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Lollapalooza 2014: Friday Recap

Considering the way things went, you could say that the first day of Lollapalooza 2014 was dominated by the ladies. On the whole, it was a lot of fun. The weather was pretty good, outside of the 30 or so minutes it rained, and the crowds weren’t even that thick until late in the day. Here’s a rundown of all the music that I saw on Friday:

Following a lengthy wait to get into Grant Park due to new stricter bag checking procedures, I made it through the gates in time to see most of Temples’ early afternoon set. The Australian psych-pop band’s debut album Sun Structures sounds like a slightly weaker, less convincing imitation of Tame Impala. They come across that way on stage too, playing their songs verbatim and without any exceptional charm or extra energy. That’s not to say their performance was bad, it was just a little lackluster when the crowd needed something better. I’m sure the people laying down on the grass nearby were probably enjoying it.

Wildewoman, the debut album from Lucius, has a handful of great and fun songs on it, which I was excited to hear during their set at Lollapalooza. Unfortunately the other half isn’t so great and you can’t get one without the other when you’ve got an hour-long time slot to fill. The two main vocalists in Lucius do their best to look and sing exactly the same as one another, and the three guys playing instruments do the same. Altogether they’re a well oiled machine able to crank out exact copies of their songs as they appear on record. But sometimes you want more than just a gimmick. Lucius showed flashes of spontaneity and experimentation during their set, particularly in the way they used percussion, but it didn’t do a whole lot to lift the level of presentation beyond mediocrity.

After a seeing a fair portion of Lucius’ set, I felt that walking the short distance to The Grove Stage to see how Courtney Barnett was doing would be in my best interest. Two days earlier, I saw Barnett deliver an incredible set to a sold out crowd at Schubas, and had high hopes she could keep that streak going. I was only able to see the final 20 minutes, but oh my what a final 20 minutes it was. Barnett plays her shows with a bass player and drummer, and while they’re both excellent she manages to outshine them thanks to a supremely relaxed vocal style not to mention what appears to be sloppy guitar playing. I say appears because its clear she very much does know what she’s doing and not a single note was off. It’s just her particular and unique style, which is clearly something other artists should pay attention to.

As Barnett was finishing up her set, it began to drizzle a little bit. That drizzle would turn into something heavier leading right into Warpaint‘s set. It’s almost like the band requested the change in weather since their music is built on the ideas of darkness and gorgeous atmospherics. They did what they could to use that to their advantage, crafting a slow burning and often beautiful show that sounded great. The interplay between band members is probably what struck me most, like each one had the ability to fill in any sonic gaps as needed. Sure, it may not have been the most high energy set of the day, but the rain and overcast skies for 25 minutes basically suggested that everyone take it easy anyways.

While the rain had stopped about an hour earlier, the skies were still pretty grey, which also helped out Interpol a bit. Not that they particularly needed that assistance. Over the course of a dozen songs, they proven to be as reliable and engaging as ever. Perhaps that had something to do with the set list, which pulled entirely from the Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics records (their two best) plus included two new songs. The band knows what their finest moments are, and did their best to give the fans those highlights. It was really nice, actually, and to hear the new songs fit in so well with the old ones gives great hope for the upcoming El Pintor album.

In my Lolla Preview Guide, I mentioned that the last time I saw CHVRCHES they were pretty good, but still needed to work on their stage presence to deliver something worthy of the larger crowds they were attracting. At Lolla on Friday, they pulled in one of the bigger crowds I encountered, and this time did an admirable job handling the responsibilities that go along with that. Singer Lauren Mayberry was charming in her stage banter, and passionate in her vocals. There was plenty of dancing and sing-alongs in the crowd, and even though it was sunny out, there was something pretty cool about their light show. Of course a cool light show doesn’t replace stage presence, and while that’s still technically a work in progress, they’re absolutely getting better at it.

Probably the biggest crowd I encountered over the entire day was for Lorde, and that was go be expected given the number of awards she’s earned and chart-topping hits she’s had in the last several months. The teen sensation is living up toe the hype surrounding her, and that includes a dynamic and energetic live show. Clips I saw from her shows just a few months ago looked a touch awkward, largely with strange movements and aesthetic choices, but thankfully all of that is gone. Perhaps it was a confidence thing, or somebody has given her coaching, but she took everything in stride, danced around, was humble with the crowd, and sounded absolutely great. It was pretty amazing to see, and made for one of Friday’s best sets.

After Lorde it was dinner time, so I grabbed some food and wandered over to The Grove Stage to see how The Kooks were doing. Turns out, quite well actually. They’ve now got a few records under their belts, and are true showmen in their sets. Basically, they’re all energy, moving and jumping around all over the stage and trying to encourage crowd participation. Even though I only saw a handful of songs and had a sandwich in my hand, it was clear that everyone was having a great time. The music can get a little bland from time to time, but so long as you focus on giving the crowd something they can dance or sing to, that’s all you really need to keep everyone satisfied.

