MoPop Music Festival's 2018 day one, held at Detroit's West Riverfront Park, was a day of mellow sounds and warm weather. Rapper Curtis Roach kicked off the festival on an inspirational note, telling the crowd "I was doing open mics like a year ago and now we're on this stage." He dedicated his set to anyone who has a dream and got the crowd going with some call and response. A Detroit native, the rapper was a good example of how the festival highlights local artists. While the stage dedicated solely to local acts was gone this year, the Motor City was front and center on people's minds.
Second act Shortly, another Detroit act, lulled the crowd with soft guitar strumming before abruptly blasting them with noise. "Sorry if we scared you," lead singer Alexandria Maniak said. The band has clearly mastered the art of sonic dynamics, veering back and forth between soft interludes and heavy guitar rock. For her part, Maniak related to the crowd a darker side to her songs, discussing suicide, depression, and surviving assault. The topic matter combined with the music resulted in a gut-wrenching set.
Later in the day, YouTube stars Clairo owned the stage for their 45-minute set. Their spare and languid songs belied an effortless cool; the band floating through songs about marijuana and other worldly pleasures. With spare and sophisticated tunes, it was clear from their adoring fans that they're onto something.
Similarly, the band Alvvays turned in a breezy, cool set on the River Stage. Moving through dreamy but spellbinding songs like “Dreams Tonite” and “In Undertow,” in some ways, they embodied the overall languid mood of day one.
While the weather was stellar, if anything soured the mood environmentally it was the dusty conditions. Day two of Mo Pop Festival has historically been notorious for dust, as the day one trampling of grass leaves much of the ground to bare earth. This year’s dry conditions meant that the festival started off that way; people wearing bandanas over their mouths was not an uncommon site.
Rock band Highly Suspect provided a needed shot of energy with their irreverent but articulate bound of hard rock. The band led the audience in vulgar shout-alongs and engaged in anti-Trump tirades, but not so much to detract from their muscular delivery of songs like “My Name Is Human” and “Little One.”
Rapper Vince Staples made a statement before ever taking the stage. Normally, before a show starts, one can see a band’s equipment or at least a DJ setup onstage. Not so in the case of Staples. The stage was completely empty save for some lights and a set of LED screens as a backdrop. Staples emerged amongst heavy smoke and went through a frenetic set all by his lonesome, bounding around the stage like a man possessed. The crowd was right with him through songs like “Late Night Ballin’” and “Big Fish.”
Bon Iver's avant-folk ended the evening with an eclectic folktronica set. It was a summation of the day s music, touching on everything from folk to rock to avant-electronica, backlit with an intriguing stage show. “We’ve never played Detroit proper,” said lead singer Justin Vernon, “which is f—ing stupid.” The band made up for it, though, with gentle folk-rock transforming into cascades of electronic blips with some grand, dramatic flourishes for good measure.