PHILADELPHIA - The Budweiser Made in America Festival grounds along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway went from empty and waiting to swarming in a matter of star-spangled seconds Saturday afternoon.
Last year's inaugural event boasted superlative talent and included Kanye West, Drake, Skrillex, Janelle Monae and Jay Z, who curated the festival this year and last. The 2013 lineup aimed to give its predecessor a run for its money, with Beyoncé headlining the first night, and Phoenix, Public Enemy, 2 Chainz, Haim, Imagine Dragons and A$AP Rocky among those who seek to decimate their assigned stages with their megawatt festival best.
Some acts achieved this in spades opening night - and some absolutely didn't - but one thing's clear: This is a festival that banks on its audience showing up ready to sing along and drop what they're doing to move, and that's exactly what Saturday at Made in America was all about.
Strong starters: Walk the Moon and Haim were the first bands to take on the Rocky and Liberty Stages, respectively, and each delivered indie-rock wallops that've snowballed into can't-miss sets over the course of 2013's festival season. Haim soared, especially, as bassist Este Haim reportedly ruptured a vocal chord earlier this week, though you'd never know it based on the ferocious and exceptional performance from the band of sisters. The Wire, the first single off Days Are Gone (the group's full-length debut album out Sept. 30), went over especially well with the crowd that grew exponentially throughout their set - as did the impromptu shoe toss that took place when Alana Haim promptly chucked a pair of topsiders back into the crowd seconds after they were thrown at her feet.
Hardly Rocky: Or A$AP. As Spin's Christopher Weingarten pointed out on via Twitter, it should've been perfect for A$AP Rocky to play the Rocky Stage - the main stage of the festival, dubbed so because of its proximity to the steps leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art that Rocky Balboa famously scaled. But the rapper showed up for his set 23 minutes late, which hardly jibed with that whole as-soon-as-possible thing that his name implies. A$AP Rocky may have shown up with half a set, but the crowd of rapt teenagers roared at the conclusion of each of the four or five songs he played, proving that you can take the round with the right hit.
Anglophilia in America: Their flag may also be red, white and blue, but two of Made in America's most exceptional performances came not from homegrown talent but of some friends from across the pond. Emeli Sandé's intensity and octave-leaping prowess provided a welcome change to the rock and rap heard blasting from the neighboring stages before her, with duet Beneath Your Beautiful and Read All About It (Part III) standing out as goosebump-inducing moments. For Rudimental of East London, their appearance was a two-fold dream: They've felt a strong connection to Philadelphia since they recorded the music video for Feel the Love at the city's Fletcher Street Stables, and it proved one of the biggest crowds they've played for in the USA. Their hour-long set provided a chance "to show America what we're all about," says Rudimental's DJ Locksmith. "You may have heard one or two songs, but that's not a true, full reading of our real message. It's a carnival onstage! For those who got a chance to see us at Made in America, you definitely got our message."
"If you're with me and you understand me ...": Between Chuck D's effortless commandeering of a major stage, Flava Flav's antics and DJ Lord scratching Smells Like Teen Spirit into the best kind of chaos, Public Enemy not only demonstrated that they've still got it, but that they're still redefining how it's done. The hip-hop legends and genre-defining artists not only shirked the laptop and hype for a full band and turntables (unlike other notable rappers on the fest's lineup) but employed them for a master class in timeless rhymes. After leaping across the stage and raising a few eyebrows for his commendable acrobatics, taking to the drum kit for his contribution to Timebomb and a spirited run through some of the most iconic selections from Public Enemy's incendiary career, Flava Flav got real - and he got real uncensored, too. "Two things that I'm against: I'm against racism ... and I don't like separatism. We got all these racial wars, these gang wars. They got to stop. At the end of the day, we're all God's children on Planet Earth. If you're with me and you understand me, put a middle finger in the air and say '(Expletive) racism! (Expletive) separatism!' "
A radioactive reaction for Imagine Dragons: The harmonies were flawless and It's Time couldn't have been a more gorgeous sonic pairing for the sunset that unfurled above the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, but it was the curve ball of not one but two unexpected covers that made Imagine Dragons stand out on the Rocky Stage. After delving into their own rendition of Hang Me Up to Dry by the Cold War Kids, singer Dan Reynolds segued into Stand By Me before somehow opting to beatbox. The beatboxing could've been nixed, but the hybrid of covers was lovely and a refreshing change-up between the Las Vegas chart-toppers' more popular hits.
EDM for the surreal set: Deadmau5 and his telltale, mouse-eared disguise thrilled those looking to move in a way crowds have come to expect from the prolific DJ and producer. Before him, Australia's Empire of the Sun, in all its nightmarish, gaudy, glitzy glory, plowed through an hour of the group's most insatiably addictive dance hits. Empire of the Sun can only be described as a prog-rock band that played in a costume closet left over from an off-Broadway production of The King and I. Whatever the golden headdresses, feathered Mohawk wigs and intricately woven ensembles have to do with helming addictive dance hits, it's working, as Walking On A Dream was met with not only moves but exuberant screams and praise.
The Mrs. Carter solo show: It's impossible to find fault in any second of the enigmatic, explosive performance that begins the moment Beyoncé takes the stage. Her notes? Flawless. Her dancing? Sensational. Her banter, attitude, penchant for cinematic flair and inspired, unpredictable change-ups for tried-and-true favorites like If I Were A Boy and Naughty Girl? The stuff of legend. The absence of Jay Z on Crazy in Love was felt by all present at Made in America, and partially because there were reports that Jay was spotted on a golf cart hours before his wife made the Rocky Stage her own. He may be the ambassador for Made in America and he's got memories of his own at the festival to relish, but the cameo would've been apt and immensely enjoyable. Who's to say Jay Z's contractually obligated to perform his verse in Crazy in Love if he happens to be in the same hemisphere as Beyoncé? Despite the defenses, a Mr. and Mrs. Carter duet would've made the fest's opening an especially memorable one.