-lived, as the Los Angeles-based quartet’s set was over much too soon. Despite the time constraints, Dawes still packed their performance with the danceable Laurel Canyon-esque rock and superb musicianship that they’ve become known for. The bopping “From a Window Seat,” off of last year’s Stories Don’t End, opened the show, before leading into “Time Spent in Los Angeles,” the first cut on 2011’s Nothing Is Wrong. “Los Angeles” is perhaps the ultimate example of Dawes’ ability to combine attention-grabbing lyrics with catchy hooks, and their often-melancholy stories (“You’ve got that special kind of sadness / You’ve got that tragic set of charms / That only comes from time spent in Los Angeles / Makes me want to wrap you in my arms”) are complemented by the beauty of their melodies. A rollicking new number, “Things Happen,” was up next, followed by the obvious crowd favorite, “When My Time Comes.” Dawes’ best-known song finally brought everyone to their feet and roaring along with the band during the chorus. The group wrapped up the set with “Most People,” which diverged from the straight-ahead deliveries of the other tunes with a fiery guitar solo from Goldsmith as he bounded across the stage. Dawes seemed to just be getting warmed up when they had to vacate the stage, and certainly left the audience wanting more.
During the 45-minute set break, more people filed into the reserved seating area and the stage was transformed into a psychedelic wonderland, complete with instruments painted to match the stars-and-rainbow-printed jacket Jenny Lewis wears on the cover of her new album, The Voyager. Lewis sauntered out dressed in an all-white ensemble topped with a long, purple robe - and a cheeky, paper Krispy Kreme doughnuts hat - and launched into “Just One of the Guys,” the first single off of the aforementioned record, her first in six years. Lewis ended up playing half of the tracks from Voyager over the course of the night, and the tunes’ light, poppy vibe proved to be a perfect soundtrack for the summer night. Her voice is airy and buoyant, and contrasts well with the synths and surf/garage-rock electric guitar in her songs, as evidenced on standouts “Head Underwater” and “Love U Forever.” She also possesses the same laid-back California vibe as her fellow statesmen Dawes, and the opening band came back out to provide gorgeous, soaring background vocals on the acoustic “Acid Tongue,” the title track of her last album. The final song of the night proved to be the best, as Ryan Adams silently joined Lewis and her band on stage to add his trademark guitar stylings to “She’s Not Me.” Adams, who produced most of The Voyager, continued jamming with the other musicians for another full minute after Lewis bowed to the crowd and made her exit.
Adams (whose sole stage decoration was a peace sign American flag) delivered the final set of the night, and also opened with his latest single, “Gimme Something Good,” from his forthcoming self-titled LP. The new song is an undeniable rocker, and contains a chorus that was inevitably still stuck in some concertgoers’ heads long after the show had ended. Adams’ music has a classic rock/country sound that still feels wholly his own, and the newer songs proved to be in the same vein, seamlessly fitting in with the rest of his material. Adams continued with the Cardinals’ “Fix It,” before “Dirty Rain,” a standout from 2011’s solo release, Ashes & Fire, which built from a slower, quieter tune into an explosive, wailing solo. Next came “Stay With Me,” also from the upcoming release, which sounded like a long-lost Tom Petty number – not surprising considering that Heartbreaker Benmont Tench was on keyboard duty for Ryan Adams. Adams’ famous stream-of-consciousness stage banter was on full display during the show, including riffs on KISS and going to concerts where artists plug their new material. “It’s only like two or three,” Adams said to the audience before performing another new track, “Kim.” “So you can just hate it, and then later, when you like it – if you do like it – you’ll be like, ‘I was there, man. I was there when he first played that!’”
The remainder of Adams’ set was highlighted by the immensely crowd-pleasing “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” and “Peaceful Valley,” a composition that sounds so Grateful Dead-inspired with its distinct guitar figure and extended jam section that Furthur even added it to its repertoire. Adams concluded his hour-long performance with the Heartbreaker favorite “Come Pick Me Up,” before encoring with a cover of what he described as “one of my favorite songs of all time,” “Straight Ahead,” by punk forefather Greg Sage of the Wipers. The hard-rocking anthem was a triumphant ending to a night that set the bar high for all XPoNential festivals to come, and will certainly bring fans back to the Camden Waterfront in 2015 to see what’s in store.