The first band I wanted to see on Saturday wasn’t until late in the afternoon, so I trekked around some early morning mud with Andy while Zack figured out how to get in the gates, and we caught a bit of Phantogram, a band I’d wanted to see during South by Southwest. They sounded quite beautiful, although we rolled our eyes at lead singer Sarah Barthel whispering, “Thank you,” and, “This is a new song,” (to which Andy retorted, “I guess it’s a secret that it’s new.”) The group only held our attention for a few tunes, and although they sound like something I wouldn’t mind dancing around to at a club, the band suffered from another case of, “Wrong venue, wrong time slot.”
I watched Fitz and the Tantrums with Andy and Zack for a bit, but already knew I wasn’t a huge fan after Fitz’ (Michael Fitzpatrick’s) outburst at South by Southwest two years ago — he got incredibly upset about being cut off during the group’s set after the band took ages to set up due to technical difficulties, saying, “These people are here to see us! We get to play longer. Let us play longer.” (Actually, Fitz, I was there to see Miike Snow.) Still, I gave them a second chance, and left feeling similarly to the first time I saw them. Backup singer Noelle Scaggs is wonderful, a joy to watch; Fitz looks like Stephen Colbert with a white streak in his hair, pretending to front a soul band. His voice is nasally and flat, and just doesn’t compare with so many other singers playing that brand of music nowadays. Not my thing.
I raced by my lonesome over to see Dom, who were as adorably snotty as they were at CMJ. Lead singer and namesake Dom riffed with the crowd throughout the band’s set, offering some of my favorite banter of the weekend. Highlights of the banter included:
“This is probably the biggest crowd we’ve ever played to, so thank you — each and every one of you. We feel very, very blessed. This next one’s called ‘Jesus, Hail Satan.’”
“Tuning break. This one’s in the mixelodian scale … J.K.!”
Audience member between songs – “Time to get gnarly!”
Dom, flatly and immediately – “Nope. Not playin’ that one.”
During the song for his cat, “Bochicha”, Dom gave a small grin as a clap-along started in a wave. The band’s pretty, sparkly pop music coupled with Dom’s incredible soprano range went over very well with the music nerd crowd — who I can say with certainty were music nerds, as pre- and post-performance conversation revolved around Pitchfork, who had seen what where, and why someone didn’t get why everyone else loved so-and-so band so much. Before a begrudging, set-ending performance of “Living in America,” Dom tried to get a “USA!” chant going, but it failed so hard that he took a step back, looking distrustingly at the crowd and saying, “Buncha terrorists in the audience.” No, Dom. Just hipsters.
I was probably most excited for the Drums’ performance on Saturday, and they really blew everyone out of the water. They’ve garnered attention from fellow musicians with their throwback pop rock — I spotted Andrew Wyatt and the red headed drummer from Miike Snow wandering around on the side stage before the set started. The band had a great, Ed Sullivan-like backdrop during their set, and pumped out a few new songs that will be on their upcoming album, as well as old favorites, like “Best Friend,” “Me and the Moon,” “Book of Stories,” and “Forever and Ever Amen.” Although they performed their hit, “Down by the Water,” their biggest song to date, “Let’s Go Surfing,” was noticeably absent from the set list. Although this seemed to confound some of the kids in the crowd, there were few complaints to be had. “Money” is the latest single, and got a good reaction, as people twisted and bopped to the beat. There are a few members of the band who are fun to watch, including drummer Chris Stein, who seems the most punk of the group, and keyboardist Jacob Graham, who seemed to be directing an orchestra of one, as his arms waved to the beat in the back. As always, though, I found myself watching Jonathan Pierce most intently. Whereas Young the Giant’s Sameer has a fierce, explosive rock voice and sultry dance moves, Jonathan dances robotically, in a sort of strange, in-his-own-world tribute to David Byrne, and his voice is more angelic and crooning. But what makes Jonathan more fearless than Sameer is that Pierce makes intense and unwavering eye contact with fans as he sings. He’ll linger on a person for a full 30 seconds before moving on to his next victim. It was a bit unnerving the first time I saw the band play, but now, it is something I revel in. The guys sounded totally tight, and the musicianship and showmanship combined made them a band to beat for the whole weekend.
