Alabama Shakes I went into this expecting to enjoy the set by Alabama Shakes, but I didn't realize how it was going to set the tone for the rest of my day. I arrived under the overbearing sun, and struggled to catch glimpses of Japandroids. Festival frustrations threatened to make a bad scene.
But then patches of grass opened, seats were taken and the Shakes took the stage. Lead singer Brittany Howard has just a unique command over her audience; you will not be let down. It was quite possibly the mellowest vibe to be found in all of Eleanor Tinsley Park. It ranked up there with Iggy-induced Beatlemania and Jenny Lewis's boobs. APRIL BREM PATRICK
Chin Xaou Ti Won Walking away from a sloppy but decent enough Japandroids set, it was a different duo that won the day for me. Call me a sucker for atmosphere, but I love when musicians like CXTW can create an interesting atmosphere. At times during their set it felt like I was about to go to battle in a video game, other times like I had stumbled upon a little slice of heaven, and one time it felt like I was watching a man fighting a gong (mostly because he was).
It was also a nice reminder that sometimes it pays to slow down and check out the small bands and small stages, rather than race off to go
cool off in a tent see someone at the bigger stages. CORY GARCIA
Calvin Harris I am an achy mess of old bones this morning, thanks to Calvin Harris' closing set on the Mars stage. I'd been torn between watching Harris or the Postal Service, and aside from the creaking sound that I make with every move, I'm really glad that Harris won because it was freakin' awesome. The crowd had an insane energy, especially given that we were out in the sun all damn day yesterday, and we managed to sneak our way down to the front of the crowd to watch both Harris and the sea of people bounce and scream like fools, glowsticks shining like overgrown fireflies.
It was impossible not to get sucked in, especially given that Harris played all of his current radio hits. Even if you were too cool to dance, the crowd sucked you in and carried you along for the ride. It was great energy. Oh, and I'd like to say that American Fangs, who played earlier in the day, were equally badass. ANGELICA LEICHT
Jandek The elusive Jandek was on hand for FPSF in what I believe is his largest live appearance in his 30-plus-year career. Who knows what convinced him to play a festival; perhaps pride in his hometown. Whatever the reason, he was the perfect opener for my Saturday, running through a bizarre improv set as is his wont just before the sun's rays started beating down too hard.
With Mike Watt of Iggy and the Stooges and Minutemen fame on bass, Jandek and his band jammed on some of the toughest, most broken rhythms imaginable, yet somehow gelled perfectly; a true showing of their skills as musicians. Meanwhile, the representative from Corwood Industries clanked busted chords and wailed poetry from a composition book in front of him, which blew frustratingly in the wind. He dealt with it admirably however, finishing out his set with a huge smile on his face. COREY DEITERMAN
The Mavericks I've long loved Raul Malo's voice but missed every chance to see him -- in 2011 he played the Thursday-night concert series at Discovery Green and I was still kicking myself for not going. Saturday afternoon at FPSF, Malo's recently reformed band had the difficult slot of following the Geto Boys on the Saturn Stage. The crowd for the genre-defying Mexicali/vintage-country balladeers was much smaller, and it seemed weird for them to be playing such a big stage, but it didn't matter. After a hiatus of nearly a decade, the Mavericks sounded just as smooth as ever.
Their reunion album, In Time, has been getting great reviews, and much of the set consisted of songs from that release -- not many of the slow ballads that show off Malo's honeyed voice, but that's fine. The Mavericks had a lot of friends onstage, with a three-piece horn section, an accordionist, an organist and more, and each musician got his own solo at least once. I was trying to convince some friends to see the show with me, and was having a hard time because the only word I could come up with was "country," which doesn't quite fit. But seriously, how do you describe a band like that?
Despite critical success, the Mavericks never really earned a huge fan base. Maybe the new album will change that. They closed with probably their biggest hit, "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down." It's too bad more people weren't there to see it. BRITTANIE SHEY
Passion Pit I have to give it up to Passion Pit. I am really into this band. Since I first heard "Sleepyhead" back in 2009, I've liked the emotion-laded lyrics that twist with the band's signature synthy sound. However, excited as I was to see the band at FPSF Saturday I was equally wary due to the disappointments that similar bands have caused me in the past: the albums are intoxicating, but the live shows suck (read: MGMT).
Passion Pit proved that exotic vocals and computer beats can translate to an engaging live show that sounds fantastic. The crowd loved "Carried Away," "Sleepyhead" and "Take a Walk." Special highlight: "Constant Conversations," my favorite song (so far) of the year. Pure sex that was only hotter in the heat. SELENA DIERINGER
Paul Wall On a stifling hot summer day, the coolest stage at the festival was the Mercury Stage sponsored by Red Bull. Tucked underneath the interstate at the edge of downtown, the shade and cool breeze made for a pleasant arena to catch The People's Champ, a certain Mr. Paul Wall.
As the crowd swelled, the Swishahouse rapper flashed his ice and unleashed a furious set of hits including "Sittin' Sideways," "Chunk Up the Deuce," and "They Don't Know." Either the large, hometown crowd had him pumped up, or the heat lit a fire under the stage, but either way, the result proved to be one of the most inspired Free Press Summer Fest sets I've ever seen. MARCO TORRES
Paul Wall (times two) I've seen Paul Wall perform in Houston a few times now, but I've never seen him better than he was on Saturday. The setting helped a lot: Is there any place more appropriate for the iced-out player's swang-and-bang sound than beneath the overpasses of downtown Houston?
The People's Champ drew a massive early afternoon crowd to the shady Mercury stage, so large that hundreds of hip-hop heads crowded in with no chance of even glimpsing the rapper. Longtime fans were rewarded with cuts from throughout Wall's career, including his classic flow from "N Luv Wit My Money."
His best-loved cut of the day, though was the Texans tribute "Houston," which had the large assemblage chanting along to the chorus: "I'm from Houston, Texas, home of the Texans." It was the single most H-Town thing that I saw and heard all day. NATHAN SMITH
Vintage Trouble Before Saturday, I did not have a clue who Vintage Trouble was; they just happened to be starting as we were wandering back from newly minted Houston alt-rock heroes American Fangs (nice job, guys). I looked up the group on the FPSF app, and they're from Laurel Canyon, but a damn sight removed from the mellow early-'70s scene of Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne.
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Like, seriously. In just two songs (Paul Wall beckoned), Vintage Trouble peeled off some funky-soul/gospel-rock that was as satisfying, uplifting, and bracing as anything I saw. And they did it in suits. It wasn't just me, either. "My vote for most underseen/underrated band of #FPSF is Vintage Trouble," @tolli05 tweeted us. "Those cats blew the doors off this motherfucker!" They really did. CHRIS GRAY