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Lollapalooza 2014: Saturday Recap

After the first day of Lollapalooza, I was in pretty rough shape. Not following my own advice, I didn’t sit down for about 12 hours straight, and that’s definitely not a pleasant experience for the human body. So I made it a point on Saturday to be smarter and look out for my own well being a little bit more. After all, I needed to power through the full three days. And so the chronicle continues, with a recap of all the music that I saw on Saturday:

Following Friday’s lengthy fiasco that took about 45 minutes to get into the gates due to heavy security, Saturday was light by comparison. This time it only took 15 minutes, either because I went to a different gate or because security wasn’t being as thorough. Either way, it was a benefit, and one that allowed me to see the final 10 minutes of Benjamin Booker‘s set. And oh what a final 10 minutes they were. Having never seen Booker before and only being familiar with a couple of his songs (his debut album comes out in about two weeks), I was immediately struck by his passion. He positively attacked the final three songs of his set, singing his heart out with that sandpaper voice of his, and playing guitar riffs like his life depended on it. Rarely do I witness a live show where I repeat the word “Wow” over and over again just completely impressed by everything happening on stage, but this was one of those times. At the very end of his set, Booker removed his guitar and proceeded to smash it on stage, Pete Townshend style. I’m a total sucker for moves like that, which in turn immediately made me want to declare the set one of the festival’s very best. For all I know the first 20 minutes of his set could have been a total trainwreck, but somehow I sincerely doubt they were. At the very least, Booker has quickly become someone to watch very closely.

From one guitar virtuoso to three, following up Benjamin Booker’s set I walked to the nearby Palladia Stage for the start of Parquet Courts‘ set. I saw them live for the first time last summer, and went in with such low expectations that I wound up being completely shocked by their wild attack dog style of performing. They’re pretty unassuming guys who you might think are slackers with sloppy playing styles, but the delightful surprise is that they’re none of those things. When they get going on high energy numbers like “Borrowed Time,” not only are they pushing forward like there’s something to prove, but know all the right ways to add frills like excessive distortion to push things beyond what you might hear on record. The set list was ordered a bit like a rollercoaster or a wave, building in speed and vigor until a peak is reached, then plateauing out for some slower cuts before racing towards the finish again on the downslope. The band does it all very well, though the quicker numbers that turn the crowd into a frenzied mosh pit can feel particularly special.

Kate Nash has become an increasingly reliable live act over the last few years, thanks in no small part to her embrace of louder and more visceral rock sounds. Nobody is going to confuse her with a hardcore punk or heavier alt-rock artist, though she does seem to be taking notes from the riot grrrl movement and innovative bands like Bikini Kill or The Runaways. She may have had multi-colored balloons all over the stage and she and her band may have worn dresses, but they made it very clear that rock and roll was priority number one. Along the way, Nash screamed, wailed, shredded and ran around the edges of the stage barricades giving the fans a more up-close and personal thrill. She brought a bunch more fans up on stage to dance and have fun for a few songs as well. And towards the end, she encouraged all the females in the audience to pick an instrument and start playing, because the music industry needs more women. If those women turn out anything like Nash, I completely agree.

I wasn’t particularly psyched about seeing the John Butler Trio perform, but I do enjoy a handful of their songs and decided it might be enjoyable if I were to sit down somewhere and relax while listening to their set. That turned out to be a wise decision, as my legs needed rest and my body needed shade. While I did stand and watch a couple of songs, the band wasn’t really doing much on stage so sitting down and listening didn’t change much. Ultimately what I heard and partly saw was a halfway decent, if unremarkable set. They performed the songs almost exactly as they were on record, and sounded pretty good doing so. I only wound up sticking around for about half of their set, as I was soon being beckoned by friends to join them on the other side of the park.

On the other side of the park, Fitz & the Tantrums were performing on the big stage. They’ve become a much bigger, more popular band over the last couple of years thanks to their most recent record, which has spawned at least two hit singles so far. The band treated their set like a gigantic party, keeping the energy very high and encouraging the crowd to participate by clapping or singing along to various parts. It seemed like a show I’d seen before, done by better bands who didn’t seem like they were trying as hard. Shortly after their set, I tweeted that Fitz & the Tantrums are the Dave Matthews Band of funk and soul these days. It’s a statement I stand by, as they had a huge crowd of devoted fans, but very little of the band’s performance could be described as much more than hollow platitudes. A friend of mine would tell me later that day it was her favorite set, and I totally understand why some people might feel that way. In many respects they’ve had the proverbial wool pulled over their eyes (and ears).

