By Mark Guarino
Drum-guitar duo Wavves started about 25 minutes late, which made the truncated set sound more frenzied than the music itself. Guitarist-singer Nathan Williams prefers the reverb on his vocals caked deep inside a well of sound, resulting in a mix that made him sound like he was shouting, not from Ashland Ave., the location of the stage, but at least as far away as Western, or maybe even farther.
His obscured singing further muddied the band's ghostly punk sound early in the set. In late May the San Diego band ignited blog chatter when Williams delivered an incoherent performance at a festival in Barcelona that ended when drummer Ryan Ulsh dumped a beer on his head.
On Saturday, Williams showed no sign he needed a similar wake-up call. Wearing a Bulls cap, he loosened up mid-way through, giving his rudimentary guitar riffing more of a bounce. Injecting blasts of intermittent noise, he ended his set with Ulsh playing fuzzy pop songs that sounded sunnier with Williams' vocals floating through its middle.
Lindstrom, the one-word surname of Hans-Peter Lindstrom from Norway, played a perfunctory DJ set that turned half the grass field before his stage into a daytime rave. His laptop set allowed for little room to breathe; instead the music flowed uninterrupted, creating disco-studded waves that paused only for rhythmic breaks that broke through unexpectedly and in a big way.
Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino did not add much to synth-pop, by now, a precious genre that has run its course. Billed as Matt and Kim, they broke their drums and keyboards to the most elemental level: big beat party music. "This is the (expletive) party stage!" yelled Schifino, who later got low to pay tribute to the bootylicious dance maneuverings of Beyonce.
But despite the mini-songs, the duo showed an allegiance to arena rock through a cover of "The Final Countdown," a 1986 hit by Swedish glam-rockers Europe. Johnson, who just admitted they were playing "to the biggest crowd they every played in front of," got the crowd to clap along in what became a major peak for a band mostly capable of small wonders.
There is no single frontman in The Black Lips -- they all are. The Atlanta band, which plays a particularly sloppy brand of early British Invasion rock, finds unity in gang vocals, which gives the songs their slightly jeering edge. Unlike most bands, the Black Lips actually look, sound and interact like a group of woozy street thugs, an asset to the music, which sounded hanging on its last hinge.
That gave the band's set a sense of glee; songs like "Cold Hands" showed they knew how to set it to melodies. "So we got a 7.4, I think," said guitarist Ben Eberbaugh, mocking the rating system of the website that hosted the festival, but helping to headline it anyway.