I only caught a chunk of the Local Natives’ performance, but I just had to see my boys before we headed over to Ween. They looked as Californian as ever spread out on the stage, and sounded beautiful, with their harmonies twisting and intertwining in the warm early evening. “This is the biggest crowd we’ve played to by far,” singer and guitarist Taylor Rice said, and it was such a treat to see them rocking it out to a sea of bodies. I couldn’t help but think of the time I saw them in a tiny club with ten other people, mostly their family members, in Austin. Their devoted fanbase is so well-deserved, and I can’t wait to hear what they have in store for us in the future.
Next up, it was time to delve into darkness for some creepy, creepy Ween. The highlight of this set, for me, was the fact that I was able to recognize three different songs with just a teaser chord from the band. I remembered “Ice Castles” from their performance at Free Press Summer Fest, which is a mostly instrumental piece that weaves in and around heavy metal rock chords. I only needed a chord to call their cover of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” and the flute tease of “The Mollusk” was instantly recognizable. The guys seemed to be more out of it than at their Houston performance — Gene Ween mistakenly gave a shout out to Bonnaroo, although he immediately corrected himself — but they were still on target musically, and the performance reinforced my belief that they’re great to see live, but I just won’t ever sit around and spin their records on the reg. The Chicago crowds were far tamer this year than last, but I did get my one rough-up from the weekend during Ween’s set — during “Let’s Dance,” Zack and I got up to boogie, and he accidentally elbowed me in the temple. It ain’t Lolla without some physical pain.
Finally, it was time for the sun to go down and My Morning Jacket to emerge. We stayed back for this set, relaxing in the grass and avoiding the super-wasted dude-bros, drinking in the entire stage. The setup was fairly modest, with a few twisted-looking TV screens and their latest album’s cover, Circuital, as the backdrop: a green, robotic dinosaur eye. I’d seen Jim James and company a number of times before, including their 2005 Austin City Limits taping where Jim leapt into the crowd and ran right into me for a raging guitar solo, but I feel as though I forget just how hard rocking they are until I am back at a show. Nobody questioned it by the end of Saturday night. They kicked everything off with the first two tracks off of Circuital, “Victory Dance” and the title track. “Victory Dance” was particularly powerful, immediately sucking in audience members to groove around, and “Circuital” let Jim’s gorgeous falsetto “Ooh”s ring out in the night air like a friendly siren’s call. The group performed a lot of their hits from Z, which was a happy treat for me, since that was the album that initially pulled me in. “Off the Record” garnered tons of excitement, grooving along with a deep, almost reggae beat, and “Gideon” sent me skyward, leaping up and down with my fist in the air as we all declared, “Truly, truly we have become/Hated and feared for something we don’t want/Listen, listen/Most of us believe that this is wrong.” “I’m Amazed” was the most recognized and beloved song for this particular crowd, but my favorite from the same album (Evil Urges) was “Smokin’ from Shootin’,” which rumbled through the air and overwhelmed us with power and emotion, as Jim’s bellows at the song’s end morphed into “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2.” The light show mirrored the vibrations from Jim and Carl Broemel’s explosive, emotional guitar playing — colors flashed, sparkled and ripped up the crowd as chords and riffs boomed from the speakers — and I heard at least four different people mumble, awe-struck, about Patrick Hallahan’s wild drumming. Hallahan literally looked like Animal on the kit, his hair flying wildly with every motion, and he inserted his signature clock-hand movements near the end of the set. There was no encore; it was the first time in a long time I saw a headliner pack in as much as they could without trekking off-stage, and more shocking, seeing as Jim and co. were dressed to the nines in suits, jackets, and even a vampire cape (on Jim, of course) in the hot, sticky night air. It was what I imagine rock ‘n’ roll should be like; total ownership over instruments, the crowd, and the mood. A perfect ten, and hands-down the best performance of the weekend.
It’s that festival time of year again, and I’m kicking off my season with the 20th anniversary of Lollapalooza in Chicago. Whether you’re going to be up in the Windy City, or if you’re just tuning in online, here are my picks for acts to see and hear.
Wye Oak – Noon, Sony Stage
A woman with a deep, warm voice who shreds guitar in a duo that writes songs to shake the earth. Get up early, or you’ll be saying “if only” down the line.