Manchester Orchestra is a band that I was passionate about for a hot minute around seven years ago, and haven’t thought about much since. They’ve continued releasing a steady stream of music, and have even performed at Lollapalooza a few times, though I’ve only seen them live once before at a non-festival show back in 2007. As I recall, they put on a pretty decent show back then. The Manchester Orchestra of 2014 still puts on a pretty good, possibly even great show. In a world where the genre of alternative rock has shifted in meaning a bit, they remain one of the true holdouts by still unleashing pummeling guitar work and vocals that require a good scream every now and then. Sure, there are other bands doing the same thing, but very few of them get late afternoon slots at a massive music festival like this one. I suppose what helps separate this band from the pack is their passion and precision. They appear to love what they do, and it shows. Their crowd wasn’t very large – probably one of the smaller ones of the day – but those that stuck around hopefully walked away with a greater appreciation for Manchester Orchestra than they had going in. I know that I did.

Unlike Fitz & the Tantrums’ set from an hour earlier, Foster the People appear to know the secret formula to an exciting live show. What is that secret exactly? I’m not entirely sure – earnestness, maybe? Whatever it was, it worked. The reason I’m comparing Fitz & Foster is partly because they were on the same stage, but also partly because I like both bands almost equally and view them as more hit single oriented than brilliant full album oriented. Whereas Fitz & the Tantrums may have been trying a little too hard to engage with the crowd during their Lolla set, Foster the People found the right vibe, played it cool and stuck with it. Singles were spread generously through the half of the set that I saw, and Mark Foster danced around the stage like he was just there to have a good time and play music for some fans who just happened to number in the thousands. Though I was having a good time, about 30 minutes in I decided it was time to venture back to the other side of the park.

Having seen Spoon headline an aftershow on Friday night, I wasn’t too concerned about seeing their full festival set on Saturday. They’re such a great live band though I wanted to see at least a little bit of it. To my partial surprise and actual excitement, the portion of Spoon’s set that I did wind up seeing was largely different than what I’d seen the night before. Songs like “Jonathon Fisk” and “My Mathematical Mind” are favorites I was hoping to hear, and suddenly my wish was granted. Beyond that, it was a pretty strong show overall. Maybe not quite as amazing as their full set in a smaller venue, but still great. My singular gripe with Spoon at the moment concerns their hit single “The Underdog,” which they’re obliged to play at every show from here throughout eternity. They’ve done away with any actual horns (which is an essential part of the track) and replaced them with artificial keyboard horns. It makes the track sound dinky compared to the muscular recorded version. If they could get just one band member to play trumpet for that song it’d make a world of difference. While I loved Spoon’s set, it’s worth noting a friend told me he was disappointed, claiming they “sound much rawer on record.”

If there was one set on Saturday I was most excited for, Jenny Lewis‘ would probably be it. I’ve been a fan of hers for many years, but had never seen her perform solo until now. It was a long time coming, and ultimately a delight. She didn’t attract a huge crowd thanks to her time slot facing off against The Head and The Heart along with the beginning of Outkast, but it made those of us who were there feel that we were witnessing something a little more special and intimate. About half of her set focused on the new album The Voyager, and the rest pulled from her previous two solo efforts along with a couple of tracks from the Rilo Kiley catalog. Dressed in a lovely and colorful airbrushed suit and with her now signature airbrushed acoustic guitar, people danced and sang along for the full 45 minute duration. What more could you ask for?

Part of me had serious gripes about going to see Outkast. I love most of their records, but this whole reunion thing is essentially a huge cash-in, and they perform the exact same set list at every single show. The sheer lack of spontaneity and the clear dislike that Andre 3000 and Big Boi share towards one another have left me apathetic about Outkast. Yet with a 30 minute window between the end of Jenny Lewis’ set and the start of Cut Copy’s, I decided it might be nice to see the hip hop duo do at least a couple of songs. That side of the park had an absolutely massive crowd that was probably the biggest all weekend. People were shouting and rapping/singing along with their favorite tracks the whole time, which I’m sure was great for them but served as a distraction. In the 20 minutes I spent watching the set from very far away, I got to hear “Ms. Jackson” set to Soldier Field fireworks, plus “The Way You Move,” among other things. It was okay, and then I left.