The last time I saw Arctic Monkeys in 2011, they had vastly improved their live show and appeared to be flirting with the notion of headlining a U.S. festival like Lollapalooza. The crowd for their set then was absolutely massive, and on all counts the band delivered. Now that they’ve reached the mountaintop, how was the view? In short, not quite as great. First, the crowd numbers were down a bit, thanks in no small part to Eminem on the other side of the park. Secondly, their show has become extremely polished. For most artists, being polished live performers is a good thing. In Arctic Monkeys’ case, a little bit of sloppiness is almost required. Many of their songs have this grimy, down in the gutter type vibe, and to remove that element from your show takes something away. So yes, we got everything from “Brianstorm” to “Dancing Shoes” to “Crying Lightning” and “Do I Wanna Know?,” and for the most part it sounded great and came off as effortless and charming. This is clearly a band that has fully accepted their massive popularity, it would just be nice if they could find a little better way to stay true to their roots.

As much as I enjoyed Arctic Monkeys (don’t let my above reaction fool you), part of me also wanted to see how Phantogram was doing as the headliner on the nearby small Grove stage. I stopped over there for about 40 minutes (bookended by Arctic Monkeys), and wound up having a pretty great time. Phantogram’s new album Voices is a big step forward for them, and they’ve really become an act ready for the ensuing wave of popularity that comes along with it. Their crowd wasn’t gigantic, seeing as most were at one of the two main stage headliners, but the people who were there might best be described as passionate. There was so much dancing and jumping around it was equal parts impressive and fun. Sarah Barthel has really grown as a performer since the last time I saw the band, and she was all over the stage getting people riled up whenever she wasn’t stuck behind an instrument. The lighting and visuals were spectacular as well, and honestly the whole thing felt like what might happen if Sleigh Bells were a synth pop band. That’s meant as a compliment. So

So that about wraps up all of the music I saw on Friday of Lollapalooza 2014. We’ve got two more days to go, and I’m pretty excited to see how they’re going to go. I’ll have full recaps from Saturday and Sunday coming up soon, but in the meantime you can get (largely) real time updates and reactions from the festival grounds via Twitter.

Show Review: The Kooks + The Postelles [Vic Theatre; Chicago; 11/26/11]

Sometimes even the crappiest of bands makes for the most engaging of shows. That’s not to suggest The Kooks or The Postelles are crappy bands, but to put it another way, neither one of them will generate a huge amount of underground hype, largely because their music isn’t diverse or experimental enough. You don’t need such things to become successful, but they certainly do go a long way when looking to earn some respect from intense music lovers. If your songs are bright enough and catchy enough though, a fan base will come along with them in spite of loads of indications (i.e. bad press) you should ignore it. It boggles the mind sometimes how a band like Nickelback goes on to sell millions of albums while bands like Real Estate or Destroyer continue to live in relative obscurity. For The Kooks, their success is easy to hear as they’ve essentially provided a modern update to The Kinks’ Britpop stylings. Hell, change the “oo” in Kooks to “in” and you get Kinks. The band’s first two albums were lovely in how plainly catchy they were, and apparently two crappy reviews from Pitchfork means your third record gets entirely ignored. But they’ve also been getting steady radio airplay around the world, starting with “She Moves in Her Own Way” and branching out to “Always Where I Need to Be”, “Shine On” and most recently “Junk of the Heart (Happy)”. Their star continues to rise, in spite of some rather intense criticism. Similar things could be said about The Postelles, though their road to success appears to be a little tougher. Sonically their self-titled debut also updates a classic sound, that of 50s pop in the vein of Buddy Holly with the flourishes of The Strokes. It should come as little surprise that The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr. liked the band enough to put them under his wing and produce a portion of that first record. The Postelles may be having more difficulty getting people to listen to their record, but once they do so many are won over. It helps as well that the band has been touring almost non-stop in the last year and have been building an audience with some high energy shows. Their touring with The Kooks feels like a match made in heaven, given their somewhat similar sound and fun live sets. So in spite of having rolled through Chicago earlier in the month while touring with The Wombats, The Postelles returned to the Windy City on Saturday night, opening up for The Kooks at The Vic. It was one wild time.

First off, I want to give a quick shout out to the Chicago band Yawn. I like those guys quite a bit, and they were the first band on the bill Saturday night when doors opened. Yawn was actually joining The Kooks on tour as Saturday night was also The Postelles’ last night on tour with The Kooks. But I missed Yawn’s set and can’t very well write about it, but having seen them before and being familiar with their latest record “Open Season”, they’re well worth keeping an eye on. Have a look at their official website to learn more about them.