Young the Giant – 1PM, Bud Light Stage
I was lucky enough to catch these guys at South by Southwest, and they put on a forceful, high-energy show that will set you on fire. After the cool tones of Wye Oak, nothing will be a better system reboot than Young the Giant. Their Jools Holland performance really speaks for itself.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals – 2:30PM, Bud Light Stage
No matter who you are, if Grace Potter doesn’t turn you on, you’re not paying attention. The sexpot songstress has a powerful voice and booming stage presence, and with her hard-rocking band backing up her soulful tunes, you’ll be sweating ooh-la-la’s before you know it.
Foster the People – 3PM, Sony Stage
I doubt I’ll be pulling myself away from Grace Potter, but in the event that you’re looking to go a little more indie, Foster are your people (oooh, forgive me). There are a lot of things about this band that make me want to call them Yeasayer-lite, but they’re such a new band that I don’t think it’s worth pinning them down like that yet. “Pumped Up Kicks” is their big hit, with a catchy chorus that has some punk attitude.
The Kills – 4:30PM, Bud Light Stage
The Bud Light Stage is where it’s at for afternoon female ferocity. I’m almost tempted to write “Alison Mosshart” and leave it at that, but for those of you unfamiliar with the siren who partnered with Jack White in the Dead Weather, the Kills are her original home. It’s raw, with some pop inclinations drizzled on top of its rock core.
Bright Eyes – 6:30PM, Bud Light Stage
To me, there is nothing else going on at this time. The world stops when Oberst opens his mouth. My fangirldom is no secret, and it does make it difficult to pitch to people who may be unfamiliar with Bright Eyes’ immense catalogue. If you’re unsure about this one, I’ll put it to you this way: if you love incredible, moving writing matched to tons of different musical genres, performed by people who put all their heart and soul on the line, this is your show.
OK Go – 7:15PM, Google + Stage
I won’t be leaving Bright Eyes early, and our team may decide we have too great of crowd positioning to leave, but I’ll be a bit heartbroken if I don’t see some of OK Go’s set. Their 2010 release Of the Color of the Blue Sky is quickly becoming one of my favorites. They are creative artists not only in their musical talent, but also their visual spectacle, and they write hella fun pop rock music that’ll get you grooving.
Coldplay – 8:15PM, Bud Light Stage
It is an honest toss-up for me between Coldplay and Muse; I’ll likely be at Coldplay because I’ll have been standing over on their side of the park the whole day, and because I’ve seen Muse 5 times and Coldplay only once. At their 2005 Austin City Limits performance, Chris Martin was the perfect big rock showman, running through the crowd and climbing soundstage scaffolding, making us all forget our lungs were filled with dust and we were sweating mud. If you’ve never seen Coldplay, don’t let yourself miss out because the hipsters of the world like to make fun of this British hit-making machine. I’ll be the one near the front, singing along to every song.
Maps & Atlases – 2:15PM, Google + Stage
I have only ever heard this band’s name thrown around, but they sound similar to Dirty Projectors and other guitar-leaning indie rock groups, so I’m very interested in seeing what they can do.
Dom – 3:30PM, Google + Stage
I saw Dom perform at CMJ 2010, and they really surprised me. They were tons of fun, like the best parts of MGMT minus the pretty-crappy-live aspect. They can get far punkier and beachier than MGMT, too, and they wrote a song about a cat (“Bochicha”) – I’m sold.
The Drums – 4:45PM, Google + Stage
The Drums are another CMJ 2010 discovery, but beyond surprising me, this band knocked me on my ass. Lead singer Jonathan Pierce is intoxicating to watch – he has some of the strangest mannerisms and dance moves since perhaps David Byrne, and his voice is showy in a playful, almost sarcastic way. The band are all fantastic performers, and the music is catchy and danceable. You will fall in love.
Local Natives – 5:30PM, Sony Stage
My history with this band has been well documented, so I’ll just say – if you somehow haven’t managed to see this band put on their incredible live show, you really can’t miss this.
Ween – 6PM, Bud Light Stage
I’ll be at this show for two reasons. One, because my boyfriend loves this band. Two, because I actually really enjoyed their set at Free Press Summer Fest, because they were silly, haunting, rocking and, above all, entertaining. They’re underground legends and very much worth seeing live.
My Morning Jacket – 8PM, Bud Light Stage
Jim James is the hero of so many people I know. He seems universally beloved for his bear-like appearance, angelic voice and everydude sense of humor. His band crafts huge rock epics that are unafraid of veering into the sweet and simplistic, or out on a jammy limb.
