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BEING THERE: The XPoNential Music Festival

Dr. Dog’s Scott McMicken, Saturday night by PETE TROSHAK

The 2013 XPoNential Music Festival kicked off Friday with the sunny sounds of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and ended on a lightning-flashed, hard-rain-a-fallin’ Sunday with the one and only Bob Dylan. Dr. John, a.k.a. the Night Tripper, delivered a rare daytime outdoors set Saturday afternoon to a large, eager audience. Backed by a tight five-piece band, the good Dr. delivered a swampy drowning-in-gumbo-blues jam of a set that wowed the crowd. Highlights of the evening included a transcendental set of psychedelic ear candy from Philly’s stoner-friendly answer to E.L.O., aka Dr. Dog. They played at least three new and altogether impressive songs — “The Truth,” “The Distant Light” and “Love,” presumably from their new album B-Room due out October 1st on Anti — along with beloved Dog staples like “Hang On” and “Do The Trick” that had the crowd smiling and grooving. Saturday night’s headliners The Lumineers delivered a passionate performance that included a standout “Dead Sea,” a trip deep into the crowd to play an acoustic set and a rollicking rendition of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Sunday afternoon a fierce storm hit, flooding many of the streets around the venue as festival goers frantically scrambled find shelter from the storm. Those that didn’t have seats toughed it out on the lawn, some of them dancing in the rain while eagerly awaiting the three headliners. My Morning Jacket delivered a loud 80-minute set of their psyhotropic boogie rock that had the crowd from the get go and never let them go. The most memorable moments of their set were a sinister “Evil Urges” and a sloppy but beautiful cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Oh Sweet Nothin’.” Next up was Wilco, who opened their show with “Via Chicago”’s thunderously loud/disquietingly soft dynamic and a flashing light show that seemed to mimic the storm still raging outside. Other highlights were the first live band performance of “Solitaire” and a wild guitar army performance of “Art of Almost” which felt like a 100 m.p.h. trip down the Autobahn in a convertible. Dylan arrived next, dressed in a black suit and somewhat dwarfed by a literally cavernous backdrop. To the right of him was a four foot high sliver of yellow flame that burned throughout the performance. To the left his sharp-suited backing band were packed tight together around the drum riser like sardines in a can. Barring the occasional turn at the piano, he mostly just sang. His voice has never been his strong suit, but a million years on Earth plus a million Kools plus million shows down a million crooked highways have rendered it gravelly to the point of self-parody but his performance was full of mesmerizing moments nonetheless. Early on a haunting and lurching “Love Sick” set the mood for the stormy night. Soon after that he radically reinvented “Tangled Up In Blue” to the fascination of the audience, taking a breezy 12-string strum of a song and transforming it into a nearly unrecognizable epic blues drone. Mid-set Dylan delivered a beautiful and charmingly creaky “She Belongs To Me” that provided a glint of beauty in the dark stormy heart of the night. As the storm’s intensity swelled, Dylan and company tore down the place with an apocalyptic rendition of “All Along The Watchtower” that reclaimed the song from Hendrix and then left the stage to a tremendous roar from the crowd. The band returned a few minutes later to another roar for a memorable “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Dylan spat out the lyrics like they were battery acid and jammed out some slinky, Thelonius Monk-ish notes on the piano as his guitar players responded with stinging six-string salvos. The musical war continued for a few minutes and then Dylan unleashed the heavy artillery. He put his lips to his legendary harmonica and blew a loud wailing cluster of notes that dwarfed even the mighty storm. Dylan Thomas, who unwittingly provided Robert Zimmerman with his stage name, famously wrote: “Do not go gentle into that good night.” If Sunday night is any indication, Bob Dylan ain’t going out like that. – PETE TROSHAK

EDITOR’S NOTE: It is sad and untoward and altogether disappointing that WXPN — once a haven for the DIY-minded and/or Birkenstocked refugees from the caustic corporate shitstorm of late-period capitalism — felt the need to whore out the good name of their pretty frickin’ fine grassroots music festival to a faceless multinational car corporation. (Et tu, XPN?) Still, at the end of the day that’s their own damn business, icky though it may be. But to demand that — scratch that, contractually obligate — anybody writing about or reviewing said festival must ALSO invoke the name of said corporate sponsor (rhymes with Black Uhuru), well, to whoever came up with this particularly odious form of media extortion masquerading as viral marketing  I can only invoke the immortal words of Joseph Welch to Senator Joe McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir. At long last have you left no sense of decency?”

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