"We're going to have a collective, cosmic orgasm!" promised Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, firing wave after wave of rainbow sprinkles at us during their headlining set. But before this surreal cosmic embrace, there were many others who took the stage, gallantly defying Mother Nature to blast our eardrums with high-powered rock, folk and soul.
The Pernikoff Brothers, a local folk-rock outfit, started things off nice and easy on Day 2 in Forest Park. The ladies of THEESatisfaction, resplendent of Afro and wriggling in all the right places, warned, "Whatever you do, don't funk with my groove," amid a snaky little bass line and pulsing, robotic drum beat -- the sound would pair nicely with neon sneakers and a boombox hoisted over your shoulder. These college friends know their way around a rollerskate jam and make a kind of futuristic funk, layered over equally space-age raps. A little Q-Tip, a lot Janelle Monáe.
Next up we got more Missouri, this time a representative from the wild (South)west, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. The hometown welcome was extended by proxy to the Springfield quartet, who showed some love for our side of the state ("Cardinal Rules") and, from the looks of it, coaxed a few fans up Interstate 44 just to see the show (as evidenced by a circle of tireless dancers, who screamed and waved a handmade sign throughout the entire performance).
"I'll see you at Wild Nothing!" signed off John Robert Cardwell (vocalist/guitarist/occasional drummer), and no sooner had SSLYBY exited Blue Stage left than began a mad dash for the Orange Stage, where the dreamy pop of Wild Nothing cascaded over the crowd like so much misty, twinkling starlight. The creative force behind Wild Nothing, Jack Tatum, is as young and fresh-faced as they come, so it's almost hard to believe he's two records into a promising career and already commanding such admiration from a crush of sweaty Fest-ies (and Fest-ettes, especially) -- albeit diffident, shoegazing admiration.
As Wild Nothing's twinkled from the speakers, kids in Spotify ray-bans traipsed back across the field in time for Cults, a band whose star burned bright and early but hasn't dimmed at all since their major-label debut last summer. Reinforced by a second guitarist, keyboardist and drummer, the film school couple Madeline Folin and Brian Oblivion (surely some of the coolest names you could have, as rock stars!) whipped through favorites like "Oh My God" and "Go Outside," as well as a Leonard Cohen cover ("One of our favorite artists," stated Brian, solemnly) in a dazzling set that clocked in shy of 40 minutes. Red and pouty of lip, Madeline thanked us for dancing and demurely sipped water between heartrending slow-dance numbers -- the girl has pipes.
They had to rush off to catch a flight -- or was it because Wayne Coyne had just been sighted in the press tent next to their stage, and they wanted to catch him? Regardless, the Coyne apparition faded from view in a blur of curly hair and feathered collar, while Dawes, the second band of brothers of the day, took the stage next. Their blend of folk and bluegrass, coupled with shiny guitar work and soaring, hymn-like choruses ("When My Time Comes") draws comparisons to still other brothers (the Avett) as well as Fleet Foxes. As venues go, a wooded glen in the mountains would have been ideal, but a meadow in beautiful Forest Park, underneath an overcast sky, suited Dawes just fine. I look forward to hearing more from the band in the years to come.
And then, the downpour. For nearly an hour Dr. Dog was delayed thanks to buckets and buckets of rain. From the relative shelter of a food tent I watched people alternately attempting to escape or embracing the storm. When it became clear that umbrellas were just going to be carried away by the wind and ponchos were useless against the deluge, revelers intent on keeping the revelry going formed a makeshift mud slip-n-slide, played kickball and generally splashed around to the great amusement of dry onlookers.
I sat on a picnic table trying not to think about that man who was tragically killed when a bolt of lightning struck a metal pole and collapsed the tent under which he was sitting. (Where did that happen? Illinois? Anyway, my companion helpfully assured me that if lightning were to strike us, it would most likely go for one of the stages because they were higher structures.) Those who stuck out the storm -- and we were legion -- were rewarded by an enthusiastic set by Dr. Dog.
"You all are TROOPERS!" declared Toby Leaman (bass/lead vocalist). "We stayed dry in our van, but you all are soakin' wet." The eminently cheerful Philadelphia-based sextet jumped, jived and wailed favorites like "Lonesome," easygoing rock that belies the solid musicianship and road hours clocked by a group of friends who have been playing together for well over a decade.
"This is a Flaming Lips crowd," stated the ever-modest Wayne Coyne, peering through the mist at a crowd that seemed to have tripled in size since the downpour. He was right. Thoroughly enraptured by balloons! Wayne in a giant inflatable ball rolling across the top of the crowd! Huge beach balls stuffed with confetti! Streamers! Lights! Fog machines! Naked girls running and running and running across the neon backdrop! Confetti and more confetti!
We danced to "Ego Tripping At The Gates of Hell" and "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song," squealing when Wayne said to squeal and asking how high when Wayne said to jump. I kept one eye on the stage, where at any moment rainbows might be shot out of Wayne's gigantic hands (and what next? Maybe a unicorn?!), and one eye uneasily scanning the crowd for the guy in the ape suit, because, well, I find guys in ape suits terrifying.
Following a public service announcement about narcotic use and effusive praise for us being awesome fans, the Lips treated us to some new material co-written with Bon Iver ("Ashes in the Air") and came back for an epic, drawn-out encore -- oh yes, the inimitable "Do You Realize??," surely one of the most beautiful songs of the '00s. Forest Park, a humid swamp of treacherously slick mud, was now sprinkled with candy-colored confetti, but the night breeze was gentle and the crowd -- dizzy, starry-eyed -- stumbled out of the gates and into the darkness.
Not a bad way to spend two days in August. If you missed it, cheer up -- Lou Fest 4 is only 364 more days away.