After dodging some seriously heavy raindrops on my way to The Vic, I arrived with just enough time to shake the water from my hair and catch the start of The Postelles’ set. The crowd was surprisingly heavy already, though it was a sold out all ages show, so perhaps parents dropping off their kids just wanted to get rid of them as soon as possible. Just kidding, there was a good mixture of older teens and 20-somethings on the whole, but nobody much older than that. Spending so much time at 21+ shows has ruined me in some ways I guess, because the energy and enthusiasm of the rather youthful crowd was intense. Everybody seemed intensely excited to be there, the bands included, and at times the screams got so intense I felt they were giving me hearing damage. I expected such raucous cheering when The Kooks were on stage, charming British lads as they are, but things were just as lively for The Postelles. It makes more sense if you know their music and have seen them live though, because the hooks suck you in easily and make it a breeze to sing along to as the band gets extremely playful and moves around the stage like they want to engage you in every way possible. They had no reservations about climbing atop the monitor speakers at the front of the stage for a quick guitar solo or intense vocal moment, and every time they’d do it, there would be screams of excitement from the crowd. Their 30 minute set saw them powering through much of their debut album, hitting particularly hard with singles like “123 Stop” and “White Night” along with deeper cuts like “Stella” and “Hey Little Sister”. There were people standing around me that had never heard The Postelles before but wound up singing the choruses to half the songs anyways because they’re so damn catchy, and with so many clapping along and jumping around you’d have to be a real Scrooge not to have had a great time. Towards the end of their set they polled the crowd as to whether they should cover Elvis or The Ramones, and it appeared to be a relatively even split, so they chose The Ramones because they’d done Elvis the two nights prior. Their cover of “Beat on the Brat” was remarkably good, and if you’re interested in hearing a version of it, there’s a covers EP available for free download below (email required) with that and songs by The Smiths, Joe Jones and Wreckless Eric as well. Before closing out their set, The Postelles played one new song that will likely appear on their next record. Naturally, it wasn’t a change in direction but a continuation of their already established sound. And yeah, that was pretty catchy and fun too. You might not walk away from a Postelles show sharply impressed with the material you heard, but if you can switch your brain to the “fun summer popcorn action movie” setting rather than the “intense drama award-winning movie” one, you’re almost guaranteed to have a blast.

The Postelles – Everyday (Buddy Holly cover)

The Postelles – 123 Stop

Buy “The Postelles” from Amazon

The Postelles Tour Dates:
December 6th – Bootleg Theater – Los Angeles, CA

By that same token, The Kooks have not only a lot of the same things going for them, but they’ve got more material and success to back it up. Their 90 minute set was a 21-song steamroller that struck a strong balance between old material and new, singles and deep cuts. They started their set with “Is It Me?”, one of the catchier numbers on the new record and a good slower, quieter build to a more energetic chorus. The crowd was into it, but perhaps that was more the result of general excitement over the band finally being out on stage. Cameras in the air everywhere, and Luke Pritchard hopping up on the monitors at the front of the stage really did the trick right off the bat. If that didn’t work out for them, they slammed into high gear immediately afterwards thanks to “Always Where I Need to Be”. Hands were in the air and people dancing like they just don’t care. That feels like a cliche thing to say, but it also happens to be true, so keep that in mind before you judge. The set list appeared to be designed as an effective parsing out of the band’s best known songs with a consistent atmosphere of energy in between. The middle of the set was when the crowd appeared most lost, what with a couple newer tracks and some deep cuts from earlier records. Pritchard’s solo acoustic version of “Seaside” was a definite highlight that provided everyone with a brief moment of calm before the second half of the set got even more nuts. The Kooks closed out their set with a 1-2-3 punch that built the crowd up to an extremely high point and naturally left them wanting more. The combination of “Ooh La”, “Shine On” and “Do You Wanna” was ultimately what pushed the show over from great to excellent, the band growing more ferocious and intense with every minute. Pritchard worked the stage like a young Mick Jagger, swaggering one minute and egging the crowd to cheer louder the next. There wasn’t a whole lot they could do in the encore to top what was accomplished during the main set, but it was smart of them to save a couple big ringers for last. Non-album cut “Saboteur” was an interesting choice to start the encore considering it was the only thing on the set list that wasn’t on any of the band’s three records. The title track and first single from “Junk of the Heart” scored big points given its constant radio presence in Chicago, and “Inside In/Inside Out” classic “Naive” ultimately closed out the evening. As the band quickly worked towards that finish, the crowd maintained their energy and enthusiasm the entire time. It was an amazing thing to behold, and probably a testament to both the band and their fans that so many just didn’t stop for a minute to catch their breath but simply jumped, danced and sang along like it was one of the greatest concerts they’d ever seen. For some of them, it probably was. I may not think the world of The Kooks’ music, but I have a certain appreciation for what they’re trying to accomplish. They may not be getting any better on record, but live they’re simply not to be missed. It wasn’t the best show I’ve seen this year, but it made me feel young and just a little bit…naive once again.

Buy “Junk of the Heart” from Amazon

Set List:
Is It Me?
Always Where I Need to Be
Sofa Song
She Moves in Her Own Way
Eskimo Kiss
If Only
Tick of Time
See the Sun
How’d You Like That
Mr. Nice Guy
Ooh La
Shine On
Do You Wanna
Junk of the Heart (Happy)

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