Officially closing out my night would be Cut Copy, who were performing on the small Grove stage sandwiched in between Calvin Harris and Outkast. There was so much noise coming from those two big stages, you couldn’t really hear Cut Copy until you got pretty close by. But wow, what a great set. Over the course of an hour, they plowed through almost all the highlights in their catalog, including old favorites like “Hearts on Fire,” and new favorites like “We Are Explorers.” A decent sized crowd danced like crazy for the duration, and the band peppered their performance with some really eye popping visuals that only enhanced the overall experience. They closed things out with “Lights and Music,” and everyone went absolutely nuts. My body may have been extremely tired from spending all day on my feet at a music festival, but suddenly I forgot about all of it and just wanted to move my body. When it was all over, the crowd chanted for one more song, and for a brief minute it seemed like the band might come back out and oblige. Sadly, it was 10 p.m. and the noise curfew was officially in effect so nothing happened. I exited Grant Park on a serious high, and primed to do it all again on Sunday.

Show Review: Kate Nash + Supercute! [Empty Bottle; Chicago; 3/18/13]

St. Patrick’s Day is a big party holiday. Just take one good look in any bar and you’ll likely see it packed with people drinking green beer. Call it tradition or whatever else you want, so long as there’s an excuse to have kegs and eggs at eight in the morning. This year the holiday fell on a Sunday, which with most people having work the next morning, might make you think things would be calmer. Not so much the case, from my experience. The reason I bring it up is because many probably woke up with a severe hangover on Monday morning, which led to a long day of vowing to never drink again. That wasn’t my Monday, but for many of my friends it was. It’s telling that none of them were available to attend an evening of girls with guitars on Monday night at the Empty Bottle. The two bands on the bill were Supercute! and Kate Nash, a show that had been sold out for months in advance. Before the show, I found myself asking, “Is Kate Nash really that popular?” because honestly I know very few people that might consider themselves fans of hers, and those that are tend to reference her debut Made of Bricks more than anything else. She came out of the stew of Myspace discovered artists back in the mid-00s and sort of followed in Lily Allen’s footsteps but as more of a second or third fiddle to her “fuck you” pop star act. Yet here we are in 2013, and Allen is all but a faded memory having retired from music a couple years back. Meanwhile Nash presses onward and carves her own unique path and apparently a die hard fan base with it. I’ve liked all her records, but also tend to forget about them after six months. I went to the show for a couple reasons: 1) Nash has a new record out called Girl Talk that’s pretty good. 2) I’ve never seen her perform live before, and that’s something I’ve been meaning to do. 3) Supercute! was opening for her, and I was particularly interested in hearing what they would have to offer.

So let’s start with Supercute!, because they were first up for the evening. If you’ve never heard of Supercute! before, they’re an all-teen, all-girl four piece band from NYC. Their ages range from as young as 13 to as old as 19. The band was started in 2009 by Rachel Trachtenburg (who played drums as a member of The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players starting at age six) and her friend Julia Cumming. They wrote some goofy songs about candy and boys and such together using ukuleles and keyboards, which then led to performances and studio recordings. They’ve only expanded from there, adding new members and releasing singles and building a fan base show by show. Kate Nash has been a Trachtenburg family friend for several years, and she’s really taken Supercute! under her wing and done most of her touring with them in recent years. Nash also produced their debut album DON’T PoP MY BUBBLE, which will officially be released on June 11th. In their short 20 minute set, they mostly stuck to new material, though some of what qualifies as “new” they’ve been playing live for quite awhile now. Still, even the songs they’ve been performing for years got some new life injected into them thanks to their beefed up and more aggressive approach. The ukuleles and keyboards are still present, but play much less of a prominent role thanks to the addition of bass and electric guitars. Their songs, while often lighthearted and goofy, were also thrown a little off-kilter into a darker and more psychedelic territory. It’s fascinating because the girls have on these colorful outfits and makeup, and you’ll wind up with their songs in your head, but your brain is equal parts impressed and scared. While they’re clearly very talented and have a big future ahead of them, there’s also a weird sense of concern that maybe they’re growing up a little too fast. You could say they’re almost a modern-day version of The Runaways, though not as brash or sexualized. Their live show is solid, but also needs a little bit of fine tuning that will work itself out the more they tour. I may not be anywhere near the teenage girl demographic that Supercute! are aiming their music towards, but I still enjoyed and appreciated their set. Others in the 21+ crowd did as well, as I overheard a guy behind me say to his friend in near disbelief, “They were really good.” So chalk up another ringing endorsement for this band, they’re one to keep an eye on.

