Despite the threat of torrential downpour constantly looming overhead, Saturday at Big Guava proved that Tampa maybe, just maybe, can hang as a go-to city for a big name music fest. Ponchos out in full force and music emanating from four wildly different stages, the day progressed untroubled as big name acts like Haim, Tegan and Sara, and Vampire Weekend brought an easygoing vibe pleasant enough to make you want to extend a middle finger to the dark sky when all was said and done.
It all began with Bear Hands, a Brooklyn four-piece playing the small Orchard Stage for an early afternoon set. Their brand of indie pop is seemingly average, but just weird and varied enough to keep the interest of the 100 or so watching. Tracks from their latest Distraction and Burning Bush Supper Club sounded laser precise and irrefutably catchy, but these guys looked so disinterested, I wanted to jump the barrier and violently shake each one of them, yelling “You’re getting paid to play music! Next to carnival rides! Get it together!” But I didn't, instead walking to the amphitheater to catch Haim.Whatever barbiturates were in Bear Hands’ Heinekens surely didn’t make their way to Haim’s. The California sisters-led outfit is easily one of the most buzzed-about acts on the bill, and they wasted no time proving their worth to the fervent crowd packed inside the amphitheater. Touting a combined weight of, like, 200 pounds, these three sounded triumphant and carefree as they moved through a malformed and all the more enjoyable set of electro-tinged pop and golden era rock.
Following Haim, the next couple hours melded into a multi-performance blur with sets from obnoxiously terrible (Macklmeore runoff Hoodie Allen) and the slightly less terrible (Blue October) followed by a very questionable ride on a "roller coaster" that looked like it was transported from a haunted Stalin-era theme park.
We ventured over to the amphitheater stage for an early evening set from Tegan and Sara. Their deadpan banter ("Sarah just bought a house in Boca Raton with the money she made from this song") does just as much to entertain as the music does itself, as the sisters rifled through a career retrospective of songs from "Walking With a Ghost" to "The Con" and "Closer." The whole thing began to feel kind of tame and calculated, especially after Haim's floor-wiping performance just hours before, but maybe it was just the leftover adrenaline from being nearly decapitated by the aforementioned sketchy-coaster.
Inside the Expo Hall, Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience took the stage and ripped into a freakishly precise cover of "Rock n' Roll." The driving guitar, the skull crushing drums, and Robert Plant's high-pitched howls were all matched note for note by a troupe of dudes who looked like they all decided to start their midlife crisis at once (sunglasses inside, anyone?). Dead-on renditions of "Hey, Hey What Can I Do," "Black Dog," and "Immigrant Song" followed with Bonham taking time between songs to humbly thank the crowd and pay homage to his late father. As the closest thing most of us will get to experiencing Zeppelin live, Bonham's act carried a huge expectation they diligently fulfilled for the 20ish minutes I got to witness it.
In terms of appeal, a reunited Outkast is a tough headlining act to follow, but Vampire Weekend drew a respectably fervent crowd by the time they took the Amphitheater stage around 8:30 p.m. Clad in camouflage shorts and a white-button up, frontman Ezra Koenig looked like he'd just woken up from a nap on some picturesque campus lawn as he strolled onto the stage and quickly ripped into the rockabilly-tinged "Diane Young" off their latest Modern Vampires of the City. Their delicate sound took on a whole new form inside the Amphitheater. Stripped of a volume knob, nimble tracks like "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" turn into massive declarations as the crowd danced and sang along. Much of this comes from the hands of multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, who handles every bleep, bloop and miscellaneous sound (of which you learn there are a LOT) from one regular-sized and one comically small keyboard setup at the front of the stage. When he wasn't on the keys, he was dutifully hunched over a guitar playing through all of the other parts and masterfully securing his MVP status for the night.
With little fanfare, the foursome played through an even spread of songs from their three-album discography, ramping things up with tracks like"A-Punk" and "Campus," then bringing it down with a massive singalong to "Horchata" and a moving take on "Obvious Bicycle" to close out their set. Mildly buzzed and mostly dry, I left feeling unjustly victorious. After a (mostly) great day of live music that looked like it'd be anything but at the start, BIg Guava Saturday held up to show the worth of another a big name music fest in Tampa. Here's to next year.