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Landmark Music Festival 2015 Review: The Top 10 Sets + Photos

CHVRCHES and Drake make for memorable inaugural edition of D.C. festival

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Nestled between the Potomac River and the Tidal Basin, the inaugural Landmark Music Festival boasted one of the most iconic locations in the United States: Washington D.C.’s National Mall. Steps away from the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool (and with the Washington Monument viewable from many stages), it was hard to believe a major music festival was happening in the heart of the nation’s capital. With the goal of raising awareness and funds for restoring the National Mall, the festival brought The Strokes and Drake as its first headliners.

The weather, cool and cloudy for the vast majority of both days, seemed to threatened rain for the entire weekend, but thankfully only doused the crowd in a brief shower on Saturday night. While the downpour didn’t present a significant challenge for the grounds, C3 Presents did an admirable job at overall organization and fixing problems that came up on the first day, at least for a first-time festival. On Saturday, beer and bathroom lines were nightmarishly long; on Sunday, those queues were much more manageable. The grounds were medium-sized but manageable, although the northern part of the festival (Miller Lite, BMI, and Lincoln Stages) occasionally suffered from sound bleeding over when sets were going at the same time.

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Photo by Killian Young

Another notable perk of the festival wristband was that you could exit and re-enter up to three times a day, an option often not available to fans who forfeit access to other festival grounds as soon as they leave. And a recycling program, entitled “Rock & Recycle”, urged action from the crowd by putting a plausible system into practice: They rewarded each recycling attendee with a full recycling bag and a free festival t-shirt. As a result, there were many people searching for empty cans and bottles on the ground in pursuit of their prize. The festival also offered an astounding set of options for food, including some of the most beloved local eateries like Ben’s Chili Bowl, Toki Underground (a ramen place), Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, Curley’s Q BBQ.

Musically, the festival made an interesting decision regarding set times: At a minimum, the vast majority of artists performed for an entire hour. Overall, this was a successful decision as the smaller bands were able to showcase more of their music instead of getting boxed into a 20- or 30-minute set. And most of the lesser-known acts performed for closer to 50 minutes, giving fans buffer time to move from stage to stage and not miss any music. As far as sets go, audiences were treated to one of CHVRCHES’ first performances following the release of Every Open Eye, a career-spanning set by Drake filled with fireworks and pyrotechnics, and a fantastic homecoming for D.C. emcee Wale.

The smart money’s on Landmark returning as a staple music festival for the capital in the future.

–Killian Young
Staff Writer

BEST KICK-OFF

EX HEX

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Photo by Killian Young

Ex Hex showed their hometown some love — the D.C. trio didn’t have to travel far to get to the site and delivered a brisk set to start off the day for many attendees. From the beginning track “Don’t Wanna Lose”, the band kept people’s heads bobbing with a fast and consistent groove. Whenever lead vocalist/guitarist Mary Timony and bassist Betsy Wright would face each other, bend their knees, lean back, and perform solos (such as on the song “Waste Your Time”), the crowd applauded. As for the band itself, all three members fed off the modestly sized-yet-enthusiastic crowd, who were looking to get their early dose of rock. –Sung Min Kim

BEST FAMILY FUN

THE HUNTS

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Photo by Killian Young

With a lineup consisting of seven siblings (that’s Jessi, Jenni, Josh, Jonathan, Jordan, Justin, and Jamison — how’s that for alliteration?), good chemistry naturally comes with the territory for The Hunts. The Chesapeake, Virginia rockers churned out beautiful harmonies on song after song during their rollicking afternoon set, especially on “Valentina” and “Make This Leap”. The band drew heavily on their recently released record, Those Younger Days, with “Ages” serving as the powerful closer for the solid crowd that had gathered at the Roosevelt Stage. As a spirited folk crescendo gave way to speedy hand claps, the audience eagerly joined in for one final jam, becoming part of the Hunts’ extended family, if only for the hour. –Killian Young

BEST DAY-DRINKING SOUNDTRACK / BEST COVER

HOUNDMOUTH

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Photo by Killian Young

Houndmouth emerged during the sunniest part of Sunday, also when people took advantage of the (relatively) short beer lines. The four-piece Americana rock band’s breezy set made for a perfect soundtrack for some afternoon day-drinking.

