Haim, homegrown talent bring heat to Mo Pop Festival

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

It was a hot, dusty day at Mo Pop on Saturday, the first day of the two-day rock, pop and hip-hop festival in West Riverfront Park along the Detroit River.

A healthy crowd of thousands, mostly twentysomethings, braved sweltering temps well into the 90s for the all-day music fest, now in its fourth year. Mo Pop continues Sunday and wraps with a headlining set by French electronic rock group M83.

Last year’s festival was marred by rainstorms that flooded the fest grounds and made the park a sopping mess: Mo Pop Soup, if you will. It was the opposite problem on Saturday, as the summer drought rendered the once-green space a barren dustbowl, which created clouds of dust that whipped through the fest and over the crowd. When that dust and dirt met with exposed skin already covered in sweat, many festgoers left with a thin layer of grime on their bodies.

But hey, that’s rock and roll, right? No one ever left Coachella or Bonnaroo without dealing with some dust issues, and it’s nothing a few good live acts can’t cure.

Saturday’s best set came from Haim, the California sister trio that played the day’s penultimate spot and brought a loose, spirited sense of fun to the fest. The group’s hour-long performance – all of the day’s sets ran on time and the scheduling was tightly executed – was focused on the group’s 2013 album “Days are Gone” and featured one new song, the sing-along “Give Me Just a Little of Your Love.” There was also a catchy cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U,” sung by bassist Este Haim, who makes the best bass face in music today.

The sisters, augmented by a drummer and a keyboard player, were playing only their second Michigan concert, following a 2013 opening spot for Vampire Weekend at the Fillmore Detroit. But they made fast friends with the crowd, and Este told a story about a diabetic episode she underwent earlier in the day while on Michigan Ave. and said a stranger helped save her life.

Bay Area rapper G-Eazy also had plenty to say about Michigan during his headliner set, reminiscing about an early show he played here that paid him $6,000, money he used to bankroll his first mixtape and get his career rolling. His performance was energetic and the crowd was responsive, but much of G-Eazy’s material fell into tired hip-hop clichés that his sterling live presence couldn’t overcome.

Michigan-born pop singer Borns stoked the crowd earlier in the evening with a lithe set of bouncy pop, topped by an effervescent reading of his hit “Electric Love” and a cover of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets.” Borns, born Garrett Borns and hailing from Grand Haven, played up to the crowd by wearing a pink cut-off T-shirt with “Detroit” written across the front, and he embodied the homegrown, boutique feel of the Mo Pop brand.

Another Michigan talent, Flint singer and rapper Tunde Olaniran, caught a break when L.A. punk band Fidlar ran into travel issues on Friday and had to cancel its afternoon set. Olaniran, who was set to open the festival at 12:45 p.m., got bumped up to a prime 5:45 p.m. set time and played to a much deeper crowd than he would have, who were treated to his genre-bending mix of R&B, hip-hop and electronic music. Buffering his set with clips of the 1996 thriller “The Craft” (to which he mouthed along), Olaniran gave fans an earful with his limber vocals and an eyeful with his choreographed dance moves. His set peaked with the closer, “Namesake,” when he was joined by six backup dancers for a stage-wide throwdown.

Meanwhile, Chicago rockers Twin Peaks were an early afternoon highlight, energizing the stage with a youthful, disheveled but inspired set of rock. Not too long ago a festival like Mo Pop would be filled with bands like Twin Peaks, but in a way the band’s set provided the most pure rock moments of the day, at a time when the definition of “rock” is in a period of transition, to say the least. Watching the band was a throwback to watching a young band on a small stage at Lollapalooza, something most in the audience – and certainly the members of Twin Peaks themselves – were too young to experience.

The Mo Pop grounds were rounded out by food trucks and craft beer vendors, while the areas in front of the stages were set up with far too much space set aside for VIPs, which remained mostly empty while general admission crowds were pushed back and crowded around the barricades separating the two areas.