Fun in the sun at EarthFest

By Luke O'Neil
Globe Correspondent / June 1, 2009
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When people throw a party in your honor it's customary to show up looking your best. On that front Mother Nature wowed a crowd of thousands at the Radio 92.9 EarthFest on Saturday at the Hatch Shell with a stellar performance.

The musical acts were pretty good too. With sets from '90s artists Shawn Mullins, Seven Mary Three, the Lemonheads, and Soul Asylum, the bill played out like a nostalgia-minded blast from the recent past.

Mullins stripped down for a solo acoustic set that allowed his narrative folk pop songs to unfurl. His cover of "House of the Rising Sun" was chilling. "You don't see storytellers anymore," he said by way of introducing his 1998 hit "Lullaby." "As unhip as that is, that's what I do." All harmonic finger picking and spoken-word verses, his voice cut across the sun-drenched field with resounding clarity.

Meanwhile, on the family stage nearby, a preteen brother and sister guitar and drums duo called Michael and Marisa had a few usually jaded jaws dropping and toddlers spinning circles.

Back on the main stage Seven Mary Three were tuning guitars that could've been older than those two combined. The band impressed with a set of muscular Southern rock anthems and gritty meat-and-potatoes riffing. Their swampy bass grooves and singer Jason Ross's growl fired up shirtless dudes of all ages throughout the crowd, particularly on their hit "Cumbersome."

Boston's own the Lemonheads and mercurial frontman Evan Dando turned in a less enthusiastic effort. Tuning up for a tour in support of a forthcoming record, the band spanned its 20-plus years with fan favorites like "It's a Shame About Ray." And yet for all their success their fuzzy jangle-pop still seems best suited for a smaller club. As an unimpressed Dando sang on the song of the same name, "I'm not the outdoor type."

Alt-rock survivors Soul Asylum fared better at making the outdoor space feel like a sweaty, beer-soaked club with their high energy bar rock. On older tracks like "Somebody to Shove" and the more recent, country-tinged "Stand Up and Be Strong" the band ripped through a riff-heavy, harmony-driven set. On the poignant, crowd-pleasing "Black Gold," frontman Dave Pirner sang, "Let's fill up the tank and go for a ride." Sounds like fun, but maybe not today. It is EarthFest after all.

RADIO 92.9 EARTHFEST At: the Hatch Shell, Saturday

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