Late in their festival-closing set on Sunday night, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor thanked the crowd for at least the third time during their ninety-minute run. “I appreciate your being here,” he said. “We’ve got a few more hits to do.” There was a bit of irony to the statement, since unlike many festivals where fans are besieged by multiple stages and constant conflict as to what to see, Made in America, with only three primary stages, doesn’t schedule multiple headliners against each other. So after Calvin Harris went on unopposed with a packed set on the Liberty Stage, Nine Inch Nails closed out the night on the Rocky Stage with no other artists playing.
From a fan’s perspective, this is one of the aspects that helped Made in America soar so high in only its second year, already emerging as one of the top festivals on an increasingly crowded circuit. Another trait that made this weekend’s festival such a smashing success was the eclecticism of the lineup, concentrated onto those three stages with little to no filler. One could walk from one side of Philly’s Ben Franklin Parkway, where New Jersey’s Gaslight Anthem were tearing it up, to the other side of the fest where L.A.’s Robert DeLong delivered a star-making performance to thousands of face-painted young fans who embraced the young dance singer-songwriter as if he were already a household name. He is not yet, but based on the levels of excitement that greeted his superb 55-minute set, which included several songs off his own Just Movement CD as well as covers of the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” and Filter’s “Take A Picture,” it won’t be long before DeLong, who estimated to Rolling Stone after his set that he’s played twenty festivals this year, makes the move to festival main stages.
DeLong’s performance was one of the highlights on a day that had seemingly endless standout moments, from Kendrick Lamar to Nero. It started with another L.A. act, Fitz and the Tantrums. The sextet’s Motown anthem “MoneyGrabber” could be heard for blocks as patrons made their way to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. “In many ways, this was an impossible dream for us,” Fitz told Rolling Stone after the band’s set. “We’ve been together for years, slowly building and playing shows, and doing this on our own.”
Patrons crooned along to “Out of My League,” off the band’s More Than Just a Dream album, and obeyed the smooth Fitz as he gave orders from down stage. “Now, I want to see all of you get low,” he said as he and bandmate Noelle Scaggs crouched onstage. “Do it, or I’ll call your shit out,” he said – and he did. “You! Guy in the red hat – I see you – drop it like it’s hot.” The crowd loved it.
The band closed the set with their upbeat and powerful new single “The Walker,” sending fans dancing and whistling to the next performance.
The Gaslight Anthem represented New Jersey with a mid-day set, and proved that they were made for lovers of Bruce Springsteen and rock. Singer Brian Fallon had fans singing and shouting along to the anthemic “45” and later “Howl.” The sun beat down as the band continued, ever the rock stars, clad in denim and t-shirts. Fallon finally thanked the fans at the Rocky Stage and ended the patriotic set with “American Slang.”
Early in the evening, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis dominated the swollen crowd eager to let loose as the heat finally broke. Macklemore emerged wearing a red John Kruk Phillies throwback jersey and told the crowd that he really wasn’t kidding when he said that Philadelphia is one of his favorite cities. “It’s the passion, it’s the architecture,” he said. “But let’s not kid ourselves: it’s really the cheesesteaks.”
The set featured the popular gay rights anthem “Same Love,” and the performance was taken to another level during “Thrift Shop.” A group of dancers, musicians and back-up singers joined the duo for an over-the-top performance that worked perfectly given the setting of the massive crowd.
Nero dominated the Freedom stage after sunset with a powerful set against a haze of fog and a video display. Attendees lost it while the bass dropped and rose, and threw up their arms during “Promises,” which has been featured in HP commercials. He kept the energy going throughout the set, and the high point of the performance was “Into the Past,” from this summer’s Great Gatsby soundtrack.
The energy never ebbed at the dance-heavy Freedom Stage, where GTA delivered a rousing hour-long set that featured a range of songs from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to Latin beats representing their Cuban background. “That’s our job, to take it to the next level,” GTA’s Matt Van Toth told Rolling Stone after their set.
After GTA, DeLong, Jesse Rose and Nero did their job, the EDM love continued as Calvin Harris played to probably the biggest crowd of the night, turning the Liberty Stage into a giant nightclub with dancers that stretched for miles.
At the end of Harris’ crowd-pleasing set of disc, pop and house tunes, fans migrated over to the Rocky Stage for NIN. Playing their third major US festival in the past month, following Lollapalooza and Outside Lands, Reznor and mates have already perfected their new set, playing like a finely tuned machine from the opening “Copy Of A,” one of a handful of songs from the Hesitation Marks album. (The album is due tomorrow, though Reznor joked at one point as he introduced another new track, “I think it’s out right now.”) Fans greeted the new “Came Back Haunted” and “Find My Way” as if the songs were old favorites, though neither brought the mayhem of the frenetic “Wish” and “Gave Up,” two of the set’s standout moments. Other highlights included the crowd scream-alongs “Head Like A Hole” and “Terrible Lie.”
The night closed with a transcendent version of “Hurt” under the Philly skyline, which took on added majesty and depth as the diehard fans around the front of the stage mouthed every word before Reznor said a final thank you and left the stage, closing out an amazing weekend on the perfect note.
Additional reporting by Erin Coulehan