An eager crowd gathered at the Rocky Stage on Saturday night after a day that included performances by Deadmau5, Phoenix and Public Enemy at the Budweiser Made in America festival. Bleary-eyed from some combination of heat exhaustion, dancing and alcohol, the crowd came alive as Beyoncé took the stage to deliver the final performance of the day.
“Philly! Y’all are at the Mrs. Carter show,” she announced.
Bey opened the 90-minute set with “Run the World (Girls)” and took her time warming up the crowd with sultry renditions of “End of Time” and “If I Were a Boy.” She made it clear that she was the commander of this ship and paced the set accordingly with several outfit changes, including the debut of an embroidered white jumpsuit.
Almost more entertaining than watching the video displays, band and group of backup dancers supporting Beyoncé was witnessing the effect her presence alone had on the crowd. Fans did their best to shout, sing and wind at the waist while she sauntered across the stage, teasing the crowd and demanding more energy with each song and change of costume. It was here that Beyoncé was at her best: standing calmly in front of a crowd that capped at 50,000 during the day as they waited for her next move. You can tell the influence she has over people; Beyoncé says “jump,” and they ask to which song.
The set picked up during “Diva,” Naughty Girl” and “Party,” with intermittent interludes showcasing the dancing of France’s Les Twins and pianist Rie Tsuji before slowing down once again during “1+1” as Beyoncé lay on her back singing from Tsuji’s piano before jumping into “Irreplaceable.”
During the second half of the set, Beyoncé fired up the fierceness. The exhausted crowd gained a second wind after “Love on Top” followed by “Countdown.” “Crazy in Love” was explosive, but didn’t feature the Jay Z performance that had been rumored to take place. The Jeffersons theme song made for a nice mash-up during “Single Ladies” and was quickly followed by a cover of “I Will Always Love You.” Beyoncé then closed the festival with “Halo” as gold confetti drifted over the satisfied crowd.
The long day had started ten hours earlier when Ohio indie rockers Walk the Moon opened the festival with an incendiary set from their self-titled debut album. “Quesadilla” made for the perfect opening, with a thick drum introduction as the band took the stage clad in a combination of tribal prints, their faces decorated with the band’s signature paint in red, white and blue.
The band slowed things down, but just a little bit, during “Lisa Baby,” as singer Nick Petricca belted “When my baby is a mess, my baby is a dancing queen,” while fans swayed in the warm August air. “Shiver Shiver” was the high point of the set, as the audience joined the band in clapping and chanting while Petricca rocked his hips before ending the half-hour set with “Anna Sun.”
“This whole thing is awesome,” said bassist Kevin Ray offstage after the performance, before being rushed by teenage girls eager to take selfies with him.
Between Walk The Moon and Queen B came an eclectic array of music that included rap, EDM and rock. Among the highlights was a 90-minute set by Joel Zimmerman, a.k.a. Deadmau5. Infusing the Philadelphia night with experimental techno beats and atmospheric moments, Deadmau5 showed off his full range of skills as a mixer.
Before his set, Zimmerman sat with Rolling Stone for a bit, right after chatting with Made In America festival creator Jay-Z. “I like him,” Zimmerman told us. “We have a lot in common. I just booked the second year of my festival, this is the second year of his festival.” Does that mean Zimmerman picked up some pointers from his appearance in Philly? “Yeah,” he said.
Also excited to be on hand were French alternative darlings Phoenix. “It’s the first time and quite exciting, we feel it’s a special event,” guitarist Christian Mazzalai told Rolling Stone. He agreed with an observation that the festival is especially impressive in the way it incorprates the Philly skyline. “We love that too, change everything, makes the experience unique, ’cause otherwise festivals can all look the same.”
Phoenix showcased their expertise at ruling a festival crowd during an hour-long performance that included a stunning light show and some of the band’s most beloved hits. The stage was lambent as Thomas Mars began with “Entertainment” before jumping right into “Lasso” and “Lisztomania” in short succession. Fans swayed and joined in chanting along to the drawn out “Girlfriend,” drunk off the romance and the light of it all, before the band picked up with “Trying to Be Cool.”
The heat of the day finally broken, “Love Like A Sunset” made for a refreshing mid-set soother, and the band thanked the crowd before ending with “1901.”
Maybe the single musical highlight of the day was Empire of the Sun delivering their superb new radio-friendly single, “Alive.” If ever there was a song meant to be a festival anthem, it was the infectious future smash that had thousands chanting along before frontman Luke Steele closed the set and left the stage.
On the hip-hop side of things, A$AP Rocky played an abbreviated set to fans who had swarmed the stage half an hour before the rapper was set to appear. “Pardon my tardiness,” he said after opening with “Long.Live.A$AP.” All was forgiven, and the rapper dedicated the rest of his set to weed smoking, then took off his jacket and told the crowd “It’s time to turn the fuck up,” before launching into “Wild For the Night.” The rapper closed his set with “Fuckin’ Problems,” and left the stage as quickly as he had taken it.
Public Enemy delighted fans with an hour-long performance that included “Welcome to the Terrordome,” in addition to social messages. Chuck D and Flavor Flav acknowledged Philadelphia’s school system crisis and pledged to donate $10,000 to the school district, challenging Beyoncé to either match or surpass their contribution. “We need to work on building more skills,” said Chuck D. The message was followed by “Show ‘Em What You Got,” which featured two steppers in the center of the stage and led straight into “Fight the Power.” They mashed up the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” with Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” just before Flavor Flav introduced “31 Flavors” and closed out with “Shut ‘Em Down.”
Relative newbies to the scene, Imagine Dragons took some time to soak up the scene before their evening set. “I gotta keep breathing,” joked lead singer Dan Reynolds. Cast Away references aside, the band has had an explosive year that’s poised to get even larger. “We’ve been a band for four years, just making music in Las Vegas – you know, playing to casinos – and that really taught us how to perform,” said guitarist Wayne Sermon. The band played songs off 2012’s Night Visions, including “Every Night,” “Demons” and the one that started it all, “Hear Me.”
Reynolds gazed out at the crowd during the set, as if registering how far the band has come in their history, before introducing the band’s first big hit, “It’s Time.”
“This was the first song of ours that was ever played on the radio,” he said. “What we want to show people is an honest performance – not play to a certain niche, or whatever – but just really give it all we got.”
Imagine Dragons ended their set with a special mash-up of Cold War Kids’ Hang Me Up to Dry and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” with Reynolds singing and beat boxing before closing out with “Radioactive” and the beating of an 8-foot drum on stage.
Made in America continues on Sunday with sets by Gaslight Anthem, Kendrick Lamar, Nine Inch Nails and more.
Additional reporting by Steve Baltin