For the last of the 2011 summer Hollywood Bowl shows the indie talent generally sprinkled throughout the season was combined into one mega indie rock event. On this late September night the show was headlined by TV on the Radio (who last appeared here opening for Massive Attack in 2006) with direct support from England’s Arctic Monkeys, Animal Collective offshoot Panda Bear, Warpaint and the Smith Westerns. While one of the strongest indie bands from the modern generation in terms of recorded material, TV on the Radio has a less than stellar reputation for live performances. Would they be able to deliver the goods on what might possibly be their biggest headlining slot in the United States yet?
First up on the five-band strong bill was Chicago indie pop band the Smith Westerns. Those unfamiliar with the band’s music might recall that they narrowly escaped fatal catastrophe last month at Belgium’s Pukkelpop festival when the stage they were performing on collapsed. On this bill the band had just twenty minutes to make an impression. Their dreamy indie pop was enjoyable enough, but with the sun still in the sky the mid tempo music seemed a bit out place. A dark, small club seems a more fitting environment for this style of indie rock.
Los Angeles-native all-girl four-piece Warpaint were revealed with no downtime between sets as the stage rotated to reveal the second stage already prepared. The girls began performing as soon as they came into view of the crowd. Warpaint’s music is an effect-laden form of indie music that harkens back to late 80’s alternative era. The group’s three axewomen and singers Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman and Jenny Lee Lindberg all harmonize well enough, yet either an improper mix or just the overwhelming amount of effects on their instruments caused their vocals to drown under the wall of sounds. “Bees” and “Undertow” both suffered from this imbalance. Their final number “Elephants” showed more cohesion, the band taking the last few minutes into psych rock jam territory.
Noah Lennox—better known by his moniker Panda Bear inside and outside of Animal Collective—had the next spot on the lineup. The first on this night with a set of more than thirty minutes, Panda Bear’s extremely ambient, textured, psychedelic tracks had less of the clangy guitars and danceable beats that come from the lion’s share of indie bands. “You Can Count On Me” and the title track from his recent album Tomboy bubbled along with little sense of pacing or tension/release. Mostly, each song started with a simple rhythm and layered electronic flourishes on top of it. Panda Bear was joined by Sonic Boom (Pete Kember) on additional electronic treatments for his set. Of the songs played, only “Comfy in Nautica” displayed any sense of ebb-and-tide effect. Otherwise, it’s enough to wonder if fans just want to like what Lennox does with this project because of his association with Animal Collective? As though they’re just being polite and not denouncing this project as they ought to?
The tempo picked up considerably as England’s own Arctic Monkeys took the stage. A complete sensation on the other side of the pond, yet somehow still just a decently popular band on the indie scene here, their approach is just a tiny bit away from pure hard rock. Lead singer/guitarist Alex Turner sings in a clean British accent while the band pummels away on power chords and John Bonham-esque drums. “Brianstorm” cemented this with ascending bar chords. Turner looked like a cross between Link Wray and a 50’s greaser. With a flop of curly hair and a leather jacket, Turner led this band like a confident rock singer should. By the time they band ripped into “Still Take You Home” the crowd had begun to hoot and holler.
“Pretty Visitor” found the band taking the energy a step farther as drummer Matt Helders showed the brutal power of his percussive onslaught and Tuner frantically ranted out syncopated lyrics. A short while later “Crying Lightning” demonstrated the band’s range, aiming for a creepy mood instead of a rocking finale. The band’s set was strong to the point that when their largest hit “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” was played near the end of their performance it rang out as just another solid song amidst a slew of excellent songs, not the big hit everyone was waiting for. That’s the best result any band could hope for, as far too often a big hit can become as much a liability as an asset.
New York City’s TV on the Radio did a solid job ending out the evening. It wasn’t a knockdown unmitigated success, but more than enough to prove the band’s worthiness of playing such a high-profile show. They started strong with “Young Liars.” Bandleaders Tunde Adebimpe, David Sitek and Kyp Malone all showed intense enthusiasm as the song’s slow crescendo led to a mounting finale. They seemed engaged and determined to entice the crowd. “Dancing Choose” kept the energy going; however, “Second Song” from recent album Nine Types of Light seemed jumbled. The band played with determined energy, but the lack of cohesion seemed more like the missteps from the band’s past. “Golden Age” from Dear Science, and recent single “Will Do” were far better. The former played like a funky rumination with the band leap frogging different genres and the latter displayed the melodic chops to make for a timeless single (“Anytime will do / my love / Anytime will do / No choice of words will break me from this rule”).
On “Forgotten” Adebimpe took the time to make a small speech about his recommendations for navigating dark times in one’s life. Before leading a chant of “1, 2, 3 light” he offered, “Let’s see if we can’t push darkness away. Let’s see if we can push light into the sky.” It was charming and fitting given the soulful nature of this song and the band’s music at large. It would be nice to see more of these attempts at connection between the band and the audience. Even simply couching a song under those terms is enough to take it from a simple performance and transform it into a revelatory experience. The next two numbers were seriously full throttle renditions of “Staring at the Sun” and “Repetition” which may or may not have been necessary. Each song’s own quirky tone would’ve been perfectly satisfactory. Extra aggression there didn’t really add anything. That pace continued to the conclusion with one of their strongest songs, Return to Cookie Mountain track “Wolf Like Me.” By then, most of the crowd was jumping up-and-down happily singing along. It wasn’t a slam dunk to cement the band as arena capable indie titans like the Arcade Fire are, but it does show that TV on the Radio can rock a massive crowd without sounding sloppy.
All photos: Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging