BY ANDERS SMITH LINDALL
The sleek pop band Phoenix isn't far removed from playing "a club in Chicago that was smaller than this stage," as frontman Thomas Mars put it, but they filled the second headliner's role with style and ease. Bathed in white strobes and colorful spots, the fine-featured French gents opened with their fizzy recent single "Lisztomania," then kept up a brisk pace. Though the band showed little of its somber synthy side, that was the right choice: Better to save the atmospherics for the film soundtracks (Mars is director Sofia Coppolla's paramour and frequent collaborator) and tonight, just let the big crowd dance.
Dance-pop was the watchword on the north end throughout Saturday, in fact, as Spoon, Cut Copy, Metric, the xx and Stars each played their particular angle on the two main stages.
I've seen the xx three times in the past five months, and this gig fell between the other two on the spectrum: It didn't quite match the trio's near-perfect Lincoln Hall appearance this spring, but exceeded their halting SXSW set.
Fact is, the xx seem like such creatures of the night, purveyors of such a dark, slinky sound, that I half expected them to simply melt into puddles of black liquid upon exposure to the brilliant afternoon. Instead, they more than held their own before an uncomfortably dense and expectant crowd.
Romy Madley Croft cast a hypnotic spell on guitar, packing maximum portent into each deliberate note she played. Bassist Oliver Sims ratcheted up his stage presence, never cracking a grin yet basking in the attention of the throng. And as always, the tension flared like radio static when the pair sang together. Tunes like "Shelter," "Night Time" and "VCRs" pulled listeners so deep into the pair's intense inner world that their voices seemed to blot out the scorching sun.
Grizzly Bear drew on a vastly more vivid musical palette but didn't have half the staying power. Though a talented songwriter and a superlative singer, Edward Droste's wispy pop tunes and his band's layered vocal harmonies sounded pretty but failed to stick.
Earlier, my head was turned by a succession of acts at the much smaller Bloggie stage. They included the Morning Benders (mentioned here), Warpaint and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes.
Living up to the self-styled collective's moniker, Sharpe and the Zeroes proved magnetic indeed, and they drew an eye-popping overflow crowd to the tree-lined side stage. Both the band's sound and its subjects were guileless; Alex Ebert, the collective's bearded, be-dreadlocked and shirtless leader, sang golly-gee phrases like "Holy moly, me oh my, you're the apple of my eye" over a soul-tinged folk-rock shuffle bulked up by horns, tambourines and whatever else these 10 happy hippies happened to lay their hands on. Despite the relentless Up with People cheeriness and my own severe allergy to anything jammy, the band's wide-eyed charms were hard to resist.
Warpaint came as a surprise; they're four women from Los Angeles whose songs I hadn't heard before today. Stella Mozgawa and Jenny Lee Lindberg supplied muscular syncopation on drums and bass, respectively, while singer-guitarists Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal traded vocals and tart, glittering electric leads. Expect to hear much more from this quartet, which has a Chicago connection (they're booked by the Bucktown-based Windish Agency) and a debut album on the way.