I'm curious as to the overall success of Orlando Calling's first day. The GA floor was perhaps a third full and the stands only speckled with people by the time The Killers took the stage for their day-ending set. The Roots closed out the grassy, more festival-friendly Authentic Stage an hour earlier with a far more intense performance in front of what looked to me to be like a larger crowd. And blisteringly awesome main-stage performances even earlier by Pixies and The Raconteurs easily out-classed The Killers' Vegas glitz-and-glam. On what basis were The Killers chosen to close this festival? Spectacle must have been prioritized over substance, because the latter was found elsewhere...
My day started around noon with a forgettable steak and cheese-substance sandwich consumed to the sounds of Civilian. The Florida natives opened the fourth stage sounding not too different from how The Killers would end the day (despite my dark foreshadowing of The Killers' performance above, I do mean that as a compliment). I wandered to the second stage and was surprised by an unlisted all-girl synth-rock band delivering cheese thicker than what I'd just encountered on my lunch. After some research, I discovered they were Orlando act Dollface, added to the lineup after I printed my schedule last week. Later, this stage's tardiness would affect my schedule for the rest of the day — and now I know there was a shitty band to blame.
(More band reviews and setlists from Pixies, The Raconteurs, and The Killers after the jump.)
The American Secrets kicked off the third stage with 70s-style rock led by a singer who'd serve his music (and his audiences) better if he remained in his lower register. This was also the Freecreditscore.com stage, and in a case of mild corporate nepotism, it turned out The American Secrets is the band from the site's commercials.
The Ettes opened the main stage with an edgier, bluesier take to the reverb-laden beach sound that's somewhat resurgent with groups like Best Coast.
Kids These Days finally got going around 1:45 and brought funky energy to distract me, at least temporarily, from schedule conflicts — like Gogol Bordello starting at 1:50 or Lucero and Civil Twilight starting within five minutes of each other on opposite sides of the festival a little after 2 p.m. KTD, as they abbreviate, is emcee Mr. Mensa with sugary-voiced keyboardist Macie Stewart, and a two-horn section to go with a guitar-bass-drums backing. They oscillate between neo-soul, hip-hop, and ska, crafting songs free of DJs and canned samples. KTD are a barely post-adolescent The Roots, but come complete with ?uestlove's endorsement. They aim for a positive message but will hopefully evolve past silly rhymes like those on the fun "Summerscent": "I'm 16, clubbin', I ain't even gettin' carded / I'm gettin' funky like a fat girl who farted."
I ventured back into the bowl for Gogol Bordello around 2. I've seen them twice before, so I wasn't going to catch the whole set this time in order to facilitate further musical exploration — but they remain one of my favorite live bands. Their multi-cultural gypsy-punk eardrum-party invites all and excludes none. The portion of their set I saw focused mostly on their Rick Rubin-(over)produced 2010 album Trans-Continental Hustle, and, confirming my suspicions, sounded way better live. For the first time, songs like "My Companjera," "Immigraniada (We Comin' Rougher)," and the disc's title track made sense in relation to their previous output. "Trans-Continental Hustle" in particular was performed with energy and enthusiasm after frontman Eugene Hutz made his bare-chest-exposed, wine-bottle-in-hand request for "an old-fashioned punk rock circle-pit." Moshing was a rare sight at Orlando Calling. Less Than Jake probably saw some when they closed out the fourth-stage later in the day. Louder rock genres like punk and metal seemed to go mostly ignored at this show.
I'd heard good things about Civil Twilight's live show — and since they came all the way from South Africa, I made the long march from the Bowl to the third stage to check them out despite having to leave Gogol Bordello to do so. When I listened to their album last year, I thought they were trying to re-make The Joshua Tree. Live, they sound like that and Coldplay. Civil Twilight are either too heavy on earnestness and slow-building arena anthems, or — glass half-full — they are adept at creating and releasing musical tension. It's no wonder so many people crowded under the third stage tent with cell phones raised; but then again, this was the only shaded stage on festival grounds during the peak heat of the day.
