Near the end of her thrilling set with Neko Case Sunday afternoon at Lollapalooza, Kelly Hogan admitted the group was trying to pull off a little trick: “We’re going to try to play some nighttime songs in the daytime.” They then launched into a stirring rendition of the gorgeous heartbreak ballad “That Teenage Feeling.” (Watch live footage of Case as well as the Raveonettes, above.)
Turns out, they weren’t the only ones with that dilemma. The final day of Lollapalooza was loaded with bands whose proper milieu is a dark club, not a sun-baked field. Like Saturday, the temperature on Sunday was miserable, the kind of wet-blanket heat that had concertgoers soaked within minutes. Though it relented a bit when the sun went down, most of the afternoon was an exercise in endurance.
In short, it was the worst kind of setting for Bat for Lashes’ dark, chilly new wave, but frontwoman Natasha Khan managed to make it work. “What’s a Girl to Do” was refitted with a limber dance beat, making it crackle and spark and “Trophy” became lean and sinister, its prowling bass bumped up to a mighty boom. She even managed to make her slower numbers translate: “Siren Song” was devastating, Khan’s plea of “I’m going to love you the best way I know how” raising gooseflesh. It’s no wonder someone in the crowd was holding up a sign reading, “Be Our Mother!”
Equally gothy — and thoroughly engaging — were the Airborne Toxic Event (watch their Lolla video diary here). Their songs built to huge, doomy finales, powered by the beleaguered baritone of Mikel Jollett, who at his best recalled prime Peter Murphy. The band — dressed entirely in black and comporting themselves with the requisite seriousness — know their way toward a crescendo. When they finally reached the finale of “Sometime Around Midnight,” it was transcendent, the sawing strings lifting Jollett’s brooding croon to the skies.
Danish duo the Raveonettes, too, generally excel in the evening. Their revved-up motorcycle rock has all the menace of an underlit B-grade noir film, but their stoicism and snarling guitars worked just fine on Sunday afternoon. Sune Wagner threaded silvery guitars across the center of songs like “Dead Sound,” making them slink and slither. The Raveonettes typically go for dead-eyed stoicism, but a new song they played on Sunday signaled a shift in direction. The group’s trademark distortion remained, but the song was brighter and bolder, anchored by a thumping dance rhythm and a million dollar chorus. It’s a honey of a pop number, one that seems ripe for a Katy Perry cover.
Which was certainly not the case for any song in Lou Reed’s tart, snarling set. His songs were as lean and muscular as the man himself, stripped back to their essentials and presented with minimal fuss. Opening with a taut take on “Sweet Jane,” Reed — who seemed as irritable and humorless as ever — took a long walk through his back catalog, turning out deep cuts like “Waves of Fear” with surgical precision. But what could have been a master class in professionalism was upended in its final moments. Reed, either obliviously or obstinately, went a full 15 minutes over his set time, significantly delaying the arrival of Band of Horses, which would, one hour later, result in Band of Horses and Jane’s Addiction attempting to play simultaneously — with predictably catastrophic results.
Vampire Weekend are as sunny as Reed is dour. They’re the perfect warm-weather band, their songs bright and sprightly and fully honed after three years of touring. The group has figured out a way to unlock the dance grooves buried beneath their skipping pop, and songs like “M79” sprang to life, begging motion from the crowd. Decked out in a plaid shirt and bright yellow shorts, Ezra Koening appeared to be settling into his role as frontman. He gamely taught the crowd the call-and-response section of “Blake’s Got a New Face” (cheekily referring to it as “our Metallica song”) and dedicating “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” to the late John Hughes.