Our blog staff writer Matt Karas recently got the chance to attend Mo Pop Festival, read his recap below.

I recently attended Mo Pop Festival in Detroit, MI. Mo Pop is an alternative music festival I enjoy because of its eclectic lineup and great performances from artists I know well and others I haven’t heard. I still count M83’s set last year as one of my favorites of all time, so I had high expectations coming into this year’s festival to see who would surprise me and who would live up to the hype. The five winners of this year’s Mo Pop are as follows:

 

  1. Solange

I saw Solange Knowles live for the first time when she came to Miami and I can confidently say it was the best performance I have ever seen, so I knew what to expect going into her set, but that didn’t make it any less glorious. Watching the setup of her stage showed some insight into how much of a perfectionist Solange is, as every single aspect from the ground up was precisely organized. These fine details carry on into how Solange performs, between the choreography of her and her band members, the wardrobe, lighting, and how the set list weaves from one song to another, it’s like watching a moving sculpture. Her flawless album A Seat at the Table moves at a slower pace, but she makes it sound powerful and danceable in a live setting. Seeing a performer so refined in their art is as enjoyable as it is inspiring.

 

  1. The Shadowboxers

While some artists might have had screaming audiences that gave a performance energy, The Shadowboxers came into a crowd that was mostly unfamiliar with their work. Still, you could never have guessed that because the infectious music and enthusiasm of the band had every person in the crowd dancing. Their performance had it all – stage presence, choreography, guitar solos, hip thrusting, and lots and lots of falsetto. The Shadowboxers, after realizing they left a song too soon, ended the performance with a stellar Prince cover that had even the security guards swaying. Once they left the stage, I didn’t hear a single person coming away from their performance without praising it. The Nashville-based band mentioned this being their first performance in Detroit, but I sure hope it won’t be the last. I’ll be keeping a close eye on whatever The Shadowboxers come out with from now on.

 

  1. Arkells

Once the woman next to me on the barricade mentioned that this was her tenth time seeing Arkells, I knew I was going to be in for a pleasant surprise. Even though I didn’t know any songs of theirs, seeing a crowd go crazy for a band and then seeing the band reciprocate the energy was a treat. Even before the halfway point of the performance, lead vocalist Max Kerman had already gone over the barricade and into the crowd. Between songs, the band shared personal anecdotes about their music and how it related to Detroit, which made them lovable and made this performance feel special. The audience interaction from the band was some of the best I had seen, and that alone was enough to make me a fan. I’m admittedly not the biggest fan of rock music, but seeing such talented performers made me love it.

 

  1. Foster the People

Just seeing Foster the People was a win for me. I have wanted to see them live ever since Torches came out in 2011, and their great set was just the cherry on top. They did a great job of combining the songs from their most recent album Sacred Hearts Club, which was a significant change in sound for the band, with many of their older songs. The band’s energy was high and it carried through to the audience. The change in genres was abrasive at times, but the set list had one thing in common — every song was meant to make you dance. Shortly before performing the last song of the night, Mark Foster made a quick statement on how music helps bring people together in times of turmoil, and it was evident when observing the crowd. I may have heard better songs during the two-day festival, but hearing a crowd of thousands of people whistle along to “Pumped Up Kicks” was my favorite moment of the weekend.

 

  1. Phantogram

Phantogram is a band I’ve known for a while, but only a few of their songs have stuck with me. However, the ones that have stuck with me are some of my favorites. They may not have played all the songs I wanted them to — I was hoping to hear at least one Big Grams collaboration live – but Phantogram rounds out the winner’s list because every song I heard was much better live. Something about their music’s fusion of rock, electronic, and trip hop translates so well in a live setting and made me reconsider how I listened to their music. Not only was their music more sonically powerful, but their performance of the songs were more energetic as well. They had interesting visuals, a towering stage setup, and flickering lights. Lead vocalist Sarah Barthel even looked the part of “fierce female singer” with a blonde bob and leather jacket. Phantogram’s performance made me revisit the music I might have skipped over, and anyone who can make me do that is a winner in my eyes.

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