There were four members and just as many vocalists, but Matt Myers is labeled as their lead singer and stood out in regards to stage presence and a voice reminiscent of a stereotypical high-pitched rock star’s — not quite original, yet pleasant. An early highlight of the set was their hit single “Sedona”. Not only was it the most well-received from the get-go, but when the song arrived at its chorus, the entire crowd broke into the chant of “Hey little Hollywood/ You’re gone but you’re not forgotten”, loud enough that you could almost feel yourself transported out west. The band’s other songs — “Comin’ Around Again”, “Gasoline”, and “15 Years” — were also met with gleeful chants as the band displayed a balanced mix of instruments and vocal harmonies. –Sung Min Kim

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Photo by Killian Young

While fun novelties like covers aren’t uncommon at music festivals, it’s rarer to see a band close with a song that’s not their own. Houndmouth defied the odds, saving the best for last with their take on Dion’s number-one hit, “Runaround Sue”. Capitalizing on the strengths of their vocalists, the track became a relay of sorts for the rollicking cover of the doo-wop classic, kicking off with keyboardist Katie Toupin, then shifting to bassist Zak Appelby before Myers brought it home. Toward the end of the song, the instrumentals dropped out and Toupin took center stage, encouraging the crowd to clap, which the fans gladly obliged as they bounced along. The strong effort was not lost upon the audience, who loudly cheered for an encore. –Killian Young

BEST SET TO CLIMB SHOULDERS TO

CHROMEO

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Photo by Killian Young

Moments before Chromeo stepped onstage, a loud, funky bass riff blared over the sound system that shook the bodies of anyone near the stage, an apt intro for what was to come. Once Dave 1 (a.k.a. Dave Macklovitch) and P-Thugg (a.k.a. Patrick Gemayel) stepped on the Miller Lite stage, they blasted the first track, “Intro”, and a “Chro-me-o…O…O…” chant (inspired by The Wizard of Oz) floated through the crowd. After that grand entrance, the Montreal duo delivered a bass-heavy set driven by their signature funk-meets-pop sound that has earned them a big following over the years.

Dave 1 definitely earned a nomination for most charismatic performer. The band’s dance moves, the constant and consistent beats, and P-Thugg’s frequent use of a vocoder and talkbox all gave an impression of Daft Punk-like robot personas onstage at times. A main highlight of the set came when Macklovitch encouraged guys in the crowd to put “a lady on their shoulders” for their song “Over Your Shoulder”. For the next four-and-half minutes, the skyline consisted of a mix of gray and white clouds and women bobbing atop the crowd.

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Photo by Killian Young

The sole gripe with the set was that the bass got overbearing at times to the extent that it masked other aspects of their music, specifically Chromeo’s subtly clever lyrics. But that hardly put a frown on any attendee’s face as the fans got a good time and then some. –Sung Min Kim

BIGGEST ANNOUNCEMENT

THE STROKES

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The biggest bombshell of The Strokes’ set came at the very end of their performance. After briefly exiting the stage, lead singer Julian Casablancas returned for the band’s encore and said to expect the band being “back in the studio and shit. Fuck yeah, man!” The band then launched into “Take It or Leave It”, stirring a frenzied reaction from the crowd.

But long before the encore, the Strokes played the blasé rock star card, turning up to their set 15 minutes late. The band as a whole sounded fairly tight, but at times Casablancas was near incomprehensible, also rambling through odd bits of dialogue in between songs. Choice lines included: “It’s been a long time since we’ve been in D.C., so thank you. And, uh, yeah. No one understands what I’m saying!” and “So we were having lunch with Obama, I was, like, respectfully, ‘What’s up with the drones?’”