Watch the video for the new Supercute! single “Love Love Leave Love” off their forthcoming album
Buy Supercute! music on Bandcamp
Check out the Supercute! website

Oh, what can I say about Kate Nash? She’s an absolute delight, and it’s easy to understand why her fans are so devoted to her. Devoted to the point where they crowd funded her new album Girl Talk after she fell from the graces of a major label record deal for wanting to take a different direction with her sound. It’s eerily similar to what Amanda Palmer pulled off a few months earlier, though Nash didn’t get a million dollars in donations like Palmer did. In the end it really doesn’t matter how much money you make, so long as you make enough to keep doing what you want to do. And now the completely liberated Nash wants to play the bass and prove she can rock just as hard as any guy. To me, such an evolution was inevitable for her and I had no doubt she could pull it off, but apparently her label was looking for the next Regina Spektor instead of the next Courtney Love. Okay so she’s not a hot mess with more drugs and alcohol in her veins than blood, but she does have a similar vocal range to pull off syrupy sweet one moment and a rage-filled wail the next. That balance of dark and light is all over her new album, and in essence bled into her live show as well. She started with “Sister” and its deep bass line, which eventually turns into a raucous punk rock groove complete with some guttural vocal acrobatics. That sort of visceral and cutting anger boiled to the surface more than a few times throughout the show, in particular on songs like “I Just Love You More,” the old b-side “Model Behaviour” and her cover of FIDLAR’s “Cocaine,” which she retitled “Grrrl Gang.” Much of it was rather “riot grrrl” in nature, with Nash and her all-female backing band really making the most of their talents by taking even the poppiest songs and dirtying them up a bit. “Foundations” is the song that brought her to the attention to a lot of people in ’06-’07, and while she’s basically obligated to perform it at all her shows from here to eternity, she by no means has to keep it in the same bubblegum piano pop arena of the recorded version. The guitars don’t exactly transform the song into something entirely different, they just bring some additional forcefulness and speed that strips some of the charm but allows the lyrics to take more precedence, which is kind of nice.

Obviously a fair amount of the set list was populated with Girl Talk tracks as that’s what this tour is supporting, but everything else was a great mixture of older material, rarities and covers. Her take on “My Chinchilla,” a song by early ’90s Canadian indie pop girl band Cub (which counted Neko Case as a member for a brief period) felt like it was made for her to sing, as is blended so effortlessly with her charming and witty personality. Her between song banter was one of the show’s greatest highlights, and made all the more amusing by members of the crowd yelling things at her. “I just really want to touch you!” a girl at the front of the stage yelled. Nash thought for a moment, then wandered over to her and extended her arm, which the girl touched for a brief moment. “It’s been awhile [since somebody touched me],” Nash said with a wink after it happened. A couple songs later, someone (apparently a man) threw a bra on stage. “Oh wow, thank you,” Nash said sarcastically before following up with, “By the way, what kind of man brings a bra with him to throw on stage?” That’s the sort of vibe you get from people late on a Monday night after St. Patrick’s Day I guess. When she wasn’t busy interacting with the crowd, she also told funny stories like the time she accidentally knocked out one of her front teeth. But one of the things that really struck me was how she also took a few moments to talk about the charity she’s working with called Because I am a Girl. It’s a campaign designed to protect and empower women in developing countries and provide them opportunities they might not normally have to achieve their dreams. I am not a woman nor do I live in a developing country, but I admire the cause and hope you’ll consider donating. Hopefully you’ll also consider donating to the well-being of Kate Nash’s career by buying her new record or going to see a show. While I’ve always liked her music, I’ve never been as passionate about it as I have been with other artists. Now that I’ve seen her perform, I walked away an even bigger fan than I was going in. It’s always a great show when something like that happens.

