You know you're in trouble when the most exciting moment of a music festival featuring Busta Rhymes, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Foo Fighters takes place backstage. Such was the case at New York's second annual AmsterJam fest, which, despite a stellar lineup, experienced a disappointing turnout and by-the-book performances.
Clad in a yellow doo-rag and a T-shirt promoting his latest album, The Big Bang, rapper Busta Rhymes put on an energetic, attitude-filled set, flirting with the ladies in the front row before he spat out his 1997 hit "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See." The song proved oddly foreboding: After his performance, the NYPD whisked Rhymes away on third-degree assault charges and possible felony weapons-possessions charges stemming from an August 12th incident.
Other headliners' performances were formidable without being adventurous. Raindrops began to fall during LL Cool J's early evening set, during which he (rather predictably) lived up to his "Ladies Love Cool James" moniker, doffing his jersey and throwing red roses into the crowd. Reggaeton star Tego Calderon joined him onstage and hogged the mike on a collaboration of LL's "Doin' It."
Despite the bevy of barely-clad fly girls dancing in the background, Calderon's own set failed to hold the crowd's attention, and much of the audience dispersed to check out the action on the second stage.
Foo Fighters -- currently in the middle of an acoustic tour -- went electric and shredded on crowd favorites like "Best of You," "My Hero" and "Learn to Fly." Petty's set spun like a greatest hits compilation. "I don't know if you are going to expand your consciousness tonight, but this would be a good time," the classic rocker warned the crowd before strumming the opening chords of "You Don't Know How It Feels," presumably referring to the the lyrics "Let's get to the point/Let's roll another joint.…"
This year, the festival's original mash-up concept was all but absent. Originally billed as a musical event featuring genre-bending one-time-only collaborations -- "It's about rap, rock, pop, funk and dance all coming together into something that's bold and fresh, something that stretches all boundaries," reads the Web site -- the fest featured only one true "mash-up": Rhymes' "Dangerous" and latin pop outfit Yerba Buena's "Guajira (I Love U 2 Much)."
Grohl joined Petty and the Heartbreakers' two-song encore of "Running Down a Dream" and "You Wreck Me," but the collaboration was as straightforward as it gets -- sonically, Grohl's addition was barely perceptible.
Thirty-thousand fans flocked to last year's sold-out inaugural AmsterJam fest, which boasted onstage mash-ups between artists as musically disparate as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Snoop Dogg. This year's turnout was much less impressive -- an estimated 11,000 folks turned up, according to the City of New York Parks and Recreation Department -- indicating that consumers' interest in the event's live mash-up gimmick might be flagging. (An out-of-the-way venue and rainy weather likely contributed to the low attendance.)
Rhymes said it best from the stage before ending his set: "You all disappointing me, New York. Where the fuck you at?" Where indeed.