Titus Andronicus – 12:45PM, Music Unlimited Stage
I’ve been curious to see this group for a while. They’re a political, heart-stomping rock group with smart, straight lyrics, which is definitely up my alley. I’m excited to see what they’re like in a live setting.
Noah & the Whale – 2:30PM, Bud Light Stage
This is another band I’m curious about, and know very little about to date. They’ve been spun frequently on turntable.fm, and each song I’ve heard is beautiful and heartfelt. They remind me of a slightly happier Frightened Rabbit that plays a little bit more synth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – 3:15PM, Google + Stage
This band came through Austin and blew audiences away. Unfortunately, I missed their set, so I won’t make the same mistake at Lolla. I expected something like country rock based on the group’s name, but they’re a prefect blend of airy and poppy.
Flogging Molly – 4:15PM, Bud Light Stage
Raucous, familial Irish punk rock on the same label as Gogol Bordello (and rightfully so). After a rocky first experience with Flogging Molly (when another concert-goer threw up on my shoes), I’ve never been disappointed in their live show. They stopped by Stubb’s a few months ago and totally blew me away. Be careful, though – Chicagoans have proven to me they’ll crowd surf and circle pit for just about anything, so this is bound to be wild.
Lissie – 4:30PM, Google + Stage
It excites me to see so many strong, incredible, uplifting female voices on the Lollapalooza lineup. Lissie has a classic attention-grabbing voice that emotes over folksy rock tunes. She can use it subtly, and then let it explode when it’s called for. She’s also totally precious, the kind of artist you root for because she is deep-down good-natured.
Cage the Elephant – 5:15PM, PlayStation Stage
I tended to roll my eyes at Cage the Elephant at first – their two big hits, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” and “In One Ear” sounded near identical to me, so I wasn’t particularly interested. However, “Shake Me Down” won me over immediately, and I’ve heard stories about how wild and energetic the bands’ live show can get. Seems to me like this is gonna be straightforward alt-rock fun, and I wouldn’t miss it.
Foo Fighters – 8PM, Music Unlimited Stage
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Foo Fighters. I loved “Learn to Fly,” but all the other songs in their enormous catalogue sounded the same to me, and I wasn’t a Nirvana diehard, either, so it was hard for me to be nostalgic about them. However, I’ve recently fallen in love with their covers album, and have enjoyed Dave Grohl’s sense of humor in various online forums. Plus, I have been promised time and again that they put on an unforgettable live show, and I wouldn’t want to end my festival experience without the Festival Crashers, so this is where you’ll find me, happily head-banging and fist-pumping along.
Kid Cudi – 9PM, Perry’s
I won’t be able to sneak away for this, but if you can, I highly recommend running over to see Kid Cudi on festival founder Perry Farrell’s stage. Cudi bends genre rules, rapping and singing with indie rockers to make music that appeals to all stripes. My younger brother introduced me to Cudi, explaining his intense past and how impressive his mixtapes were when he was starting out.
I’ve only run a few races in my life, but I can say from both personal and second-hand experience, there are moments during a run in which you want to quit. Your legs are sore, your whole body is exhausted, you’re afraid your lungs might collapse, the heat is bearing down on you and your brain feels like it may melt out of your ears. Then you’ll see a water station off in the distance, or a heavy, quick-paced song will pop on your iPod, or a cool breeze will blow in your face just for a moment, and despite wanting to sit on a curb with every fiber of your being, you’ll continue on until you reach the finish line.
Attending a music festival is a very similar experience to this, and Free Press Summer Fest may have been the most parallel example of any festival I have ever attended. There were moment in the 100-degree blazing heat of the afternoon where I wanted to limp to the shade, licking my wounds, and dip my head in a bucket of ice water. Houston, Texas in the summertime is no joke, particularly when you host a festival along a blacktop street. However, the Free Press Summer Fest crew are fantastic about booking the kinds of bands and providing the kinds of accessories that will urge you on at the last moment, turning the tide and keeping you rocking for just one more song and one more song until you realize the sun’s gone down and it’s time to go home.Read More...
It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed the sweat, blood and tears of a music festival, but luckily that is all about to change. Houston is offering up a smattering of awesome local, state-wide and national acts this weekend at the Free Press Summer Fest, and I scoured every single slot to give you my recommendations for best of the fest. Read on to get a short synopsis of who you should check out, as well as a song to peak your interest. See you in Houston!Read More...