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Photo by Killian Young

To their credit, though, the band delivered solid renditions of most of the Strokes’ biggest hits, from “Last Nite” to “Reptilia” to “Under the Cover of Darkness”. And while the band sounded lackluster at times, the audience — one of the best of the weekend — more than made up for the deficit, cheering loudly and throwing their hands in the air, from the main set’s start (“Is This It”) to finish (“New York City Cops”). –Killian Young

BEST STORYTELLING

MIGUEL

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With a live band prominently featuring a guitarist and bassist, sultry singer Miguel’s set played out like a deft blend of glam rock and R&B. On “a beautiful exit”, Miguel leaned back, intertwining with guitarist Dru Decaro, who performed a searing solo. And Miguel dropped to his knees and raised his arms to the crowd, declaring, “You’re my salvation” on “Hollywood Dreams” before strutting toward a cameraman and licking the screen.

Throughout the set, Miguel also interwove a strong story about the inspiration behind his most recent album, Wildheart: the recurring question of “what the fuck is normal anyway?” His narrative meandered through his childhood as a biracial kid of Mexican and African-American heritage in Los Angeles (“What’s Normal Anyway”) all the way to dealing with the changes in his life due to his recent rise to fame (“Hollywood Dreams”).

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Photo by Killian Young

On “Waves”, an ocean of arms bounced in unison as Miguel hopped up and down emphatically on stage. He later brought out hometown hero Wale on “Lotus Flower Bomb” for round two on the main stage before closing with “Adorn”.

But the most powerful moment arguably came earlier in the set, when he led the crowd in an oath to celebrate their uniqueness: “I! Promise myself! To never succumb or conform! To the so-called norm! I will be myself! I will believe in myself!” –Killian Young

BEST SET YOU (PROBABLY) MISSED

BOOTS

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Photo by Sung Min Kim

If you recognize producer and singer-songwriter Jordy Asher’s moniker Boots, you probably looked up the credits to Beyoncé’s self-titled album. Largely unknown prior to its release, Boots has since gained fame for punching in creative control for other artists like Beyoncé, Run the Jewels, and FKA Twigs.

With the same set time as CHVRCHES, Boots attracted one of the smallest crowds of the festival, but those in attendance were in for a treat. “Rocking” or “booty-poppin’” don’t do much justice to describe Asher’s set. Let’s try “face-melting.” Boots started the set with a series of wobbling bass riffs that accompanied Boots’ melodies, reminiscent of sounds from Beyoncé’s album. The track “I Run Roulette” from his upcoming album AQUARIA featured a booming synth, which evoked Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead”.

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Photo by Sung Min Kim

Accompanied by seizure-inducing lights onscreen, it was nearly a sensory overload, which managed to get even crazier once a fast percussion beat kicked in a minute into the song. A group of festival goers jumped and danced aggressively nearby the pit and did not stop until the end. Boots’ set gave a glimpse of what to expect when his debut LP AQUARIA drops — his sounds were atmospheric and smooth in its most fragile moments but ruthlessly crunchy and in-your-face at other times. Also his musical sensibility that relied on dissonant melody added more suspense and intrigue to make his overall sound haunting yet sexy.

Performing “Sheep/Lookin’ Muthafucka (Lude II)” from his WinterSpringSummerFall mixtape, Asher sang the first two lines “Cat’s out the bag/ no one remembers you…”. People who saw him at Landmark had a lot of reasons to remember him, though. The next time Asher stops by Washington D.C., expect more people to be around the stage. –Sung Min Kim

HOMETOWN HERO

WALE

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Photo by Killian Young

Wale called his new record The Album About Nothing, but his set was, well, definitely about something: showing his hometown love. The first word from Wale’s DJ Money was “D.C.!” – which became the consistent theme of the set. A Northwest Washington D.C. native, Wale became the emcee representing the area since the release of Attention Deficit and the single “Chillin” in 2009.

Playing a set in one of the more well-known spots in the city, Wale emphasized how special his performance would be from the beginning. Now, I haven’t seen other Wale sets yet, but if this is how he usually performs, then he should be considered a must-see artist for concertgoers. One of the main highlights was when Wale jumped into the audience, walked through a decent amount of hyped fans, and performed “Loyalty” while the attendees around pointed their smartphone cameras at him rapping. Wale made his point clear: He wanted to party in his hometown and he went out of the way to accomplish it.

