Orlando Calling 2011, Day 1: What Rocked and What Sucked

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Orlando Calling Day 1
With the Killers, the Raconteurs, the Roots, the Pixies, the Avett Brothers, Kid Cudi, Iron & Wine, and more
Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando
Saturday, November 12, 2011

Check out a slideshow from the festival here. Read the Day 2 wrap here.

Better than
: A stadium experience at Penn State.

The first day of the inaugural Orlando Calling festival -- held at the Citrus Bowl and its surrounding grounds -- proved to be a template worth building upon. Sure, there were some aspects of the day that were as unpleasant as the cussing vagrants pushing shopping carts on the sidewalk of Orange Blossom Trail nearby (namely, the Killers' disappointing set), but the positive aspects of the day made this worth the drive, the ticket price, and then some.

Presenting yourself with a perfect Orlando day -- mid-70s during the

day, a little bit cooler at night, and no rain -- is a great way to

start. And even if the organizers would have liked to see their five

stages more packed with attendees, the moderate-sized crowd meant that

shifting from one band to the next was seamless -- and it was only your

own pee splashing back at you out of the stadium's trough-style urinals.

Langerado is dead, but no one will miss it if this fest keeps growing.

In semi-particular order, here are some thoughts on Saturday's


The Roots could be the best live band working. Advice for all

bands who want to become better at improvisation and have an enormous

catalog of material at their fingers: get a gig playing on a late-night

talk show. A sizable crowd gathered on the grass by the Authentic Stage

to watch this live hip-hop experience with keys, guitar, bass, drums

(drummer/mastermind ?uestlove was mysteriously absent), and a tuba

player backing MC Black Thought. Although there were plenty of

expected opportunities for Black Thought to rhyme through the Roots'

sick evening set ("Proceed," "Mellow My Man," "You Got Me," "The Seed

2.0"), the experience felt much more like a pop-jazz revue than a

"hip-hop show." Agile guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas was the

undisputed instigator on this night -- and showed off his ax

proficiency as well as his vocal dominance by singing along with the

complex solos he created. At one point, the band ran together a medley

of Lil Wayne's "Lollipop," Shabba Ranks' "Mr. Loverman," John

Mellencamp's "Paper in Fire," Outkast's "SpottieOttieDopaliscious," and

Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine." Later, Led Zeppelin, Curtis

Mayfield, and Gil Scott Heron jams fit in just as naturally. If only the

average jam band wrote their own songs as well as these guys.

Scheduling the Roots and Raconteurs at the same time, big no-no. Based upon the couple of songs I heard before witnessing the Roots' mastery and some reports from others, the Raconteurs worked extremely hard to fill the Citrus Bowl with swoon. The double-barreled riff parade of Jack White and Brendan Benson on vocals and guitar was a bit like seeing Pacino and De Niro onscreen for the first time. "Level" has some of the coolest vocal interplay between two dudes this side of Andre 3000 and Big Boi. Is it necessary to mention that they both wear their T-shirts in a way that accentuates their physical appearance? 

Kid Cudi needs to retool his live act. The

singer/rapper/actor in a tie-dyed Grateful Dead T gripping a bright-red mic stand struggled to get the crowd amped up with his own material.

After a strong start with "Revofev," Cudi gradually lost the smile and

swagger and pissed away much of his Main Stage time. "What do you say

we keep it mellow?" he asked the crowd at one point, but mellow didn't

suit the moment. Had it been dark and everyone been a bit more

inebriated by various chemicals, the snail's pace could've felt

trenchant. He got pissed when no one was singing along with the otherwise fierce "Up Up and Away," which came way too late, and started the song over again with the same results. While the Roots could pull off a stream of covers and

interpolations in different genres, Cudi doing Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe"

felt forced, and it didn't help that his vocal proficiency is limited.

Every festival could be bettered by the Avett Brothers.

If you add a ferocious punk attitude to any type of music, the payoff

is tenfold. Although the North Carolina group's ever-growing alt-country

fan base is a given, anyone who wants to see a show will be

impressed by the interplay between bearded country boys Scott and Seth

Avett, who took turns leading songs and harmonized together

resplendently. Everyone onstage freaked, howled, stomped, and fought for

the crowd's attention in their hip Western wear during "Kick Drum

Heart." The frequent winner throughout was long-haired cellist Joe Kwon (above),

who probably busted half of the hairs on his bow over the course of the

set and kept flailing away undeterred. The gorgeous tempo-shifter "Head

Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise," which begins with the lines "There's a darkness upon me,"

came in the set just as the sun started to make its gorgeous descent.

While this moment didn't quite top "I and Love and You" -- the only song

that should ever close an Avetts show -- it stirred the crowd immensely

in the cool air. "Sometimes the universe chimes in," the person next to

me said. 

The Pixies are true legends. Doolittle

is one of the best albums ever made -- but it might not even be the best

album the Pixies ever made. Although some folks will always clamor for

new material from the Black Francis-fronted alt-rock pioneers, hearing

them run through a two-decade-old record in complete sync was as good as

advertised. Guitarist Joey Santiago was the most mobile of the

foursome, which is to say little, but witnessing the precision of his

rippling right forearm as he sent shockwaves through his shiny, gold Gibson during "Gouge Away" was

like peeking over a fine watchmaker's shoulder. "Crackity Jones" and "There Goes My Gun" brought out the Francis' finest facial contortions, and "Nimrod's Son" was drummer Dave Lovering's moment to swat at his set with a ferocity that made us understand why he was wearing an Adidas soccer jersey. And Kim Deal is the sweetheart that holds it all together with adorable banter addressing all of her bandmates by their first names, a genuine smile, robust bass work, and the "Gigantic" closer, which, even with a semi-flubbed ending, left the crowd wanting the entire set again. At this point, Deal said she was going straight to bed, and Francis chugged the imaginary cup in his hand.

Never seeing the Killers again would be too soon. The

lyric "Are we human, or are we dancer?" is a trick question. Ryan Gosling-esque frontman Brandon

Flowers is neither. He might smile like he means it from time to time,

but that's it. For a band that makes songs to dance to, there was not enough preening and shaking, and the thing ended up as a soulless, faceless performance for people to get drunk to. Some weak pyrotechnics and some fireworks on the

screen behind the band didn't manage to make up for complete lack

of anything igniting onstage. "It's not so bad," Flowers assured us in

"Bling (Confessions of a King)" It was, though. At least 200 people left during "Bones" alone. Credit drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. for working hard, but everything else onstage sagged until the closer "When You Were Young." According to a coworker, Flowers might just be the next Tom Jones -- a pretty face and not much else compared to the myriad great lead performers that the day had already seen.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: The

seating was a little strange. The Citrus Bowl seats 70,000 people,

which is enough for a U2 concert. There were not nearly that many people

in attendance on Saturday. Some folks were forced to sit when they

should've been able to stand closer to the stage, and vice versa.

Overheard:  "These guys got me believing in God, but if

Marilyn Manson comes out, I might change my mind," one of three guys

passing a joint said during the Avett Brothers.

The experience: The smaller stages and the layout of the festival grounds gave a lot of added value. Wandering to get some ribs meant hearing Orlando garage rock duo Le Blorr, and sitting down to eat by the little lake meant some vintage Pete Yorn would trickle in your ear. 

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