by David Klein
Night 2 of Yep Roc 15 was power pop time. Following an opening-day bill packed with heavy hitters that resulted in the Cat’s Cradle being crammed almost to capacity, the mood on Friday was more subdued, the vibe less celebratory and more perfunctory as the show rumbled to life at its appointed 8 p.m. time. Nevertheless, loquacious host John Wesley Harding sounded excited as he introduced the Mayflies USA, a revered local act that has broken up but occasionally reunites.
Before getting started, principal vocalist Matt McMichaels declared, “We want you to know that we’re still the same.” The crowd received this news warmly. The band then launched into a 30-minute set that would have made Big Star and Teenage Fanclub proud. The Big Apple tribute “NYC” took on added meaning, being that the Yankees had advanced to the second round of the baseball playoffs a half-hour earlier, but it’s doubtful that the band intended it as such.
Between bands, Mr. Wesley Harding once again bantered with the comedian Eugene Mirman, including an inspired bit about their backstage rider, which included stipulations like “I need there to be an elderly woman backstage who needs help setting up her Netflix account.”
Next up was Cheyenne Marie Mize, a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter from Louisville who is one of the label’s recent signees. Performing with a bass player and drummer, Mize alternated between keyboards and a beautiful hollow-body Epiphone guitar. Her songs vacillated from perky indie rock to lugubrious mediations that best described as “Sundays-esque.” But she proved capable of rocking as well, especially toward the end of her set, which built to a finish that sounded something like a junior PJ Harvey blues rave-up.
Indie folk troubadour Josh Rouse, a Nebraskan who has relocated to Valencia, Spain, confessed to profound jet lag following his 20-hour flight to the Triangle. Rouse played an intimate set, perched on a stool, wearing a fedora and accompanied only by his lively acoustic guitar. Revisiting songs from his deep catalog, including a lilting take on “Islands,” from his Yep Roc debut, Turista, Rouse conveyed the literate folk of Paul Simon, while the fedora recalled the erstwhile Garfunkel collaborator as well. Seeing Rouse offstage later in the evening, I couldn’t help noticing that the singer even resembled Simon in his diminutiveness.
Sloan, the 21-year-old Canadian quartet, provided the evening’s best set. What they brought was the volume, the energy, and the snarl that truly seizes a room of hundreds on a Friday night. Fronted by Chris Murphy, who resembled a cross between Paul Kantner and army-jacket-era John Lennon, the band blasted through a set that found each of its members, all of whom write their own songs, taking at least one lead vocal. The band played with precision and passion, hooks and harmonies, along with well deployed blasts of feedback and un-ironic demonstrations of hands-in-the-air clapping. Set closer “Money City Maniacs” was especially incendiary.
After Sloan left the stage, the crowd thinned out noticeably. Still, penultimate performer Liam Finn, son of Crowded House’s Neil Finn, took the lead, accompanied by singer and occasional percussionist Eliza Jane. A frenetic, athletic performer with a Shakespearean beard, Finn opened with a crazed number that found him howling, bashing away at the drums (which he would do throughout his set) and playing over knotty guitar loops. An indefatigable performer, Finn ended by breaking out what looked like a portable theremin for a feedback-filled climax, providing the evening’s loudest moments.
Fountains of Wayne, Grammy-winning makers of postgraduate suburban power pop, closed the evening with an energetic set that ranged from the punky “Denise” to the gentle “Valley Winter Song.” Inevitably, “Stacy’s Mom” served as an encore. As the set-closing “Radiation Vibe” stretched out into a medley of loveable yet cheesy ‘70s radio fodder, the crowd’s response grew rapturous. Special praise goes to lead guitarist Jody Porter, who added subtle whammy-bar-abetted sound puffs and stinging leads on his gorgeous sea-green Gretsch Country Gentleman, while augmenting the band’s modest sartorial aspirations with his classic rock-star look.