Basilica Block Party review

This year’s lineup at Basilica Block Party, an annual event benefitting the Basilica of St. Mary, was one of its most diverse in recent memory. Spread over three stages, Friday’s sold-out show featured acts more characteristic of sponsoring radio station Cities 97—Nate Ruess of fun., Mat Kearney, and headliner Weezer, to name a few—Saturday’s roster promised everything from the dance-soul fusion of Fitz and the Tantrums to the experimental rock of indie legends Wilco, who might not get as much air time on the station’s pop-heavy playlist. However, this divergence from the mainstream (not to mention a few threatening clouds) did nothing to deter the thousands of enthusiastic fans who came out to witness a fun, unexpected night of music.

An early highlight was former Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis’ rollicking set that catered to new and old fans alike. The charismatic Lewis wowed the crowd on the nearly 10-minute blues/rock epic “The Next Messiah” and used her powerful voice to great effect on vintage Rilo Kiley tracks like “A Better Son/Daughter” and the title track to her 2006 solo album Acid Tongue, which closed the set.

On the smaller Preferred One stage facing the Basilica, newcomers Echosmith made a name for themselves with a radio-ready country-tinged sound and lead singer Sydney Sierota’s penchant for joking around with the crowd. An unexpected and barely recognizable cover of Talking Head’s “This Must Be the Place” hinted at the band’s potential, as did the crowd’s response to hit single “Cool Kids.” Pitted against the fairly green band on the Sun Country stage was veteran singer-songwriter Jason Isbell, whose similar southern-inspired sound was made distinctive by Isbell’s meditative lyrics and capable guitar playing, most apparent on “Cover Me Up” and closing song “Super 8,” respectively.

As the two-day festival’s headliner, Wilco was highly anticipated and the band’s over-90-minute set did not disappoint. Unafraid to experiment with atonal sounds, the band brought out some of its deepest cuts and counterbalanced them with crowd favorites. Playing multiple songs from its acclaimed 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, “Kamera” and “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” were early highlights, the latter eliciting singing from a crowd heavy with die-hard fans. The band’s almost mechanical professionalism was offset by the high-energy performance by Fitz & the Tantrums, which reached its peak with “L.O.V.” The song ended with a lengthy saxophone solo and frontman Michael Fitzpatrick’s tireless dancing, and the band closed out its set with two well-known singles, “Moneygrabber” and “The Walker.”

On a night full of seasoned professionals mixed with newer arrivals on their way up, the closing night of this year’s Basilica Block Party was consistently entertaining, and this year rivaled competing radio station 89.3 The Current-sponsored Rock the Garden in terms of lineup diversity. Here’s hoping the trend continues!

following photos by brent nelson