Alas, the weekend of revelry comes to a close. The Main Green lies worn and muddied from the foot stomping of thousands of Brunonians. The stage is dismantled and the Ratty un-Fratty’d.
As students wander wearily back to the libraries, the time has come to reflect on a Spring Weekend lineup that thrived in a live setting, addressed a variety of tastes and delivered on its promise to provide the campus with an engaging, communal experience. Well done, Brown Concert Agency.
Providence brass band What Cheer? Brigade, bounce starlet Big Freedia and DJ A-Trak kept the crowd moving for a Friday night full of raucous energy and close-proximity dancing. Saturday proved more relaxed, but also more musically interesting — atmospheric contributions of 4/20 celebrants adding to the good vibes. The experimental delights of Dirty Projectors, freaky sound waves from Deerhunter and killer lines by Kendrick Lamar capped off a weekend replete with fun music, warm bodies and cold (drank).
What Cheer? announced the start of the festivities by marching around the Green in a seething mass of flailing limbs and beating drums. The band’s sound was loud, full-bodied and aggressive, a brassy opening set for a wild night. The crowd eagerly jostled to take part in the fanfare, bodies bouncing like pinballs around trombones, trumpets and flugelhorns. Eventually, the group finished a solid half-hour of its signature punk marching band sound.
As attention shifted to the main stage, the audience bore witness to “azz everywhere” courtesy of Big Freedia, the “Queen Diva” of New Orleans’ bounce scene. Like a six-foot tall lioness prowling the stage, she led call-and-response chants with a booming voice while her dancers performed the wildest butt-shaking acrobatics this bounce-virgin had ever witnessed. The booty-bumping extravaganza lasted a few songs too long, but for those willing to let loose and twerk it out, Big Freedia provided an open invitation to join the party and celebrate the body.
Our exhausted glutes had little time to rest, with A-Trak demanding otherwise. With a smoothness befitting his fedora, the DJ executed a riotous set, mixing everything from Missy Elliott’s “Work It” to Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll” with aplomb. Even house-music skeptics couldn’t deny that A-Trak was putting on a genuine performance, manipulating tracks with spontaneity in response to the energy from the crowd. While unleashing sonic booms with a flick of the wrist, he snapped pictures of the crowd with his iPhone. He deftly encapsulated the mood of the night — people had come to dance, and A-Trak was prepared to facilitate.
Dirty Projectors opened Saturday with an outstanding set, in many ways the perfect soundtrack for a crisp spring afternoon. The band is as clean and precise live as it is in the studio. Navigating dense vocal harmonies and intricate arrangements, it executed songs from its albums “Bitte Orca” and “Swing Lo Magellan” in peak form. Lead vocalist David Longstreth proved himself an able leader, but backup singer Amber Coffman’s sweet, elastic soprano stole the show. Her solo during “Stillness is the Move” deservedly aroused hysteria from the audience. The band even executed an intricate vocal effect called hocketing — a technique cultivated in medieval France consisting of rapid-fire vocal ping-pong. In terms of sheer musicality, the group was unquestionably the best act in the lineup.
Indie rock darling Deerhunter could not deliver on those terms, but its set easily won the distinction of being the most bizarre of the bunch.
“I don’t even understand earth culture,” declared frontman Bradford Cox at one point, his arms poking out from a flowing cheetah-print muumuu. Indeed, listening to the music was something of an alien experience. Deerhunter’s set consisted mainly of massive guitar elements saturated in reverb and occasionally punctuated by Cox’s extraterrestrial screams. There was an occasional semblance of melody, but clearly their intention was to leave the Green awash in trippy, ethereal soundscapes.
At long last, Kendrick took the stage and cleaned up. Bringing the audience along on a tour from his earliest mixtapes to his acclaimed debut record “good kid m.A.A.d city,” he approached the subject of a failing, violent Compton in a way few rappers have done before. He owned the stage, interacting comfortably with the audience and free-styling without accompaniment, vulnerable but in control. A solid contingency in the audience seemed to know every word.
In some ways, Kendrick’s performance was an odd choice from BCA, as much of his work criticizes some of the rituals central to the Spring Weekend experience. As he joked, “Y’all got an amazing amount of energy even though y’all been smoking,” we were reminded that he, a non-smoker, would not be partaking. It was a bit unsettling to be part of a semi-inebriated crowd singing along to “Swimming Pools (Drank),” a harrowing song about the perils of alcohol abuse. And I might need someone to fetch me a modern culture and media concentrator to understand the implications of the Brown student body chanting, “(Expletive) and patron make you feel all right.”
Nevertheless, Kendrick was a consummate headliner, a rare combination of genre innovation and genuine star power who deserved his top billing. As his set — and the concert — drew to a close, he slid into a Brown jersey, announcing, “No matter how big this (expletive) gets, no matter if it gets smaller, I will always come back to you. … I love y’all.” The crowd seemed eager to absorb him into our camp and claim him as our own.