The Mo Pop Festival settled into its new home at Hart Plaza on Saturday, filling downtown Detroit with an eclectic array of sounds on the riverfront.
British band Glass Animals — much more prominent now than during its 2016 Mo Pop appearance — closed out Saturday’s bill with an ebullient 75-minute, 13-song set drawing heavily from the hit album “Dreamland.”
The much-awaited performance by Dave Bayley and company was marred only by a conspicuously subdued sound mix, soft enough that it was easy to hear fan conversations several feet away. Crowd chants of “turn it up!” and “louder, louder!” rang out between songs, although they didn’t seem to register with the band itself.
A Mo Pop spokesperson later told the Free Press the audio problems were at least caused by an “engineering hiccup.”
About 15,000 descended on Hart Plaza for Mo Pop’s return, according to a fest official.
The boutique indie-rock and hip-hop fest was back from a three-year pandemic break while migrating a mile east from West Riverfront Park, where it had been staged since 2015. That site is being transformed into a multiuse park, and Mo Pop’s planned move to Historic Fort Wayne was nixed because of new preservation efforts there.
So Hart Plaza — familiar home to signature traditions such as the Movement electronic music fest and the African World Festival — became the new digs for Mo Pop, part of a national stable of AEG events including Coachella, Stagecoach and the New Orleans jazz fest.
This was the third site for Mo Pop, which was launched in 2013 at Freedom Hill in Sterling Heights.
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On a gorgeous summer day where chill vibes reigned across the site, the fest featured two stages named for classic Detroit rock theaters — the Grande and Eastown — and a staggered schedule so there were no overlapping sets.
The Grande, the bigger of the two, was situated on the main plaza adjacent to the main bowl, with the Eastown positioned along the park’s concourse parallel to Jefferson Avenue.
Many of the fest’s long-running side attractions made the journey to Hart Plaza: the food trucks, the arcade with retro video games and pinball machines, even the big “MO POP” sign along the riverfront end.
Mo Pop has made a name through the years introducing big Detroit crowds to rising acts, and there were plenty of them on Saturday’s bill, including several — Wet Leg, Horsegirl, Dayglow — who were making their Motor City premieres.
A whiff of ’90s nostalgia was in the air early in the afternoon, thanks to the aloof alt-rock of young Chicago trio Horsegirl or the Breeders-saturated sound of England’s Wet Leg, who took the stage to a “Lord of the Rings” theme.
A pair of Detroit acts kicked off the day: Charity, playing the first festival of her career, delighted the arriving crowd with a warm neo-soul and an off-the-beaten-path Stevie Wonder cover (“Jesus Children of America”) . Singer-rapper Whu Else, who emerged during the pandemic, made his stage debut, delivering a head-turning set that amounted to a musical collage.
With his colorful keyboards, stomping beats and sing-song lines, the Detroit newcomer at times came off like a hip-hop Andrew WK
Many of the day’s visiting artists were hitting Detroit in the heart of the touring season. Beach Bunny’s Lili Trifilio apologized in advance for the state of her voice de ella — she’d done a lot of “screaming and singing” in recent days, she told the crowd. The warning was justified, though her ragged vocals by Ella did not detract entirely from the band’s sunshine-coated brooding, including the viral hit “Prom Queen.”
The afternoon schedule ran smoothly beyond an apparent tech delay for Ernest Greene and his band Washed Out, who wound up playing just a half-hour of their lush and sparkling chillwave.
The day featured three acts who’d trekked to Detroit after their Friday sets at Chicago’s Lollapalooza fest. They included Norwegian singer-songwriter Girl in Red (Marie Ulven), whose high-velocity, hair-flailing performance galvanized the crowd with songs such as “We Fell in Love in October” and “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend.”
Exhorting the crowd to bounce, she said she’s observed that “the post-pandemic crowd is a little tense, and we’ve got to change that.”
Dayglow, the project helmed by Texas artist Sloan Struble, was bright and earnest in his embrace of old-school pop sounds, serving up his homemade hits (“Can I Call You Tonight?”), mashing up “Medicine” with Lipps Inc. ‘s “Funkytown” and sealing the ’80s immersion with a cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
In some ways, Hart Plaza made for a more compact, manageable experience. Being in the concrete heart of downtown Detroit deepened Mo Pop’s urban feel, and it was nice to lose the audio slapback that afflicted West Riverfront, where sound bounced off the big postal facility nearby.
But it also brought some congestion issues, particularly at the Eastown stage.
Mo Pop will continue Sunday with a full day of music, including a fest-closing performance from Big Sean, as the rapper plays his first hometown concert in more than five years.
Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.