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Arctic Monkeys, Santigold Bring the Heat to Sweaty Lollapalooza

August 9, 2009 10:47 AM ET

Near the end of her raucous Saturday afternoon set at Lollapalooza, Danish vocalist Ida Maria launched into one of her better-known numbers, the brash, battering "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked." On record it plays like a coy come on, but on Saturday, it sounded like good advice. The temperatures were sweltering, an alarming contrast to Friday's sheets of rain. By 1 p.m., most people in Grant Park were covered with a filmy sweat. A little nudity would have been apropos.

Dive into Lollapalooza '09 in our gallery of live shots, straight from Chicago.

There were two chief consequences of the temperature. The first was that there seemed to be twice as many people in the park as there were the day before, which made navigating the festival's eight stages a small nightmare. A particularly nasty bottleneck between the end of the Arctic Monkeys set and the start of Santigold's brought hordes of angry, sweaty concertgoers to a standstill. (Click above to watch Animal Collective, TV on the Radio and Arctic Monkeys onstage during Day Two.)

The other upshot was that the artists had to figure out how to cope. For Ida Maria, it meant barreling through her songs with a jubilant recklessness. Decked out in a gold dress and black headband, Maria stretched her voice to the breaking point, at times letting it give out entirely, as it did midway through "Whiskey Please."

Other acts decided to simply defy the heat. St. Louis rock band Living Things took the stage in black jeans and leather jackets, belting out bluesy rock under the sweltering sun. Rhode Island's Low Anthem opted for passivity: they delivered a series of enthralling, folk-derived ballads, all of them instilled with a deep yearning and driven by the plaintive wail of vocalist Ben Knox Miller. They were so placid that their lovely and hypnotic songs were frequently drowned out by the stage behind them where Thenewno2, fronted by Dhani Harrison, were barreling through some modern rock.

Elsewhere, Argentinian singer/songwriter Federico Abuele was playing seducer. Abuele applied a rich, resonant baritone to a series of feather-light fluttering ballads that drew heavily on traditional bolero. Other songwriters might be tempted to busy their compositions with modern flourishes, but Abuele was refreshingly old-school - the only drawback being his keyboard player's unfortunately loungey fills. Minneapolis rapper Atmosphere drew the afternoon's biggest crowd - an entire field of onlookers rapping along to his emotive rhymes. Meanwhile, No Age guitarist Randy Randall was persevering under duress: despite the fact that he'd dislocated his shoulder the night before in an unfortunate encounter with a puddle of beer, he still managed to deliver the goods, tearing furiously through the group's noisy, clamoring rock songs.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that Saturday's best sets arrived in the afternoon, when the sun had lost a bit of its potency. The Arctic Monkeys, whose set last week at All Points West was curiously turbulent, have figured out the trick to balancing their darker new material with their impish older tracks. Their set was a blinding burst of energy, airtight and built for speed. The one-two punch of "Flourescent Adolescent" and "I'll Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" was a short ride to euphoria, and their furious take on Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" substituted the original's creeping dread with full-on white-knuckle terror.

TV on the Radio struggled with poor sound for the first half of their set, but quickly set themselves right with a sweet, soulful take on "Crying" which gave way to a fitful and angry "Wolf Like Me." Vocalist Tunde Adebimpe was a thrill to behold. Dressed head-to-toe in white, he shook and shimmied his way across the stage, pouring himself into the group's stormy compositions.

But the day's best performances came from Santigold and Lykke Li. The two have a few things in common - both of them favor dance rhythms and coy, circuitous melodies and both of them have been lately adopted by the hip-hop community (Santigold appears on Jay-Z's "Brooklyn Go Hard," while Lykke Li's "A Little Bit" was recently sampled by Drake). Both of them also delivered riotous, energizing sets, proving sonic curiosity is a songwriter's strongest asset.

Santigold was in strong voice and, flanked by two charismatic backup dancers, she ignited the heavenly "Lights Out" and turned in a bruising rendition of the Cure's controversial "Killing an Arab." She turns her songs inside out, bringing out the punk spirit at the heart of "L.E.S. Artistes" and giving "Say Aha" a reggae lilt. And Li, performing in a black dress in front of an enormous banner bearing her name, has evolved from mousy indie-popper to full grown diva. Her once squeaky voice has developed alarming heft, and the sea of hands in the air as she delivered a passionate reading of "Breaking it Up" was proof of her power.

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Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

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