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Photo by Killian Young

Hours later, Wale tweeted his profuse thanks to the D.C. crowd, but the local emcee also deserves credit for the fantastic energy he brought to the set. –Sung Min Kim

BEST HEADLINER

DRAKE

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Photo by Killian Young

While he did not jump into the crowd like Wale, Drake proved just as capable of stirring up the massive crowd that had gathered to see October’s Very Own superstar. After he crooned to the crowd with “Hold On, We’re Going Home”, Drake announced that he would not sing for the rest of the set. “I’m not Trey Songz. I’m not here for that cute shit tonight.” Later, after performing “Started From the Bottom”, Drake put on a competition between left and right sides of crowd to see who could be louder. After “considering” for awhile, he proclaimed that both sides are winners, which drew some playful boos from audience — cute shit or just a polite Canadian? Up to anyone’s interpretation. After “Back to Back” and before he started “Know Yourself”, Drake (again) addressed the Meek Mill feud when the crowd chanted “Fuck Meek Mill”, as he icily remarked: “Don’t worry, he’s dead already.”

When he wasn’t playing to the admiring crowd, he went back-to-back (all pun intended) with various hits. Whatever he played, the crowd knew. Drake graced the fans with a healthy mix of singles from different eras of his discography. From Thank Me Laters “Find Your Love” to If You’re Reading This It’s Too Lates “Energy”, the Toronto rapper covered a lot of ground. He also rarely completed a single song. Instead, he gave a verse or two from each track and transitioned to the next, which was both a positive and a negative. It was excellent for the crowd members with short attention spans and casual fans who wanted to digest the radio hits without much waiting, but not so much for the diehard fans who wanted to sing the lyrics from start to finish.

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Photo by Killian Young

The sole performer of the festival at the time, Drake acknowledged the massive crowd that came to see him. “My favorite crowd of 2015, hands down,” he proclaimed. “You coulda put a blindfold on me and I would’ve thought I was in Toronto” — it took a big group effort to earn that high praise from Drake. –Sung Min Kim

BEST PERFORMANCE

CHVRCHES

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Photo by Killian Young

The release of CHVRCHES’ new record Every Open Eye heralded the Glaswegian trio’s arrival as a pop force to be reckoned with. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s dynamite stage presence and powerhouse vocals have further improved since I first saw the band during the lead-up to the release of The Bones of What You Believe. On early tracks “We Sink” and “Gun”, Mayberry bolted from side to side on the stage, swinging the mic cord and headbanging to ferocious cheers. And on the throbbing close to “Lies”, she stood front and center, pumping her first with the beat.

One thing that has definitely stayed consistent is Mayberry’s sharp banter, which is always a fun addition to the show. After “Bury It”, she joked about how the band’s still getting a feel for how to perform the new songs live: “Am I skipping? Is that what I’m doing here? It’s my exercise for the day … for the week.” On “Tether”, she couldn’t help but crack up mid-song when she spotted someone in the crowd get hit in the face with an inflatable beach ball. The lead singer even recognized a familiar face in the front row, a guy who apparently was (in)famous for being filmed going nuts during just about every song of CHVRCHES’ set at the 9:30 Club over a year ago.

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Photo by Killian Young

The band opened the set with the pulsing synths of “Never Ending Circles”, and bounced through “Make Them Gold” and “Clearest Blue” off the new record, as well. Keyboardist Martin Doherty — who has an entertaining presence and solid vocal skills in his own right — took the lead for “Under the Tide”. The most notable part of the setlist came with its structure: The penultimate track was longtime closer “The Mother We Share”, while Every Open Eye’s “Leave a Trace” brought the set to an emphatic close. It’s the dawn of a new era for CHVRCHES. –Killian Young

Click ahead for an exclusive gallery from Landmark 2015.

Gallery

Photographer: Killian Young, Sung Min Kim

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