Kate Nash – Death Proof (CSS Remix)

Watch the video for “Under-estimate the Girl”
Watch the video for “Death Proof”

Buy Girl Talk from Amazon
See the set list and tour dates after the jump!

Album Review: Kate Nash – My Best Friend Is You [Fiction/Geffen]

When we last left Kate Nash, she had released her debut album “Made of Bricks” to moderate praise. A compatriot of Lily Allen, Nash marks another Myspace success story where a girl writes pop songs that can tend to be on the brutally honest side, lyrically speaking. Well, she’s got a brand new album out today called “My Best Friend Is You,” and it’s…interesting, to say the least.

The album starts off with the songs “Paris” and “Kiss That Grrrl”, both of which are songs about boys and very much fall into a category of pop song we’ve heard a thousand times before. Both songs, while individually catchy, don’t really offer us anything new or worthwhile aside from a great lyric or two. When the album starts to get really interesting though is on the song “Don’t You Want to Share the Guilt?”. The song is a ballad that’s once again about a relationship with a boy, but there’s a breakdown towards the end of the song where Nash just goes off on this spoken word tangent that is emotionally soul-baring and moderately impressive. Then things get weird. “I Love You More” is basically 3 minutes of Nash repeating the song title over and over again in different tones and eventually getting dark and tortured about it. Seriously, it sounds like an old P.J. Harvey song, and I’d call that a great thing if there wasn’t so much lighthearted pop that came before it. Having Nash sound like a tortured soul, wailing all over that song is also vocally impressive, but again, the song sticks out like a sore thumb. “Higher Plane” would fall right back into the standard pop song category if it weren’t for the chipper violin that accompanies the song to add some serious diversity. Fuzzed out guitars and handclaps form the basis for the also-P.J. Harvey-esque “I’ve Got A Secret,” which also has some interesting drum fills to add to the utter strangeness.

Perhaps the biggest topping on this proverbial mixture of pop and oddity is “Mansion Song,” the first half of which features Nash, all by her lonesome, going on a wild rant that includes references to getting “fucked like the best of men” and “fucked in drag,” cocaine, Guitar Hero, and STDs, among other things. It’s a gigantic WTF moment that’s either designed to be brutally honest or strategically engineered to shock. The second half of the song is basically a drum-n-bass tribal chant which seems tame by comparison to what just happened on the first half. More light pop tunes about boys occupy the first part of the second half of the record, my favorite being “Pickpocket,” where Nash finally gets back behind the piano that she played for much of her first album. “You Were So Far Away” is an emotionally stripped bare acoustic ballad that’s just a bit depressing when the line “I can taste the metal/feel the gun in my mouth” is uttered…twice. To close, the song “I Hate Seagulls” starts with a carefully plucked acoustic guitar as Nash goes through a list of things she hates (hint: it’s a lot of things). But then piano comes in, followed by some violin, and the lyrics transition into things she likes (hint: it’s also a lot of things) and how she enjoys sharing them with a boy she really cares about.

So here’s the deal, when “My Best Friend Is You” is all said and done: we’re left wondering exactly what or who the real Kate Nash is. Is she the pop songstress who writes lyrics to catchy songs with full band backing, or is she the tortured soul who just wants to be loved? The album presents it as almost Jekyll and Hyde in manner, with the lighter, more upbeat fare paired together at a couple different spots, and then the darker, serious and vulgar stuff hitting at different times as well. Given that she is signed to a major label, it may be relatively safe to say that Nash was forced into making some of the more “radio friendly” songs on the album, with the hopes that it will get radio airplay and lead to decent sales. I’ll give you this much – the stranger, more experimental stuff is definitely more interesting and were she to do a full album’s worth of it, I can see the makings of something brilliant. For now though, “My Best Friend Is You” only partly satisfies. I can’t quite stamp my personal recommendation on this album, but I am very much rooting for Kate Nash, and I hope she gets to make an entire record with a solid style that’s effectively personal and works purely to her own strengths.

Kate Nash- I Just Love You More (via Pitchfork)

Buy “My Best Friend Is You” from Insound

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