After Kids These Days and anticipating The Roots, Kid Cudi's more traditional rap presentation on the mainstage seemed underwhelming. Plus, he kept asking if we wanted to "keep it mellow." I did, but decided to cut out the middleman and headed back to the second stage to lie in the grass while listening to Iron & Wine. Despite the open-air atmosphere, the sound folks captured the lush instrumentation of Sam Beam's ensemble perfectly, with only minimal sonic interference from Cudi from the main stage.
The opposite was true during The Avett Brothers back in the Bowl. They were fine up close and performed with great energy, but the sound from their acoustic instrumentation — banjo, guitar, cello, stand-up bass, drums — didn't travel well in a stadium. Any further back than midfield I heard a car dragging tin cans with Gavin DeGraw's second-stage soul-pop bleeding over. I felt bad for any Avett Brothers fans that lacked general admission tickets.
Pixies soundtracked the sunset with a song-by-song re-creation of 1989's beloved Doolittle, and rewarded their fans' enthusiasm with some additional classics afterwards. Seven years passed since the on-again, mostly off-again indie legends last hit Florida — so everyone looks a bit older, but they sound as tight as ever. Black Francis' screams were thick with gruff and rage on "There Goes My Gun." The ridiculous cuteness of "La La Love You" was rivaled only by Kim Deal's stage banter. Yes — stage banter at Pixies show. She gave album-side and track updates during Doolittle, and adorably started 'bringing it down' ("Finally perfected after 25 years!") after Joey Santiago totally tore up his "Gigantic" solo, inforing each bandmate individually that after the set she was headed straight for the tour bus and then to bed. I don't think they left the stage any later than 7:20 p.m. G'night, Grandma!
Hipster auteur Jack White's penchant for guitar improv doesn't always connect, but he was near perfect during The Raconteurs' set. And bandmate Brendan Benson provides the perfect foil to White. His sweeter vocals take the edge off Jack's sometimes shrill cries. Benson also possesses solid guitar skills in his own right, and during "Level" combined with White for some killer dual harmonies. White's escalated screaming elevated "Top Yourself" from ho-hum album cut to stadium-shredding anthem. He also sacrificed a string to make the lengthy, sultry solo intro to "Blue Veins," already one of the band's live standards, extra memorable. By this point, I'd forgotten to leave the main stage early to catch more of The Roots' set.
I failed to articulate anything other than "Holy fuck, there are a lot of people over here" as I experienced The Roots' closing out the second-stage with Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up." Questlove was a late lineup scratch due to illness, but his fill-in proved more than capable on drums and the rest of the band owned the crowd regardless. As great as The Raconteurs were, lingering through their encore when I could have been watching more of The Roots' incendiary performance represents my biggest Orlando Calling regret.
As for how the finer, non-musical details of Orlando Calling were received, I believe the festival organizers and Citrus Bowl staff deserve some praise as far as sound quality goes. With the stage layout, I didn't hear much interference between bands aside from the above Avett Brothers note. The only other weird audio issue I noticed was faint Spanish-language radio interference during The Raconteurs' between-song lulls. I do wonder if any sun-baked VIP-revelers, with their unlimited drink privileges, took a watery plunge off that shaky makeshift bridge between the second and third stages.
The stadium food was predictably and expensively shitty; but I found high-quality, slightly-pricier food truck offerings later in the day. I reserve my absolute highest praise of Orlando Calling — music or otherwise — for their inclusion of Camelbak, which sells fancy thermoses and hydration packs. At several stations around the festival grounds, Camelbak offered FREE WATER, no purchases necessary. Every national, touring, destination, or radio festival should consider this good-will approach for the well-being of concertgoers.
As for attendance, Orlando's WFTV reports the festival only drew about half of its hoped-for 100,000 concertgoers and lost about $2 million. Organizers are uncertain of the festival's return, but cite a general three-year-window for new festivals to gain a big following.