The inaugural Pearl-Palooza street festival took over North Pearl Street in Albany on Saturday afternoon. And while it looked as though it might be a bust early on – at least attendance-wise – by the time headliners Rusted Root took the stage shortly after 4:30pm, the street was packed with music fans and the curious, noodle-dancing their way along the hot asphalt and crowded sidewalks.
“We’re from Madison, Wisconsin – the Albany of the Midwest,” declared Locksley guitarist Kai Kennedy during their crackling opening set. With Sam Bair fueling the beat from behind his paint-splattered drum kit, the quartet fired up 45 minutes of straight-up power-pop. The phrase “I love you” (or a close variant) seemed to occur in the lyrics to nearly all of the 14 hooked-filled songs, from the opening “21st Century” to the closing “On Fire.” But that was just fine – what’s they lacked into lyrical sophistication, they more than made up for with contagious enthusiasm and high energy.
South African trio Civil Twilight took an opposite approach – churning out U2-inspired, straight-faced art rock, beginning with “Perfect Stranger,” which featured Andrew McKeller playing his guitar with a violin bow. “Trouble” was slinky in a decidedly off-center manner, as McKellar peeled off shards of brittle hyper-strummed guitar chords. It was his brother Steven McKeller who had the little girls screaming, however, as he handled the lead vocal chores, as well as bass and keyboards.
“We like to think of Pearl-Palooza as the Gateway to New York State,” declared We Are Scientists bassist Chris Cain. And yes, he was kidding. But the Brooklyn-based trio played the sharpest set of the day, melding the humor and charm of Locksley with the musical chops of Civil Twilight and a fresh attitude that at times brought to mind the wit of Sparks.
Rusted Root hasn’t changed all that much since their mid-’90s heyday, despite several personnel changes. Founding members Michael Glabicki and Liz Berlin are still at the helm, and they managed to get the crowd caught up in the jam-band-does-world-music whirl of “Welcome to My Party” (a ballad that built to a dramatic climax), “Dance in the Middle” (with Berlin strapping on a frottoir to add a bit of bayou spice) and, of course, their signature song, “Send My On My Way,” despite the scorching heat. Surprisingly enough, it was a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” (from their new album, “Stereo Rodeo”) that proved to be the highlight of their fest-closing set.
Co-sponsored by radio station WEQX-FM and a coalition of Pearl Street businesses, the six-hour Pearl-Palooza took on a notoriously tough holiday weekend, and gave folks another reason – in addition to the Empire State Plaza fireworks – to visit downtown on the Fourth of July weekend.
And the best way to escape the heat and sun at the fest was to duck into one of the five bars along the street that provided free indoor afternoon performances (by the likes of the Brian Kaplan Band, Palatypus, Black Mountain Symphony and others) during the breaks of the main-stage action.