During the daylight hours of the two-day New Jersey parking-lot festival known as the Bamboozle, attendees wander around the Meadowlands grounds, scoring rides on the Ferris wheel, signed merch or a free hug. But the nighttime portion of the festival is all about the performances, and this year Saturday night's focus was on the slightly battered institution that is American pop music.
As the sun dipped below the Jersey horizon, the Maine-bred MC Spose, whose self-deprecating debut single "I'm Awesome" blipped into the Billboard Hot 100 earlier this spring, played a brief set to a small but frenetic crowd. Aided by a hypeman, he seemed almost like an homage to the early '90s, with overzealous posturing borrowed from the Beastie Boys and unabashed tales of slacking that brought to mind Green Day's "Longview."
The miscreant pop star Ke$ha — who is also playing Sunday's installment of the fest — performed a brief set during which she ran through most of her debut Animal with a fair amount of expletive-filled energy (and two extremely enthusiastic backup dancers). Problems with the mix rendered her hits "Your Love Is My Drug" and "Tik Tok" overly bass-heavy and a bit lost outside of their studio-crafted context.
Heavily hyped MC Drake, whose career path from Degrassi: The Next Generation to the pop-rap world was assisted by Lil Wayne, came out for a set that felt a little bit like a disjointed mixtape: The first half relied heavily on run-throughs of the verses he's added to hits like the steely-eyed Kanye West/Eminem/Lil Wayne collaboration "Forever" and the Young Money showcase "Bedrock." Drake took on the seductive pose of the latter song for most of his set, inviting a young woman from the crowd up on stage for a bit of flirtation during slow jams like "A Night Off." He also noted to the women in the crowd that he would make dinner, light candles, run a bath, and give a massage to whichever lady could cure him of his single-guy status.
Drake dedicated his set to his jailed mentor, asking the crowd to rap along with Weezy's verse on his track "I'm Goin' In" to get it replayed on Hot 97, which he claimed was Wayne's prison listening of choice. The crowd obliged him. Perhaps buoyed by that response, Drake couldn't stop performing, coming out for multiple encores. As a result, his set didn't finish until about 30 minutes after it was scheduled to end. While this sort of enthusiasm would have been appreciated at a show headlined by Drake, the tight scheduling of the evening meant that each one of his indulgences delayed the night-closing set by Paramore on an adjacent stage. (To his credit, he did apologize to his "homeboys in Paramore" at one point, although he then proceeded to play for another 15 minutes.)
Once Paramore did take the stage, however, they blew away any memories of ungracious co-headliners. Despite some technical problems early in the band's set, the crowd was enraptured, hanging on every word by spitfire frontwoman Hayley Williams. Williams played the role of grateful rock star to the hilt, commanding the crowd in sing-alongs and taking some time out to sincerely thank the audience for sticking with her and her band through a series of Bamboozles (the band first played the festival in 2005).
The flame-haired Williams is one of the very few young frontwomen in rock these days, and it was hard not to think that the heavily female crowd singing along with Paramore hits like "That's What You Get" and "crushcrushcrush" was not only enjoying the guitar-heavy pop, but happy to see one of their own commanding the spotlight. At the show's end, Williams invited a young woman from the audience onstage to sing the bridge of the band's big hit "Misery Business" — a hard task for any singer, let alone one plucked out of a crowd with no warm-up. But she matched Williams' octave-leaping, and as the two of them closed the show with a hug, it was as if the young role model was sending a message: rock's glass ceiling is ready to be shattered once again.