By ANDERS SMITH LINDALL
I've spent most of Friday in the north end of the park, where the schedule in the early going confirmed the conundrum of booking such a gargantuan event: You can offer something to everyone, but it's practically impossible to develop any sort of theme or particular aesthetic. Acts on the two main stages spanned scuzzy melodic punk (Wavves), Latin party music (Los Amigos Invisibles), classic soul (Mavis Staples), southern rock (Drive-By Truckers) and chiming power pop (the New Pornographers).
Music got under way with Wavves, vehicle of guitarist and singer Nathan Williams. Though he's garnered underground buzz for more than a year now, this gig showed the strides he's made with a killer new rhythm section. The hirsute dudes Stephen Pope (on drums) and Billy Hayes (bass) used to back the late snot-rocker Jay Reatard, and here they added dirt and urgency to Williams' tossed-off punk-pop.
Los Amigos Invisibles stirred its crowd to dance with a good-time blend of funk guitar, disco beats and the rhythms of the band's native Venezuela. When Julio Briceño sang, "I like to move it," he was speaking for the flag-waving masses at his feet.
Her recent records "We Won't Ever Turn Back" and "Live: Hope at the Hideout" have shown the Chicago native gospel and pop legend Mavis Staples at the peak of a late-career creative renaissance, but with her new disc she's shooting for broader commercial appeal. Due in September, "You Are Not Alone" was produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and will be released by Anti Records, both strong crossover credentials among the demographic that takes its music cues from NPR. That crowd was out in force today; by far the biggest ovation of Staples' set came when she introduced Tweedy, who strummed a little rhythm guitar and added backing vocals to a pair of songs he wrote for her. The new tunes ranged from a capella church fare to dusty soul and swamp rock; Mavis also pleased her apparent new converts with reliable romps through the Staple Singers standby "I'll Take You There" and her classic rendition of the Band's "The Weight." Here's hoping this treasure of Chicago and American music gets a greater share of the acclaim she so richly deserves.
The afternoon's easiest pivot, stylistically speaking, found Mavis Staples followed by Muscle Shoals progeny Patterson Hood and his guitar battalion, the Drive-By Truckers. The band has earned its chops as a sort of thinking man's Lynyrd Skynyrd, and they delivered plenty of meat-and-potatoes Southern rock shot through with hip-swiveling soul. But the best tunes in this set came from Hood's sidekick, Mike Cooley, who delivered memorable turns of phrase ("she woke up sunny-side down") in a deep, broad, classic-country voice.
Over on the awkwardly named Bloggie stage, I tried hard to care about Cymbals Eat Guitars, a four-piece likened by its many admirers to Pavement. Its sound approximated something of those slack-pop antiheroes, at least in terms of a shared propensity for puncturing melodies with paroxysms of fuzz, but I didn't hear the hooks or wit.
Back on the big stage, New Pornographers turned out a fine set of the chiming, wordy pop that's the band's familiar stock in trade. Featuring fellow songwriters Neko Case and Dan Bejar under the benevolent command of frontman Carl Newman, the band seemed revitalized on its latest album, "Together." Here they sounded confidently expert in turning out the cascading harmonies of "Testament to Youth In Verse," and the precise, pealing melodies of "All the Old Showstoppers" lived up to the song's name.