As the afternoon progressed, hotter and humider but not rainier (no rain, in fact, though clouds kept threatening such), it dawned on us that the crowd was a bit smaller than usual. The bottlenecks that usually occur between sets on the path from the White to the Green Stage were still in evidence, but hardly as punishing, and we expected more of a crowd at the White for Sunny Day Service, a hugely popular J-rock act with a built-in fan base.
The crowd for Drenge at the Red Marquee was even smaller, which could have been expected using conventional logic. They only have two albums out and are hardly a household word here, but the brothers Loveless are one of the better drum-and-guitar rock duos in the business–smart, sharp, melodic. Even better, they hired a bass player for their live shows, breaking a kind of industry taboo that has been in place since the White Stripes made drum-and-guitar duos the shit. Their set was criminally tight, with no fat allowed for gratuitous audience identification and self-aggrandizement. The crowd was small, but potently into it.
Joey Badass was similarly stripped down over at the White Stage–just him and a DJ, and three songs in he took off he shirt to make the stripped down adjective more literal. For a while he seemed out of his element. As the only purely hip-hop artist at the festival he seemed to be trying to compensate for everyone else who wasn’t there. It took him a while to find his groove. As much rapping as he did, he was equally bent on invoking the crowd to “make some noise” and provide the standard gesticulations indicating interest in the performance. He seemed distracted and diffuse, and couldn’t generate a groove.
But then something clicked. Maybe the crowd finally got what he was doing, but everything fell into place, and as incoherent as his flow often was it connected. The groove took care of itself, and by the end Joey was exhausted and grateful. He thanked the audience sincerely, surprised that he could make a connection to a group of people who probably couldn’t make heads or tails of what he was trying to communicate, but nevertheless grokked his emotional engagement. It was a fine afternoon after all.