Milwaukee – The Windy City is often void of live music in the weeks surrounding Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, and Riot Fest. Tours often skip over Chicago and much of the Midwest thanks to those wonderful radius clauses. However, this past weekend 2014 Lollapalooza performers Grouplove and Portugal. The Man managed to book a show in Milwaukee, along with STRFKR, for the Honda Civic Tour, so I took the two-hour drive up north to the land of cheese and beer to take in what was one of the best tours I’ve seen in ages!
Since the 2011 release of Never Trust a Happy Song, GROUPLOVE has been flying high, soaring the radio charts and touring heavy. Songs like “Tongue Tied” and “Itchin’ on a Photograph” made the quirky Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi the newest darlings of the indie rock world. Last year the LA five-piece continued to impress with their sophomore Atlantic album Spreading Rumours, featuring the single “I’m With You.”
Grouplove started the night out with this very single. Drummer Ryan Rabin came out, a bundle of energy, with his drum kit illuminated on the otherwise dark stage. The rest of the band soon followed. While Hooper jumped around the stage in a panda hat, Zucconi sat at the keyboard, glowing a hue of blue. Images of falling snow projected onto the stage as he sweetly sang: “Breath is slow / For the undertoners / There is blue / Now it’s my turn for you.”
That was perhaps the calmest moment of the evening. Grouplove has become known for energetic and wild live performances, and they lived up to the hype. Despite The Eagles Ballroom feeling like a sauna, every member – but especially Hooper and Zucconi – danced their hearts out all over the stage. Dripping in sweat, they jumped off the drum stand, floating in air, hair flying, and Zucconi even made time for some crowd surfing.
Three-quarters of the way through, Rabin asked the Wisconsin crowd if they still had “some” in them. Cheers filled the beautiful, oval ballroom. Hooper screamed, “We feed off you and your energy!” Rabin assured the audience: “If you still got some in you, we got some in us.” Between songs, fans started chanting, “We love Grouplove,” like they were at a Packers game. That energy flowed into Rabin’s monstrous drumming on “Slow.” He hit his tom with glowing drumsticks, creating neon bursts in the center of the stage. For their encore, Grouplove brought out fellow label mates and “the best touring partners in the world,” Portugal. The Man. Together they covered The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” It was awesome!
Now, I know Portugal. The Man isn’t quite a new band. They’ve been making music since 2004, but considering they didn’t sign with a major label until 2010 and only recently started getting regular radio play, they’ve become a “new band” for those a little late to the game. I’ve been a fan of the Wasilla, Alaska slash Portland, Oregon band for years now, so I’m happy to see the Atlantic releases In the Mountain In the Cloud and Evil Friends resulted in more people falling in love with PTM’s psychedelic-pop.
I proudly tell people that Portugal. The Man is The Grateful Dead of our generation. Perhaps that may make me a little biased, but having seen them so many times, I do expect them to up their game each tour. Founding members John Gourley and Zachary Carothers did just that. They really have perfected their light show, and this tour, aside from seeing Gourley’s doodles projected on stage, fans were able to take in an art exhibit featuring his and Hannah Hooper’s artwork. Colorful limited-edition prints filled the walls of the makeshift gallery, bringing new meaning to art-rock.
Fellow Portlandiers Starfucker – who recently remixed Grouplove’s “I’m With You” – started the night out with their chill yet danceable tunes. A co-worker filled me in on STRFKR’s addictive synth-pop back in 2009, so hearing “German Love” and “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” live did me in. Of course the guys played plenty of newer material, like “Malmö,” off their latest release Miracle Mile, and “Bury Us Alive” off Reptilians, and as if a STRFKR dance session wasn’t enough, two men in costumes paraded around the stage, making for a humorous start to the evening. At one point, a neon green spandex alien danced around the stage with an astronaut, eventually stripping him of his space suit, getting the audience all hot and bothered with, well, some actions that aren’t appropriate to mention here. Toward the end of their set, the guys also tossed out some blow-up dolls. The plastic toys surfed the crowd, occasionally finding a human dance partner.
All Photos By Sarah Hess - http://www.smhimaging.com/
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.