Dragonflies were particularly prevalent at this year's Lollapalooza festival, swooping around over the crowds as good bands played good music.
This was certainly the setting for Blitzen Trapper's set Sunday afternoon. They were at their folky best, delivering several truly lovely moments in a solid live set. Their live sound is a bit different from the albums--at the festival, they were a touch more raw than on their recordings--but on wax or in person, their music is gorgeous. Their live sound is reason enough to see them, but they also get into their music, and move with the beat. Frontman Eric Earley has a beautiful voice for folk, and commands attention in a gentlemanly, unassuming manner. The band's whole set had an easy, approachable energy that welcomed people in and encouraged them to stick around for a while and have a good mellow time.
Directly after Blitzen Trapper's set, on the other end of the festival, Minus the Bear played another good set. Their prog-influenced sound works really well live, and they were in fine form this afternoon. Lead singer Jake Snider has a lovely, understated tenor: the perfect voice for the kind of music the band does. Although their stage presence is not as in-your-face as a lot of other bands, they were entertaining and into what they were doing onstage, primarily moving forward and backwards on the stage: coming forward toward the audience, and retreating back toward the rest of the band. They not only engaged the audience's attention, but kept them moving in spite of an oppressively hot afternoon at the festival. I recommend seeing them live, especially if it's at a more intimate venue.
Scottish pop-rockers Frightened Rabbit have sad bastard music with hopeful vocal harmonies and an optimistic pulse driving the band from below. Lyrics like "She's nothing to you / She's not a cure for cancer" both state the obvious and border on the absurd, but they're deliviered with such enthusiasm that you can forgive them for it. Their sound has a bit too much of the 90s pop ballad in it for my taste, but their live show was enjoyable nevertheless.
I remember not being particularly impressed with MUTEMATH back when I was researching the bands for my Lolla recommendations articles, but I caught a fair amount of their set Sunday evening, and I was actually pretty impressed. Their live sound is really catchy, and I found myself nodding to the beat as the guitar's quasi-psychedelic sound washed over me. It was moody and intense, and I dug the riffs. It's reason enough to go back over their recordings and see what this band is all about.
MGMT's set was absolutely delightful. They've definitely moved beyond their earlier sound, and their live show rocked. There were psych-pop influences with boopy synth keyboard parts and a crowd-rousing energy. They draw on a wide range of stylistic elements; some songs were more electronic/dancey, while others were straightforward rockers. As I sit to write this, I find I can't actually think of much else to say about their set, as I was too busy dancing. Definitely see them live the next time they're in town.
I'll be honest, the Arcade Fire have always struck me as more than a bit pretentious. With classical instrumentation and glimpses of minimalism influencing their style, they've always come across as trying a little too hard. I found this to be the case from time to time during their headlining set Sunday night. They took their time to get going, and it was several slightly-too-long songs into their set before there was a harder-rocking song to sink your ear into. It's not that I have a problem with long songs, but the meandering and extended grooves without quite going anywhere are not what's called for at the end of a long day. To be fair, I finally understood why people want to see them live--they do manage to get into their performance pretty well, and try to add a sense of drama to the proceedings. Whether or not the audience is feeling it, I suppose, depends on the person in the audience.
I know this is probably going to sound a bit stupid to the faithful many who have been fans of headliner Soundgarden for some time, but they are famous for a reason. They sounded great live, and proved they are far more than just "Black Hole Sun" (which they played a little more than halfway through their two-hour set). Their live sound was thick and heavy and just a bit gloomy--the bass and drums provided a murky, slow and steady ground with guitar work reaching up from the depths toward the light. Even though the jams went on a bit longer than I was quite prepared for, there was not one minute that passed, while I was watching them, that I was bored. The one thing I could have done without, during their set, were the strobing, super-bright lights that kept flashing into the audience during their set, though. I'm here to listen to a good band, not stagger around in the dark after the show because their stage lights made me blind. But musically, they were quite impressive, and I can see why Soundgarden fans are so excited to have the band reunited and playing live once more.