Popped! hasn't been an easy thing to get a grip on. First it was this CMJ-ish deal (or SXSW-esque, if you've never been there) — mostly smaller shows at venues all over the city and local bands like Hail Social and Golden Ball carrying the load. It was not all that different from this year's edition of the F/M Fest. In its second year, Popped! really popped: a big giant open-air show on Drexel's campus with Mates of States and Vampire Weekend playing down the sun and, the next night, a Capitol Years/Daniel Johnston collaboration at World Café Live. The following year, really big plans fell through and Popped! ended up attaching itself to the Second Street Festival in NoLibs, for a free, laid-back outdoor feel. Last year Popped! didn't happen at all.
Now this mixed-up festival of a thousand dreams is back, and finally seems to have the backing and the focus to match its vision. Not a ton of locals on the bill, but two days of nationally known music and comedy acts on three stages and lots of food. Due to rain, the ambitious plan to hold it at FDR PArk had to be scrapped. The new location is Temple's Liacouras Center (here's the official schedule). For more information, go to poppedphiladelphia.com or electricfactory.info.
Best bets: The Shins and The Hold Steady are guaranteed to be a good time. The former feeds the brain, the latter gets the heart drunk. Just judging by its headliners, Friday's about rocking you.
All you sniffling indie kids: Like Animal Collective, but wish it was less of a Noah's Ark shit-show? Try Panda Bear. The Collective's frontbear delivers all the poppy, trippy weirdness, but likes it way more electronic and groovy — or did, until Tomboy, released in the spring, when things got harder and heavier on the guitars. The thing about Detroit's Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is that, despite the prevailing ironicality and the trucker hats, they actually make sweet little unprecious pop songs — some tender Paul Simon-ish stuff — but with just enough garage edge to forgive their Judah Friedlander aesthetic. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart will rock you even more gently. Some are shortlisting Belong as one of the top albums of 2011, and the title track makes a strong case.
The Brits: Still riding high on its self-titled debut that dropped back in February, Yuck likes to keep things noisy and boisterous, a la Dino Jr. Elbow is proggy, Brit-poppy, à la itself. (They've been around since '97.) The Joy Formidable 's lead singer/guitarist is named Ritzy Bryan, but it's actually a really good band.
Wild Cards: Company of Thieves, Miniature Tigers, Dead Confederate.
Best Bets: Saturday's all about dancing. Pretty Lights and Girl Talk both specialize in beat-matching, sample-hoarding, hip-hop reprogramming and crowd moving. Denver's Pretty Lights gets points for actual instruments. Pittsburgh's Girl Talk scores big by mixing Black Sabbath and "Dougie" in the same track. Catch 'em both before they get the death penalty for large-scale copyright violations. Charles Bradley, aka "The Screaming Eagle of Soul," will move you with his revivalist funk. Don't count out hip-hop pioneer Rakim, either.
All you sniffling indie kids: New Jersey's Titus Andronicus is just about the most earnest and sneakily ambitious rock band in America?. They won't leave the stage until everybody's sweaty, bloody and bruised. Popped! veterans Mates of State have a new album, and it's just another brilliantly catchy batch of synth-pop. Can't forget the Cults, either.
WTF: Mark my words: One day it's going to come out that Kreayshawn isn't really a young punk street-talkin', hard-frontin', MC Lyte-dressin' MC from Oakland but a thirtysomething grad student/performance artist from San Fran working on a Ph.D. on "the acceptance and ambiguity of like gender roles and culture-leeching in modern American art and shit" and suddenly it's all going to make sense.
Live from Philly: Check out our finest Icelandic import, Patty Crash, a dance-punk hip-hopper we need to hear more from. And don't be surprised if she and Nikki Jean turn up in each other's sets. The always reliable Black Landlord will rock and roll, ?uestlove will spin some and Sun Airway will do its bliss-out indie-pop thing.
Wild Cards: Foster the People, The Budos Band, Anamanaguchi.
Popped! Music Festival, Fri.-Sat., Sept. 23-24, $59.50 one-day or $110 two-day pass. The new location is Temple's Liacouras Center.