Once the sun was completely out mid-day, we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect setting to kick off the proper Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores. And when acts like The Breeders are playing sets as early as 1:30, and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James is taking the stage at 3:30, it should be a sign to get excited for what’s to come.
Early on, the migratory beach crowd had all the staples. Outlandish costumes? Green Man, check. Mrs. Claus in a bikini, check. Flags galore? Check. Stumbling, high-fiving bros? We’d have to wait for the Kings of Leon set to check that one off.
By James’ set, the crowd was growing full-force, with many people trickling in either after work or a long drive to Gulf Shores, but it wasn’t until The Shins’ 7 p.m. show that this thing felt huge. And by then, the thing felt like Hangout as it always is (and should be): Good music on a beautiful beach setting. That simple.
The reunited “classic” lineup of Kim and Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs and Jim Macpherson played to a small-but-enthusiastic early afternoon crowd (seriously, whose idea was it to bill them at 1:30?), and they didn’t disappoint. They were the bearers of good news—announcing that Twin Sister, who missed their earlier set after getting into an accident—were OK, and they trotted out their cover of The Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun” late in the set.
Toots and the Maytals
These reggae legends fit in perfectly to the mid-afternoon beach setting, with lead singer Frederick “Toots” Hibbert sounding as charismatic and energetic as ever. The group played a few unexpected covers (including John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”) before performing their classic “54-46 Was My Number.”
While James’ main act, My Morning Jacket, might rely on grand live shows that sprawl over hours, the opposite can probably be said for the songs on his new album, where subtlety and detail can be key. So when you’re touring an album of that nature on the festival circuit, you’ve gotta adapt.
All of James’ wacky, lovable personality traveled with him to Hangout. He had his Gibson Flying V mounted on what looked like a metal rod so he could take double duty as singer/songwriter and wandering, flailing frontman. The band was tight, and it sounded good stretching its legs around James’ Regions of Light and Sounds of God, extending and jamming on many of the cuts to the delight of the dreded dudes next to me. Maybe the perfect venue for James‘ solo stuff isn’t the festival circuit, but new listeners couldn’t tell.
If you’ve never seen Passion Pit before, you might find yourself questioning how the band’s music will translate live. The answer? An early-evening dance party. Singer Michael Angelakos was in great form, eager to lead the celebration on Gossamer hits like “Take A Walk” as well as old favorites like “Sleepyhead” and “Little Secrets.”
With The Shins making festival appearances all over last year, their Hangout appearance felt like somewhat of a victory lap for the Port of Morrow cycle. But that didn’t make it a bad thing. The band played a crowd-pleasing set that hit pretty evenly across their four-album career, with the crowd going bonkers over what you’d expect: “Sleeping Lessons,” “Australia,” “Caring is Creepy” and “New Slang”—and it just wouldn’t have felt right if the person next to me didn’t say “This is like that song from Garden State? I have that soundtrack and I just love it.”
I do like the band’s current setup, and the three mainstays—frontman James Mercer, drummer (and member of Modest Mouse) Joe Plummer and indie superproducer Richard Swift—have built up a certain chemistry over the years. But with as clean as they can be, once-sloppy, reverb blanketed tracks from Oh, Inverted World can come off as totally sterile live (I’m looking at you, “One By One All Day.”) But, come on, there’s something to be said when you can watch (and be entertained along with thousands of others) by a man who was a darling of the underground a decade ago.
Check out photographer Mark C. Austin’s images from day one of Hangout Fest as well as photos from the Thursday Kick-Off Party in the gallery below.