OMAHA — Stinson Park at Aksarben Village was packed Saturday night in the first sellout in the 11 years of the Maha Music Festival.
The 10,000 or so filled the central Omaha park to see Lizzo, the breakout artist of the summer, whose hit, “Truth Hurts” is sitting at No. 4 on the Billboard Top 100 singles chart this week.
The crowd got the song it was there to hear toward the end of Lizzo’s dynamic festival-closing set — with the star wearing a bridal veil, all part of a killer performance by a confident new star.
Lizzo’s new to the charts, but at 31, with three albums to her credit, the singer/rapper is a veteran who knows how to put on a show, engaging with the audience through her music and verbally.
Hitting the stage by herself, she belted out “Cuz I Love You,” the title cut of her hit album, demonstrating she’s a fine soul singer, which she confirmed when she pulled out an Aretha-style piece of “Respect” a couple songs later.
Then she brought out her dancers and tore through the set that showcased her best songs, rapping and dancing on the funny “Boys,” then sitting on a stool to wring the heart out of “Jerome.”
And she talked with the crowd throughout the night, encouraging and supporting “big girls" like her and urging the audience to get involved in politics to create policy that looks like the country, while praising Reps. Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Lizzo wasn’t close to a crowd-drawing star when she was booked by Maha months ago, making the sellout a stroke of good fortune. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how the boutique festival tries to follow her next year.
Lizzo’s entertaining set was a fine way to end the weekend. But the star of the two-day show was Courtney Barnett, whose power trio delivered a killer set of rock ‘n’ roll Friday night.
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The Australian, who started as a garage rocker, has a distinctive style, putting some sunshine on riff-driven Velvet Underground-style songs with her narrative vocals on top.
That approach is perfect as she's a great lyricist — the spare arrangements makes it easy to hear her sometimes Dylanesque smart, funny rambling verse that can lift the mundane into the profound.
But Barnett isn’t a singer/songwriter, she’s a guitar-slinging rocker, stepping out in the middle of songs to work her pick-free, low-slung, left-handed six-string attack.
Barnett’s set spanned her career, following, for example, “Charity,” from last year’s “Tell Me How You Really Feel” with “History Eraser” from her 2013 EP “How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose."
And it was a well-paced affair, with some hammering punk and melodic pop mixed in with the VU stylings.
Barnett ended her 75-minute set shouting “I promise to exploit you" over the buzzing rock ‘n’ roll of “Pedestrian at Best” — which her performance definitely was not. It was, to steal a friend’s review, “incredible.”
My other two top performances came back to back on Saturday — L.A. rapper Duckworth, who delivered an energetic, fun late-afternoon set and the Oh Sees, who brought 65-minutes of churning psychedelic garage punk, sending the crowd on the incline in front of the second stage into a security-worrying frenzy.
Injury Report — there was one significant injury Saturday. Kim Schifino of Matt and Kim may have torn her ACL in an onstage fall. Schifino finished the dance party duo’s show. But she had to be carried from the stage by Matt Johnson and a stagehand and was hospitalized with the knee injury.