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Giant steps are what they take: Walk the Moon

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Nicholas Petricca was born in 1987. Which was way too late.

The pop band Petricca formed, Walk the Moon, plays bright, upbeat dance-rock straight out of Bow Wow Wow's rhythmic wheelhouse. At Lollapalooza 2011, they covered Bowie's "Let's Dance," -- and their latest EP, "Tightrope," includes a live track of the band stomping through Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House." The band name is derived from the buoyant 1979 Police single "Walking on the Moon."

Petricca himself (second from left, above) has been seen holding -- and playing -- a keytar.

"Going to college, you just get immersed in what everybody else is," he said during a recent interview. "But really, I mean, if you've got a song that gets a whole bunch of people screaming 'Burning Down the House!!' together -- that's pretty cool."

That sentence contains several key words for understanding a Walk the Moon concert experience: screaming, burning, together, cool.

Walk the Moon -- a quartet of Petricca singing and playing keys, guitarist Eli Maiman, bassist Kevin Ray and drummer Sean Waugaman -- puts on the kind of show that leaves both band and audience drenched in sweat. There's dancing, there's shouting, there's war paint. It's a smiley, modern tribal blast.

It's also a workout.

"I certainly get my cardio every night," Petricca said. "I'm the new Richard Simmons."

Even that cultural reference -- sooooo 1980s.

"The audience challenges us. The audience makes it easy to keep going," he said. "We try to create a certain atmosphere of having a good time and letting go and expressing yourself, and whatever amount of energy we give it's amazing because they give it right back. . . .

"You can't just play the show and go through the motions. It's like a plant or a child. You've got to give them your attention. You've got to do it for them. You have to give them your eyes and, every moment that you can, keep checking in. You have to balance actually performing the music with interacting in various ways. . . . I'm working on my banter. I don't like it when other bands say the exact same thing every night. For better or worse, I try to take it as we go. Sometimes that means I make a fool of myself, more often than not."

Last year saw the band's self-titled full-length and supporting tours with like-minded acts Panic! At the Disco and Grouplove.

"It's got a lot of songs that are very upbeat, of course, because we do encourage people to dance and go nuts," Petricca said, "but that's not all there is to us. There are moments on the album that are more reflective. Someone once said we were 'art-rock,' which I appreciated."

Walk the Moon appeared in 2010 with an independent debut album, "i want! i want!" By the next year, the single "Anna Sun" had legs and was sprinting -- one of those bouncy tracks that gets cranked when the sun's out and gets named "song of the summer." "Vampire Diaries" used it. The video went pretty viral. Venues filled with face-painted fans.

Right, they're that band -- the guys with colorful smears of paint on their faces. That started with "Anna Sun," too.

"The 'Anna Sun' video had a kind of Peter Pan, Lost Boys kind of vibe," Petricca said, "and when we released it we had a hometown party with a face-painting station. People could throw paint at the walls. People dug it. They started coming to other shows wearing it. We started bringing face paint to all the shows. It sort of spiraled out of control, but we keep it going. How could we be tired of it when there's a line of people around the block, all of them wearing face paint?"

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Fans from Cincinnati, smeared with trademark paint, traveled
to see Walk The Moon at Lollapalooza in 2011.
(Sun-Times file)


That hometown show was in Cincinnati. Petricca credits the Queen City -- home to a considerable pop pedigree,from the Heartless Bastards to Bootsy Collins and, as Petricca cited, Afghan Whigs -- for Walk the Moon's solid foundation.

"Cincinnati had kind of downward slope in the beginning of the millennium, especially with the [2001] race riots and stuff. The city was kind of hurting. Around the time we started playing though, different areas were seeing a resurgence, a lot of creative energy, music, art galleries. The [Univesity of] Cincinnati Conservatory of Music there -- there's a constant influx around there of students making music, getting sick of the music they're required to play and starting bands. We found a positive energy and a supportive environment among all that."

And, hey, it's the narrative home of "WKRP in Cincinnati"!

Silence, longer than expected. "Yeah," Petricca finally manages. "An oldie but a goodie."

Sure, that '80s gem is lost on him.


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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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