Firefly’s 154 acres boasted seven stages, and a complicated schedule from noon to 12:30 AM that allowed attendees to see at least part of almost every act. Frankly, I didn’t hit them all; it was hotter than Hell and a long walk between them.
The two highlights for this reporter were (no surprise) Paul McCartney, who played almost every song you hoped he would in a two-hour set, and Cage the Elephant, whose dynamic performance electrified the crowd. Morrissey, on the other hand, earned top spot for the most disappointing performance by a major artist: self-indulgent and boring, his overdramatic moves reminded me of a silent film, and frankly, we’d have been better off without any sound.
Joe Pug, on the smaller Lawn Stage, drew a sparse crowd but gamely turned in a brave performance which got them going. The Firefly Millennial crowd wasn’t much into country, so Pug and the very talented Sturgill Simpson didn’t generate the buzz either deserves, but Simpson, in particular, delivered his hard-driving classic outlaw music which wound up the audience, and by the time he and his extremely hot shit band—especially Laur “Little Joe” Joamets on electric and slide guitar and Jefferson Crow on keyboards—got through, the chant of STUR! GILL! STUR! GILL! continued until the big-voiced Simpson and the guys came back for an encore. Make no mistake, this boy’s a star.
Gary Clark, Jr. played a late-afternoon set on the main stage, and to my surprise the crowd loved his straight blues numbers as much as his Hendrix- and Clapton-inspired riffs. There’s hope for music.
Did I mention how wearisome Morrissey was? Not only did he over-emote incredibly trite, mind-numbing lyrics like “Kiss me a lot, kiss me a lot/Kiss me all over my face/Kiss me a lot, kiss me a lot /Kiss me all over the place,” one Smiths song, “Meat Is Murder,” was accompanied by an interminable black and white film of animals being slaughtered. Dear God.
Cage the Elephant’s Matthew Shultz has spent a lot of time watching Mick Jagger, and his studies have paid off. The bundle of energy made his way out into the crowd by the second song. Cage the Elephant’s intelligent rock ‘n’ roll shared the limelight with Shultz, who moshed and stood on audience members’ shoulders for what seemed like a third of the performance, and no matter where he went, we couldn’t take our eyes off him. Playing through the dense heat of the late afternoon, Schultz had removed his black shirt by the third song. Those of us close enough to see him clearly found irony in one of the last songs, “Shake Me Down,” whose lyrics include “I’ll keep my eyes fixed on the sun,” as his thin frame turned from the rose of exertion to, at the end, the magenta of sunburn.
I saw Paul McCartney in Boston a couple years ago, and his band and set list at Firefly was much the same, but his Firefly performance was better. After 50 years of shouting, McCartney’s vocals have lost the sweet edge that made so many Beatles’ songs memorable, but that doesn’t mean the man who turned 73 the day before can’t rock, and rock he surely did.
The show actually started an hour before he came on stage, with a scrolling visual history of Paul McCartney on the jumbotrons, beginning from about age six, through the many phases of his career, wardrobe and facial hair. After about three songs, McCartney, who has certainly seen his share of large crowds, said, “This is so cool. I’ve got to take a minute for myself and check it out,” and he walked the stage, peering into the faces of what was most likely 90,000 people.
Moving from guitars to bass to psychedelically-painted upright piano throughout, Sir Paul time-traveled back and forth through early Beatles like “Can’t Buy Me Love,” to later songs like “Eleanor Rigby” and “Hey Jude,” through Wings tunes, first a medley of four or five songs, then, later, “Band on the Run” and a spectacular display involving huge jets of fire, fireworks and a light show. He sprinkled in a few songs from his new solo album (titled New), including “Queenie Eye.”
McCartney told anecdotes relating to many of the 30-odd songs he performed, most very funny (meeting a Russian diplomat who said he learned English by listening to Beatles’ songs) and some poignant, particularly concerning George Harrison. He dedicated “The Long and Winding Road” to the people of Charleston, where nine church parishioners had been murdered two days earlier, and sang it as a duet with the drummer.
A brief note on wardrobe: McCartney is still wearing Beatle boots, at least on stage, and, of all the performers I took in at Firefly, Sir Paul was the lone artist who was not wearing a wristband. I guess we all know he belongs on stage.